Wednesday night gave us auditions from San Antonio, Texas, and Long Beach, California. And both cities offered up a lot of remarkable talent -- I will be genuinely surprised if several of the contestants featured tonight don’t make it into semi-finals at least.
I won’t go through every audition, but I will pick out my favorites. Before I do, some general thoughts about the show:
-Can we please retire Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” on this program? It is a wonderful song, but BEYOND cliché at this point. At least two people featured tonight sang it. How many countless others do you think went with that song? Or “At Last” by Etta James?
-Speaking of clichés, the judges need to quit it with the vote countdown. How many times did they do the “1,2,3…” thing this episode? It’s not cute. It’s not entertaining. It’s not original.
-The “feature” packages on, say, the hauntings of the Queen Mary are shlocky and a total waste of time. Sub-Syfy Channel-level graphics and a bored Ryan Seacrest prancing about?Shut up, show.
Anyway, the auditions that really made an impression on me Wednesday night:
Savannah Votion, 24, single mom, sang “At Last” (it’s an epidemic!) and surprised me. She’s got a solid voice with some legit soul leanings. Huge range, and she was strong throughout in both the high and low parts. Savannah’s issue is her look. She needs to be completely stripped down and rebuilt because her image, right now, is very low-rent. Too much make-up, not nearly enough clothes. Girl, where are your gays, and why have they treated you so poorly?
Sanni M’Mairua is a young man with Kenyan/Tanzanian heritage who seems like a natural performer. He sang Michael Jackson’s “Who’s Loving You?” and had an instantaneous star quality and a nice, bright voice. He went a little overboard with the runs, but he’s got potential. I just hope he doesn’t lose his sparkle as he continues in this competition.
Adam Sanders, 19, seemed like a joke contestant at first. Even the judges thought so. When he told the crew that hew as going to sing “I’d Rather Go Blind” by Etta James they all prepared for the bomb. But then he opened his mouth and it was incredible. While other (I am presuming here) gay male contestant joke that they have a large black woman living inside of them, Adam really DOES, and that woman is amazing. Nicki Minaj’s jaw dropped. Mariah Carey threw up her hands in disbelief. Keith Urban literally went, “Come on.” There is such a visual disconnect between Adam and the way he sounds -- a trend for the night, actually -- that it’s almost unbelievable. But he’s great and I hope he continues into semi-finals at least. He also gets points for inadvertently suggesting that Mariah was a contemporary of Etta James, which led to her nearly burst into flames.
Micah Johnson, 24, has a legitimate sob story. He loved to sing, loved music. He needed to get his tonsils removed and in a freak accident, something happened during surgery -- he now speaks with a pronounced speech impediment. So when he came on to sing, the judges were -- let’s be honest -- ready to humor him, to encourage him on his path to recovery. But when he burst into “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band, the speech issue was gone, and Micah could sing beautifully. Similarly to the stuttering gentleman from earlier this season, his issues just disappeared when he sang. Why not sing all the time? Place your order at McDonald’s to the tune of the national anthem. “And say do those cheeseburgers come with onions and piiiiiiii-cklllllllles?”
Brianna Oakley, 16, has a less affecting story. Several years ago Brianna was a guest on “The Maury Povich Show” in a segment about talented young people. She sang, apparently quite well. According to Brianna, after the show her friends “turned” on her and everyone at her school was so mean that she had to eat lunch in the bathroom -- because she felt unsafe in the cafeteria -- and eventually had to switch schools. I am…dubious about all of this. I’m sorry. I'm sure Brianna felt that she was being bullied, and I guess in this case that's ultimately all that matters -- the victim's perception. But Brianna is a pretty girl who seems very talented. What exactly were these bullies finding fault with? I feel like bullying is one of those issues that’s getting thrown around on these shows an awful lot, and often not by the kind of people who truly got the raw end of the deal in life. (See below.) Anyway, Brianna sang “Up to the Mountain” by Patty Griffin and she was freaking amazing, so expect to see her for a while. I will like her a lot more if she drops the victim shtick, because from where I'm sitting she has been given many, many gifts by the universe.
Now, Matheus Fernandes, 21, I think probably knows a thing or two about being bullied. Matheus is cute and seems like a really nice guy -- and he’s talented. He is also quite short. They never gave us his exact measurement, but I’m betting it’s 4’ or shorter. He’s not a dwarf or a midget; doctors cannot tell him why he does not grow. He just doesn’t. Listening to Matheus speak, you get a sense that this is someone who has really STRUGGLED to make his way through life. But he has done everything he can with the hand he has been dealt. So kudos to him for staying positive, and for being pretty great on his rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come.”
But to me the star of the night was Papa Peachez. Peachez was another fake-out. A) His name is Papa Peachez. B) He likes to dance around his parked car with the doors all open. C) He lead choreographed dance routines in the middle of the holding pens. Need I go on? So when he came in and said he was going to sing an original song of his own making, I was prepared for awfulness -- but again, he was awesome! Papa Peachez has a surprisingly low voice and a weird alternative vibe. But somehow it all works. NickiMinaj was totally captivated by him and pushed hardcore for Papa Peachez, while Keith Urban and Randy Jackson both said no. (Randy talked about his voice not being ready -- there was nothing wrong with Papa Peachez’s voice.) Eventually Mariah said yes, which left Randy as tiebreaker. He got put through after Nicki lobbied on his behalf. And THAT is why I’m happy Nicki’s on the show this year. I think she has a keen eye for potential celebrities, which is not always the same thing as talented vocalists. You can be an amazing singer and not achieve international stardom. And the reverse is also true -- as Nicki herself is well aware. Who is selling records right now? A hell of a lot more of the latter category. Like it or lump it. If Papa Peachez makes it to the live voting rounds he could take over this show. I really believe that.
Tomorrow: Oklahoma. I hope there are surries with the fringe on top.
Having just finished the 90-minute Season 5 premiere, I’m even less convinced that “Drag Race All Stars” was a good idea. I’m not talking about the infuriating teams format or the oddly unexciting winner of the much-maligned short fall season. I’m talking about the fact that, with that mini-series ending just two months ago, I found tonight’s new full season premiere ultimately anticlimactic. Maybe I was looking forward to it too much. Maybe the format is getting tired. I don’t know. But the proceedings just felt “meh.” That is not, however, a reflection of the S5 queens, who I think on the whole show a LOT of potential.
As per usual for a season premiere, we got to know the new queens, they did a photo shoot in which they were put through some horrifying/embarrassment-baiting challenge (in this case, they were shot underwater), and then they had to create a runway look on the fly out of limited, unconventional materials. It’s been literally the same format for an opening episode for every season. Sure, there were moments that I laughed or gasped. A few of the photos and runway outfits were impressive. But on the whole it seemed rote, uninspired.
The vibe I’m getting from this season in general, however, is anything but dull. Last season was defined by a motherly/sisterly dynamic, thanks to busted baby queens like Dida, Jiggly, and Lashawn being guided by mommy queens like Chad and Latrice (the sucking pit of negativity that was Phi Phi was the notable exception). This season already feels a lot more cutthroat. These queens are not playing and they must have been filming on a lanai because shade was EVERYWHERE. There also seems to be an overall higher level of polish this time out.
On that note, a rundown of the 14 contestants vying for the tiara, along with my notes.
Roxxy Andrews: I’m torn on her. On the one hand, out of drag he’s easily the cutest boy. But in drag the make-up is washing her out. Roxxxy is curvy (she spoke about losing quite a bit of weight recently, but still being “juicy”) and knows how to work her body -- nice to see a bigger contestant with some confidence. She is apparently very kind to some of the girls, but seems like a bit of a shit-stirrer (see the “Alyssa copied everyone” argument, which was just silly). I expect she’ll go far, but my predisposition to liking her is already diminishing.
Alaska (aka Alaska Thvnderfvck): Alaska became a fan darling last season after making brief cameos with her partner, S4 winner Sharon Needles. As Alaska herself is keenly aware, her relationship with Sharon is potentially a big obstacle for her in this competition. She will always be compared to -- and in a way, competing against -- Sharon, which isn’t necessarily fair. Alaska did not make the best impression in the premiere, as she just plain gave up during the photo shoot and then flapped her wang all over the You Betta Work Room. But she redeemed herself on the runway with a great look. Thing is, even in a see-through plastic outfit, her personality wasn’t shining across. I’m seeing a lot of nerves, a lot of self-doubt already.
Ivy Winters: I came into tonight’s episode excited to see Ivy. She’s adorable out of drag. She is a costume designer who has created couture garments for S3’s Manila Luzon. And she can literally breath fire -- she has a background in the circus arts. Despite pulling together a perfectly fine dress and landing in the top -- which I disagreed with -- Ivy made almost zero impression this episode. Just a total nonentity.
LineyshaSparx: Our apparently required Puerto Rican contestant of the season (can anyone explain to me why we have at least one Puerto Rican queen literally every single year?), but one to watch. Lineysha was robbed of the win on the runway, turning wallpaper into a striking, couture garment. She also showed poise and a charming personality. I didn’t have much interest pre-show, but like that giant crest on her dress’s shoulder, I’m quickly becoming a fan.
Alyssa Edwards: One-half of our Stunt Queen pageant duo, I found myself immediately disliking Alyssa. Because, well, I’m just going to say it: Hagsville. There’s something about her, especially out of drag, that just seems unpleasant. A very negative vibe. In the premiere Alyssa quickly established herself as a first-class pot stirrer -- she was relentless in her prodding of Alaska -- but I wonder if she’s going to be able to take it when that boiling hot T gets thrown back in her face. And it is obviously coming. That said, she did have a couple good lines in “Untucked.”
Coco Montrese: The other half of the Stunt Queen duo. Alyssa and Coco were both part of the same pageant circuit, and apparently there was some scandal -- the show has not gone into it yet, but apparently it involves Alyssa being desashed in favor of Coco -- and the show intends to milk every drop of drama it can out of these two. They seem very willing to give it. I found myself gravitating to Team Coco, but at the same time she kept needling Alyssa and then acting all shocked when Alyssa would fire back. Additionally, if she thought that ugly cone-bra dress was anything close to couture, I have serious concerns about her styling and taste levels.
Detox (aka DetoxIcunt): Detox is part of Willam’s gang, and although she didn’t make quite the instant impression that Mr. Belli did last season (“I hope they don’t have diabetes”), she killed the photo shoot and performed capably in the mainstage challenge with her punked-out “Jem and the Holograms” look. I suspect there’s a lot more to Detox than what we’ve seen and she is one of my picks for the season.
Honey Mahogany: Miss Honey made the best entrance into the work room, in a giant afro that reminded me of RuPaul herself in the B52’s “Love Shack” video. She also did well in the photo shoot and I was stunned that she was merely safe on the mainstage -- her couture look was striking and regal, with some major 1920’s glamour. I need to see more of her personality, though.
Jinkx Monsoon:Jinkx was another pre-show favorite, and in the premiere we got a few brief glimpses of the screwball goofiness that I’m hoping she’ll bring to the competition. Her underwater photo shoot resulted in a hilarious shot (she herself likened it to a dead hooker in the Hudson), and I thought her outfit for the runway was cute and slightly unexpected. I need more from her, though. I did wonder if the narcolepsy thing was being played for laughs; I can see that backfiring for the show.
Monica Beverly Hillz: Oh, this one. Banji-girl realness. Not a compliment. Major breakdown by end of episode 1. Threatening to quit already. Tragic drug-addicted past. I feel like she’s throwing everything on the mat already, and none of it is really connecting with me. She’s not long for this competition, and it will probably be a mercy kill. She’s just not strong enough for this.
Vivienne Pinay: Didn’t make much of an impression, really. I thought her runway look was a total dud -- looked like a prom dress from DEB with some gauze stapled around the bottom. I was glad she gave Serena the business, but as of now she’s not particularly memorable.
Jade Jolie: Jade is our girly-girl of the season, totally capable of passing for biological female. At first I thought Jade was going to be all bubblegum and unicorns, but she’s got some claws to her. Once she realized she was in danger she went after Serena big time (mind you, Serena deserved it). Jade may appear young and chipper but I wouldn’t yank her weave, I’ll tell you that. I would, however, take that frock she created and burn it.
And then the Bottom 2 of the night, Serena ChaCha and Penny Tration. Penny won the fan vote to get on to this season (although I’m curious to know what happened with the drag persona of “American Idol” alum Danny Noriega, who was in the running at one point and seemed to be substantially in the lead when last I checked). Serena is young, full of herself, and a mess. The two of them were both tragic on the runway. Penny gave us Wynonna Judd in a wine bag. Serena looked, as coworker Mark put it, like a cracked-out Carrie Bradshaw in sparkly plastic leiderhosen. (Judge Santino Rice had an uncharacteristically good point when saying she looked like her head had been placed on an entirely different body.)
Penny’s fashion crimes were frankly not as great, and there were some that looked worse (Coco is lucky she is a drama engine, because that look would have gotten her stomped otherwise). But she also didn’t seem particularly into being there -- like she was just happy to be along for the ride. And it was a short one, as she half-heartedly meandered through the lyrics to “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus, and was summarily told to sashay away. Another big girl bites the dust on this show. Serena was lucky that she got such a young-skewing song, and also that she’s a dramatic mess. Producers love that shit. But she won’t last long. Genius in her own mind, and absolutely no capacity for dealing with negative criticism.
The preview for the rest of the season suggests a LOT of fighting -- like, more than I feel like we usually see. And of course plenty of breakdowns. It’s drag queens. That’s what we want. Next week someone reveals a terrible secret. Given what’s on the internet about several of them already, it could truly be almost anything.
So what did you think of the S5 premiere? Who is your favorite new queen?
Ah, Baton Rouge. Idol heads even further south tonight, and I'm crossing my fingers for at least one high powered accordion act. If wishes were horses then beggars would ride though, so we'll see. If I'm super lucky, we'll get at least one act that includes an alligator. We only have an hour tonight because of some silly show called "Glee," so let's jump right into it.
Megan Miller, 22, Ethel, LA, was up first, coming out to sing right before surgery she was having on her leg. She sang "Something's Got a Hold on Me," and she didn't need a vocal crutch (and gets extra points for probably not being in top shape), but certainly wasn't showing any vocal weakness or disparity. If she can sing like this hurt, her in top form should be interesting. The judges were completely in support, and Megan will be off to surgery with that golden ticket in her hand.
Next up was Charlie Askew, who was kind of the opposite of a social butterfly (a social caterpillar?), and used music to connect with people. He sang "Breakthrough" by Queen, but really wasn't really connecting with me. Nicki asked him to move to a second song, which still really wasn't doing it for me. I don't this kid is ready for prime time, and I was surprised that the judges were falling head over heels for him. I don't think he's going to make it that long, but the judges gave him four votes to keep continuing on.
Oh man, it's time for another SUPER SECRET SURPRISE Idol contestant. Her surprise video had a tuba in it though (she was nominated by her Grandmother), so I'm going to be a little biased. Maddie Assel, 17, sang "Oh Darling" by The Beatles, and really dug into the song. I thought her overall sound and performance was average, but she ended up saving herself with those few powerful moments she really fell into. Four yeses, and Maddie will go to Hollywood.
We got another montage of the bottom of the barrel singers, cut in between fun little clips of Louisiana wildlife. It looks like this is going to be a constant shift to giving less TV time to the super unprepared singers, and I'm really curious what people think of this. Do you watch the show for good singing or the comedy acts? (Comment away at the bottom!).
Paul Jolley, 22, came out next, singing Rascal Flatts "I Won't Let Go." I thought his voice was a little overly raspy and dry, so I'm going to have to disagree with the judges again on this one. His four yes votes moved him to Hollywood, but his charm and smile aren't going to win this for him, that's for sure. Curious to see how he approaches other songs, and there is time for him to work on his tone.
Christopher Barthel, who claimed he had an alternate performing ego, (Nicki named that persona Mushroom) was next up and sang Adam Lambert's "If I Had You." So, Mushroom performed, and oh boy. It was bad. Almost words can't describe it bad, and it wasn't really singing, and poor Mushroom had no control over almost anything note wise. He did have passion, at least, but Keith put it best: "I like the keys that song was in." He got across the board no votes, and deserved them.
Did someone call for a doctor? Dr. Calvin Peters came out and sang Maxwell's "Whenever Wherever Whatever." He spent a bit of time in the higher register, and was able to move his voice around quite a bit, but still wasn't super impressed. He did have control over being able to shift registers and make jumps, but the mid-range just felt warbly. He'll have time to prove himself (and get his degree in musicology) in Hollywood.
We got our second head-band-wearing contestant with Michelle Montazeri,19, Florida, but we only got a brief glimpse of her, but what we did hear was pretty good. She was followed by two other decent female singers, who they again sped through (There seems to be one fast run of bad and good contestants each night now), and I'm guessing they are all off to Hollywood where we'll probably see more of them. There isn't TV time for everybody, I suppose.
Oh man. Look out female voters, but there's a firefighter in the mix this year! Climbing a ladder into America's hearts, Dustin Watts sang Garth Brooks' "She's Every Woman." He had a very solid voice, but all in all I thought it was a little too familiar sounding. That's not necessarily a bad thing, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it seemed like he was doing more mimicking than he was his own twist on things, which he is going to need in the later stages of the show. I'll be curious to see him perform other material, and he'll have his chance, getting the four votes needed to continue on.
And now we're already down to our last contestant. These hour shows do go by fast, and was it just me, but was this a little less exciting than the past few episodes have been? Carrying the last contestant torch of the day was Burnell Taylor, 19, New Orleans, who sang "I'm Here" by The Color Purple. He did have a good voice, but, and I know I'm sounding like a broken record, was he really worth a standing ovation? I wouldn't say so, but he's going on to Hollywood. The judges seem to be easily to impress this season, to say the least.
Well, that's a wrap folks. 34 contestants will head to Hollywood, but overall Louisiana was a little (OK, a lot) disappointing. Idol will be back next week, and Eric will be taking the helm again. But enough from me, what did you all think of tonight's episode? The season so far? Sound off in the comments below.
Idol routed to Charlotte, North Carolina tonight, hitting the race way, and bringing with it several cringe worthy racing puns. I'm going to avoid those, mostly because the only thing I know about cars is that they have wheels and take me places.
This is also the famed episode where production got shut down due to the lovely feud between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey. But, of course, this is television, so while the show teased it at the start, we didn't get to see it quite yet. We'll get there though folks, don't worry!
First up was Naomi Morris, who sang Aretha Franklin’s “Respect." She was, well, popping out in certain places, and her notes were falling all over the place as well. She got sent home, but got more screen time than she really deserved, probably for the, well, as Nicki said, the popping factor.
Next we got treated to Joel Neyomore, 20, who was a giant bundle of nerves. His big claim to fame was...lying on the ground while singing. And yup, while lying down, he sang "Feeling Good" by Michael Buble. He did manage to pull off a deeper and more bass heavy voice than I thought he would, but it came off more like a monk chant. And it really wasn't that good. Randy said never, and got no's from the rest of the group.
Brian Rittenberry, 27, Jasper, GA came out next. He sang The Beatles' "Let it Be" (a popular song this year, apparently). He gave a fairly commanding showing, showing great control as well as a very adept interpretation of the song. Keith called it "husky,” and Brian got four yeses to move on (And his wife got to meet Keith, so everyone in the family is happy!).
Jimmy Smith, 25, Tennessee, came out, very much looking and feeling the part. He sang “Bless the Broken Road,” by Rascal Flatts. He was a mixed bag: He had some really good stuff in here, but took some risks with parts of it that I didn't think really worked. Nicki (her word of the night) thought he was popping, Keith was in love with it too, and Mariah and Randy all approved, pushing Jimmy to Hollywood.
Next up was the flash pan sizzle reel, flashing through contestants really quick. I don't know why they are doing this, as they seem to speed through the really good talent here. Perhaps they just weren't TV friendly backgrounds or something. Whoever the girl was who was up last hit notes that I think only dogs can hear was quite impressive, and it looked like her and a few of the others in the frying pan were off to Hollywood. Hopefully we'll see some more of them there.
Oh boy! Cowboy hat! Matthew Muse, 23, Florence, South Carolina, and his faithful hat (I'm going to name the hat Phillip) were up next. Both Matthew and Phillip were looking forward to meeting Keith, and the pair sang "When I get Where I'm Going" by Brad Paisley. When he first started I thought he might really have it, and he had various pieces of the country star vocal puzzle there, but they just didn't fit together. I'm going to miss Matthew (and especially Phillip. Phillip!), and he was sent home with no votes from all of the judges.
Isabel Gonzalez was up next, and she was another one of those nominated-by-other-people Idol contestants. I'm still not sure how those work-do they people nominating them sneakily tape them singing songs? Anyway, Isabel sang "Nothing Could Ever Change This Love" by Sam Cooke. I don't know why I wasn't feeling her at first, but I'll give it to her, she could sing, and I didn't except that voice to come out of that body. She showed some really, really, strong control over phrasing and certain shifts between vocal singing and quiet almost whisper/talking little sweet vocal bombs hidden in the performance. The judges fell in love with her, and she got four yeses to Hollywood.
Taisha Bethea, 21, North Carolina, was from a rock band, and I was curious to see a female rocker on Idol. She sang Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." I don't know why Randy thought Johnny Cash wasn't rocking (How is Cash not rocking Randy?), but Taisha's take on it wasn't very rock heavy (And there have been rock versions of that song). Randy asked her to move to her second song by Alanis Morissette. I thought she did a pretty decent job on both songs, but neither of them were really rock songs. Why didn't she pick rock songs? Nicki was all about it, but the other judges seemed torn. Nicki gave a yes, Mariah gave a no, Keith gave a yes, so now with a split panel it came to Randy, who also went no. Apparently with a split vote it came down to Keith to break it (I'm not sure why, because they were in the south?), so he voted yes for her to move on. I hope to see her do some actual rock tunes next time, I have the feeling if she lets loose she could pull off some good stuff (Full disclosure: I have a rock bias).
And here we go! Summer Cunningham, 20, from Georgia, sang "Lean on Me." She had a powerful and resonating voice, but there were some mishaps here and there. Nicki liked her, but Keith seemed offended that when he asked Summer said she had "done the country thing," but I thought it was weird that Mariah asked her what kind of music she listened to. Keith picked her apart even more, asking her why she liked country music, which I thought was a little unnecessary. Keith gave her a yes though, Randy did as well, Mariah gave a yes, and then Nicki jumped on her soapbox, and, it pains me to say, she was right on the money: Why are the judges picking poor Summer apart? Nicki got on the defensive, and HERE COMES THE FIGHT. I hate to say that Nicki was right, but she really was, everyone was jumping on poor Summer for no reason. Nicki did give her a yes, her beef wasn't with Summer. Mariah and Randy kept poking at the country comment though as Summer left the stage, which led to the now famous threat from Nicki saying she should just put a gun in Mariah's mouth. I can't believe that Fox censored out gun (Well, OK, maybe I can), and then Nicki stormed off camera. Drama time!
Idol then played up the whole thing, showing a reel next of all the news footage of the event. Somehow the show got all the judges back in their seats, and day two started, with Keith again between Nicki and Mariah, and Nicki back with another hat (I won't name this one). The show didn’t really address the issue at all, which I found odd, but the show must go on.
The first contestant to break the waters of the judges was Brandy Hamilton, from North Carolina, got in trouble while in the Navy for singing too much. It paid off though, she came out and sang “All I Could Do Was Cry” by Etta James, and had great vibrato and tremolo. She is off to Hollywood.
Then we got treated to Ashley Smith, 22, North Carolina who was a ball full of energy, that's for sure. Nicki named her Blondie, and she sang Carry Underwood's "Cowboy Casonova." Phew. More than any other contestant tonight, wow. Given how silly she was being, I didn't think she would bring it, but she brought it and put it on the table. Boy, oh boy. Judges loved her, I thought she did really well, and she's off to Hollywood.
Janelle Arthur, Tennessee, came out and sang "Where the Black Top End," by a certain Idol judge. She killed it as well, and Keith could barely restrain his excitement. She was one of the strongest of the night, if not of all that we've seen so far, and everyone was all for it. The black top won't be ending anytime soon for her, she's off to Hollywood.
The Voice of Charlotte was up next, who was a street singer full of bravado. Rodney Barber, 27, proved he had it where it counted though, singing "I’ll Be." His outdoors singing experience really paid off, as he had a powerful voice and was able to really project. From homeless on the streets to Idol, now Rodney (and his purple hat, which I'm going to name Charley), got the votes to head off to Hollywood.
Candice Glover, 22, South Carolina, was back from being cut last season in Las Vegas. Oh boy, she had some great control of her voice, but I think that previous Idol experience has something to do with it. Time will tell how far she can make it this year (Nicki said she wanted to skin her and wear her, well, OK), but as of now she's off to Hollywood.
We got our lovely helping of southern hospitality with Ja'Bria, who shared with us some lovely frog gigging story. Can't say she's going to convince me to eat frog legs (no way it tastes like chicken). She sang Bonnie Raitt's version of "Pride and Joy." She was another very strong female vocalist. Very strong. She had the judges snapping and bobbing along, and while she may kill Frogger, she's heading on to Hollywood regardless.
Ugh. Next up was headbutter (and I'm not sure if he was a full box of crayons, if you know what I'm saying) Brad Harris, 28, North Carolina, who used to also be a rapper. He sang "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, and aside from almost forgetting the lyrics, wasn't just really all there. I didn't think he was as awful as the judges thought he was, but at least he had his bacon fueled moment in the sun. He asked to shake their hands and they even turned him down for that, which was a little mean. Poor Brad.
Closing off the night was Saripa Gwen, from North Carolina. Saripa brought her adorable little daughter with her, who was a huge Nicki fan. And oh wow, she decided to sing the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song. She pulled it off too, even though I really didn't think she could. She had this great ability to switch between loud and quieter dynamics at the drop of a hat, and I mean, she had her adorable daughter with her? How could they say no? They couldn't (Nicki almost broke out in tears), and Saripa was off to Hollywood. I didn't notice until right now that Keith had been missing again, I'm guessing more concert conflicts?
Anyways, the night closed on Charlotte, with 37 people being given the ticket to Hollywood. Tomorrow the show heads to Baton Rouge (I really want some zydeco performers!), and then next week Eric will return to guide you through the rest of the season. Carry on.
Back pinch hitting the good old "American Idol" blog for Eric, who was only pulled away from the line of duty because he had to fight cave trolls to move apartments or something silly like that. I watched the first episode with the master of Idol ceremonies himself, but tonight, the show headed to Chicago, the windy city, for the judges to be blown away(Oh come on Idol, that's the best you can do?). Nicki Minaj must have decided that she couldn't leave home without her cheetah print police hat (and who can these days?), and Keith Urban continued to be the buffer (Or as he said, the scratching post, burn!) between her and Mariah Carey. Meow ladies, meow.
First up was Mackenzie Wasner, 17, from Tennessee, who the judges completely bent over for. She was good, and probably worthy of passing to the next round (which she did), but I didn't find her quite as worthy of all the praise. The judges acted like she was the second coming or something. Was she solid? Yup. Super-duper-mind-melting-unbelievable? Not by my watch.
Austin Earles, 19, came in next rocking the Mohawk, but ended up setting off the ticking atomic time bomb that was Nicki and Mariah. Mariah cut Austin off, but apparently Nicki wanted to hear more of what he had to offer. Keith tried to pop in there that he liked Austin's vibrato, but he still has to break that "sky kid in the back of the class who only talks when called on" persona, and not let the ladies bicker over him. Austin got sent packing, at any rate.
Kiara Lanier, 21, Chicago, sang "Prayer" by Celene Dion, and brought a light and wispy vocal tenderness to what we've seen so far, and again floored the judges, rightfully placing herself next round. She'll probably be one of the ones to watch as the season continues, so keep an eye on her.
Stephanie Schimel, Milwakukie, 21, came out next and sang "Dream a Little Dream for Me." Keith was in love with it, and I must say I was a little impressed, as he seems to have a pop culture or vocalist comparison for every vocal style. I didn't expect him to bring the musicality (and musical knowledge to the table, but he at least showed he seems to know what he's talking about a bit. Stephanie got three yeses, with Nicki voting no, probably just because they both were wearing the same color eye shadow (yeah, yeah, yeah, Nicki actually said that, before erupting into a...battle of words with Mariah. Not for the first time I'm sure, but poor Keith, poor poor Keith.
The shiny pink suit that happened to have a girl inside of it (Melissa Bush, Grandville, MI, 27) sang "Downtown," and got sent home, which was probably a good call. There were a few moments of vocal clarity, but it wasn't stellar or nearly as bright as her outfit. Shame.
New to this year is some Idol small city bus tour thingamabob, and that gave us Gabe Brown from Iowa, who brought the judges cookies (I got none). Gabe sang "Give me Shelter" by the Rolling Stones and holy shit. Straight up rock and roll is few and far between on Idol, but with a powerful and comanding voice that I was not expecting to come from his body, Gabe was awesome. His vocal roar and volume were simply outstanding. Mariah made him sing a softer song (I don't know why this was necessary, just let the guy through already!), which wasn't really that much softer, but his performance was spine tingling and awesome. Four yeses got him on to the next round, but I doubt he'll stop there.
Kevin Nabity from Iowa, who we got introduced to by some silly ninja dancing montage, sang "One Week" by the Barenaked Ladies. It's not that great of a song to audition on, given how fast the lyrics go, and even though the closed captioning tried to make it a joke, I'm pretty sure Kevin was just making stuff up as he went along. Nicki stood up for him and convinced him to do another song. He, again a poor decision, chose Styx's "I'm Sailing Away," which sounded more like Cartman's version from "South Park" than anything else. That might be a bit harsh, but he was sent sailing home with four no votes from the judges.
Awww. Isabelle Parell, 15, skipped high school to come audition today! She sang "Baby It's Cold Outside" and got Keith to duet with her. She had a voice twice her age, and had a few problems here or there, but overall had a soft, controlled, and quietly powerful voice. Enough for three yeses (Randy said no, though I'm not really sure why). Isabel will be missing a lot more schools it looks like.
The show had to go down to three judges for a bit because Keith had to go out of town for a concert (really, you can do that?), which put Randy in the middle of the feuding ladies. Pretty sure that was a stipulation in their contracts that someone needed to be between them at all times. Carrying on...
Griffin Peterson, 22, after Nicki tried to pick him up, sang "Washed By the Water." Perhaps it was just because he followed Isabelle, but he didn't really impress me. Nicki used her catch phrase ( he 'looks and feels like a star'), and Randy was on the money: Griffin was below average. Nicki argued that the sex appeal would pull the young ladies into a concert, and Nicki and Mariah agreed on something for once and sent him on to Hollywood, with Randy voting no. Never underestimate the sex appeal apparently, but he's going to need more than a pretty face to sing with the rest of the group this year.
Curtis Finch Jr., 24, from St. Louis, hit notes I didn't think men of the species could, and wooed the judges with his sweet and soaring vocals. He's going to be another one to watch this season, gathering the three yeses to move to Hollywood. He was so good, he even got Nicki to say something nice about Mariah. Miracles can happen!
Next up was another one of Idol's mandatory sad background performers. Mariah Pulice, 19, came up next, who is currently recovering from a battle with anorexia. At the expense of sounding like an ass, I don't think I'm the only one who isn't a fan of the sad story montages that accompany some of these performers. Sure, a person's background is a lot of who they are, but everyone has their demons, and really, it should just come down to the singing. She chose to sing The Beatles' "Let It Be," and took a bit to fall into it, but recovered decently. Mariah almost cried, Nicki really felt it, and even Randy was really digging it. I'm not completely sold, but Mariah got the three votes to continue on anyways.
Keith jumped back in for day two, just in time for Brandy Neelly, 17, Kentucky, who sang "Your Cheating Heart." Both with her interpretation, and her style, she managed to pull together strength, great voice projection, as well as moments of soft clarity, all into a great package. Well deservingly, she moved on to the next round, gathering yes votes from all of the judges.
Josh Holiday, 24, Texas, follower Brandy with another very strong showing, singing "Back at One. " He took a risk with a high vocal jump and ran away with it. Four yeses, and to Hollywood he went. The next two contestants they flew through in a mash up montage, so I missed their exact names, if both of them actually moved on or not, or what have you.
Clifton Duffin, 22, from Illinois, came up next, and his performance tonight was the first time his parents were ever hearing him sing. Dubbed the 'secret squirrel,' he sang "Superstar" by Luther Vandross, and his vibrato and richness outshone his shyer personality, winning over the judges hearts. Another strong candidate, gaining four yeses and that golden ticket.
Ieisha Cotton, 19, Chicago, sang Ashanti's "Thank You." Her voice seemed a little dry, and the confidence was there, but there were a few too many warbles. Mariah said she should have stuck with dancing, and was probably right. All the judges have been surprisingly honest so far this season, which is a good or bad thing depending how you look at it, but they seem to be culling the wheat from the shaft. She got four no's and headed home.
Season 11's Johnny Keyser, 23, Florida, was the second dude to be nearly asked out by Nicki on the spot, and brought a lot more to the table then he apparently did his first time around (Can't speak to that myself, though). Keith was all about it, and Randy was impressed by Johnny's growth. He'll get to head to Hollywood, for a second time, even if he got Nicki and Mariah bickering again about who knows what.
Kez Ban from North Carolina, 27, is one of the more unique, but actually talented, contestant I can think of coming through the show. She started with a song from Pinocchio, and got cut off by Randy, before switching to an original tune she sang while playing guitar. The original was stronger than her somewhat out there demeanor would leave you to believe, with a weathered, but anchored, and very, real and honest voice. I almost wondered why she was auditioning here and not out playing shows of her own. She's not the normal image of an American Idol, but she is sure bringing a lot to the table. Four yeses and she moved on to Hollywood.
The show compiled the....lesser auditions into a 'The Miserables' montage, which I suppose served its purpose. I was wondering how we made it through so much of the episode without anybody really that bad, so it's an interesting way to flash through them without wasting too much time. Again, all depends if you watch the show for talent or to just pick on poor souls who shouldn't be there in the first place.
Ashley Curry, 19, had a huge voice for a little girl. I thought she was looking to be one of the strongest of the night, singing "Mama Knows Best," but after her fit bit it was clear Randy wasn't having it, and then she decided to sing again even though the judges asked her to stop, which didn't help any either. I'd have to say they all were way off in their harsh dislike, and I'm sure we've seen a lot worse people make it further in the show. But, Randy came down on her pretty hard, and everyone else was pretty much in the same boat. There were some pitch issues I suppose, but the judges were really off the mark on this one. She had the drive, showmanship, and spirit, and I think she could have gone pretty far. Sorry Ashley.
The show saved the best (the most heartwarming? The best made for TV story?) for last in Lazaro Arbos, a singer with a speech impediment. Originally from Cuba, before he moved to Florida, no one has eve been able to trace the root of his condition, which left him stuttering before the judges as he introduced himself. He chose to sing "A Bridge over Troubled Waters," and it was like night and day. The stuttering, soft spoken Lazaro was replaced with a strong, confident vocalist. It was a fitting song given his whole back story, and yeah, even for my heart of stone, it was inspiring to see him sing without his stutter breaking through at all. He's heading to Hollywood.
All in all, day two of the initial rounds gave us several strong singers. They seemed to skip over more of the embarrassingly bad candidates, and Nicki and Mariah didn't pull each other's hair out (damn!), but there's still plenty of time left for both this season. Tonight though, it was more about the musicians than the judges, so one can only hope it stays that way.
The season continues on Wednesday when it heads to Charlotte, North Carolina, and the preview showed Nicki throwing a fit and stomping off stage. Always something to look forward to!
Wednesday night marked the start of a new era for “American Idol.” After the exit of judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez -- a decision I suspect Lopez will regret within two years -- a whole new panel made its debut. Well, almost all new. We were once again stuck with Randy Jackson, who simply will never leave. I have accepted this. He is that guy at the party who sits around at 3 a.m., eating the last of the corn nuts, talking about how crappy the food was and how awful all your friends are, while you try your best to pick up the living room while simultaneously hinting that it’s time to leave. He so is that guy. But that said, I was actually glad Randy was there this episode, because he’s the only person on this new panel capable of telling people that they cannot sing.
The rest of the panel includes Keith Urban, “Idol”’s first country-star judge in 12 seasons. This is surprising given that at country artists have been a major part of this show for years now, with two full-on country winners. Unfortunately, Urban was a total dud this episode. There were large spans of time where I totally forgot that he existed -- even when he was on screen! -- and his critiques varied from exceedingly kind to just totally off base. The least auspicious judging debut since the Ellen Degeneres debacle.
The season’s big “get,” Mariah Carey, also had a less-than-successful night. Carey is a great choice for this panel. Aside from Steven Tyler, she is the only other member of the “Idol” judging panel past or present that could be classified as a legitimate vocalist. She is an honest-to-god legend. And she is at the absolute right point in her career to segue into this kind of a show. But she did not come off particularly well in the premiere. In fact, she seemed self absorbed and an unapologetic diva who seems to delight in poking the Chihuahua/My Little Pony hybrid that is NickiMinaj with a very sharp stick, and then acting aghast when Minaj bites back. I got the sense that Mariah is truly committed to this process -- something I could not say about Britney Spears and her recent, failed run on “The X Factor” -- but Mariah is doing herself no favors by taking herself so seriously.
And then there’s Minaj herself. Many people saw her hiring as a major coup for the show, as she’s still very much a pop star in her prime. I think this is a mutually beneficial situation for both parties. Minaj brings in a much younger fan base -- something this show desperately needs in these later seasons, which have been taken over by The Frauen Vote -- and she and Carey are going to generate headlines with their instantaneous rivalry. But Minaj benefits, too. This is very similar to the situation “The Voice” had with Cee Lo Green. When they first nabbed him he was riding high on “F**k You.” But…what has he done since? Minaj has already had greater and more sustained success, but I suspect even Nicki, or her managers, know that because of her already over-the-top persona she has a shorter-than-usual cultural shelf life. This show will give her a sustained, mainstream relevancy for as long as she’s on it. Assuming she can avoid killing Carey, that is. All that said, I found myself responding positively to Nicki in the premiere. Yes, she is RIDICULOUS. But she’s also a fairly astute judge and she seems really excited to be there. She’s definitely not boring….
My fear for this season, as demonstrated tonight, is that this show is going to be less about the actual singing competition and instead totally dominated by the Minaj/Carey feud. I don’t think this is at all manufactured; I think that the two of them honestly cannot stand one another. If it was this ugly during the initial-audition “honeymoon” phase, it has the possibility to get really unpleasant during the somewhat-tense live shows. (Even Paula and Simon used to get snippy with one another during The Golden Age.) Of course, producers are probably counting on that. I suspect that Keith Urban is not paid nearly enough to sit between the two of them.
The other major concern I had after the two-hour premiere is the show’s apparent return to cruelty. There were multiple segments devoted to the mocking of the socially awkward, something the editors had backed off of considerably since the Season 10 revamp. I’ve never liked that aspect of the show and I was chagrined to see probably half the spotlighted auditions fall into the joke category -- especially since we only saw maybe three really decent auditions all night. Maybe it was a blip, but I really don’t need that kind of negativity. There’s nothing funny about a guy wearing a terrible Michael Jackson costume and TRAGIC wig making an ass of himself on national television. And we really needed to make fun of two different immigrants for not being able to speak English? Shame on you, show. Shame on you.
I won’t bother recapping the auditions that we’re all supposed to laugh at in order to feel better about ourselves. It’s a waste of your time and mine. But of the ones we’re supposed actually care about, here is my takea:
-Tenna Torres, 28, from Queens, is a huge Mariah Carey fan and went to Camp Mariah back in the day. She picked “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King. Tenna can sing, but she has to watch her tone, which sometimes can get very unpleasant, almost tortured. Mariah said she would be “honored” if someone like Tennawas to win Season 12. She got sent through to Hollywood.
-Christina “Isabelle” from New York/Atlanta/Boston/Whatever picked “Summertime” and she absolutely killed it. There was some banter about her weight struggle (she is a gorgeous woman), Randy talked about how high school kids can be so cruel, and somehow it came about Nicki. I don’t know. Nicki complemented her tone, skill, and vocal beauty. Urban loved the vulnerability and humanity in her voice. Randy told her to build up her confidence (she is a student at Berklee -- don’t you have to be pretty cutthroat to make it in that program?). Four yesses.
-Apparently this year people could nominate potential contestants for “American Idol” via the internet? Jessica Kartalis’s mother nominated her, and Jessica was “surprised” when Randy came to give her her audition number. Please. So fake. And I don’t understand any part of this new process. Jessica sang an original song. She was fine when she was singing a cappella, but when she started playing guitar she lost her pitch and maybe screwed up the lyrics -- she kept apologizing while she was singing. All of the judges encouraged Jessica to try out next year, and Jessica said, “Today is my only shot.” What does that mean? What a bullshit response. She’s 19! This girl really thought she was going straight through to Hollywood, you could tell.
-Frankie Ford, 24, a subway busker from Brooklyn, sang “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. He broke down in the middle of the audition and had to take a lengthy pause to get his stuff back together. He was good -- not amazing, but a good singer with a big voice and he knows how to interpret a song. Mariah loved his “inner glow.” Nicki felt that he was “so different,” but acknowledged that he doesn’t have the best voice of the crowd, but that he has a story America will respond to. I actually think America will be largely indifferent to Frankie. He seems very nervous, very scattered.
-Sarah Restuccio, 17, from New Jersey works on a blueberry farm, drives a four-wheeler, and shoots arrows. She can also sing, and she picked “Mama’s Song” by Carrie Underwood. I don’t like the song (love Cunderwood, though), but she has a lovely voice and can emote. Nicki thinks she can be a big country star. Mariah thinks she’s the whole package. And then something amazing happened: Sarah went into a second song, and it was “Super Bass,” and she was GREAT! She rapped and it totally worked. Loved her. The second song confused Urban and Randy, who didn’t get who Sarah is. Nicki defended the hell out of Sarah and said that she can be all of those things. It got heated, but in the right way. Four yesses. That was the best part of the night to me, hands down.
-Angela Miller, 18, from Massachusetts has significant hearing problems, but she can sing. She did “Mama Knows Best” by Jessie J and she has a great pop voice with a bit of a jazz twist. Big range and good control and a great natural groove and look. Nicki said that Angela made her feel something in her soul. Mariah said that she has tone and soul and beautiful texture. Randy called it one of the best today. Certainly one of the best we saw all night, if not the best.
-Ashlee Feliciano, 20, a student from Connecticut, sang that damned “Put Your Records On” song by Corinne Bailey Rae. Ashlee’s family adopts “medically complex children.” So there’s your requisite sob story. She’s a good singer with a big voice. She got a bit scattered, needs to work on her breath control, and needs to focus on her upper register. Nicki said she was inspired by Ashlee. Mariah thought everything was “nice and clear” and Ashlee has tons of potential. Urban said that her lower register has tremendous character -- I thought that was the weakest part of the audition. Her little brother Aiden would win if there was a show called “Cute Toddler Idol.”
-I’ll wrap by commenting on the part of the episode that made me actually groan. Gurpreet Sing Sarin is a dapper man who color coordinates his turbans to his outfits. Fabulous. He referred to himself as “The Turbanator,” which prompted the editors to go into an ill-conceived package in which they gave Gurpreet glowing red eyes and had him “targeting” the judges. Now, why might it not be a great idea to make a guy in a turban look like a killing machine on national television? Did nobody involved stop and think, “Oh, hey, this might be a little culturally insensitive”? Oh, SHOW. Anyway, Gurpreet sang “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5, and he did a fine job. He’s got some natural rhythm and has a sweet voice, but it was all a little unassuming. Both Ketih and Nicki thought he was too light/weak for this competition. Randy and Mariah gave him yesses. Keith said no, but Nicki put him through because he has a beautiful marigold turban, just like the wig she snatched off Rainbow Brite to wear to that afternoon’s taping. While I suspect the segment that introduced him is going to infuriate several different groups, I am a sucker for some hot turban action. Go Gurpreet!
Tomorrow: The auditions move to Chicago, and Nicki vs. Mariah gets even more serious, with Keith Urban left to suffer as a human “scratching post.” Poor Keith Urban…