Wednesday, January 14, 2009

American Idol Season 8
Kansas City, Mo. Auditions

Day 2 of Season 8 and we're still liking Idol. David Cook should be liking it, too, as the first hour of the show seemed to be a love letter to him. Yes, we know Kansas City is the most recent Idol's hometown, but we've never seen Idol give so much face time to a former contestant. Of course, they have a stake in Cook's success, so if they sold just one more CD through all the exposure they gave Cook Wednesday night it's just a little more pocket change for 19 Entertainment.

However, we were either really tired and/or these two-hour sessions are just too long, because we started losing it after about 90 minutes and had to keep rewinding the DVR. There were a few auditioners whose voices we liked quite a bit and a couple whose stories made us cry. But then what would American Idol be without emotional manipulation?

Before we even get to the auditions, Jason Castro greets Paula Abdul as she enters the venue and tells her he is there to support his brother, who is trying out. It's no secret that we weren't a big fan of Jason's last season -- with the exception of his "Hallelujah" and "Over the Rainbow" performances, which were outstanding -- and the last thing we want is to sit through another Idol season with another singing Castro.

But something worse than another singing Castro starts the evening, and that is 19-year-old waitress Chelsea Marquardt's Munchkin-like rendition of Nilsson's "I Can’t Live." She can't live? It made us want to commit suicide. She is a cutie, though, and Kara DioGuardi and Paula try to salvage the nastiness of Simon Cowell's "You sounded like what a cat that jumped off the Empire State Building would sound like right before it hit the ground" assessment. The ladies told her she is pretty but that singing is just not for her. Sadly, if she didn't realize that already, she also needs to see an ear specialist. In fact, she leaves the audition room saying her problem was that she picked the wrong song. Riiiiiiiight.

Watch video of Chelsea Marquardt

Ashley Anderson an attractive, tall and lanky singer also has some smarts. Her clever song selection was off Leona Lewis' CD. Lewis is not only a Simon Cowell protege, the song was also (not) coincidentially cowritten by Cowell. Ashley starts off by screwing up the lyrics to "Footprints in the Sand," singing it as footsteps. Simon corrects her, she restarts and gets it right, but stumbles with the same word later on. Because she catches herself the second time, the gaffe is amusing and sweet rather than lethal. Her voice is nothing special, but her saavy song selection gets her through to Hollywood.

Watch video of Ashley Anderson

Casey Carlson is really cute with an elfin face. Simon likes her vibe. She sings Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" and Kara tells her she feels there's a whole package. We think package is the operative word here, because Casey's singing, though adequate, is not memorable or outstanding. But with studio enhancement and her looks, she can be packaged into a pop star. It'll be interesting to see whether her voice will carry her past Hollywood week.

Watch video of Casey Carlson

One of the most deluded tryouts from Kansas City was Brian Hettler, who tells us he has an operatically trained voice, but dropped out of school. He has come to the auditions to reclaim his musical destiny. Whenever an auditioner starts out by telling you how great he or she is, you just know that they are going to suck, and Brian did not disappoint in that area. He takes on Aretha Franklin's "Think," which is exactly what he should have done before coming down to audition. He is stunned when Simon tells him everything was wrong, seriously wrong. He then tries to prove he sounds just like Josh Groban. What a surprise! He doesn't. The cameras stalk him outside the audition room. He turns to them and says, "If you're expecting me to cry on camera, don't even try."

Watch video of Brian Hettler

After the commercial break, Ryan Seacrest "runs into" David Cook's mother and stepfather on the street. Another plug for their current Idol king.

Auditioner Von Smith looks natty is his hat and tells us he is not afraid to just be who he is. Those are always suspicious words on Idol. Could go either way. He delivers a loud -- and to our mind -- somewhat unsettling version of "Over the Rainbow." He clearly has a powerful voice, it's what he does with it that's a bit scary. He certainly didn't sing the song in any traditional way and it's unclear from the clip if he can sing in a traditional way. We suspect he can, because Randy Jackson tells him he has a "dope" voice and he receives, much to our surprise, four yesses.

Watch video of Von Smith

One thing you can say about the Castro family is that they take the whole Idol thing very casually. Jason never seemed very invested in practicing or learning lyrics and could barely answer an interview question without screwing up. Michael Castro decided to become a singer 20 days prior to the tryout. He gives a fairly decent performance of Gavin DeGraw's "In Love With a Girl," but it's somewhat galling to see him put through to Hollywood because he is, as Kara says, "ballsy" and not because he possesses a terrific voice (i.e. Simon judges his performance as "goodish"). But put through he is, by all four.

Watch video of Michael Castro

Back from another commercial break, it's time for another bizarro contestant. Cue yellow-suited Vaughn English singing something about "Do you want a banana." They don't even bother showing us a judging segment on him.

Welder Matt Breitzke's looks fit his profession. He's a big guy with a shaved head and goatee. He's also very likable and real. When asked why this change of career, he explains that though he is a bar singer, he has a family to support and just couldn't run off to pursue his singing. He gives a nice rendition of Bill Withers "Ain't No Sunshine" and easily makes it past Kara, Paula and Simon, though Randy thinks he's just a bar singer. But he makes it to Hollywood and we think he was the best audition of the night so far.

Watch video of Matt Breitzke

Next, we suffer through 17-year-old Jasmine "Jazz" Joseph's caterwauling version of "Over the Rainbow." How many times are we going to hear this song sung weirdly tonight? This was bad weird as opposed to Von Smith's allegedly good weird. The producers don't even include any comments from the judges. They just show them staring at Jazz. She exits the room. She never should have entered.

Watch video of Jasmine "Jazz" Joseph

Jessica Furney cares for her 93-year-old grandmother, who can barely hear anymore. Jessica doesn't have a pop (or rock) star appearance, she is actually a bit bookish and nerdy looking. But her big voice delivers Janis Joplin's "Cry Baby" with ease. Hopefully, the Idol wizards can do one of their magical makeovers on her, in the way they transformed Clay Aiken and even David Cook, to make her more marketable. At the least she'll get her shot during Hollywood week.

Watch video of Jessica Furney

Asia McClain (24) and India Morrison (22) are sisters -- obviously their mom liked location names -- who come in to rap for the judges. It is clear that India is the one with the talent and big sister Asia is there for support. Asia is offkey and not very good in her individual audition, while India sails through without a problem. The judges are really impressed with Asia's dedication to her younger sibling, with Simon even remarking that he'd like a sister like her. They exit the audition with a gold ticket for India.

Watch video of Asia McClain and India Morrison

Next up are best friends Jamar Rogers, a 26-year-old bartender from Milwaukee and Danny Gokey, 28, a music teacher from the same city. Jamar goes first and does a big-voice, over-the-top version of the Mamas and Papas' "California Dreaming." He has a decent voice, but the performance is a bit pretentious. Paula says it was good but a bit loud and pitchy, while Kara and Randy think it was over the top. Simon declares it corny but good and Jamar makes it through.

Watch video of Jamar Rogers

Now it's best friend Danny's turn and the producers have been plugging all night that Danny has a tragic story. He does. His wife, Sophia, succumbed to congenital heart disease just four weeks prior to the audition. The producers milk everything they can from the tale and have us in tears. We're rooting for Danny before a note escapes his throat. But he doesn't need our help. His version of Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through the Grapevine," is soulful and wonderful. Randy calls him "one of the best we've seen" and he becomes our favorite of the night. Interestingly, the producers didn't show any footage of Danny telling his tragic story in front of the judges. It made his success at the audition that much more genuine.

Watch video of Danny Gokey

Simon, of course, screws up the name of Anoop Desai, 21, a student from Chapel Hill, N.C. He also tells him he looks kind of geeky, like he just came out of a meeting with Bill Gates. But his soulful rendition of Boyz II Men's "Thank You" is a pleasant surprise. Anoop tells Randy to call him Anoop-dog, and Randy loves it. We can see that nickname sticking with him if he makes it through Hollywood week.

Watch video of Anoop Desai

Ice-cream server Andrew Lang's performance is preceded by a gimmick, his own two-person cheerleading squad. The look on Simon's face was "this is stupid and annoying," and we agreed. Kara and Paula seemed charmed by it. Yuck. Lang then delivers an overly theatrical version of The Temptations' "My Girl." We think, "Andrew, don't quit your day job." Randy initially gives him a yes, but when Paula wants to hear something more, Andrew goes too over-the-top with "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," and Randy rescinds his "yes" vote. It's all downhill for Andrew after that. BTW Andrew, can we get a large cup of cheesecake and cake batter with Reese's Pieces, please?

Watch video of Andrew Lang

We really like 20-year-old band director Asa Barnes, who has an adorable 4-year-old daughter. He performs Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel," normally a sure ticket to dismissal. But he sang it well and without MJ affectations. The judges still weren't loving the song choice. Simon asked him why he chose that song, and Asa totally wins Cowell over when he unself-consciously says, "Because I like it." It was a nice sentimental moment outside the audition room with his little girl excited for him.

Watch video of Asa Barnes

We knew what type of contestant Michael Nicewonder was going to be as soon as he explained that he was wearing his elementary school singing medal around his neck. He also has really bad teeth. Instead of amused, we get real uncomfortable when Idol decides to exploit people with limited mental abilities. Supposedly related to Hank Williams Jr. (third cousin 1005 times removed?), Michael sings an original song that he says is about his mother. Of course it's dreadful. Pretending that he has a chance, Simon asks if he has a happier song. Michael sings one about his grandmother that sounds the same and is just as bad. The women try to be gentle, but it's almost painful to watch someone this pathetic being publicly ridiculed. Of course, he cries after he fails.

Watch video of Michael Nicewonder

We're on the fence about Dennis Brigham, 19, who does floor maintenance in Glen Carron, Ill. He gives a very enthusiastic and kinda entertaining performance of Chris Brown's "With You," but he's not really a great singer. Paula and Kara inexplicably say "yes," Simon says "no." It's up to Randy, and Dennis, after begging and pleading, obviously convinces Randy to give him another shot, because he greets his family with a gold ticket. Not a good idea.

Watch video of Dennis Brigham

"Janitorial engineer" (talk about euphemisms) Mia Conley waited so long for her audition she fell asleep in the holding room. She attempts Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You," and convinces everyone that they should let sleeping dogs janitorial engineers lie. Certainly her shrieky voice woke us up. She invoked this threat after being rejected, "You guys are wrong and God's gonna make you pay for it." Apparently we had to pay upfront by listening to her sing.

Watch video of Mia Conley

The evening, however, ended on a positive note with Lil Rounds, a customer service rep, who is also a tornado victim from Memphis. Lil and her family are still struggling and live in temporary housing. She enchants the judges with her rendition of Stevie Wonder's "All I Do." Kara and Paula declare their love for her, while Simon deems her fantastic. Randy calls her a cross between Fantasia and Mary J. Blige. The judges are astounded that she doesn't seem to realize just how good she is (shades of Melinda Doolittle). She has major potential and hopefully will sail through Hollywood week as well.

Watch video of Lil Rounds


She was the contestant from Phoenix who was willing to sell out her bandmates for a shot at being the American Idol? TMZ reports that Emily is is smack in the middle of a DUI fiasco and she has been ordered to wear a SCRAM bracelet.

The whole thing is over an arrest back in July, when cops busted her for allegedly driving drunk in West Hollywood. Emily copped a plea to a lesser charge of reckless driving. In addition to the bracelet, Emily was placed on three years probation.

TMZ has learned there may be another hearing and the judge could back down on the SCRAM bracelet -- but for now the order stands. TMZ also found and posted pictures from MySpace of Emily baring her bottom, which, nt surprisingly, as has a tattoo on it.

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