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Sing It, Cowboy!

The American Idol judges headed for Dallas next, looking for talent for season 9. The city, which also yielded season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson, provided much more promising talent than some of the previous cities.

The guest judging duties were shared between two judges: Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog) on the first day and Joe Jonas of the Jonas Brothers on the second day. Predictably, Neil was more outspoken, even taking Simon Cowell to task for some remarks.

At the beginning, Neil joked, "My goal is to shatter the dreams of dozens." In truth, though, he sometimes went to bat for contestants whom Simon disliked.

Erica Rhodes auditions for "American Idol"

Erica Rhodes

First to try her luck was a familiar face, Julie Kevelighan, 28, Fort Worth, Texas, who had auditioned for season one and sung so badly she later appeared on a "Best of the Worst" show. She told the camera she has taken acting classes and felt more confident. She auditioned wearing a blue sparkly dress that looked like an ice-skating outfit, paired with outdated blue eye shadow, her hair pulled into a ponytail. She also carried a sign that said, "This is My Year." She might have sung better than her first audition, but she was still not great. Neil said, somewhat jokingly, "My first problem was the bottom line of your sign." He pointed out that she'd had to squeeze in her last name: "Maybe you should have started over." Then, more seriously, he said, "Vocally, that was not good." Simon also referred to the sign, "You missed the word 'not'," as in "This is Not My Year." He followed up by telling her that "everything was wrong." She got four nos but initially continued singing before being persuaded to leave. [VIDEO]

As a hint of successes to come, we saw a quick montage of hopefuls receiving golden tickets.

Also confident, but for far better reasons, was Lloyd "Big Sexy" Thomas, 29, Dallas. He works for an airline as a dock worker and is the father of two little girls. A video package showed his family and revealed that he'd grown up in the projects of Dallas. Lloyd showed up for his audition in a white button-down shirt, with a black-and-gray striped tie and a baseball hat. He sang Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed," starting off with a nice opening and having no problem with the difficult melody. What's more, he was good at sustaining the notes. Kara DioGuardi was impressed: "Here you are, you're a dock worker, and you have that voice." Neil agreed he had a "wonderful voice" but counseled him that he needs to "be as flashy as you are right now as a person." Simon called him the best of the day, adding "I really, really like you." Randy, when asked to vote, said, "a billion-percent yes." Result: four yeses.

Things weren't always so halcyon between Neil and Simon, however, as we learned from a montage of Neil disagreeing with Simon's decisions. Once, when Simon cut him off, he even complained: "Jeez Louise, you invite a guest judge on..." his voice trailing off in frustration.

The two would disagree over Kimberly Carver, 26, Denton, Texas, who wore a blue blousy top with jeans and had long dyed-black hair. She sang an original song which was both a little bluesy and a little jazzy. Afterwards, Randy gushed that she had a "brilliant voice," but Simon said, "I don't see anything current, anything interesting." Neil spoke up: "I disagree with you, Simon. I thought that was really quite great." To this, Simon replied, "Do we have a mutiny on the panel?" Randy reminded Simon, "This is a singing competition." Simon countered, "If this was Jazz TV, yes." No matter: Kimberly got three yeses, even though she did get a no from Simon. She got her golden ticket.

Dexter Ward, 20, Terrell, Texas, was very confident, as evidenced by his broad smile. He wore a nondescript tan polo shirt, wearing some oversized aviator glasses on his head, with high-waisted black pants. He attempted "If I Ever Fall in Love Again," but his tuneless vocals and poor enunciation produced a pained look on Neil's face. Kara fumbled for words, and Randy offered, "That looked like it hurt." Dexter assured the judges, "I can do much better." But Neil reasserted it was "not your best audition." He got four nos, which clearly disappointed him, but Simon told him he had a good attitude and a good smile. "That smile will take you far in life, I'll tell you." [VIDEO]

This rejection was followed by a montage of nos.

Every season, there are a few hopefuls who have had previous professional experience. In the case of Erica Rhodes, 23, Irvin, Texas, her claim to fame was appearing on the children's television show, Barney and Friends. Those innocent childhood days are long behind her now, which she proved by wearing a fetish-type outfit of a vinyl top with matching shorts and wicked, buckled stiletto boots. Completing the outfit was a whip! Randy thought it would be amusing to have her sing the Barney song in this outfit. She obliged, prompting Neil to say, "I'm getting the creeps." Randy added, "Barney would be so proud right now."

For her audition piece, Erica chose "Free Your Mind" by En Vogue, which was a bit of a strange choice, since it's an ensemble song that relies on harmonies, however, with her pure voice and nearly perfect tone, she managed to make it compelling. Afterwards, Simon asked her, "What's your message?" Erica replied that she wants people to know that Barney kids grow up. Neil appended, "to be dirty little girls." Still, Simon said that he likes "people who make an effort," and Neil had to admit, "I think you might actually do really well." She got four yeses.

Last to audition on day one was Dave Pittman, 27, Mountain Home, Arkansas, who suffers from Tourettes Syndrome. In his case, it's primarily manifested by excessive clearing of his throat, which doesn't trouble him when he's singing. A tall, square-jawed guy with dark blonde and a black T-shirt, he sang "Bring it Home to Me" by Sam Cooke, demonstrating a lot of promise. The judges were impressed with his vocals, Randy calling him a "really good singer" and Simon predicting, "I think people are going to like you." Neil, referring to his Tourettes, added, "I think you're crazy brave. Good for you." He got four yeses.

Fifteen others made it through the first day, and we saw a montage of them celebrating.

On day two, Joe Jonas came in as the guest judge. He made very few useful comments, perhaps because he's afraid of upsetting his young fans.

The day two auditions began with Todrick Hall, who performed in The Color Purple with season 3 winner Fantasia Barrino. He wore a black T-shirt and a blue-and-black plaid shirt with jeans, singing an original song with clever lyrics about American Idol. He had a good voice to match. Randy told him, "You're one of the best I've seen. That was excellent." Joe agreed: "That was excellent." Simon called him "a nice guy" and "a good singer" but said it was a "cutesy audition" and that "voice-wise, I'm not jumping out of my chair." Still, that didn't prevent Todrick from earning four yeses.

This was followed by a montage of other yeses.

At first glance, Maegan Wright, 20, Richardson, Texas, looked like any other young hopeful, wearing layered tank tops, white short-shorts and some black necklaces. When she opened her mouth to sing, though, she stood out, putting a little country flavor into her rendition of "To Make You Feel My Love." She grew stronger near the end, perhaps growing more comfortable. Kara said that the way she'd looked, she "thought this was going to be a joke" and "Then you opened your mouth." Simon disagreed about the clothes and liked the fact that she wasn't trying to hard: "If that's what makes you comfortable, that's fine." She got four yeses.

Vanessa Johnston was full of energy in the waiting room and declared herself "super optimistic." She called attention to herself with her ensemble of bright pink tights and matching shorts, paired with a bright pink-and-purple sleeveless top, and completed with bright pink wristbands, a pink flower in hair, and pink eye shadow. She belted through a really harsh version of "At Last" by Etta James, half talking it. Afterwards, Kara critiqued her excessive hand gestures and Simon said, "If anyone ever asks me in my life what my nightmares look and sound like, I'm going to refer to that." She asked to sing another, but the judges declined. She got four nos but maintained her sunny attitude. Good for her. [VIDEO]

The last contestant, Christian Spear, 16, had been diagnosed with leukemia as a little girl and has been in remission for eight years. Her proud Mom wore a T-shirt emblazoned with her picture, declaring, "She's supposed to be here." Wearing a white blouse with cap sleeves, a denim flouncy miniskirt, a wide brown belt, and a long, beaded necklace, she performed "All I Can Do is Cry" by Etta James. She definitely has potential but needs to work on sustaining phrases. Randy said, "At 16 I'm so, so impressed." Joe added that she's "very confident" with a "beautiful voice." Kara praised her "big gift" and gave her kudos for not seeming intimidated. Simon, referring to her back story, called her "an incredibly brave person," and added, "I like you a lot." She got four yeses.

Seventeen golden tickets were bestowed on day two, making 31 total for the city of Dallas.

Next week, Denver, the last stop of the audition tour.

It doesn't matter what you wear, just as long as you can sing.

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Tags: american idol, music, television

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