After last week's lackluster Los Angeles "American Idol" auditions, some of the worst in the series' 10-season history, I was seriously hoping for a rebound in L.A.'s sister city by the bay. After all, according to show insiders, many of L.A.'s finest actually auditioned in San Francisco, before Los Angeles was added as a last-minute audition city. And with San Francisco being the final audition stop this season, it was make-or-break time for "Idol."
Well, my hopes were instantly dashed when the episode opened with a poor girl who missed her big break when she passed wind in the audition room and was promptly shown the door. And then auditioners waiting outside got targeted by seagull droppings. Was this show literally going to be a stinker? Or would "Idol" eventually get lucky in Frisco, as it did two years ago when Adam Lambert tried out there?
Well, there was one guy, James Durbin, who with his screechy range and pimp-spot placement on Wednesday's episode will inevitably garner Glambert comparisons--even if they are, in my opinion, quite undeserved. But at least James ended the show on a literal high note. Who else impressed in S.F.? Read on.
Clint Jun Gamboa - A wacky dive bar karaoke host-with-the-most with a gangsta-cred LBC pedigree and totally awesome cult-movie past, Clint was pure TV gold. I adored this dude the minute I spotted him in his striped Linus sweater and Mr. Peabody spectacles, rocking the mic down in his "Strong Beach" club. He had chutzpah, he had gumption, and as his appropriately cocksure rendition of Travie McCoy's "Billionaire" proved, he had the voice (the best in San Francisco, according to Randy Jackson). I really do hope to one day see Clint on the cover of Forbes magazine, smiling next to Oprah and the Queen. If not, I'll be headed down to his bar on my next karaoke outing.
Emily Anne Reed - A sort of indescribable blend of past contestants like Season 7's Megan Joy (tattoos, earth-girlishness) and last season's underdog Lilly Scott (Feist-y songstress appeal), with an obscure song choice (Harry Warren's 1932 classic "You're Getting To Be A Habit With Me"), Emily hit the "Idol" set clearly pegged as Season 10's indie it-girl. She had a sob story (her house recently burned down), but with her plucky personality and guitar-plucking prowess, she didn't need it. I lovedlovedloved her, but I worry that after "Idol's" ninth season of interchangeable singer-songwriters, folk-fatigued viewers won't give this girl a chance. But she's already getting to be a habit with me.
Stefano Langone - Here we go, another sob story. (Near-fatal car accident that left him covered in almost tribal-looking scars). But hey, chicks dig scars, especially on men who are "movie-star handsome" (Jennifer Lopez's assessment), and Stefano had a good attitude, not milking his backstory too much or crying on cue for the cameras. His "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" performance was solid, and he seemed to be an instant favorite of J.Lo's. "You're definitely here for a reason," she gushed. "You have a big S-T-A-R all over you." And no, J.Lo wasn't referring to Stefano's scars when she said that, people.
Julie Zorrilla - A rainforest baby raised in the Andes, whose family witnessed Colombian violence firsthand and escaped to the U.S. for a better life, Julie seemed the very embodiment of the American dream--that idea that anyone can come to these fair shores and become a star. Of course, talent helps. As does the bravery to tackle a signature song made famous by Season 3 champ Fantasia, "Summertime." Julie's version was hardly as good as 'Tasia's, but she did have chops...and the judges actually thought she might be good enough to win this whole thing. We'll see.
James Durbin - This aforementioned fauxhawked rocker rattled off every "Idol" sob story in the book. He hardly knew his dad! His dad died of a drug overdose when he was 9! He has Tourettes! And Asperger's! He's a young dad! He's unemployed! He lives in a hovel! He has no money for diapers! Et cetera. And as he recited this unending list of woes, he was weeping his way through an entire box of Kleenex. My heart went out to the guy, but honestly, it was all too much, almost like an "SNL" skit. Finally James sang, and yes, he was good. His cover of "Dream On" was good enough to even shut up Steven Tyler for a few minutes, unlike that time Lauren "The One" Alaina sang Aerosmith in Nashville and it turned into a Tyler/Alaina duet. Really, James sang well enough--no, not as good as Lambert, but still good--that he needn't have relied on so many heartbreak tales. He might even go far, but only if he can keep it together in Hollywood Week...which might be tough for this fragile spirit.
THE BAD & THE FUNNY:
Inessa Lee - A Ukrainian "little spitfire" (Steven's wordage) with her own American dream "to get famous!" and a wealth of DIY music videos on the Interweb that I will be YouTubing as soon as I'm done writing this blog, this girl was destined to entertain--just not in the way she probably intended. She was simply hilarious, with her heavily accented Betty Boop voice, massive Keane-painting eyes, and over-emotive Air Supply cover. And her triple-jointed yoga and belly-dancing moves impressed Steven, of course. But this self-described hybrid of Shakira, early Madonna, Kylie Minogue, and Katy Perry ("I can be anyone you want!" she squeaked) just didn't possess the singing skills. Steven actually seemed bummed to have to pass on her, but considering the tantrum she threw the minute she left the set, he's better off. This girl would probably be too much of a handful, even for him.
Drew Beaumier - Many contestants have transformed on "Idol," but this cutup did so literally. Yes, there was more than meets the eye to Drew, who showed up in San Francisco dressed as some sort of Transformer automobile and then warbled "Born To Be Wild." ("Get your motor running" --get it?) He didn't receive a golden ticket, but he wheeled away to the best playoff music in "Idol" history--the Cars' "Drive"--and the other good news is, at least Drew didn't have to worry about getting a ride home from the auditions.
So, there you have it. The auditions are finally over, and now the real fun begins: Hollywood Week! Will the standouts from New Jersey, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Nashville, Austin, L.A., and San Francisco live up to their early promise, or will they crumble the minute they're corralled into groups and forced to sing choreographed Motown hits? We'll soon find out, starting Thursday night.