Wednesday, January 21, 2009

American Idol Season 8
San Francisco Auditions

After an encouraging first week of Season 8, it seems we're back to the same old, same old with Idol.

Although happy that the auditions from the City by the Bay were only one-hour long, we were disappointed to find that the time felt as if it was spent mainly on the lousy, the lame and the joke tryouts. When we counted how many contestants we saw that had been put through to Hollywood, we were surprised to learn the number was 7, especially because only 12 from San Francisco received golden tickets. Then we remembered that some golden ticket recipients should have been rejects, but the judges inexplicably let them through to the next round.

This year was not much of a love-in from the city that had previously produced both first runner-up Katharine McPhee and best-remembered fiasco William Hung. Case in point is Tatiana Del Torro, 23, from Puerto Rico, who can turn off her Spanish accent like a switch and was the first to take the stage. Yes, there were tryouts in Puerto Rico this year, but she wanted to stand out and not be just another PR girl trying out in her hometown. She claims to be a full-time singer, musician, writer, model and actress, but what Little Miss Egotist didn't mention was that she also has the most annoying laugh on the face of the earth. (Her laugh can probably be heard across the island.) Plus, she wore the equivalent of the prom gown from hell and delivered a Miss America-like speech about making the world a better place for Idol champions or some such BS. She also informed us that her personal psychic friend network predicted she would make it to the Top 12. That she made it through to Hollywood makes us fearful of the prediction. Although she doesn't have a terrible voice, there is something so off-putting about her when she sings Aretha Franklin's "Never Loved a Man," -- especially after hearing the amazing Ms. Franklin at Obama's inauguration -- that you want to turn the TV off. Simon Cowell is not a fan, but, of course, she breaks into a few more numbers. By the time she is through, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi and Paula Abdul, the remaining three "judges" (and we use the term very loosely in Del Toro's case), admire her moxie so much that they *groan* let her through.

Watch video of Tatiana Del Torro

Next up is "failed entrepreneur" Dean-Anthony Bradford, 27, wearing a plaid jacket so hideous that you know Jackson is just going to love it -- and he does. Bradford thinks his special jacket will get him through the audition. Little does he realize that it takes a bikini to get you through if you have no talent and make weird faces when you "sing." When Simon chastises him not only for his clothing but for his hair color, it's one of those TMI occasions as Bradford informs us that the "carpet matches the drapes." UGH! Fortunately the jacket doesn't sway Randy enough to put him through. In fact, he calls the performance of Simply Red's "Stars" over-the-top torture.

Watch video of Dean-Anthony Bradford

Fleet manager Jesús Valenzula, 29, is handsome, dresses preppy and seems like a sweet guy. This dad wants to make it through for his kids -- and make it through he does, mainly because the judges encouraged him to bring his kids into the audition room and then are charmed by his two boys, Jesús Jr. and Gabriel. Jesús first sings Usher's "Nice and Slow," and it's OK, but nothing special. When Randy tells him to sing something for his kids, he breaks into "Unchained Melody." It's a lot better, but probably not for Simon, who isn't impressed by most singers who take on his favorite song. But Jesús does get his golden ticket. Simon gives Jesús' youngest son a hug and Kara (who admits she couldn't vote "no" and disappoint the kids) gushes about how adorable they are after the trio leaves the audition room. Will he make it past Hollywood week? We doubt it.

Watch video of Jesús Valenzula

For some reason, we think 18-year-old Dalton Powell is going to be good, maybe because he can solve a Rubik's Cube in 24 seconds, evener faster than Will Smith's character in "The Pursuit of Happyness." He also tells the judges that he is nervous, which is so much more refreshing than cocky bravado. But unlike the character Chris Gardner in the film, Powell possesses no skill we can see beyond twisting a colorful plastic block. In fact, his rendition of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles "Ooh Baby Baby" is strange and painfully high-pitched. He also reminds us of David Archuleta -- he sings with his eyes closed. Kara asks him if he has ever sung in front of people before. [Not] shockingly, he asnswers, "no." When Paula asks whether he is a fan of the show, Powell says he thinks Simon keeps the show interesting. Of course, Cowell now thinks he shows great intelligence. Fortunately, the judges rate him on his voice, not his Rubik's Cube skills, nor his assessment of Simon, and he is dismissed.

Watch video of Dalton Powell

Next comes wacko Akilah Askew Gholson, 26, carrying a sheaf of papers that supposedly contain the songs she's written, but also include anatomical drawings she has studied to make her a better singer. When Ryan Seacrest looks at her notes and says, "Wow, this is right out of health class," she answers, "No this is off the Internet." And when she tries to explain how music is produced by the body, she mangles the pronunciations of trachea (trayshias) and larynx (larnix, then leernynx) almost beyond recognition. She enters the audition room and sweetly says, "Hello Simon," while looking at Randy. Simon corrects her, and she says I knew that. She then says hello to everyone else and impresses Kara by pronouncing her name correctly (She probably thought it was spelled Kira). Sadly, she seems to have a voice hidden in there somewhere, but lacks training and control. She first sings one of her original songs, "Make Sweet Love," and is told by Simon that the song is horrible, but she's not. Randy asks her what else she has and she tries the Aretha Franklin version of Carol King's "Natural Woman," but it comes out sounding very similar to "Make Sweet Love." It's over, but Akilah doesn't want to leave. First, Paula gets up and puts her arm around her, then Kara gets up and persuades her it's time to leave. Amusingly, Simon, who hasn't met a contestant name he can remember, goes from calling her Akilah to calling her Akala. Outside the audition room, she explains that "I know I can sing. I shouldn't have let Paula, Randy and Simon iracutate me." Well, alrighty then.

Watch video of Akilah Askew Gholson

Then there is a quick succession of three contestants who make it through. We just view snippets of their singing, no appraisals or voting. First is John Twiford, 27, a music teacher who does a really nice job with Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." He's our favorite of the night so far. Then 16-year-old high-school student Allison Iraheta does her take on "Natural Woman," and we're not all that impressed. Guess more footage might have explained her golden ticket. We also don't get why waitress-bartender Raquel Houghton, 28, made it through based on what we heard of her singing Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man." So far, we're underwhelmed by the talent, including a number who received passage to Hollywood.

Watch video of John Twiford , Allison Iraheta and Raquel Houghton

Unemployed (heh, heh, no surprise based on what follows) Annie Murdoch, 28, says she plays piano, violin and "loves to scat like Ella." When Paula asks, "Are you ready for this," Annie answers "I sure am." Simon asks, "What are you going to sing?" and Annie rubs her eyes and says, "I could sing something, like, er ... Bonnie Raitt's ... er, let's see which one should I do? ... um, I could start with ..." then starts running through options in her head, as if she hadn't even considered what to sing before entering the audition room. Great, another scatterbrained nut. Finally, she settles on "Summertime." It starts OK then gets super overly dramatical. She hits a note so loud Kara also chokes on her soda. Simon, rolls his eyes and says, "Oh come on," while Kara tells her it was so overdone. Annie, of course, says, "Really? You think so??" Duh! Simon tells her "It was like you were drunk ... I'm not only talking one or two bottles, I'm talking a crate." As she leaves, Simon asks, "Did you have a drink?"

Watch video of Annie Murdoch

Actor Adam Lambert, 26, already has the look of a pop star. There's very little the "Idol" crew can do to make him better looking. Handsome, great haircut. He's been singing and doing musical theater since age 10 and has been in the cast of "Wicked" for over a year. He does Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." It's good, but not great. Simon tells him he's theatrical. Kara argues and asks but is he a good singer? But he gets through with ease, with all four judges voting yes. After he leaves the audition room, Paula declares that he's the best they've seen in any city. Yikes, that doesn't bode well for Season 8. But then, we remember that Lambert had told Paula he's had a crush on her since he was 10. Think Simon and Paula are vulnerable to flattery? Nah, must be our imagination.

Watch video of Adam Lambert

Once again, the producers have saved the best for last, both vocally and sob-storywise. During the day, handsome and charismatic musician Kai Kalma, 26, takes care of his ailing mom, who developed a seizure disorder a year ago. In the evenings he sings. Kai says he loves his mom a whole lot and has put his personal life on hold to care for her. Kai's not dating anyone, "My Mom's the only woman in my life right now." Meanwhile, Mom says she's "so grateful to have raised this beautiful son ... to be the man that he is now." Cue tears. Kai sings a lovely version of The Platters' "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," and we're worried that Simon is going to call him old-fashioned. (You can never tell with Simon on old tunes, he either loves them and proclaims them retro, or hates them and calls you too old-fashioned). Simon likes Kai's voice, but thinks he has the personality of a ship singer. Paula also thinks Kai needs to work on his showmanship, while Kara says he needs to work on performance. Us? We love him. We even love his name. Fortunately all four judges green light him.

Watch video of Kai Kalma

Wednesday night it's off to Louisville, Ky.

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