Last night American Idol judges went to San Francisco, where the pickings were not quite as good as in previous cities. Here are some highlights.
Tatiana Del Toro
Tatiana Del Toro drew attention at the top of the show with her annoying laugh and strange dress (a tube dress with a gauzy skirt). She claimed she'd consulted a psychic, who told her she'd make it to the top 12.
In the judges' room, she handed over a press kit, a CD and a DVD, apparently thinking this would give her the edge. After this preamble, I expected a very weak performance, but she actually turned in a halfway decent rendition of "Never Loved a Man" by Aretha Franklin. She got a reluctant yes from Kara and a no from Simon but snagged herself a Golden Ticket to the Hollywood stage of the competition.
Despite her confidence, I doubt that her dreams of making it into the top 12 will come true. For one thing, she thinks she's got nothing to learn. She was convinced, even after hearing comments from the judges, that she had the best voice at the auditions. Her overconfidence would likely turn voters off, should she make it to the semifinalist round (Tatiana's MySpace page.)
The next interesting audition came from Dean-Anthony Bradford, who was actually more notable for his fashion choice than for his singing. He wore an oversized plaid coat that looked like something Simply Red would have worn in the '80s, which is appropriate, since he sang a song by them. He singing was just as oversized, and he didn't get through.
Then came Jesus Valenzula, a father wearing a black suit with a striped polo. He sang "Nice and Slow" by Usher, proving he has a very mellow, pleasant voice, but the judges were on the fence about him until he brought his kids in to try to change their minds. While he'll be going to Hollywood, it will be without Simon Cowell's vote, since he's immune to schmaltz..
Another contestant who stood out for the wrong reasons had an appropriate name: Akilah Askew-Gholston, who showed up with a folder of training tips for gospel singers, which she proudly announced to host Ryan Seacrest that she'd printed from the Internet. The handouts focused on physiological ways to optimize the voice, but they didn't help her when she sang a toneless version of her original song, "Make Sweet Love."
It probably also didn't help that she greeted judge Randy Jackson with "Hello, Simon," handing the judges her worn, overstuffed folder before she began. Also not a big help: her long extensions with white-blonde strands, her high-waisted acid-washed pants, paired with a football jersey and cheap leather jacket. Truly, though, it was her singing that failed her, despite her Internet cramming.
Appearances can be deceiving, as the next contestant, Annie Murdoch, proved. She was a cute blonde with short hair, wearing a choker necklace with a long-sleeved Golden Gate Bridge T-shirt and jeans. She told them that she plays violin and piano, but hopefully she's better at them than she is at singing. The first bad sign: she couldn't decide on a song (weren't you just waiting in line for, literally, hours?). Finally, she sang s. very theatrical version of "Summertime." She was told it was a no.
Perhaps the vocal highlight of the evening came from Adam Lambert, a 26-year-old with dyed black hair who comes from a musical theater background and was in the cast for the Los Angeles production of Wicked. He sang Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and demonstrated good control, earning himself a Golden Ticket with four yesses.
Finally, we met Kai Kalama, a musician who has been caring for his ailing mother, suffering from a seizure disorder. He sang a smooth version of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Unassuming, in a button-down modern-looking shirt and with tousled curly hair, he gave off a "nice guy" vibe. Perhaps too nice. Judge Kara DioGuardi told him he needs to improve his performance, and Simon advised that he needs confidence.
Of course, there were several clueless people, including an orange-haired guy who offered up a strange boom box performance, and a guy whose sparkly shirt and newsboy hat outshone his vocals.
There was a little drama between the judges, especially friction between Kara and Simon. I guess she is beginning to learn that the grueling audition process can lead to stress and discord. It would be nice, though, if they don't carry such feuding into the competition stage of the show.
Next stop: Churchill Downs.
If you can't make it on your vocals, have your kids plead for you.