The American Idol judges rolled into LA for the continuation of season 9 auditions. Despite the large population center, the talent pool was fairly weak, full of many preening, self-assured wannabes.
For this city, there were two guest judges: Avril Lavigne for day one and Katy Perry for day two. While Avril had little to contribute to the process, Katy got involved and even turned scathing criticism on permanent judge Kara DioGuardi.
First up was Neil Goldstein, 19, of Redlands, California, a self-declared geek. Wearing a bright blue shirt and an ill-fitting black vest with embellishments, his longish dark blonde hair framed a very sweaty face. He answered some initial questions from the judges with what sounded like a carefully-rehearsed spiel, making a clicking sound with his mouth when he finished phrases. Then he launched into the Meatloaf song, "Rock n' Roll Dreams Come True." Ironically, after the first line, "Remember every word that I told you," he paused because he forgot the words. Finally, he picked it up again, demonstrating an average voice with a little too much vibrato. Avril made no attempts to hide her laughter.
Afterwards, Simon Cowell told him, "I don't think you're suited for this business," but determined Neil said he was not leaving. Simon told him, "You've got to have a reality check here," and Neil insisted there's no reality but what we make for ourselves. Randy Jackson interjected, "We're trying to find the best, Neil. You're not there yet." Finally, Simon told him he could either leave on his own or with an escort. Neil reluctantly left. Avril's response: "Awkward! That was really bizarre." The judges didn't get a chance to vote, but it was clearly a no. [VIDEO]
Next to try his luck was Jim Ranger, 27, of Bakersfield, California, a worship pastor with three children. An ordinary-looking guy wearing a simple white shirt and black vest, he sang an original song, "Drive." He sounded like a pop star and had a lot of presence. Avril asked him if he thought he could balance the show with his family life, but he didn't have any hesitation. Kara also seemed concerned about his ability to balance things, but with yes votes from her, Randy and Simon, he was on his way to Hollywood.
Simon turned to Avril, and referring to the hoodie with devil horns she was wearing, said, "I like the fact that we've officially got a devil on our show."
The producers treated us to an earsplitting montage of bad singers, including Jayson Wilson's high shrieking, Jesse Chang's quirky rendition of "Kung Foo Fighting," complete with choreographed kicks, and Martin Perez, who looked a little like Elvis, who screwed up and then stomped angrily like a troll.
Full of confidence, Damien LeFavor, a martial arts student, was next. He eagerly showed off his moves for the camera, as well as his ability to play a wooden flute. Wearing a periwinkle shirt with matching tie and a dark pinstriped jacket, he did the Righteous Brothers song, "You've Lost that Loving Feeling," not looking up when he sang, much like he hadn't while showing off his martial arts moves. He got very overwrought as he tried to put emotion into his performance, which was simply painful. He realized it right away, though, after ending on a harsh note: "I really did screw up just as bad as I could be expected to." Without waiting for criticism, he walked off. Kara remarked, "That was easy." In his exit interview, he said, "I really did choke, and I choked badly." [VIDEO]
Then, to increase the cute factor, we saw a montage of hopefuls with their children.
This led into the audition of Mary Powers, 28, Burbank, California, who has an 8-year-old daughter. Mary had dyed-black short hair and looked like a rocker in a black vest, white tank top, black pants, and tons of silver bracelets and necklaces. Her striking blue-gray eyes showed emotion as she sang the Pat Benetar song "We Are Young." She sounded a lot like Benatar, with excellent control, making Avril smile. Simon said she has a really good voice, although he called her rocker outfit cliched. Avril liked the character of your voice and "cool tone." Randy called her a "little girl" with a "big, huge voice." She got four yeses, and afterwards, her starstruck daughter got to come into the room and meet Simon.
Next, we saw a montage of people who resembled season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert. One of them, Nick Mendoza, 19, wore a black T-shirt with a black button-down shirt and sported a hairstyle evocative of Adam as he sang "The Cult of Personality" by Living Colour. While he was loud, he lacked musicality and had poor phrasing. Simon said, "It sounded like you'd gone to the dentist about 10 minutes ago with about a ton of anesthetic in your mouth, and you couldn't sing." The other judges agreed. Verdict: no. [VIDEO]
For day two, the quiet Avril was replaced with the outspoken Katy Perry. Most of her most critical comments, though, were reserved for Kara, who Katy believed was too soft on the hopefuls.
Full of confidence in his own sexuality, Austin Fullmer, 19, Glendale, California, said he wouldn't mind if people touched him on-stage. He wore a red and black striped shirt with silver pants and sang the Cheap Trick song "Surrender." His rendition was very over-the-top with no musicality. He even got down on the floor and did aerobics moves. Kara said she felt "like I was watching a bit of Mick Jagger," probably because of Austin's preening moves. Randy called it "kind of a Cheap Jagger." Kara then compared him to Iggy Pop, or at least, said he had Iggy Pop's body. Austin said, "This is my purpose in life, I think." Simon asserted, "It's not." Austin then offered to sing an ELO song, to which Simon said, "You are beginning to freak me out." Four nos. [VIDEO]
This was followed by a montage of nos, with people crying.
Breaking with that trend was Andrew Garcia, 23, Morena Valley, California, the father of a young boy. He shared his back story: growing up with parents who had been involved in gangs but then ensured better lives for their children. Wearing a white newsboy hat, showing his neck tattoo, along with horn-rimmed glasses and a red, green and blue plaid shirt, he performed "Sunday Morning." He had a smooth, Motown sort of voice, along with good confidence and performance skills. Randy's summed it up: "Wow." Simon called him "the only person who has walked through today who I genuinely believe is a good singer." He also praised his song choice. Kara said, "I really like you because you knew what to emphasize and not to emphasize." He got four yeses. When it came Katy's time to vote, she said, "Yes, sir. You gave me chills."
Tasha Layton, 26, of Granada Hilla, California, proved some girls had what it takes, as well. She sang "Baby, Baby, Baby" by Josh Stone, wearing a simple black tank dress with several necklaces. She had a little bit of a Southern sound, prompting Katy to say, "I love a good Southern belle." Simon added, "I think the public might love you." Verdict: four yeses.
Deluded beyond belief, Jason Greene, 21, Los Angeles, tried desperately to give off a sexual vibe. He looked like a sex symbol from the '70s, though, with shoulder-length brown hair, a blue polyester shirt, tight gray pants, and red-brown shoes. He sang The DiVinyls song "I Touch Myself," starting out by singing directly to Katy. He sounded like he was talking more than singing for much of the song, concentrating on his choreographed moves, ending by getting down on the floor. Kara gave him kissy lips and said, "I know you do," to which Katy asked, "Is she talking to a puppy or a person?" Katy's main response to the audition: "I feel... dirty." Simon said, "No, but that was very amusing." As Jason pranced off, Kara made a reference to the gay film critics from the '90s comedy show In Living Color: "three snaps in a Z formation." Simon said, "That wasn't comfortable." Afterwards, Jason gave host Ryan Seacrest his phone number. Ryan replied, "Jason, as much as you may believe what you read, here's the guy you should be giving it to." He then gave it to a big, tough-looking security guy who winked at the camera. Oi. [VIDEO]
Katy and Kara's exchange during Jason's audition was only a hint of their feud. Clearly, they did not get along with each other. We saw a montage of them being catty to contestants and each other. At one point, when Kara said yes to a hopeful, Katy chided her, "Don't ever put someone through because you feel bad."
Finally, we heard from Chris Golightly, 25, of Los Angeles, who had grown up in the foster care system. He looked a little bit like season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini, with tight orange-blonde curls. He also wore a dark denim button-down shirt. His rendition of "Stand By Me" showed potential, although I found his frequent hand motions distracting. Randy said, "I like you. There's something very interesting about you." Kara said, "You're one of my favorites today. I think we might look back at this audition and go, 'Wow'." Kara snarked Kara's response: "This is not a Lifetime movie, sweetheart." Kara countered, "He has an amazing story," to which Katy responded, "but you have to have talent." Simon said he didn't see what Kara got from the audition, saying Chris could have been in a boy band, and calling it an old-fashioned audition. He gave him, "A 'Y' but a small one," and Katy parroted him, adding, "but maybe you can grow." Kara gave him "a big 'Y'," and Randy gave him "a giant 'Y'." That adds up to four yeses.
After a closing montage of more yeses, we learned that 22 hopefuls received golden tickets in the L.A. auditions.
Tonight: the old west, Dallas.
Even if you really are sexy or good at martial arts, you still have to be able to sing.