It's that time of year again: when we are serenaded by singers with the voices of angels... or goats, depending.
Yes, American Idol season 9 is kicking off, as always, with auditions. The first ones of the season took place in Boston.
The show began with a summary of the season 8 results show crowning Kris Allen. But this, host Ryan Seacrest said, was "just the beginning of the drama."
Nice judge Paula Abdul quit, and eight guest judges were brought in to help on the road. The permanent gig went to Ellen DeGeneres, expected to counterpoint Simon's biting commentary with positive comments.
The judges for this city were Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, and guest judge Victoria Beckham (a.k.a. Posh Spice).
First on the menu of fun was Janet McNamara, who had trained with the AI video game. Wearing a pink shirt with her flabby midriff showing over tight faded jeans, she psyched herself up by jumping up and down in front of the mirror and telling herself she's awesome. AI fans will not be surprised to learn that she was far from awesome, singing an atonal, nasal song and dancing around weirdly as she shrieked on the top notes.
Simon's first comment says it all: "Does this window open?" But we all know he didn't end his misery by jumping out. He's with us for one more season. Janet didn't help her case by pointing at Kara and calling her "Paula," a mistake she repeated in the after-interview with Ryan. No surprise, it was a definite no.
Next up was Maddy Curtis from Bluemont, Virginia, who has four Down Syndrome brothers (three of them adopted). At 16, she's a big fan of the show. She chose "Halleluia" by Leonard Cohen, putting a lot of emotion into it and hitting all the high notes, although pinching a little as she reached for them. Simon noted "A bit of soul in there." Randy said he really likes her. Victoria said she has a really beautiful voice, although she looked a little nervous. Kara asserted, "You have an old soul about you." And this is the woman who was just upset at being mistaken for Paula! Result: four yeses.
The very energetic Pat Ford of Derry, New Hampshire, wearing a striped blue and white shirt, sang a ridiculous, over-the-top version of the Britney Spears song "Womanizer," along with equally ridiculous choreography. As he was performing, Randy complained, "Ow, ow!" Pat did have spirit, though, calling Simon "sassy Simon." Randy summarized, "You're a cool guy. Stop singing forever. Singing is not your thing." Verdict: four no's.
Then, we got treated to just a tease of three singers who got the golden ticket: dark-haired Jennifer Hirsch, who sang a jazzy version of "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead"; Claire Fuller, who wore a simple blue tank top and demonstrated strong vocal chops; and Jess Wolfe of Brooklyn, wearing horn-rimmed glasses, and a green and black velvet top. Perhaps we'll see more of them in Hollywood Week.
The next featured auditioner was Amadeo Diricco, 28, of Rhode Island. A stocky Italian from a big family, he showed off his blues skills with "Hoochie Coochie Man." Despite a weak ending, where he just trailed off, he had a big presence. Simon, apparently also channeling Paula, noted he has "Good energy." Four yeses.
By contrast to loud, affable Amadeo, Derek Hilton of Birmingham was a quiet young man with long hippy hair and acne. He murdered the Elton John tune, ""Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word." Noting the differences in his vocal tone throughout the short audition piece, Simon said, "There were 20 of you in there, and every one of them was horrible." In the interview afterwards, Derek said: "I did my best. I hit really loud notes." For his efforts: four no's.
Mere Doyle (Deviant Art page), a self-professed otaku, or Japanese anime fan, brought along a kimono, as well as several other wardrobe changes and was happy to mug for the camera, doing kicks and fighting stances. She said she takes singing seriously and has been to "hundreds of auditions" with her patient mom. She shouted the Janis Joplin song "Piece of My Heart" and then was shocked when Simon proclaimed it "verging on terrible." When she said that she was upset the judges were telling her not to do what she loves, Simon quipped, "I would love to fly to the moon, but I can't." Four no's.
Following her were two yeses who got much less screen time but who had jammed together on guitar in the waiting room. First was Luke Shaffer from New York City, a red-haired dead ringer for Neil Patrick Harris. Wearing a simple black knit hat and blue work shirt, he proved that all you need to make it to Hollywood is a very pure voice. He was followed by olive-complected Benjamin Bright of Rome, New York, who did "All My Loving" by the Beatles. Both made it to Hollywood.
One of the scarier auditions of the evening came from Andrew Fenlon of Boston [VIDEO]. Wearing a brown button-down and horn-rimmed glasses, he was a passably attractive guy, if it weren't for his terrible attitude. Frustrated at waiting three hours to audition, he launched into an uneven version of "House of the Rising Sun." Picking up on his body language, Kara asked him, "Are you angry?" and then critiqued him for the bad attitude. Simon agreed that he'd "walked in sulky, quite rude, very aggressive. Very, very bad energy." Victoria chimed in: "Very arrogant is how it came out. You don't have the goods to back it up." Kara, Victoria, and Randy all gave him a no. Simon claimed he would have said yes, that Andrew was "growing on me," but I think this was just to tweak the other judges. Kara was so upset with Andrew that she declared, "You need a spanking. You've been very naughty," a comment which had Andrew giving her a surprised look and making eyes at her as he left the room.
Then we got a quick view of two failed auditions: Bill Bloom with "Roses in Bloom"; and Michael Ryan, who had lots of energy but couldn't match that vocally.
With one of the standout Boston auditions, Berkeley student Ashley Rodriguez performed "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keyes. She wore a simple white tank top with a black jacket, jeans, and heels and had a very easy way about her. She performed the difficult song effortlessly. Kara observed, "You have the kind of look and voice that could be very commercial." Victoria said, "You're one my favorites that I've seen." Simon agreed: "Some people have got it, and I think you may have it." After she got four yeses and a golden ticket, Victoria added that Ashley i's "naturally beautiful and very talented."
Another auditioner with natural grace was Tyler Grady, despite two broken wrists from falling out of tree. He told Ryan that he's a drummer, so breaking his wrists was really bad luck. He wore a patterned shirt with V-neck collar, tight striped jeans, and red-brown boots. Paired with his longish, curly hair, he reminded Randy of the '60s and the women of the '70s. He sang a soulful version of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get it On." Victoria said she "loved the whole look." Randy praised Tyler's "Morrison stance." Simon said that, in addition to good vocals, he had "good taste." He gave him kudos for knowing who he is and delivering an audition people will remember. Four yeses.
Seventeen other people got golden tickets that first day but were only seen in a quick montage.
Day two in Boston began with Lisa Olivero, 24, of Billerico, Massachusetts. She looked great, in a white top with black belt, and she had confidence, saying she always watched the show and wondered why she isn't on it. Her rendition of Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love" proved she's deluding herself. Maybe it sounds better in her head. Kara advised, "You've got to practice more." Simon said, "I genuinely believed we might have a great singer here, and then you started singing." He called it a crazy version of the song. Four no's. He did, however, enjoy watching her walk out of the room, since she has a nice figure, which drew the ire of Victoria.
We saw just a glimpse of Ryan Keane from Connecticut, who did an odd version of "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash. Simon said, "Absolutely, unequivocal no."
One of the most unanticipated performances of the day came from Mike Davis, an actor on a Boston tourist attraction, the speedboat Codzilla. He chose "Yesterday" by The Beatles, starting out a little weak, then getting better and finishing strong. Simon, perhaps a reference to Andrew Fenlon, said that "You're confident without being obnoxious." Kara said, "You're a great guy" and gushed so much over him that, out of exasperation, Simon said, "I need a break" and left the room, saying he would have voted yes. Randy gave Mike a no and also left the room, leaving it in the hands of the women. They must have both voted for him, because Mike made it through.
Sixteen-year-old Katie Stevens of Middlebury, Connecticut sounded very mature for her age, with a seamless rendition of the Etta James song "At Last." Simon observed that it's a difficult song, but "you sang it quite well." Randy praised her "good natural talent." Kara agreed: "For 16, to be able to sing like that, pretty amazing." Victoria was impressed with her stage presence. Four yeses.
Joshua Blaylock, 28, of New York City had a boy-band quality to his voice as he performed "God Bless the Broken Road," wearing a kelly green shirt. I think he has limited range, though, and I'm not sure how far he'll get. Simon said it was a "good voice for 14." Randy had a little fun with the pleasant Joshua, egging him into saying, "Simon, shut up." Simon thought this was funny and declared Joshua "very likable." After Joshua got his ticket, Randy used his newly-discovered power and got Joshua to repeat a number of phrases, including an odd self-affirmation mantra: "I am somebody. Nobody's going to beat my 'A'."
Justin Williams [VIDEO], 27, of Sandy, Utah, has lived through a lot so far, facing cancer at age 20. He's now in remission. He has striking looks, with light eyes and dark hair (wish I could order that combination for my son). Wearing a charcoal polo shirt with patterns, he performed "Feeling Good" by Michael Buble. He started out easy and got more intense, finishing off with a good deal of control. Randy said, "I kind of liked it." Victoria added he has a nice voice and "the girls will like you." Kara proclaimed, "I am going to remember you." Four yeses.
And just when you forgot that this is audition week and not the first round of the competition, in comes Norberto Guerrero, 18, of Reading, Pennsylvania. Right away, you knew he'd have to have a stellar voice to counterbalance his strange look: a silver vest over a red shirt over a black long-sleeved shirt and baggy black sweat pants, topped with really long, curly, greasy hair that resembled a wig. He did a semi-falsetto version of "Every Time We Touch," causing Simon to exclaim, "You sing like a 3-year-old girl dressed like LaToya Jackson, with a beard." That would be a no.
Bosun Mora of Columbus, Ohio, had an interesting back story. His parents are from Nigeria and have raised their large brood to be proud of their roots as well as their American citizenship. Dressed in a simple red polo, he seemed comfortable in front of the judges. The beginning was better than the middle, but he showed some potential. Simon called it "good but boring," to which Bosun countered, "I can spice it up. " Victoria said, "I didn't find you boring at all." She thought he audition was "very heartfelt." Simon gave him a no, while Victoria and Kara voted yes. Randy considered before agreeing to "give you one more shot," though he told him, "You've got a lot of work to do." We'll see how he does in Hollywood.
Ending the show was Leah Laurenti, who performed a jazzy version of "Blue Skies," wearing a dated-looking outfit of a black sleeveless top with a ruffled skirt and flats. Some of her high notes sounded a bit pinched, but she had a lot of control at the end of phrases. Randy called her performance "one of the best I heard today." He lauded her control and tone. Kara said, "You're a very good singer" and added she was "One of the best we've seen." End result: four yeses.
Tonight, the auditions continue in Atlanta, the "dirty south."
It doesn't take a flashy look to win over the judges; just solid singing.