For the second auditions episode of season 9, the American Idol judges went to Atlanta, home of former winner Fantasia Barrino, former contestants Jennifer Hudson and Clay Aiken, and birthplace of host Ryan Seacrest
However, if the judges were hoping for a repeat, they were most likely disappointed. The most memorable audition came from someone who didn't even qualify for the show. But I'm willing to bet money you'll be seeing him on YouTube.
This time, the guest judge was singer Mary J. Blige, who had so much difficulty controlling her laughter during the bad auditions that she spent much of the episode with her hands covering her face. The show was only an hour and a half, followed by a repeat of The Simpsons, which points to the dearth of talent (or, one must assume, interesting rejects).
First up was Dewone Robinson, 27. In the waiting room, he told the cameras that his great-uncle discovered Gladys Knight & the Pips and that he felt destined for this. However, having a perceived "destiny" at the AI auditions is about as much an indicator of success as claiming to be a dance instructor at the auditions for So You Think You Can Dance.
Wearing a black shirt, buttoned all the way up, paired with bright blue pleated pants, Dewone performed his own song, "Lady, We're not Together Anymore." His tone alternated between a very high falsetto and a very deep bass, both of which were out of his range. At one point, Kara DioGuardi even exclaimed, "Oh, please, God." Simon Cowell remarked afterwards that it was "one of the worst original songs I ever heard." Immediately, Dewone blamed his failures on the judges, saying that Simon made him nervous at the outset by "jumping on him" and asking for the name of the song he was singing! Randy Jackson called for security, which wasn't ultimately necessary. Dewone found the door himself.
We got just a glimpse of an auditioner with a really high, weird voice. Then it was on to more pleasant sounds, courtesy of Keia Johnson (Keia's personal site), 26, of Memphis. She had competed in the Miss America pageant and won Miss Congeniality, for which Simon teased her. For her audition piece, she chose "the Titanic song," a.k.a. Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On." Her voice was clear and bright, almost as bright as her lemon-yellow leggings and bright red sneakers. Mary remarked, "She can sing." Randy liked how she closed some of the phrases. Kara called her "very genuine" and added she's "nice to look at when you're performing." Simon said he liked her but could imagine her in a production of Oklahoma. (For those who don't know, calling someone a Broadway performer is one of Simon's favorite put-downs when someone has vocal talent but doesn't come across as a pop star. This, however, hasn't hurt the career of Clay Aiken one bit). The verdict: four yeses.
Then, a quick montage of three women who got through to Hollywood: Miriam Lemnouni; Noel Reese, who wore a flowered dress; and Tisha Holland, who wore red pants and sang "Impossible" by Christina Aguilera.
If the next contestant looks familiar, that's because you might have already seen him on TV. Jermaine Sellers (personal blog; MySpace), 26, Union City, Georgia, is a church singer. He was also the second runner-up on BET's Sunday's Best in 2007 and has appeared in Tyler Perry's play, The Marriage Counselor. Sellers also cares for his mother, who has spina bifida. Clad in a brand-new hoody with blue and light-blue stripes, as well as an L.A. Dodgers cap, he sang "What if God Was One of Us?" as a gospel song. Kara called the performance a great interpretation. She liked that "you picked something you felt." Randy went further, labeling it the "best vocal we've seen yet." Mary called him incredible and praised his control. Outcome: four yeses.
The next hopeful was Christie Marie Agronow, 25, of Atlanta, a perky TV show hostess and producer for the local TV show, 411: The Show. Wearing a bright orange shirt and matching headband, sadly, Christie's voice did not live up to her personality. As she struggled through Pat Benetar's "Love is a Battlefield," Mary struggled to hold back her laughter. While Christie's tone wasn't bad, her delivery was over-the-top. Afterwards she said, "I would really love to go to Hollywood." Simon countered, "Not based on that audition you won't be." Kara advised her, a bit more kindly, "This shouldn't be your career." Making a joke out of the name of her TV show, Simon said it was "more like the 911." After she received her four no's, Christie's sweet mood altered drastically, and she bitched about the judges' decision to her mom and anyone who would listen.
After another montage of "no's," we met Vanessa Wolfe, 19, of Vonore, Tennessee. A self-proclaimed bridge jumper (don't try this at home), she seemed a down-to-earth country girl, showing up for the audition with bleached blonde hair, wearing a bright pink dress that looked like a beach cover-up. She sang a country song, "Wagon Wheel" by Old Crow Medicine Show and, to my ear, sounded a little like Dolly Parton. Kara admitted, "You were a lot better than I thought you were going to be." Simon liked her, although he noted that she seemed "incredibly ill-prepared for this, very nervous." Still, he added, "When you're good, you're very good. You stand out." He also called her "very authentic." She got four yeses.
Not so lucky was Jesse Hamilton, 26, of Anniston, Alabama, who told Ryan that he had almost died three times. Having some fun with his back story, the producers put together three "cheap reenactments" of his close calls with death. An ordinary-looking guy with a pencil-thin mustache, Jesse said he was going to sing the Garth Brooks song "The River" but was too nervous to start. Mary laughed uncontrollably, hiding her face, and Kara tried to cover for her: "Mary's upset. Mary's feeling your pain and your loss." Finally, he performed a lackadaisical, tuneless rendition of the Garth Brooks song "If Tomorrow Never Comes." Afterwards, Simon advised him to go back to welding. When Jesse complained that welding is dangerous, Simon said, "If anyone's going to survive welding, it's you. This guy's got nine lives." Four no's.
Another montage of no's later, it was on to Holly Harden of Rockmart, Georgia. She had dressed as a guitar, complete with glasses that look like guitars, and dubbed herself "Guitar Girl." For her audition piece, she chose "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man." Her voice was much deeper than her squeaky speaking voice, better than I'd expected. Simon declared that "you're fun." Randy agreed: "You're hilarious." Even Kara seemed inclined to give her a chance, Mary held out, saying "I don't get it." With Randy and Kara voting yes and Mary voting no, it was down to Simon. Holly pleaded, "Come on, Simon, you're gorgeous." Simon asked, "Do you honestly think I'm the sort of person who would respond to that type of flattery?" Clearly, the answer was yes, because the next shot was of "Guitar Girl" bouncing into the lobby, clutching a golden ticket.
If she looks familiar, she also competed on America's Got Talent and made it through to their Las Vegas round. As I remember, though, she either didn't make it any further or was eliminated early in the competition.
This time, the montage of "no's" included enough vocals so we could tell why they were rejected. Simon compared Lathan Davenport's singing to "a cat barking." Randy declared Hansel Enriquez's nasal vocal performance "terrible." Finally, Blake Smith made a mistake with his choice of the Britney Spears song, "Oops, I Did it Again."
Time for a little success, wouldn't you say, producers? In walked Mallorie Haley (MySpace), 20, of Winter, South Dakota. She was naturally pretty, with long, dark-blonde hair and a simple white dress with sweetheart neckline, paired with high-heeled gladiator sandals. She did a country version of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" which impressed even this Janis fan. Mary commented, "That was great. Best vocal I heard. That was dope." Kara praised Mallorie for knowing "who you are." Randy called her a "really beautiful girl." Simon said she was "fearless during that audition." End result: four yeses.
Following a montage of other yeses, we were introduced to the self-promoting Antonio "Skii Bo Ski" Wheeler. While "Guitar Girl" wore a goofy costume just as a way of getting noticed, Skii Bo Ski strutted like a heavyweight champ in his red leisure jacket with his nickname emblazoned on the front (albeit missing on "i"). After all the hype, I expected his version of Marvin Gaye's "Grape Vine" to fail miserably. Yet, he was better than I expected, even if he oversold it. Simon summed it up: "The outfit put me off; the singing was awful; the dancing was terrible." Kara admitted, "I thought it was going to be a disaster" but told him he has "a good voice." Mary was impressed vocally but advised him to make his image "match what your vocal is doing." Randy agreed, saying, he had "some good vocals, but I'd lose all the other nonsense." Simon stayed firm with his no, while the others gave him a yes.
It's doubtful, however, that Skii Bo Ski will go much farther, especially since a run-in with the law has come to light, where he was tazed after swallowing crack during a drug arrest. He'd have to really prove himself in Hollywood for TPTB (the powers that be) to ignore that.
Arriving with a much sweeter attitude were best friends Carmen "Carmella" Turner, 19, and Lauren Sanders, 18, of Baxley, Georgia. They gamely mugged for the cameras in the waiting room, hanging all over each other and declaring they would both make it through together. Carmen wore a kelly green tank and Lauren a blue one, and they had done their makeup exactly the same. But their voices were very different. Lauren performed very softly, so that it was difficult to hear her. Carmen was more confident but had trouble sustaining notes. Simon said, "Carmen, you're better than your friend. You're funny together." He told them they should be in a group, "The Ditz Sisters." The insult did not immediately register, perhaps because the term "ditz" is a bit outdated. The rest of the judges split their votes, saying yes to Carmen and no to Lauren. Simon, whose input was no longer needed, Carmen having received enough votes to make it through, said he would have said no to both. He counseled Carmen, "If it's any consolation, I don't think you're going to be away from her for too long." (VIDEO) Afterwards, in the exit interview, Carmen clearly felt a little guilty about having made it without her friend, while Lauren registered deep disappointment while professing to be proud of Carmen.
Yet another montage of bad singers, and Simon takes a break, making him absent from the next couple of auditions.
The phrase "never judge a book by its cover" was tailor-made for Bryan Walker, a police officer with a tuft of light hair on the top of his head, wire-framed glasses, and a white shirt with a Nehru collar. While he looked very generic, his country rendition of "Super Star" was surprisingly good. Kara declared, "That was great. This guy can sing." Randy observed, "You look nothing like what you sound like. The singing police officer is hot, dude." Mary said, "You have the type of voice where you don't have to try to prove anything." He got three yeses, enough for a golden ticket.
While Bryan was modest and unassuming, Lamar Royal, 20, was overconfident. As he shouted through Seal's "Kiss from a Rose," he showed that his voice was powerful but that he had no control. Randy said it was "kind of torturous." Kara said, "I'm not going to say you're a terrible singer..." but before she could complete her thought, Lamar began arguing with her. Randy backed Kara up, "There's a voice in there somewhere" but "you need to do a lot of work." Mary gave him good advice, "You have to find some humility. Stop trying to exalt yourself." Getting three no's wasn't final enough for Lamar, who kept trying to sing his audition piece again, as if he could change their mind. Shooting them evil looks, he walked off swearing before returning to sing some more. Security finally had to remove him, but as the cameras followed him, he continued to rant and swear. Anger management would be a good idea.
Finally, General Larry Platt brought some good humor and lightheartedness to the auditions (VIDEO). At 62 years old, he far exceeded the age limit, but TPTB allowed him to audition, believing (rightly) that he would be good television. He performed an original song, "Pants on the Ground," wearing a black T-shirt with pins all over it, a rasta wrist band, and a knit hat. His song was more of a playground chant than a song, really, but the lyrics were funny, poking fun at current youth clothing trends, such as baggy pants and sideways hats. At the end of his spirited performance, he nearly got into a split. Pretty good for 62! Simon playfully remarked, "I have a horrible feeling that song could be a hit." Randy played along: "I'm going to buy some belts after this." Then Simon gently let him down, "You're a little bit over the age limit, 28. But I don't think this will be the last we hear of you." Randy and Kara started singing the song again, and Randy later got up and sang and danced with him. Yes, folks, it's this year's William Hung!
All told, 25 golden tickets were bestowed on hopefuls in Atlanta.
Next week, it's the Windy City, sweet home Chicago.
Check your attitude at the door, wannabes.