Sadly, no one covered "Portlandia's" "Dream Of The '90s" theme on "American Idol" Wednesday night (how cool would that have been?), but the dream of the Idols was still alive in Portland this week. Sure, some auditioners' dreams got crushed, like the fast-food worker with the unfortunate/kinda-awesome name David Weed, who tried to take on Rush, or hyperactive wannabe rocker Ben Harrison, who sang a version of Queen's "Somebody To Love" that nobody on the judging panel loved at all. But the show did start out with one quirky girl who was so cool, she should actually get her own "Portlandia" guest spot alongside Aimee Mann. (Fred Armisen, are you reading this?)
Jessica with boyfriend D'Angelo Perry
But more on Quirky Girl later. Portland's episode had its share of decidedly non-comedic moments too, like the audition by a Liberian refugee who grew up in a war camp, or the one by yet another single mother trying to make a better life for herself and her adorable kids. But the sob story that the episode saved for last, in its all-important pimp spot, was that of Jessica Phillips.
Telling a tale of woe that brought to mind last year's most tear-jerking contestant, Chris Medina (the guy taking care of his brain-damaged fiancée), Jessica explained to the judges that she too recently found herself forced into a caretaker role when her young boyfriend D'Angelo bizarrely suffered a stroke on Easter 2010. He ended up in the hospital for a month and a half, and when he woke up, he didn't even recognize her. Since then, Jessica has been by his side helping him relearn how to talk, walk, and live as normal a life as possible, and it was obvious from her demeanor that the ordeal had worn her down (as it would anyone). But when Jessica sang, covering Faith Evans' "Again" and practically channeling Mary J. Blige, all that pain inside her came spilling out and somehow turned into joy, and she delivered a truly stunning audition--one that, ironically, was uplifting, sassy, and even a bit fun. I don't even care about her sob story now, because she would have deserved three yeses even if she'd told the judges she grew up on a unicorn farm and never suffered a day in her life. The woman has talent, plain and simple, and this show desperately needs a new breakout female R&B star. And Jessica is a potential star, for sure.
Here's who else stood out in Portland:
Brittany Zika - Man, I heart this girl so hard. I already loved her goofy personality and dorky horn-rimmed spectacles (which, come to think of it, were very "Portlandia"-esque) from the get-go, and I was thrilled/relieved when she sang Brandi Carlile's "The Story" and actually had a beautiful voice that belied her geek-girl exterior. Brittany apparently is a persistent type, since she once convinced her own idol Sara Bareilles to bring her onstage for a "Gravity" duet by waving a "Please Let Me Sing With You!" glitter-glue sign above her head (watch their duet here), and so it was inevitable that Brittany would leave the "Idol" audition room waving a golden ticket in her hand. But hey, if she doesn't make it past Hollywood Week, maybe she can round up a few Season 11 "Idol" castoffs and form an a cappella group to try out for Sara's own reality show, "The Sing-Off." But I do hope Brittany sticks around--and that "Idol" stylists let her keep her dream-of-the-'90s fedora hat and nerd glasses. She looked a lot cuter before Randy Jackson made her take them off!
Jermaine Jones - Hailing from a large musical family, Jermaine's future in singing was apparently pre-ordained: "We were born this way," his mom explained. (No, Jermaine didn't actually do "Born This Way"--some tone-deaf cable guy named Ben Purdom sadly sang that instead, before being shown the door.) Jermaine was also born extremely tall--he now stands six foot eight and a half--so he came across as quiet the gentle giant when he crooned a smooth version of Luther Vandross's "Superstar." It was a very nice audition, but I have to ask...does "Idol" really need another old-fashioned Ruben Studdard/Michael Lynche/Jacob Lusk throwback soulman? Well, we shall soon find out, because Jermaine is off to Hollywood for now.
Britnee Kellogg - It's hard to imagine any man would ever dump this pretty girl with the pretty voice, but that was this jilted mom-of-two's sob story. Britnee put her own musical dreams on hold so that her then-husband could pursue his basketball career, and then, according to Britnee, the cad started pursuing other women. No wonder Britnee put so much raw emotion and fire into her audition of Linda Ronstadt's highly appropriate "You're No Good." It was a cutely sassy performance, and Jennifer Lopez was "feelin' it" so much, she actually started to sing along. (This was probably the first time J.Lo had ever sung live on TV. Oh snap.) I could have done without the seemingly staged exchange in which Britnee asked J.Lo for career/family balance advice (we all know off-camera, J.Lo just told Britnee to hire 11 nannies), but there was something I liked about Britnee. And if "Idol" doesn't work out for her, maybe she can go on "Basketball Wives."
Romeo Diahn - A Liberian war child who came to the States for a better life after living in a refugee camp as a young boy, Romeo is now truly living the American dream, something this show is all about. I really enjoyed his vibey, faithfully reggae performance of Bob Marley's "Is This Love," but I grudgingly agreed with J.Lo when she said, "I love your vibe and your flavor, but I'm a little bit worried about where you're going to go in the competition." I can see how it might be a struggle for Romeo to adapt to lame "Idol" themes like '50s Night and Big Band Night and Forced To Cover This Week's Guest Mentor's Songs Night. But I'd like to see him try, so I'm glad Jennifer gave Romeo a "tiny little yes."
Naomi Gillies - This hottie of course had Steven Tyler's full attention from the moment she sashayed into the room, but she still asked for his permission to cover Aerosmith's "Cryin'." (How polite!) Permission was unsurprisingly granted, and she then belted the power ballad with gusto. "We were missing that all morning," Steven raved. "The minute you opened your mouth, I was like, wow," said apparent secret Valley Girl Jennifer. I was not quite, like, wow--but I am curious to see and hear more from this girl in Hollywood.
And there you go. Thursday, the auditions move on to St. Louis, where hopefully some singers will have the spirit. Tune in, and until then...Parker out.