Tuesday, January 13, 2009

American Idol Season 8
Phoenix Auditions

Well, we were prepared to be bored by this season and feared that the departure of Nigel Lythgoe and changes the remaining executive producers were making would be to the show's detriment. But we have to admit that Season 8's premiere episode was pretty satisfying overall. It moved at a fairly rapid pace and concentrated as much -- if not more -- on the good singers as the horrible ones. What about new judge Kara DioGuardi? We had no problem with her. The clips didn't feature that many comments from her, but there was nothing objectionable about her either.

Phoenix was the first audition city featured, incorrectly identified by Paula Abdul as the home of Jordin Sparks (that would be Glendale, Ariz., Paula). The temperature was hot, and so were many of the auditioners. Unfortunately Tuan Nguyen, a 20-year-old music student from Biloxi, Miss., was not one of them. A Michael Jackson wannabe, the most remarkable thing about Tuan was his giant afro which moved and swayed with his singing and dancing. He sang "The Way You Make Me Feel." He made us feel as if the show was off to a lousy start. Unlike Randy Jackson, we were unamused by his '60s hair.

Watch video of Tuan Nguyen

If the next auditioner looked familiar, it's because Emily Wynne-Hughes, with the multi-colored hair and bearing more tats on her arms than Carly Smithson, has been featured singing "Barracuda" innumerable times in "Idol" promo spots the past few weeks. A singer in the all-girl band Go Betty Go, she belted out her audition and was given the green light by all four judges after telling them if she received a golden ticket to Hollywood she'd be screwing her bandmates out of the European tour that they were about to depart on. But don't fall in love with Emily. According to Vote for the Worst, she failed to make the top 50 in Hollywood. But hey, she did make the European tour. That's her singing at The Orto Bar in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

Watch video of Emily Wynne-Hughes

Randy Madden (allegedly 28) fancies himself to be an untrained rocker who looks the role, but he resembles a burnt out 40-year-old in his Halloween rocker costume, complete with bandanna. Madden is a sensitive rocker -- way too sensitive. He cried when he started telling the judges how much auditioning meant to him. When Simon Cowell starts rolling his eyes before you even sing, you know you're in trouble. Madden did a mediocre job with Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" (a bad song to audition poorly with as it was David Cook's audition song as well). Simon found the rendition wimpy and cliched. And Madden didn't stop crying, when he was rejected and afterwards outside the audition room.

Watch video of Randy Madden

Next up was 16-year-old J.B. Ahfua, who has a nice sweet voice, but little personality. Overall he is bland. After he snags his ticket to Hollywood, surrounded by his father and brothers, he cries as he tells Ryan Seacrest how much this means to him, how it can change his family's whole world. His father, looking uncomfortable, tries to avoid the camera. It's one of those sensitive Idol moments, but being objective, we bet J.B. didn't make the cut for the Top 50. There just wasn't enough substance there.

Watch video of J.B. Ahfua

It's weird contestant time again with Michael Gurr, whose last name is an apt description for his singing style. He gives a gutteral reworking to Carrie Underwood's "Starts With Goodbye," and Simon and Paula tell him they didn't understand a word of it. Simon says he could have been singing in Bulgarian. Next, he takes on a song written by Kara with even worse results. Totally self-deluded, Gurr is beyond bad. He's sad, pathetic and not even mildly amusing. A total waste of time with zero entertainment value.

Watch video of Michael Gurr (At the end of the video. Sorry, it was the only version we could find)

At least the next loser contestant is funny. Aundre "Xray" Caraway was manic and couldn't stop moving around. He arrives with a guitar, but places it aside when he enters the audition room and never plays it for the judges. He sings and dances to his original song about cacti. Uh-huh. When he's rejected, he -- surprise! -- wants a second chance. His pleading only wins him a bouncer-escorted trip out of the audition room.

Watch video of Aundre "Xray" Caraway

Next up, a youngster so cute and giving, you know she's going to make it through before she even sings one note. We learn that 16-year-old Arianna Afsar started a singing group called Adopt-a-Grandfriend after she discovered that many senior and nursing home residents don't have anyone to visit them. Her group entertains and befriends the elderly in those places. All together now -- Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww. Arianna does a lot more justice to Corinne Bailey Rae's "Put Your Records On" than Antonella Barba ever did, but it's just one of those songs that doesn't song good to us unless we're listening to the original. No surprise, she is beloved by the judges and easily moves to the next round.

Watch video of Arianna Afsar

That's the end of Day 1 in Phoenix and Ryan tells us that nine others we didn't see made the cut as well.

Day 2 starts out with cashier Elijah Scarlett. His voice is so low, that Ryan and the judges think it's not real. But we've been there, done that last season with James Lewis. If you recall, he was the tour guide who had everyone in stitches with his version of "Let My People Go," pronouncing people as pipple. Elijah, like James, seems like a nice enough guy, born with a voice definitely not made for singing. He proves it by mostly talking his way through Barry White's "My First, My Last, My Everything." When he finishes, Simon asks him, "Have you ever seen this show?" and eventually tells him it was like something out of a horror movie. You can nearly see the idea lightbulb go on over Paula's head when Simon says this. She offers Elijah the encouraging career advice to go after voice-overs in monster movies. Right.

Watch video of Elijah Scarlett

Lea Marie Golde, a 16-year-old wearing a pink cowboy hat, cowboy boots, a tight pink top and little denim skirt is our nomination for most annoying contestant of the night. She is also Kara's biggest fan. Lea Marie has already written over 100 original songs and views herself as a Kara in the making. Voice-wise, she tells us she is a cross between Hillary Duff and Madonna. If she makes it to Hollywood, we vow to shot ourselves -- or the TV. She sings "Every Time We Touch" by Cascada and the judges tell her she needs to work on her voice (and her hubris). She vows to come back next year and try out again. Please. Don't.

Watch video of Lea Marie Golde

Finally, we get a couple of viable contestants. Wearing a black-and-white cow-patterned shirt, 16-year-old Stevie Wright, named after Stevie Nicks, does a more-than-acceptable version of Etta James' "At Last." There's something very likable about her and we think she has potential to develop into more than what we saw at the audition. After she leaves the audition room, Kara remarks, "That's my girl," while Paula compares her to Kelly Clarkson.

Watch video of Stevie Wright

She is followed by Michael Sarver, who works as a roughneck on an oil rig, a job he says is the fifth most dangerous in the world. (Who ranks these things anyway, and on what criteria?). His wife worries about him getting hurt on the job and he, too, is looking to win this competition to change the lives of his family, which also includes his two kids. He does an OK rendition of "Thank You" by Boyz II Men, but the judges were more impressed than we were. Simon says he has likeability. OK, we didn't get any particular vibes, but then again, we're just seeing snippets.

Watch video of Michael Sarver

Katrina Darrell, who has been hyped all evening as the girl in the bikini, is the second most annoying contestant of the night. Even more annoying than her teeny bikini is her I'm all that and a bag of chips demeanor. Well, she's not. She tells us prior to the audition that she has a thing for Ryan and has names for all their children. She then tells Ryan they're going to makeout after she gets her ticket to Hollywood. When she walks into the audition room, Simon's eyes bug out of his head and in his mind he's already put her through. Then he actually does. Randy follows, saying she has a lot of potential. The ladies are stunned. Kara tells Katrina she doesn't have the chops to sing Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love," and then demonstrates how the song should be sung. Katrina disses Kara, saying her demonstration wasn't that good either. Paula's incensed by Katrina's remark to Kara, but Simon agrees with it. Kara asks Katrina her name and Katrina answers, "Katrina Derrell." Kara says, "Oh, 'cause we just know you as Top and Bottom." Katrina shoots her a look. Paula, knowing it's a 2-2 tie and that Simon holds the tie-breaking vote, tells her "Welcome to Hollywood." Kara mumbles, "Next time come naked." Kara finds Ryan and begins to try making out with him. The best part of the night: the producers accompany this footage with Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl." And it's obvious they meant the music to refer to Katrina, not Ryan. Then Katrina jumps into the pool with her heels on. Did she drown? We hope so.

Watch video of Katrina Darrell

Eric "Sexual Chocolate" Thomas, does a karaoke version of Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky." Before singing he displays his nickname tatted on his back, and Kara and Paula tell him it appears to read Chacolate instead of Chocolate. The judges read in his notes that if he doesn't make it to Hollywood his mother is going to buy him a car. The judges pass, but his mother hugs him outside the audition room. Maybe they then went car shopping.

Watch video of Eric "Sexual Chocolate" Thomas

The judges almost take a pass on perky Brianna Quijada as well, who does a just-adequate version of Denise Williams "Let's Hear it For the Boy." But even though he didn't like her singing, Simon decides at the last moment that he likes her. She says, "I like you, too, Si-Mee," and she slips through. And though there is something stupidly likable about her, she'll be gone in a second in Hollywood.

Watch video of Brianna Quijada

Ryan tells us that although most auditioners bring family for support, 25-year-old Deanna Brown has come by herself. Turns out that Deanna has an interesting -- and memorable -- quality to her voice. She is also very composed and thoughtful. We liked her version of Otis Redding's "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" and hope she made it to the top 50 as well. BTW, she calls mom after she makes it through and mom tells her how proud she is of her. A real catch-in-the-throat manipulative Idol moment.

Watch video of Deanna Brown

Teen Cody Sheldon likes making bloody horror films. Sorry, but there's something creepy about him. He does a decent job with James Morrison's "Wonderful World," and gets through, partially, we think, because the judges didn't expect him to be able to sing the song at all.

Watch video of Cody Sheldon

We thought Alex Wagner-Trugman, 19, was the biggest surprise of the night. Alex taught himself to sing in a moldy closet, which ultimately made him sick. He no longer sings there, leading Simon to comment, "so you've just come out of the closet?" The other judges rag on Simon for his comment, but Alex handles it -- and Simon -- with aplomb. Alex has a very unusual singing voice. He asked Randy to sing the choruses with him on James Ingram's "Baby Come to Me," proving that Randy is a musician and not a singer. Although Alex's voice is strange it also was totally in pitch and enjoyable. Simon didn't like his performance, so Alex offered to sing "God Save the Queen," a comment Simon didn't appreciate. But the kid has wit and smarts, and fortunately got a thumbs up from the other three judges. We look forward to his Hollywood appearances.

Watch video of Alex Wagner-Trugman

Finally, there was Scott MacIntyre, a young man who is visually disabled but amazingly accomplished. He is a singer-songwriter who plays piano, skis, dances and supposely has already recorded six albums. He sang Billy Joel's "And So It Goes." We thought it was nice and tender, if not great. He easily impresses the judges and makes it through. But, again, don't fall in love with MacIntyre, as his Web site and MySpace page -- where he sounds amazing -- are fully up and functional, which is not permissable for contestants who make the top 50 cut.

Watch video of Scott MacIntyre

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