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!
Art: The Annual School for American Crafts Walkthrough event will be held today, 4-7 p.m., at the School for American Crafts (73 Lomb Memorial Dr., Bldg 7A, Rm 2514).