Fresh Take: American Idol Auditions, Part 2

Just as ABC promised, we are back for night two of American Idol auditions. Let me ask this question – do we really need a second night of auditions? Couldn’t ABC have just cut some of the personal asides for each contestant and made, like, a 3 hour special on Wednesday to kick things off? I feel like ABC is not respecting my time. When the Bachelor has a special Tuesday night 2 hour follow up I know there is a reason for it. DRAMA. For American Idol, I feel like it is just a poor job editing that necessitates 2 nights. I get that each potential contestant has a unique story and situation but, like math class, I just can’t learn everything at once. I need it to be incremental. Ease me into the personal bios – maybe highlight one extra special person and then mention some neat nature facts about the others? I don’t know but I feel like I’m being bullied. Also, when did the auditions night become everyone who gets more than a minute of airtime gets a ticket? Also, most everyone they introduced tonight made it through to Hollywood. Where are all the rejects? THAT’S THE BEST PART, ABC. I demand less talent. And with that out of the way…

Our first singer tonight is Mara Justine, a 15 year old girl who opens up with Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain.” So, because she chose to sing Rihanna, I instantly compare her with Noah – and as good as Mara is, and she is good, she is no Noah. She has this very clenched look to her when she sings. Everything is stiff and she moves her head and body around very geometrically. Think lots of right angles. She sorta of looks like she is voguing at points. She just looks uncomfortable but luckily her voice sounds pretty-pretty good. It’s like a Lady Marmalade voice?  Katy Perry tells her she is a top 10 talent and I’m immediately skeptical. Is she a top 10 talent based on what I’ve seen so far? Yes, but that’s because I’ve only seen 2 other singers thus far that I would consider top 10. She’s going to need a lot of coaching to succeed but I think it’s possible we see her towards the end. P.S. when did everyone on Idol get so young? I’ve seen about 1 or 2 people north of 20 years old so far.

Next up we have Andrew Weaver who looks and sounds like the guy who brings an acoustic guitar to a party and subsequently ruins the party. His version of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” somehow garners him a ticket to Hollywood and I gotta admit I was significantly underwhelmed with his performance. Is it because he chose to sing Ed Sheeran? Maybe. Anytime I hear Ed Sheeran I think of a car trip I took with my parents while visiting AZ. We drove out to Sedona from Phoenix and my mom told me I would like this fun Irish guy’s music. It was Ed Sheeran. I don’t like Ed Sheeran. I was trapped in a van listening to the entire Divide album in the middle of the desert. When we stopped for gas I seriously considered buying malt liquor and slamming it in the bathroom stall to make the remainder of the journey more tolerable. Anyway, climb aboard Andrew – you killjoy.

Christina Jones is on after Andrew. Christina is neat because she has synesthesia – a condition where music has colors. I try to wrap my mind around what that is like but I don’t get very far. I have a hard enough time thinking of music being “soft” or “mellow”. I don’t know what I would do if music appeared as different colors to me. Panic maybe? I like her story and I think she has a lot of potential so I am okay with the judges moving her along to the next round.

Next we have Griffin Tucker…and yes, that is apparently his real name. I can’t really get past his name before he dives into a rendition of “Lady Madonna”. Griffin sounds like he is trying to be good at singing. The voice that comes out of him is just like Katy says it is – somehow 7000 years old. You could tell me he was a wizard who discovered the secret to ever-lasting life that waited for this moment and I would believe that over Griffin’s signing voice being his actual authentic voice. It fools Lionel Richie though – he’s practically ecstatic over this dude. What’s going on here Lionel? I agreed with your decisions last night but it seems like something has changed since last I saw you. What’s that drink in your cup? So it looks like someone named Griffin Tucker is also going to Hollywood. He’s going to have a very eclectic fan base if he makes it far into the competition. I envision a whole group of people in Gryffindor gear cheering him on – because he is a wizard.

William Casanova appears on stage next and…I don’t know what to make of this dude. He’s full of swagger and hails from metro DC where he sells women’s shoes. He comes off real skeevy to me – Demario from the Bachelorette skeevy. There’s something about him that sort of makes my skin crawl because I feel like he is trying to sell me something. But then again, his charm, if that is what you can call it, is also sort of working on me? I’m definitely interested to hear this dude sing and when he finally does I gotta say he has a pretty silky voice. However, I find myself wishing I could separate the voice from the dude. He’s like a creepy Big Earn. This all culminates when ABC decides to throw a soft-ball out there for all the foot fetish people in the world and Katy starts talking feet with Casanova. She throws her right foot on the table and tells ‘Nova to come over and claim his ticket. It’s between her toes. Did this guy even sing? I don’t recall but I do suddenly need to take a shower.

Our next audition takes us back to the city of Angels where we meet Michelle from Venezuela.  VENEZUEELLLA. Luke asks how to pronounce the country and Michelle eagerly obliges. In fact, she’s way too eager about everything. It’s her moment and she knows it. She begs the judges to get up and dance while she sings – and for some reason they do. My ass would have stayed rooted in my chair – ain’t no one going to tell me what to do. Michelle dances with Katy. Katy falls. Her dress is too short. Chaos ensues. Michelle gets a ticket for being “not annoying”. Seriously?! Why is everyone getting a damn ticket? I’m about to go out there and audition if this is what I am signing up to watch for the next few months. I’m not saying she’s not talented, but she is not nearly at the same level as some of the other contestants. I get that ABC wants to appeal to the Latinx community but there wasn’t anyone who was more talented out there? Surely there was someone less annoying?

Mischa is a dude from the Ukraine and we get our first pass of the night. THE UKRAINE IS WEAK! He has some earworm worthy song that bips and bops but I agree with the judges – it sound entirely too foreign for American audiences. Mischa reminds me that at one point I had two Ukrainian roommates, Igor and other guy that was on the Ukrainian Olympic rowing team. Igor tried to make a frozen pizza one night and put the whole thing – pizza, cardboard box and plastic – into the oven to cook. I came home to smoke pouring out of the windows and when I ran upstairs to see if everything was okay there was Igor sitting on the couch like nothing was the matter. That was Igor’s last night cooking pizza unsupervised. And so it goes with Mischa, his first night was his last night.

Now we get to someone who I think will go extremely far in this completion – Brandon Diaz. Let’s get this out of the way now – I am supremely jealous of this dude’s flow. His hair is spectacular. It’s so good it makes Lionel long for the days when he sported a Jheri curl. The only problem is Brandon’s flow works in every way that Lionel’s did not. Sorry Lionel. So Brandon has the Hollywood look down but can he sing? Choosing to showcase his falsetto Brandon sings Allen Stone’s “Unaware” and I’m blown away. The falsetto is perfect. Like pitch perfect. He’s even more talented than my beloved Noah at this juncture and I think his ceiling might be significantly higher, too. I don’t care for the open-blouse-rockstar look but then again, I wear flannel and jeans all the time, so I may not be the best judge. Keep your eyes on Brandon Diaz ladies and gents.

Just like Sunday, things start to take a weird turning point with the next segment. On Sunday night Katy was not too subtle about her being single but here we have an entire montage dedicated to how single Katy is. I know ABC was just being playful but this segment just didn’t deliver for me. It was weird. This serves as segue to Trevor Holmes entrance. Trevor is the gee-golly-gosh perfect looking construction worker/crooner. Katy tells us that only the hottest guys are named Trevor and instantly I think of about 60 dudes that could instantly prove her wrong. Trevor confesses that he has a crush on Katy and Katy is simply smitten. She throws all objectivity out the window. She’s a yes before he even gets to strum his guitar once. I admit he looks the part of American Idol 100% but his singing leaves a lot to be desired. LIKE A LOT. We are back to the everyone gets a ticket train and after telling Trevor he’s going to Hollywood Katy sorta runs off stage? I know she’s wearing heels but she runs like I walk over black ice. The editors really should have played the Benny Hill theme song here – missed opportunity.  Now that we now Katy is single and available we’re on to our next contestant.

Laine Hardy from the deep-deep South is up next. You know he’s from the deep-deep south because you honestly need subtitles to understand what he is saying. He sings, he deservedly gets a golden ticket, and with that we turn now to what will become a recurring feature on my American Idol recaps…

LEARNIN’ BOUT LIONEL (LBL)

During the last episode I learned that Lionel Richie was in the Commodores – who knew?! Everyone but me. Tonight I learned that Lionel is from Alabama! ROLL TIDEI WAR EAGLE! I guess I never noticed that he had a vague southern drawl in his voice, but I do now. So now I know that Lionel Richie from Alabama. Neat.

After Laine we meet Gabbii Jones who only has 30 days to become a popstar or she has to go back to school. Yikes. She is wearing this sparkly black bodysuit that might just be more memorable than her. When she sings “Dangerous Woman” I keep getting images of James Brown in my mind. She has a lot of gravel in her voice and seems at war with the microphone as she belts out the impossibly high notes of Ariana Grande. It takes a lot of sand to sing Ariana Grande in front of 3 established musicians, so I give her credit where credit is due, but I found her performance a touch underwhelming. There’s something there but I really think the judges need to turn someone semi-talented away at this point. They don’t. Gabbii gets a golden ticket but her dad reminds her that the clock is now down to 10 days since it’s already been 20 since he delivered his ultimatum.

Next up is plucky Cameron Theodos, also from Louisiana. Cameron is from not as deep-deep south Louisiana as Laine, but still pretty deep south: Shreveport. He dons a “stylish” cap just like Katie from last night. If it isn’t apparent by now let me make myself perfectly clear: I hate hats like this. I think they are stupid. I think the people who wear them are stupid. I also think the people who wear them are presumptuous. Or they are hiding something. This knife only cuts one way – hats like this are the worst. He makes his way to the stage, he sings, and is awarded a golden ticket because why not at this point. Anyone who isn’t from the Ukraine is going to get one. Was it me or was Lionel tossing a lot of shade at Cameron as when they gave him the ticket? Lionel says his whole fan club is with him and they at least want him in the first round – sounds like Lionel maybe isn’t too keen on Cameron.

The next couple of contestants follow a familiar American Idol formula. We have Thaddeus who is returning to American Idol after an unsuccessful outing in 2010. He’s literally half the man he was. The last time America saw Thaddeus he weighed north of 390 lbs but he’s managed to drop over 160 pounds. That’s basically a whole me if I actually cut down on drinking and did more cardio! That’s insane. He’s a winner in my book for sheer determination alone. His song choice strikes me as super odd when he announces he will be singing “Don’t You Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia. Isn’t this a techno song? Dude is gonna sing a techno song a capella? It’s definitely different but Thaddeus already has two memorable things before the song. He’s a returning contestant and he’s dropped a fuck-ton of weight. Now he has 3 things that make him standout! He’s definitely getting a ticket. You know who else is getting a ticket? Country girl Rissa from Woodward’s furniture. Instead of inheriting her family’s furniture empire Rissa is looking to chase down her dreams of becoming a singer. She’s a really fantastic singer with a pull yourself up by your bootstraps story that America loves so naturally she’s given a ticket so that we can see what this country girl can do. The penultimate audition is that of Garrett. He hails from Bossier City, LA which is the same city my cousin’s wife is from! He sings “A Man’s World” and I’ll admit I sound sexist when I say this song sounds better when a woman sings it. It’s just hard for me to get behind the lyrics when a good old boy from Louisiana is lamenting about how men run the world. Care to guess if he got a ticket? Me neither. It’s automatic at this point, the judges are on autopilot.

At long last we come to our final audition of the night, David. David has a really inspirational story that literally brings Katy and the rest of the judges to tears. He packed up his bags and moved to Nashville to pursue a music career only to be hit by a car within his first few weeks of living there and paralyzed from the waist down. Shit. He said he wanted to give up for months when a miracle happens – he begins to feel sensations in his toes again. Months of physical therapy later teach David to slowly gain control of his lower body. At the same time his body is healing he also manages to reconnect with an old friend. It’s at this point that David’s life morphs into a living adaptation of the Notebook. He falls madly in love with the friend who stuck by his side and together they get David to American Idol to pursue his dreams that were seemingly taken from him. Katy’s a wreck. She’s sobbing uncontrollably. It’s a really inspirational story that warms even my cold heart. After we hear all this David sings, but we didn’t need him to. The ticket was his all along.

The auditions are done. The stage is set. Who will be the next American Idol? What will I learn about Lionel Richie? We’ll have some of those answers next week on the next hot take.

Fresh Take: American Idol Auditions, Part 1

We open on shots of vintage America – Iconic imagery of late model Fords in fields of buckwheat, soaring coastal vistas, and shimmering cities. American Idol does this because American Idol knows America’s best days are behind her. But the power of song can bring us back to that special time and place when America was on top! I don’t immediately recognize who is narrating the show but then it comes to me all at once – it’s Carrie Underwood! OMG! Do we get to see what happened to her face?! Ever since last summer we have heard the rumors about how she horribly disfigured her face. A home accident left her needing upwards of sixty stitches. She’s alluded to how she isn’t ready to be out in public yet but maybe this will be our first glimpse of the new Carrie? It’s not.

We don’t get to see Carrie, but we do get to see Ryan Seacrest – boo. It should come as no surprise that his role is severely diminished this year as he wades in scandal from the #metoo movement. Would it really have been that hard to replace him, ABC? After the intro we get to meet our judges – the Judgementals. Groan. ABC promises that this is the most star-studded cast ever assembled. Their job: To tell children and young adults whether or not they will have a chance to let Hollywood chew them up. First up we’ve got Lionel Richie who might be the most talented of the three judges. He is the aged veteran, significantly older than both Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. He comes from an era where you actually had to have talent to make it in the business. Neat nature fact: I learned through one of his expositions that he was a member of the Commodores. Hey alright! Previously I only knew that he sang the song Hello, was in the Ghost Soundtrack (This is not actually true, but I think it is), and is the adopted father of now-normal Nicole Richie.

Next we have Katy Perry who is still in the process of reinventing herself to maintain relevance. My initial impression of her is “Wow! Does she know she is not competing?”. She may or may not know this. She is the pop/youth/energy judge of the show and the most vocal. She is expected to be the wacky-out-there judge but she sorta comes off like she is manic. She has too much energy, if you ask me. Manufactured energy, if you catch my drift…Anyway she’s there to get the crowd and the talent pumped. I’ll confess I used to really like Katy Perry during her Russel Brand years. Teenage Dream is a work of art and still holds up today. Everything that came before that album is pure gold and worth a listen. Everything that came after that album is…less so.

Finally, we have Luke Bryan who represents the folksy side of America – the area between the Appalachians and the Rockies. He was definitely not cast to compete with Blake Shelton on the Voice so don’t think that for a second. His most popular song on Spotify right now (I know, I am listening to it to familiarize myself to this dude) is “Most People are Good”. That’s very fitting because as I watched the first installment of American Idol auditions I asked myself if he was capable of telling someone no. He seemed to like everyone or didn’t have the heart to say wow you’re awful. Now I see his most popular song is about giving medals to mothers for trying to be mothers. It all makes sense now.

The chemistry between the judges is tbd. I came in expecting the judges to have banter back and forth like the Voice. That’s not the case here. The closest they come to non-forced conversation is when Katy Perry finishes sentences for Lionel Richie. They are thinking the same thing! This happened a number of times throughout the season premiere and let me tell you – I do this to my girlfriend all the time and it is not something she is thrilled about. In fact, I do it so damn often that I am actively trying to stop myself. I cringe when I do it. If I look anything like Katy Perry then it is certainly time to curb this behavior. That or convince my girlfriend that she is Lionel Richie and make her where those loose-fitting scarves from here on out.

The auditions are divided into 3 geographic regions tonight: New York, Nashville and Los Angeles. That’s where music lives. Our first contestant is Katie, that hat. She comes on stage full of quirky energy wearing this yellow corduroy ball cap thing and tall, white, “kinky” boots (the musical). With her trusty guitar she sings a song she wrote herself called 21st Century Medicine. It’s your typical we are too connected to technology and we need to be more human type song. She finishes and the judges are pretty quiet. I think she’s gonna get a no but to my surprise all three judges give her a yes. She’s going to Hollywood! It took a while for them to get to a yes though and I legit thought no one knew what to say. Not like a “she blew us away” no one knew what to say. It was more like a “does anyone want to say something first” no one knew what to say. Luke gives her some advice on her exit – don’t go on social media. No Facebook, no Instagram, nothing. He thinks the internet trolls will eat her up and ruin her energy. He’s right.

After Katie exits, golden ticket (I think about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory each time this is mentioned) in hand, we meet Ron. Ron has a really inspiring story about growing up in the Congo and immigrating to America 10 years prior. In America he was raised by his father who suddenly tells him that he is not his son and kicks him out. He kicks off his version of James Bay’s Let it Go and he sounds pretty good even though he mostly sounds like a bad copy of James Bay. Even still I think he has potential. Luke, Katy and Lionel all think he’s talented but he doesn’t have his own sound so there isn’t much to develop. Fair point. He’s out, sad story and all. We are about to cut to commercial but we go back to the judges table and Lionel is racked with guilt. He can’t stop thinking about Ron! He wants to bring him back. He wants him to go to Hollywood. They bring Ron back in and RON IS GOING TO HOLLYWOOD! He’s stoked and I am stoked for him. All seems well then Katy Perry makes a terrible joke, “You Congo Ron…” I missed the last part of it because I had a, did she really just say that, look on my face. Was it semi-racist? Am I being too sensitive? Was that a dad joke? I don’t know but I want it to stop.

My personal favorite audition of the night is next – Kobe Sliderz. She embodies everything I think about when I think musical theatre in New York. She has to be the star in the room. She thinks she knows everything. She’s fucking 26 years old. You know how much I knew at 26? Basically nothing. I sure thought I did though. Holy shit does Ms. Wagyu crash and burn in front of judges. Her song is…bizarre to say the least. Her up and down vocals were so piercing that she woke up my dog, no joke. For context my dog is a 2 year old lab so anytime she beds down for some shuteye I am extremely thankful. Welp, Kobe Beef comes along and ruins this quiet moment. Next thing I know my pupper is up wanting to play fetch for several hours. Get the fuck out Kobe. There’s no better way to end our time in NYC then seeing Kobe scream into the camera ala Krystal (Bachelor) about why she is better than everyone else.

Our next locale is Nashville, TN. Country music USA! I expect Luke to shine in these auditions since he owns the country chops on the panel. He doesn’t. He contractually (?) acquiesces the majority of the screen time to Katy. The first audition in Nashville is a Hayden Penettiere look-a-like named Harper and…TWIST…we’ve met Harper before! Before Fergie butchered the national anthem at the last NBA All Star game there was an 11 year old girl from the south that sang the worst rendition of the national anthem in 2012. Her name was Harper. Now I admit I am a pretty judgmental, condescending and overall dick sometimes but even I know better than to mock a small girl who gets up in front of thousands of people and sings. Well Harper is all growns up now and ready to redeem herself. She has a really good original song about breaking up with a dude and having a yard sale with his stuff. But she is 16 so it’s a touch uncomfortable that she wrote and is singing a song on this subject. Also, she brings her Oprah dream board with her to show the judges she has always wanted to be on American Idol. Katy Perry asks Harper to approach the table with her dream board. Katy crosses the “Audition for American Idol (and maybe win?)” line off her board and punches her ticket to Hollywood.

Layla and Dixie are next. Two sisters from Kentucky. Kayla is old enough to audition for American Idol this season. Dixie is not. Dixie is 7. Dixie is given a ticket to Hollywood for 2026. Boy is she going to be crushed when she is 15 and American Idol no longer exists…right? Dixie steps to the side and lets her big sis give it a try. She easily wins over the judges with her moxie and we have another golden ticket recipient.

Now is when things take a creepy turn. We are introduced to Benjamin. Benjamin is a Geeetar-Toatin’ cashier at an electronics store that is probably Best Buy. Ben-Jammin looks like a dude that works at Best Buy. He works there. Somehow it comes out that Benny has never kissed a girl before so of course Katy calls him up to the judges’ table and plants one on poor-old-Ben. Benjamin is swooning after the peck and needs some water. He is on cloud and doesn’t even care about the audition now. He kissed a girl – and he liked it! Then he says something that makes me shudder. We revisit his background and he says he likes being a cashier because he gets to talk to women…okay? I’m a bit lost then he offers up this confession: They can’t leave without saying hi to me. OMG. Ewwwww. If women start to go missing near a certain Best Buy that employs Benjamin – interview him first. He’s your suspect. Case closed. It turns out that Ben can sing as well as I can. No ticket.

Now we’re in Los Angeles for the third act of the first night. Here we meet Nico Bones. Nico Bones is to American Idol what Whaboom is to the Bachelorette. He’s there to play a character. He’s a mix between the Ramones and Marilyn Manson. He says he has a hangover but I don’t think he drinks. He says he plays gigs around LA for the free drinks. Again, I don’t think he drinks. He gets out in front of the judges, sings “Go Eat Worms” punk style and promptly leaves. Congrats on the 5 new twitter follows dude.

During Nico’s segment we are introduced to a man from Arkansas named Noah. Noah is a warm and friendly fellow who doesn’t want to be a farmer and loves to make new friends. Noah has the voice of an angel! Seriously, this dude can sing. He is by far the most talented person we have seen this evening. He absolutely kills Rianna’s Stay. His version might actually be better than hers. What does Noah want at the end of all this? An Alpaca. Winning would be nice but at the top of his list he wants an Alpaca. Good news. His audition was so good Lionel promises him an Alpaca. And Lionel better deliver because it would be a real crumb-bum move to lie to someone as sweet as Noah. Give him the Alpaca, Lionel.

We end with the Sauce – Alyssa Raghu. Her segment involves a lot of Disneyland and it becomes hard to ignore the fact that Disney owns ABC. I feel like Disneyland has reached the point where they don’t need to advertise. Everyone knows what Disneyland is all over the world. Every kid wants to go there by age 2. The only kids that didn’t want to go to Disneyland are the Star Wars kids and it looks like Disney cracked that nut just like Disney cracks every nut. Disney bought Star Wars. The sauce sings an Ariana Grande song which is…ballsy to say the least. Ariana Grande sings the songs Mariah Carey can’t now so attempting an Ariana Grande song takes guts. But she hits all the right notes and aces it. Golden ticket achievement unlocked. The Sauce is going to Hollywood.

There’s a few other contestants but none of them are too different from the characters we’ve seen in past seasons. There’s a Rick Astley guy who has a sock fetish and can belt out perfect Sinatra. He’s like if a voice was superman and Clark Kent. There’s also a guy from West Philly who is turning it all around by chasing his dreams in Los Angeles. He has a hole in his guitar. Trust the process. They both get tickets to Hollywood. Some girl that looks like baby Kelsey from Siesta Key is a no. Sardor is some sort of winner from Russia with loud shoes and a 3.5 octave range. He is a solid no.

The storytellers at ABC insist that there’s too much talent and too many emotional moments to have just one night of auditions. ABC needs your Monday night, too. What is going to happen?! We’ve been promised Katy is going to be emotionally wrekt over something. We’ll find out what that is tomorrow @ 8:00 PM EST.