Last night on American Idol we got a glimpse of the Kansas City auditions, where the judges had somewhat better luck in finding talent than they had in Phoenix. Here are a few of the highlights.
One of the first notable singers was Ashley Anderson. Unfortunately for her, she was memorable for the wrong reason. She auditioned with a song that judge Simon Cowell had co-written, "Footprints in the Sand," and she got the lyrics wrong! Still, her voice was good enough that she was put through to Hollywood.
Next to show promise was Casey Carlson, a modern cowgirl in a trendy dress and cowboy boots who sang a countrified version of Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles." She seemed to have some potential, and as an added bonus, with her curly tresses, the show's stylists wouldn't have to do much of a makeover. Of course, she would have to contend with some old photos of herself in a bikini, but they were tastefully done and for a calendar to support breast cancer awareness. So really, it shouldn't be much of a stumbling block.
Von Smith entered wearing a white-brimmed hat and demonstrating plenty of goofy energy. Surprisingly, he sang a version of "Over the Rainbow" that started out iffy and became more impressive, considering it wasn't written for a male range. Even better, he made the song his own without adding too many flourishes. I'm looking forward to seeing more of him.
Now that the show has been around for so many years, there's a tradition of the friends and family of previous contestants taking a crack at it. This time, it was Michael Castro, the pink-haired brother of last year's top five finalist, Jason Castro. Seems the Castro family is fond of interesting hairstyles (Jason was still sporting his long dredlocks). They also share an awkwardness during interviews, although Michael was more outgoing than his brother, whom he referred to as "girlie." He turned in a decent performance of Gavin DeGraw's "In Love With a Girl." As he left the audition room, the judges remarked he's a bit cocky.
Personally, I don't know if Michael will go very far. At this stage, his famous association helped push him through. But we'll see what happens in Hollywood. Can he truly follow in his brother's footsteps?
Next to grab my attention was a bald guy named Matt Breitzke, a 27-year-old married welder from Oklahoma who offered up a smokey rendition of "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers. He seemed a bit reluctant to leave his family for long periods of time, so we'll have to see how far he goes.
Every week, there's at least one contestant who gets a Golden Ticket that makes me go, "What the heck were they thinking?" This week, it was Jessica Furney, who did a very bad rendition of the Janis Joplin song "Cry Baby." The melody was totally off (extremely flat), but she had a couple things going for her. One, it was a song that the judges obviously didn't know. (I happen to know it, because it's one of my favorite Janis songs.) To prove my point, here's video of her singing it, and here's Janis.)
Two, she didn't outright imitate Janis, which is a mistake too many singers make. Much as I love Janis, she had a lot of bad vocal habits: she growled a lot, and she pinched her voice on the high notes. If she hadn't died when she did, she would have ruined her voice by about 40. Jessica avoided those bad tendencies, but that's the only positive thing I can say.
For the requisite moving moment of the week, we met Danny Gokey, whose wife passed away just a month before the audition. Sometimes when this sort of story is highlighted, the singer still isn't strong enough to get through. But Danny had vocal skills that matched his powerful back story, as he proved by singing Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through the Grapevine." I enjoyed his voice, but every time I saw him I saw a young Robert Downey Jr.
There were a few surprises, as well. Another geeky guy proved he could sing: Anoop Desai, a college student who had once written a research paper on barbecuing in the South. He showed off a surprisingly soulful voice and was sent to Hollywood, but not before Simon spent some time picking on his checkered shirt.
Band instructor Asa Barnes ignored the "don't sing Michael Jackson" rule I recommended yesterday, singing "The Way You Make Me Feel." Unlike about 99 percent of the people who audition with a Michael Jackson song, he made it his own and avoided the more obvious MJ stylings, like squeals and sharp intakes of breath. So he defied the odds and got a Golden Ticket.
Remember how yesterday I said that having a cute costume or a funny shtick doesn't get you very far, if your vocals don't match up? Well, Andrew Lang is the latest wannabe to learn the truth of that statement. He brought with him a couple of supporters, two friends wearing red and white cheerleading costumes, who preceded him and did a couple cheers to herald his arrival.
Unfortunately for him, their build-up a theatrical performance of "My Girl by the Temptations. To be sure, he has a pretty good voice, but he seems to know very little about delivery. Simply put, he couldn't follow his own opening act.
In addition, there were a number of strange auditions, like a guy with a super deep voice who might have been an interesting singer, if he could have stayed on pitch. And there were the usual deluded individuals who were devastated when their laughable voices didn't get them through. After eight seasons, all I can say is some people should stick to singing in the shower.
The next auditions will be from Louisville. If you're interested, the official preview video is here. How many of the people interviewed in that video can actually sing? We'll find out, next Tuesday!
Sometimes breaking the rules can work.