The next audition city on American Idol, season 9, was Orlando, with 10,000 auditioners hoping to provide the judges with a little magic. Many of them would be hoping in vain.
The guest judge was actress Kristin Chenoweth, who has made a name for herself in terms of her vocal talents. Unfortunately, she could only be there for one out of the two audition days.
The first one to audition was Theo Clinton (VIDEO), who dressed to make an impression, gluing mirrors around his right eye, as well a feather to his cheek, along with glitter, and wearing a black cape with mirrors. If that wasn't bad enough, when Simon asked him where he saw himself in 10 years, he answered that he'd have his own hair salon! Way to show that you mean it. He muddled through Pat Benetar's "Heartbreaker," with such terrible enunciation you couldn't tell what he was singing. He also failed to sing the melody the way it was originally written. Simon Cowell told him, "You're going to be on your way to your hair dressing career." He added that his look was a distraction: "Looking like that, I mentally said no." Kara DioGuardi criticized his vocals as "so over the top." After he received four no's, he began to cry. Kara tried to reassure him: "You're better than that." She added, "You smell nice." The poor guy tried to leave the wrong way, and the judges had to direct him out.
Next, we saw a montage of Kara and Kristin bonding, despite many bad auditions.
Seth Rollins, 28, of Lakeland, Florida, is married, with two kids. His son has autism, and he hopes the show will give him more opportunities so he can provide better care for him. Wearing a brown button-down military-style shirt and jeans, he sang "Someone to Watch Over Me" by Frank Sinatra. His version of it was less like a crooner and more like soul: mellow and smooth. Kara and Kristin were swaying to the music. Afterward, Kristin said she liked that he took a Gershwin song and made it his own. Kara said she wanted "to keep hearing you." Simon Cowell liked that "you know who you are." He called it a good choice of song. Randy Jackson gave him one piece of advice: that he needs to "exude more vibe," more energy. He got four yeses.
Next up was Jermaine Purifoy, 24, of Cleveland, who had previously auditioned in season seven. This time, he worn a white button-down shirt with black designs, paired with a gray T-shirt, gray denim pants, and a silver cross.. He performed Tony Bennett's version of the Charlie Chaplin song, "Smile." He had a good voice for this sort of song, and his face lit up as he sang. At the end, he threw a little embellishment in, but not enough to distract from his solid performance. Kristin praised his pure sound and the fact that he didn't have to strain to hit the high notes. Randy called it "the best I've heard this whole audition season. At least, that is, until he gets to another city (he's said this before)! Kara told him, "You have a great voice, but it's honest. I believe it." Simon gave him props for his song choice and observed, "The chicks will like you." Result: four yeses.
The last of the day was Shelby Dressel, 18, a waitress from Avoncart, Florida. She'd been born with an undeveloped nerve that prevents her from using the right side of her face, which also impairs her speech somewhat. She was a very pretty girl with short dark curls, wearing a red cami, a long necklace, and blue stretch jeans. For her audition piece, she chose "Turn Me On" by Norah Jones. When she sang, the enunciation problem was not noticeable; in fact, she did far better than a couple of previous contestants who made it into the top 20. Her vocals were solid, but she forgot the words near the end and swore. Everyone laughed, because at this stage it was charming; however, she'll have to do better with lyrics during Hollywood week. Simon told her, "I liked you, but I wasn't blown away." Randy "kind of liked the voice." Kristin said she has "good potential" but "a lot more growth to do." Simon gave her a yes, "with a small 'Y', which Randy countered by saying, "with three big letters, yes." She got four yeses, so she's on her way to Hollywood.
Eighteen others made it through on day one. We saw a montage of others with their golden tickets. Sadly, Kristin couldn't be there for day two, due to her busy schedule.
Kicking off the second day was Jay Stone, 25, of Miami, looking hip in a white zipped fleece jacket, a black T-shirt with a colorful design, and a super-short, trendy haircut. He did an unusual version of "Come Together" by the Beatles, starting out beat-boxing and then interweaving that with vocals. I found it interesting, but not for this show. Kara compared his audition to "a crazy rollercoaster ride." Simon, pretending that he'd been spit on by the frequent popping sounds, said, "I'm actually soaking wet after listening to you." Before voting, Randy asked him, "Do you actually sing?" In response, Jay sang "Ain't No Sunshine" and demonstrated a pretty good voice with potential. The judges make beat-boxing sounds while he performed.
Jay lost me, though, when he urged the judges to put him through because he said nobody does what he does. Randy pointed out that Blake Lewis, who came in second in season six, had interwoven beat-boxing with singing. Still, Jay insisted that he was different, because Blake didn't do them at the same time. Perhaps not, but a finalist in season two of America's Got Talent, Butterscotch, did, and to much better effect. Randy and Simon initially said no, but under pressure from Kara, who wanted to see what Jay could do in Hollywood, Randy changed his mind to a yes. He got his golden ticket.
We got just a short taste of three more yeses: Janell Wheeler, a blonde in a bright yellow shirt who did "House of the Rising Sun"; Brittany Star James, who wore a bright blue shirt; and Kasi Bedford, 19, who paired a purple scarf with a silver halter top. It was hard to tell much from their abbreviated performances, but none of them blew me away. (VIDEO)
Hoping to show off his dance moves as well as his singing, next to audition was Cornelius Edwards, 24, a security guard. He wore a black button-down shirt with black velvet patterns and black jeans, which probably should have had more stretch in them. He announced he would sing Tina Turner's "Rolling" (actually "Proud Mary"). Near the end, he did a split and ripped his pants out completely! Simon laughed and said, "I'm going to have to say yes after that. That is sacrifice." Kara and Randy also gave him a yes, with Randy concluding, "Welcome to Hollywood. Get some new pants."
Two sisters from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, whose mom owns a hair salon in their house, auditioned together. They looked very similar, except that one is a natural brunette and the other has dyed her hair blonde. Bernadette Desimone, 27, the blonde, wearing a bright blue no-sleeved dress, went first with the Ray Charles song, "Hit the Road Jack," giving it lots of attitude. Amanda Desimone, 23, the brunette, in a yellow one-shoulder shirt, capris, and matching yellow high heels, sang the Whitney Houston song, "I Want to Dance with Somebody." She was a little harsh on some of the notes. Randy noted that Bernadette had picked the better song. Kara liked their energy and said "they could really bring something to Hollywood." Both she and Randy said yes to both. Simon specified that he would have said yes to the sister in blue (Bernadette) and no to the sister in yellow (Amanda). But with two out of three votes, they were both through. (VIDEO)
As soon as I saw Jarrod Norrell (VIDEO), 28, warming up in the courtyard with stretches and his own quirky breath exercises, I suspected he was going to tank. He wore a plaid short-sleeved shirt with a backwards baseball cap and had unruly stubble all over his face and neck. He sang a very nasal and halting rendition of "Amazing Grace," complete with many audible breaths (perhaps he's a smoker?). Kara couldn't control herself afterwards: "Good lord, what was that?" Then she pressed him, "Do you really think you're a good singer?" Jarrod, surprised, countered with "Are you serious?" Kara told him "It sounded like a lawnmower."
Not to be deterred, Jarrod insisted he wanted "two more seconds" to change their minds, even though Randy told him, "You can't sing." He launched into "Amazing Grace" again anyway, and Randy called security, who directed him out. They had to push him to get him out the door, and while he was off-camera, he either tripped or they knocked him to the floor and cuffed his hands behind his back. A man in a uniform who appeared to be a local police officer escorted him out, along with the security guards. It was like two of FOX's most popular shows combined: American Idol and Cops.
The last contestant was hoping for some redemption. Matthew Lawrence (VIDEO), 25, of Starke, Florida, served four years behind bars after robbing a bank with a BB gun at age 15! A big guy wearing a straw cowboy hat with a pale yellow button-down shirt and jeans, he said he wanted to make his family proud. He sang "Trouble" by Ray LaMontagne, showing off a smoky voice with a little bit of a country flavor. He needs to work on sustaining phrases and breath control, however. Simon called it "brilliant" and said it "felt authentic." Kara agreed and praised him for hitting the high notes with control. Randy gave him kudos for being "so genuine." He got three yeses.
In all, 31 golden tickets were distributed to hopefuls on Orlando.
Next week: Los Angeles, the City of Angels.
If you don't want to end up in handcuffs, take no for an answer.