Last night American Idol judges tried their luck in Louisville, with auditions at the famous racetrack, Churchill Downs. So who came in win, place and show?
The first singer featured on the show was Tiffany Shedd, a bleached blonde in a black polka-dot mini dress, complete with pearls and false eyelashes. She arrived with her parents, who are convinced she's the next great American singer. But her painful performance of a Mariah Carey song said otherwise. She received an emphatic "no" from the judges, even through her parents were still in denial.
Next up was Philadelphia native Joanna Pacitti, who now lives in L.A. and says she wants to write music. In contrast to Tiffany's mom, Joanna's mom told her "we love you if you make it or not."
Sporting long dyed-black hair, a modern halter top and leggings, Joanna was immediately recognized by judge Kara DioGuardi as having been previously signed to A&M Records, a contract which has since been broken for some reason. The reason probably wasn't talent-based: she sang a rendition of Pat Benetar's "We Belong" that started soft and then showed power, earning her a Golden Ticket (More about Joanna, from Wikipedia).
Next up, Mark Mudd from Kentucky looked like a real hayseed, dressed in a blue denim shirt with a bolo tie and an eagle clasp, a chain slung on his belt. He told of his dubious family history: he's related to the Dr. Mudd who fixed John Wilkes Booth's leg, broken when the assassin jumped off the balcony after killing Abraham Lincoln. Mark was awkward, to put it in the kindest possible way, his voice breaking as he sang "White Lightning" by George Jones. His parting words of "be careful" to the judges were interpreted by them as a threat but seemed, instead, a poor choice of words.
By contrast, the next contestant, Brent Keith Smith, was low key, in a simple blue T-shirt and cross necklace and without an interesting backstory. But his countrified version of the Bad Company song "Can't Get Enough" showed he has vocal ability, and he got four yesses from the judges, but only after Paula and Kara argued with Simon and then crawled under the table!
Talk about Revenge of the Nerds. Self-proclaimed academic Ross Plavsic, whose interests include math, physics, and the Chinese language, showed up in a black suit, white shirt, and tie, and he was noticeably awkward on-camera. He sang a deeply weird version of "Cara Mia" by Jay and the Americans but claimed his poor audition was the fault of the air. When Paula asked him if he wanted to take a sip of water, he actually took a sip of Paula's drink, perhaps an indication of just how nervous he was! The judges passed, and Paula got herself a new drink.
Stay-at-home Memphis mom Alexis Grace had one of those sympathetic backstories. She got pregnant at 19 and plans to marry the father, who's in the military. Wearing a salmon-colored tank top and jeans, she powered through "Dr. Feelgood" by Aretha Franklin and was rewarded with four yesses.
Twenty-seven-year-old Aaron Williamson brought some high energy to his audition. Dressed in a dark Western-style shirt, he sang Credence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain," demonstrating, unfortunately, that he has more energy than skill. Of course, he might have also paid closer attention to the title of the show: he told the judges he was "ready to be America's Next Top Model." If so, he's out of luck. I'm afraid Tyra Banks would also give him a pass, since the show is for female models only, and last season's experiment with a transgendered contestant didn't pan out.
Now, there's no doubt that auditions can be nerve-wracking, but future Idol wannabes take note: wearing a cheat sheet on your arm will garner you the wrong kind of attention from the judges. That's what Rebecca Garcia found out when she sang a horribly tuneless version of Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats" dressed in skinny jeans, stiletto heels, and two layered tank tops. Noting on her bio sheet that she'd been "voted most humorous," Kara thought the audition was a joke, saying, "That was good. Funny." When a bewildered Rebecca burst into tears, Kara apologized. Sympathy aside, the judges took a pass.
Matt Giraud, a self-taught dueling piano player, got sent to Hollywood, thanks to his breathy, rushed version of Gavin DeGraw's "I Don't Want to Be." If that song sounds familiar, it's because past contestants Bo Bice (Season 4), Elliott Yamin (Season 5), Chris Richardson (Season 6), and Phil Stacey (Season 6) all performed it on the show.
The show closed out with yet another sob story, as would-be contestant Leneshe Young shared the story of how she was homeless as a child. That history apparently didn't break her spirit, though, as she pranced out in a yellow silky top and sang her original song: "Natty." Personally, I found the song a bit sing-songy, and her posing and head popping were irritating, but her voice has potential. Judge Simon Cowell called her performance "quirky and fun," and she walked away with four yesses. As Kara put it, "This is the first girl who has her own thing." And standing out during Hollywood week may serve her well.
Among the other auditions glimpsed last night, we saw yet another girl who sounds like a goat (is there a school of goat singing out there somewhere?). And representing the freak contingent, Mr. Ryan Benningfield chose to dress as a zebra while singing the Tori Amos song "Hello, Mr. Zebra." We were also treated to a performance by the king of bad Michael Jackson impersonators, Patrick Warner, who imitated Michael's dance moves, despite his massive girth.
Next week: Jacksonville, Florida.
If the judges think your audition was a joke, you're not going through to Hollywood.