Thursday, January 22, 2009

American Idol Season 8
Louisville, Ky. Auditions

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, saw a different kind of race when "Idol" set up their Louisville tryouts at the esteemed track for two days. Surprisingly, we were shown a lot more talent in the bluegrass state than we had viewed in California the day before.

And we're beginning to see a pattern emerge for the Season 8 auditions: Each show ends with the best singer who also has the most inspirational sob story. To wit, in Phoenix we ended with visually disabled Scott MacIntyre, who has not let his lack of sight keep him from becoming a well-rounded athlete and musician; in Kansas City, we concluded with the amazing R&B stylings of Lil Rounds, who is determined to win the competition to help out her family after their home was destroyed in a tornado; and in California, musician Kai Kalma, who has a heart of gold and who has dedicated himself to caring for his ailing mother, sang the show's final song. And so it went in Louisville, as well. But more on that later.

We begin with 18-year-old Tiffany Shedd, a blond from Cincinnati, who honestly looks more like she's in her late 20s. She's accompanied by her supportive parents who we will soon discover are as tone deaf as she is (obviously inherited in this case). We know it's going to be a clunker by how earnest she is in the pre-performance interview. And when she vows to walk out with a "positive attitude" and go to college if she doesn't go to Hollywood, we know it's a lock that she's a loser. Little did we suspect how bad she'd be. We didn't understand nor recognize a word or note from her performance of Mariah Carey's "Hero." Judge Simon Cowell wasn't shy in telling her just how bad it was, assaulting her with this critique: "In horse racing terms, you need to imagine 22 horses and 1 donkey. Actually, this was the perfect contestant for Cowell to use his cats screeching in a bag, or cats dropped from the Empire State Building analogies on. Outside the audition room, Tiffany not only cries, she tells us she's not the loser, that "Idol" is the loser, and that the judges aren't looking for talent, they're looking for nerds and freaks. We are then battered with another song that is neither recognizable nor understandable. As Ryan said, good luck to her college roommate.

Watch video of Tiffany Shedd

We know many bloggers today will be screaming that Joanna Pacitti is a ringer, much the same as Carly Smithson was last season, and we suppose it's true. But the fact is that we fell in love with Smithson's voice last year, and we already own one of Pacitti's CDs. She's been in show business since she was a kid; was, in fact, hired to be Annie in the Broadway revival, and was fired when she became ill on the road and the show's producers decided they preferred her stand-in. We first discovered her voice on the soundtrack for "Legally Blonde," on which she sang "Watch Me Shine." We've tracked down other recordings of hers since then and she's on our iPod, so we're rooting for her. And BTW, she's also currently dating "Dancing With the Stars' " pro Mark Ballas. The producers, knowing that many of us already know she's been a pro, make it obvious to all, when judge Kara DioGuardi says she recognizes her and asks, "Aren't you Joanna Pacitti? Weren't you on A&M records?" (Er, hello, you have her name and bio sitting right there in front of you. This was such a put up job by the producers). Fact is, the girl can sing and proves it with Pat Benatar's "We Belong." Joanna cries what Kara later says are "real tears," when she gets four yesses and is told she's going back to Hollywood for another shot at fame. We smile.

Watch video of Joanna Pacitti

Parts inspector Mark Mudd Jr., 25, wants to change his luck by going to Hollywood. He tells us he's almost died five times. We will soon wish he had been more successful at that after we hear him sing. We also learn that Mudd is a direct descendent of Samuel Mudd, the doctor who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg after Booth assassinated President Lincoln. Obviously, Mark is still paying for his ancestor's misdeed with his voice. He sings George Jones' "White Lightning" and Paula Abdul and Kara can't control their laughter. Then Paula tells Mark that "Idol" isn't the right kind of competition for him. Simon asks, "What is the right kind of competition for him?" She says, "There are many." Simon retorts, "Like what, 'Wheel of Fortune'?" As Mark is leaving, he bids the judges "Be careful," a remark that Simon and Paula take as a threat. Not to worry, Paula. He almost died five times. Fate will probably get him before he can get you.

Watch video of Mark Mudd Jr.

After good-looking musician and one-time "Nashville Star" contestant Brent Keith Smith, 28, sings Bad Company's "Can't Get Enough," Paula tells him she was surprised that he had that in him. But Simon tells Brent the song was ridiculous for him, that if he had sung a more emotional song it would have made a big impact and that it all sounded a bit buskerish. The other judges go crazy at that, especially the women. Kara tells Brent that he's the kind of artist, that if he had one great song ... Simon breaks in with "That's what I said." Randy Jackson calls for a vote, and Simon says "Yes. Well I was always going to say yes, actually," which really gets Kara crazy. We have to agree with Simon on this one. First, the other judges never let him finish. Second, even the best contestant heading to Hollywood still can stand some constructive criticism. Brent? Well he remained quiet and seemed amused by the judges' hysterics. Good for him. BTW, he is going to Hollywood.

Watch video of Brent Keith Smith

Next up is "dueling piano player" Matt Giraud, 23, who performs Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be." We not only love this song, we loved Bo Bice's version of it even more than DeGraw's. But we weren't that crazy about how Matt performed it, especially with all the runs. The judges, however, were all over him. Paula said his voice was "different sounding," and that was something they were looking for, while Simon said, "You remind me of Elliott [Yamin] from Season 5. You've actually got a very good voice." Well, Elliott was another singer we didn't like much. But Matt sailed through to Hollywood, and like him or not, we fear we're going to be hearing a lot more from him. And so it goes.

Watch video of Matt Giraud

It was time for attack of the super geeks in the form of Ross Plavsic, 26, an afterschool tutor, who is either supereducated or full of it. We couldn't tell which. He, like bizarro Akilah Askew Gholson from the California auditions, academically trained himself to be a singer. And we all know how great horrible she was. Jay Black, who legally fought and lost the right to keep the name "Jay and the Americans," after the group he was lead singer of broke up, may want to go into the witness protection program after hearing Ross' version of "Cara Mia." It was so bad (how bad was it?) that the judges began imitating Ross' interpretation of it. Too funny, or really, too sad. When Paula, egging him on, asked Ross if he had anything current to sing, he blamed his poor results on his scratchy throat. She invites him to drink some water and try again, so he approaches the judges' table, picks up her cup and sips through her straw. She freaks out. Of course, Ross' version of "Love Me Tender" (that's more current, brainiac?) is no better than his first song and he is given the boot. Paula requests a new drinking cup and straw pronto.

Watch video of Ross Plavsic

Day Two at Louisville starts on a high note with stay-at-home mom Alexis Grace, whose boyfriend is in military school. She wows us with her version of Aretha's Franklin's "Dr. Feelgood." Her voice is a lot bigger than you expect from her stature and Randy tells her so, also saying he thinks she could come out of her shell and surprise the world. Simon thinks her look is very commercial and gives her another shot with a yes. Kara likes her atttiude. Paula also likes her but advises her to work on her stage presence. She receives four yesses and a golden ticket.

Watch video of Alexis Grace

The overly energetic and kinetic Aaron Williamson, 27, is up next. Ryan heard him earlier in the day, whooping it up in the crowd. This doesn't sound like it's going to be good ... and it isn't. Before BURSTING into CCR's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," Aaron tells the judges he wants to be America's Next Top Idol (perhaps he's watching Tyra Banks too much). Aaron is loud and shouty (but we must admit fun, too). Kara, who loves to join in with backup on bad auditions, jumps right in on this one. (Word to future contestants: Leave the room immediately if Kara starts singing with you.) It gets so loud in the audition room when Randy and Paula join Kara's whooping, yelping and yowling, that Ryan Seacrest pokes his head in to see what the hell is going on. Randy tells Ryan it was kind of a primal scream audition. Kara declares, "Oh God, I feel good. Damn!" But Aaron doesn't. They tell him he's a really sweet guy, then bid him adieu.

Watch video of Aaron Williamson

Rebecca Garcia gets to be the pathetic and humiliated tryout of the night. That morning, she was interviewed on a local news show about auditioning for "Idol." As soon as she walks into the audition room, Paula says, "I know who you are." Abdul recognizes Rebecca from her appearance on the news and Rebecca is pumped. Then Paula asks her what that is on her arm. Turns out it's a cheat sheet with the words. Little does Rebecca realize that remembering the words will be the least of her worries. Eyes closed, she breaks into Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," and we mean "breaks" quite literally. It is awful. When she pauses because she forgot the words (she sang the stanzas scrambled anyway), the judges tell her "check your arm." Then, suddenly, Kara says, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. She was voted most humorous in high school. ... this is all starting to make sense." Rebecca looks confused as it dawns on her that Kara thinks she's joking with her audition, especially when DioGaurdi adds, "That was good. Funny." Of course, Rebecca wasn't kidding and the look of disbelief turns to one of hurt, complete with trembling words and tears. Kara tells Paula to hit her because she was mean. Simon tells Rebecca that he likes her but to never pursue a career in singing. As she leaves the grounds, Rebecca turns to her mother and says, "Mom, you don't think I should give up completely, should I?" Mom answers, "Heavens, no." We believe that is what's called a sado-masochistic relationship.

Watch video of Rebecca Garcia

In a quick series of snippets we see that Kris Allen, 23, a business major from Arkansas who sang Leon Russell's "A Song for You"; Felicia Barton, 26, a mom and bar singer from Virginia Beach, Va., who sang Corrine Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On"; Ryan Johnson, 27, a railroad worker from Cincinnati, who did justice to Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come"; and Shera Lawrence, 23, an orthopedic office assistant from Bowling Green, Ky., ("I've Got the World on a String") all received golden tickets to Hollywood.

Watch video of Kris Allen , Felicia Barton , Ryan Johnson and Shera Lawrence

And getting back to saving the best singing and sob story for last, we are introduced to 18-year-old college student Leneshe Young. Life hasn't been easy for Leneshe and her siblings. Their single mom raised them. They grew up poor and sometimes homeless. But Leneshe is bubbling with good spirits and enthusiam as bright as the colorful yellow blouse she is rocking. Nothing is going to get this girl down. She performs an original composition, "Natty," and proves she is already a quadruple threat to the other contestants: She has a great personality, can sing, can write songs and, well, is adorable to boot. She absolutely wows the judges. Simon calls her song quirky and fun, and tells her she is current. Randy says, "You're kinda what we need." Kara calls her the first girl that had her own thing. And Paula tries to joke by saying "no," but immediately rescinds it to a huge "yes." Get ready Hollywood, here comes Leneshe.

Watch video of Leneshe Young

On Tuesday the traveling "Idol" circus takes on Jacksonville, Fla.

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© 2009

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i wish "pink" was one of the mentors and of course kelly clarkson! she's the best idol for me