AMERICAN IDOL is back. How do we live without it? Did anyone else catch the blink or you missed it clip of Adam when Ryan recapped Season 8 and declared that a star was born (the producers are still hoping for a recount of last May’s votes). If I’m being honest (to borrow a phrase from the soon-to-be departing Simon), Tuesday night’s auditions in Boston were underwhelming. Paula’s absence from the panel was not as profoundly felt as I anticipated, but Victoria “Posh” Beckham hardly wowed with her stiff smile and barely there critiques of the hopefuls. I liked Maddy Curtis, the first recipient of a golden ticket. Her voice, while hardly the best, took a back seat to her pre-packaged intro as a sister to several adopted children with Down Syndrome. Obviously a good person from good stock, I’ll root for her until she is inevitably is sent home during Hell Week. Similarly, we saw Italian boy Amadeo Diricco at home with his large family enjoying a huge meal, but the flavor faded when he opened his mouth to sing. Bosa Mora’s voice was pleasant enough, but it paled next to his mother’s fabulous headdress. If I were Joshua Blaylock, I don’t know how I would take Randy’s comment that his sound is reminiscent of Spandau Ballet. And Justin Williams’ cancer story seemed an attempt to set him up as this season’s Scott MacIntyre. Sorry, Justin. Cancer’s a bitch, but you’ll have to do better than that. This was the way of the night: nice kids, acceptable pipes, and no spark. But they’ll all get a second chance.
The one exception was Katie Stevens. Now you’ll think that I was manipulated by her relationship with her Alzheimer’s afflicted, non-English speaking grandmother (and that’s possibly true), but as soon as that rendition of “At Last” came out of her mouth, she was the real deal. What separated Katie from the other contestants? I mainly remembered their backstories whereas I remembered Katie’s song. We would see something similar to, and much more memorable than, this audition the following night.
Wednesday’s Atlanta round was loads more fun. The presence of the elevator foreshadowed the selection of those who will advance to the live rounds. Guest judge Mary J. Blige, seemed to be having a great time (although there were times when I mistook her laughter for tears during the cringe inducing Jesse Hamilton audition). I am in complete agreement that Jermaine Sellars and his soulful take on “One of Us” was the highlight of the auditions thus far. He was Wednesday’s Katie Stevens, although far more talented and genuine. I loved how he referenced his sick mother in his interview but firmly stated that in the end he was there to sing. “Yeah, my life sucks, too, but I’ll be damned if that’s going to define me in a singing competition.” Love him! Miss Congeniality, Keia Johnson, also charmed, and while rural Tennessee girl Vanessa Wolfe is really getting in over her head (and I fear some kind of breakdown once she lands in Hollywood), how awesome would it be to someone picked out of such obscurity become a star? Singing cop Brian Walker reminded me of lat season’s Michael Sarver, decent, can carry at tune, and a possibility to slip into the Top 12 based on his Everyman appeal.
Atlanta also brought the funny. Dewonne Robinson’s duet for one stands out for the agonizing refrain of “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over!” Thank God. Simon is right; General Larry Platt’s own original piece “Pants on the Ground” could totally be a hit! But for me the absolute highlight of the night was the many faces of Lamar Royal. At first he seemed like an affable, possibly talented kid of the Chikeze Eze variety. Mary J.’s presence on the panel was an added bonus for him; he rightfully called her an idol in her own right. His insistence that he welcomed constructive criticism raised a red flag but barely hinted at the total 180 to come. After the angriest rendition of “Kiss from a Rose” ever, the judges (sans Simon, who I wish had been in the room) tried to let him down easy. But Lamar wasn’t having it or rather hearing it. Never once did Kara or Randy or Mary J. say that he could not sing. He’s young, raw, and needs to tone everything, including his ego, down. So Lamar broke into “My Cherie Amour,” convinced that the power of his voice would change the judges’ tune. No such luck. Mary J.’s fear that he was one step away from drawing a gun on them did not seem farfetched as security escorted him out. His tirade about the idiocy of the judges, specifically his idol of five minutes earlier, Mary J. Blige, took him from the elevator to the street, his ego likely refueled when a car passing by cheered (although it’s possible they, like the rest of us, just wanted him to stop). While an audition like the afore-mentioned Jesse Hamilton’s is almost painful to watch because of the fear that the kid is being exploited, Lamar’s was hysterical. He deserved what he got. If he were to take the judges’ advice to heart and work on his craft, he might have a shot down the line. Right now he is all smugness, convinced he’s owed the trip to Hollywood because. At only two night’s in, I’d bet money that more Lamars are waiting in the wings. Hooray!
IDOL’s back. I wouldn’t say it’s better than ever, but at least two nights of TV viewing are covered for the next few months. See you in Chicago!