I hate to say it, but I'm kind of getting bored of all the American Idol audition episodes already. And it's only episode 4! But for the most part, the hideous auditioners aren't hideous enough (where is this season's William Hung?) and the excellent auditioners aren't excellent enough (I've only really been genuinely wowed by San Francisco's Adam Lambert and Phoenix's Cody Sheldon). Bring on Hollywood Week, already! I'm beginning to understand why the Idol producers decided to focus less on the audition episodes this season--they just didn't have that much to work with, I guess.
Anyway, tonight the show stopped in Louisville, Kentucky, with the singers trying their luck at Churchill Downs. Up first was Tiffany Shedd, who looked like she was wearing all of Alice Cooper's makeup case on her face. Was this episode shot last Halloween or something? Anyway, Tiffany arrived on the scene with her well-meaning but deluded parents, who declared they would be the "happiest dad on earth" and "happiest mom on earth" if their doted-upon daughter made it through. Well, they were about to become the saddest parents on earth, and the judges would be the saddest judges on earth after getting an earful of Tiffany's strangled-cat-in-season rendition of Mariah Carey's "Hero." More like "Zero"! Then she tried to sing "Because Of You" by Kelly Clarkson. (Because of you I am afraid, Tiffany. Afraid of that voice!) Apparently Tiffany's consolation prize, from her parents, would be a college education if she didn't get on AmIdol. (Yes, that's right: Her plan B was going to college. Those Shedd parents sure do have their priorities in the right place.) Once Tiffany was done destroying that Mimi song, Simon Cowell retorted: "The good news is, you are going to college!" This caused all the Shedds to start shedding tears, but Tiffany should really take Simon's advice. Stay in school, Tiffany. Stay in school.
Next up was Carly Smithson. Oops, my bad...I mean, next up was Joanna Pacitti. Much like last season's most controversial contestant, Carly, Joanna had a major-label record deal a few years ago, had a boatload of money wasted on her under the guise of "artist development," and sold about five copies of her album before getting dropped. (I'll check the SoudScan later, maybe it went into double digits.) But unlike Carly, Joanna was at least not trying to hide her past when she tried out tonight. The minute she walked into the audition room, Kara DioGuardi called her out ("You're Joanna Pacitti! You were on A&M!"), and Joanna didn't play all dumb like Carly and act like she was some innocent newbie who'd never been near a microphone before. I'll be writing a separate blog about Joanna's background and whether or not I personally think she deserves another shot at the bigtime, but I will tell you when she put her A&M album out in 2006, I was not impressed. And I was not impressed with her audition tonight, despite the fact that the judges put her through.
Cowboy Mark Mudd followed with a rousing (but rousingly tone-deaf) take on George Jones's "White Lightning" that probably made all the judges want to hop on lawnmowers and drive far, far away. Paula seemed especially ready to bolt when Mark, as he was exiting the audition room, ominously told the judges to "be careful in whatever you do." Was that a threat? Paula Abdul, who's already had to deal with one high-profile stalker (Paula Goodspeed) and another high-profile backstabbing alleged former flame (Corey Clark), seemed genuinely spooked.
Generic Nickelbackian rocker Brent Keith Smith delivered a forgettable Paul Rodgers impression next (but his golden-boy looks seemed to win Kara's approval), then a few rejects performed--I kind dug longhaired goofball Will Heuser, the plus-sized Michael Jackson impersonator, and Zebra Man, for sheer entertainment value if nothing else. And there really was nothing else, where they were concerned.
But then came along dueling piano player Matt Giraud, who had some genuine sex appeal and a rugged, Elliot Yamin-esque voice (which Simon was quick to point out, and he meant it as a compliment). I understood why Kara dug this guy. I bet this guy goes far, especially if he makes the semi-finals and has the chance to rock the female vote.
The polar opposite of suave Matt was Ross The Nerd, not to be confused with Leno's Ross The Intern. In fact, this guy made Ross The Intern look hip! After spouting off all sort of theories of relativity and details on organizing Chinese characters and whatnot until my eyes blurred and my teeth ached in my very skull, the suit-and-tied, bucktoothed, Alex P. Keatonish Ross Plavsic sang "Cara Mia." Then my eyes blurred and teeth ached even more. His second attempt, "Love Me Tender," was neither lovable nor tender, either. Seems like this honor student probably flunked Music 101.
Young mother Alexis Grace followed, and despite her pretty-in-pink wardrobe and Ivory Girl blondie looks, it turned out she was a real belter. She roared through "Dr. Feelgood" (the Aretha Franklin song, not the Motley Crue one--although some Crue would have been awesome, too) with a surprising amount of soul and sass (despite what Simon called her "commercial face"), and she was true Grace under pressure. I think this chick has potential if she works on her goofy-goody image, but hey, that's what the Idol stylists are for!
Speaking of roaring...up next was Aaron Williamson. Dang, I had to turn down the volume on my TV for this audition. When he opened his mouth and let loose the first line of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain," the sheer force of his belting practically knocked over the judges' chairs. The judges really seemed to enjoy his totally OTT performance, almost becoming his makeshift gospel choir; Kara in particular got really into the whole call-and-response schtick. Everyone in the audition room seemed fully fired up by Aaron's routine--except Simon, of course, who steadfastly refused to overlook, well, Aaron's utter inability to decently sing. But Simon had some encouraging words of career advice for the man that Kara dubbed a "raging bull," saying "You need to have a career that involves screaming." Hmmm...maybe Aaron should audition for VH1's Scream Queens 2?
Poor Rebecca Garcia was next. This chick was a hot mess. She seemed like a nice, friendly hot mess, but a hot mess all the same. She came in with cheatsheets in case she forgot the lyrics to, ironically, "Before He Cheats," and then she sang all the wrong words anyway. And she sang them BADLY. Her audition was such a disaster that Kara, upon reading in Rebecca's bio that Rebecca had been voted Most Humorous in high school, assumed that the whole performance was a gag. "Very funny!" Kara raved naively. Then...Rebecca started to cry. Whoops. Guess Rebecca's not the Most Humorous after all. Not anymore.
Speaking of crying, the Louisville show ended with another sob-story contestant, one Leneshe Young. It's no accident that Idol audition episodes always seem to conclude with some five-hanky, triumph-over-adversity saga, some contestant who practically had to crawling over hot coals and broken glass and sell their firstborns to make it to their audition. There was the blind guy, the guy who cares for his disabled mother, and now Leneshe, who grew up in abject poverty raised by a struggling single mom. Well, luckily, the emotional investment I made in Leneshe after watching her weepy interview setup piece paid off...because this girl was fan-frickin'-tastic! She was button-cute in a Paris Bennett sorta way, quirky in a Fantasia Barrino sorta way...and her original song, "Natty," was actually GOOD. Usually when an Idol hopeful sings an original it's a total debacle, but for Leneshe, it was a surefire way to snag a golden ticket. The judges loved her, even Simon, who was uncharacteristically fawning and even smiled throughout Laneshe's audition. I smiled too. So I predict big things for Leneshe--the best girl I've seen all season thus far--and big things for "Natty" as well. I've got a feeling this girl's luck is about to turn around in a major way.
And so, Idol's two-day pitstop in Louisville came to an end. I still stand by what I said in my opening paragraph--other than crazy-good Laneshe and just-plain-crazy Aaron, few auditioners tonight made much of an impression on me--but maybe things will be different when the judges visit Jacksonville next week. I certainly hope so.