'American Idol' auditions: Chicago fire
Judges continue to squabble as contestants start to shine
Several strong contenders emerged from the pack, including severe stutterer Lazaro Arbos, fire performer Kez Ban and recovering anorexic Mariah Pulice.
"American Idol" still seems to be focusing on the judges, but intriguing talent emerged from Chicago, the second audition site. Right from the start, in fact.
Kickoff contestant Mackenzie Wasner delivered Vince Gill's "Whenever You Come Around" in fine country style. (Her dad plays piano in Gill's band, says Nashville critic Brian Mansfield.) And a brief clip of a rejected singer was notable only for Nicki Minaj's first nickname of the episode, when she called Mariah Carey "M." (This excellent tag was followed by "Keithy," "Carey," "Randall," "Rand the Man," "Randy Bandy," and even a few impromptu monikers for contestants.)
Then it was back to the procession of good singers, as Kiara Lanier sounded accomplished on Celine Dion's "The Prayer." As you might suspect from her grisly taste in songs, Kiara idolized Mariah growing up, another of what I hope won't become a flood of mini-Mimis headed for Hollywood. Stephanie Schimel impressed three judges (not Nicki) with a pleasant rendition of old chestnut "Dream a Little Dream of Me," adding to the golden ticket accumulation.
A fairly inane Minaj monologue about eye shadow elicited a dose of Mariah's wordless, regal disdain, providing an entry point for a montage of dirty looks and minor squabbles of uncertain origin between the two judicial soul mates. Keith Urban capped the sequence by sighing, "I swear I feel like a scratching post."
Melissa Bush declaimed "Downtown" (Petula Clark's oldie) rather feebly, inspiring a lot of Bush jokes from the panel, seemingly PG-rated, but Mariah found them "vul-gah." Chicagoan Haley Reinhart (No. 3, Season 10) showed up for no apparent reason.
With most audition contestants that the producers deign to show, it's pretty obvious why the judges decreed a yes or no. But Gabe Brown's ticket to Hollywood was hard to understand. He screeched his way through the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," displaying an ability to shriek "it's just a shot away" ad nauseam, then sang Steel Dragon's "We All Die Young" with slightly more restraint before the irresistible urge to shriek overcame him again. I guess the show still feels it suffers a shortage of rockers, even atrocious ones, or else Gabe gets to go to L.A. for novelty value.
And I guess the novelty quota was mostly filled, since speed-rapper Kevin Nabity's lightning rendition of Barenaked Ladies' "One Week" didn't sway the court, even with a strangled encore of Styx's "Come Sail Away." It was a good lead-in to a montage of rejects, a run ended by Isabelle Parell, who enlisted Keith for a duet on the standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside." It was all quite charming , at least for the three judges not named Jackson.
Another split decision followed, this one a 2-1 vote (Keith having left early for a concert appearance). Griffin Peterson sang Needtobreathe's "Washed by the Water" adequately, and Nicki and Mariah approved of his beefcake appeal. Unanimity was restored by Curtis Finch Jr., who sang another Christian number, Smokie Norful's "God Is Able" with exceptional facility and stratospheric range. Curtis proved to be yet another of Mimi's lambs, expressing his elation at meeting his idol. Nicki commented, "That's so monumental."
But not as monumental as a contestant actually named Mariah: Pulice, age 19, is young enough to have been named for the singer. Mariah, the judge, informed us that "Mariah" is now the "62nd most popular name." (Why does she know this? Does she get a royalty?) Mariah, the contestant, turned out to be a recovering anorexic and sang a passionate "Let It Be" -- a better audition song (because it quickly separates the talented from the inept) than a choice for later in the competition, when it tends to be drowned in instrumentation and the dreaded choir. Another ticket of gold.
That brought us to the end of the first day, with seven Hollywood-bound singers showcased. But Day 2 started even stronger, with returning contestant Brandy Neelly's torch treatment of Hank Williams' "Your Cheatin' Heart." Josh Holiday was next, with a nimble performance of Brian McKnight's "Back at One," except for a botched falsetto finish that was ignored by the laudatory judges. Courtney Williams' treatment of the Miracles/Jackson 5's "Who's Loving You" and Andrew Jones' romp through Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" were given relatively short shrift airtime-wise, but both made it through. Clifton Duffin adroitly tackled Leon Russell's "Superstar," though he wasn't big on singing actual lyrics, and ran the second-day "yes" streak to five.
A montage of Mariah fans among the contestants led into the streak breaker, Mimi-worshipper Ieisha Cotton, who bungled Ashanti's "Thank You." But Johnny Keyser, who nearly made the finals last season, returned with a self-assured "Try a Little Tenderness" that provoked a unanimous round of yesses (expressed, in Mariah's case, as "Yes, dahling, abso-frigging-lutely") and a minor disturbance between Nicki and Mariah that caused the latter to roll her eyes in resigned exasperation.
Street performer Kez Ban was set up as one of those eccentrics the producers like to throw in for comic relief. When she mentioned she was a fire performer, Keith asked if she was in a relationship, because he "wanted to know if you had any old flames." But her a cappella version of "I've Got No Strings" from "Pinocchio" and a guitar-accompanied original were impressive, as were her instrumental chops. She came off like a weirder Crystal Bowersox, and – to the judges' credit – they voted her through.
Instead, the novelty action came from another loser montage, tinted in browns and dubbed "The Miserables," and from musical theater student, Ashley Curry, who screeched her way through Jessie J's "Mamma Knows Best" (back for a second time as an audition song this season), no less than three times before security was called in.
As usual, the long run of contestants (21 given full or semi-full showcases) was concluded with an inspirational back story: Cuban immigrant Lazaro Arbos, who speaks with a severe stutter, had no problem delivering a smooth and solid version of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." He'll be a focal point in Hollywood -- much more so, you can bet, than the 32 Chicago singers who also got yes votes but no airtime.
Speaking of focal points, the Nicki & Mariah Show will continue next Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C., including a walkout from Nicki. Just six short days away!
"American Idol" airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.
I agree with everything that BlackPearl said. Also, the fact that we are stuck with Nicki for the season. It will mean that I will not be watching as much as I normally do. Do not need to watch someone so full of themselves they cannot listen to other people's opinions.
I have to agree! Nikki needs to go! She is rude and arrogant (Not in a Simon sort of way) and her costumes are distracting! Mariah acts so mousy around her, it's uncomfortable because she deserves to be there! Keith is wonderful! Every time the camera pans to him ( I feel my face relax from feeling like I am sucking on lemons watching Nikki) My 5 kids and I have been faithful viewers from day one. We don't watch much t.v together....and we really look forward to AI! We actually thought of turning the T.V. off until we saw the clip of Lazaro coming up. So glad we watched! What a nice story, of triumph. I hope he makes it far in the competition:) We are cheering for him!
Can't you call someone like John Bon Jovi, Barry Manilow, Pat Benetar, Anne Wilson, Michael Buble', Billy Joe Armstrong.............just to name a few!?!?!?
I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to hire Nicki Minaj, but that person should be fired, along with Nicki Minaj. Nicki Minaj is such a drama queen and not a very good judge. I mean, saying no because the girl had the same eyeshadow as her? And it's a bit strange nick-naming contestants. I'm not big fan of Mariah Carey or Keith Urban, but I like them a lot more than I like Nicki Minaj, but atleast they're respectful and polite. Although I think Mriah could try toning down the Diva a little bit. And what's with the british accent?
Ten bucks says Idol will be down atleast one judge next year.
Simon Cowell was the same way.
OMG! I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack watching Nicki !! I don't know whose idea it was to hire her, but that was absolutely the worst decision ever !! I mean, listen to her music compared to Mariah's and Keith's and she is going to judge.??? I never knew how she got in the business and I bet you don't hear about her in 2 years. She is awful !!! And lord does she ever shut up.!!! The show has completely lost it for me. It takes away from the class of Mariah and poor Keith. I don't know why he's being dragged down with this train wreck....
I watched about 15 minutes of the first episode and that was all that was needed to lose interest in the show. Minaj just ruined it for me, wont be watching the rest of this season. Companies buying comercial slots during American Idol just wasted their money. Waiting for The Voice!!