Whereas the previous American Idol audition episodes depicted the experiences in one specific city, last night's promised a "best of" show, introducing us to some singers we may be seeing in weeks to come.
A few bad singers were also thrown in, for variety.
Because the footage was taken from different cities, the guest judges varied between Victoria Beckham, Kristen Chenoweth, Joe Jonas, Avril Lavigne, and Neil Patrick Harris.
The show began with host Ryan Seacrest acknowledging the popularity of the quirky audition by Atlanta's Larry Platt, where he sang a self-composed song called "Pants on the Ground." If you don't believe me, just search for the song on YouTube, and you'll find countless remixes and homemade videos. Something tells me he's destined to perform as a special guests at the final.
The first audition came from Jessica Furney, 20, Warmego, Kansas, who made it to Hollywood last year by singing a Janis Joplin song (which I'd felt she'd murdered). She's jazzed up her look a little bit, wearing a bright blue scoop-neck shirt, black leggings, a black belt, and high heels. For her audition, she chose the Leona Lewis song "Footprints in the Sand," co-written by Simon Cowell. At least she didn't murder it like she did the Janis song, but she was a little harsh on the upper notes. Randy Jackson said, "You've definitely improved." Guest judge Victoria Beckham agreed. She got four yeses and was on her way to Hollywood.
Amanda Shechtman, 19, Roslyn, New York, captured attention in the waiting room by doing a Britney Spears imitation and talking with her mouth closed. She wore a minidress with a white tube top and gray skirt. She sang Good Morning Heartache by Gretchen Wilson, which was good but not great. Kara DioGuardi advised her that she needs to connect to what she's singing. Amanda answered that "It's hard for me to do the thing where I sing and I interact." Simon told her, "You're such an actress" and picked on her emotional gestures before saying yes. She got four yeses. [VIDEO]
Then we saw a montage of people showing off their talents and instruments, leading into just a glimpse of two more yeses: Lee Dewyze, 23, Mount Prospect, Illinois, who wore a black T-shirt and had a goatee and sideburns. He sang "Ain't No Sunshine." Also, Crystal Bowersox, 23, Ellison, Ohio, who turned in a country rendition of the Janis Joplin song, "Piece of My Heart." [VIDEO]
This was followed by a montage of people faking out receiving the golden ticket for their family and friends in the waiting room. After the commercial break, there was a montage of people who had auditioned multiple times, some more memorably than others.
One of those returning contestants was Lacey Brown, 23, Amarillo, Texas. Last year she had made it into the top 50 but was cut in the final pass before the final 24. For this audition, she wore a white top with stripes, paired with jeans and a long red scarf. Her short red hair looked a little more current than last year, although she still wore too much eye makeup. She gave a jazzy performance of "Over the Rainbow." Randy said he liked the tone, and Kristen Chenoweth agreed. Kara called her "one of my favorites this season." Four yeses.
Also a returning auditioner, Stephanie Fisher had tried out seven times before. She was very excited that Victoria would be a guest judge, since she's a fan. She must not have learned much from Victoria's fashion style, though: Stephanie's dark bronze skin and bleached-blonde hair aged her, and her black-and-silver minidress with sparkles were awkwardly paired with black stockings and black-and-white saddle shoes, accessorized with long pearls. She sang "Fever," talking it more than singing it. Simon Cowell called it terrible, saying, "Honestly, you can't sing." Stephanie claimed Victoria was making her nervous, but even when Victoria turned around, it didn't help. Simon reasserted that Stephanie had a horrible voice. Feeling sorry for her, Victoria gave her a hug, as did Kara. When Simon asked Victoria what she thought about Stephanie's look, she hedged: "She has a very definite look. I wouldn't say it's necessarily a look I would go for." Seeing the writing on the wall, Stephanie left before they got a chance to say no.
Then we got a quick glimpse of some 16-year-old hopefuls who made it to Hollywood: Rachel Hubbard, who auditioned in front of Joe Jonas; Thaddeus Johnson, who performed "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" wearing a red shirt and a black jacket with red lining; and Genesis Moore, McDonough, Georgia, who wore a bright pink top and whose audition started out really harsh, then got more mellow. [VIDEO]
Following this, we saw a montage of athletes, leading into Adrian Chandtchi, 17, Apopka, Florida, a big guy with blond hair who's also a swimmer. Before auditioning, he told the camera, "I am a beautiful man flower. I will blossom. The beautiful, big petals blossom and keep blossoming until it shows its entire glory and beauty." At 6'8", he dwarfed Ryan during the pre-interview. But other than his height and his "man flower" assertions, he was unremarkable in a white T-shirt, cream shorts, and white sneakers with red toes. He sang a weak, falsetto version of the Elvis standard, "Can't Help Falling in Love with You." So that's what man flowers sound like! Kara told him, "There's like a small schoolboy trapped inside you," with Simon adding, "Either that, or you've eaten one." Simon did add that Adrian's not a horrible singer, but "it just doesn't match you." Randy chimed in, "This is not for you, baby." Kara told him, "You are a very sweet guy, so I have to say no, and I encourage you to find something else." In the absence of a guest judge, he got three nos. Still optimistic, as he left he told them, "You have my number if you want to do call-backs." Right.
Another big dude, "Big Mike" Lynche, 26, Astoria, New York, is a personal trainer. He flashed his muscles and told the camera he would be the next American Idol, because "I got these guns, baby." He's also expecting his first child, a girl. Wearing a simple black T-shirt with a khaki baseball cap, he sang a compelling version of "Unchained Melody," demonstrating a very smooth voice and showing off a big smile. He did lick his lips a lot, though, presumably because of nerves. Randy gushed, "You can definitely sing." Kara called him "kind of like a singing teddybear" (Ruben Studdard, anyone?). With a yes from Kristen Chenoweth, he earned four yeses.
The audition was emotional for Didi Benami, 22, Hollywood, California, who was auditioning in memory of her best friend, Rebecca, who died four years ago. "She believed in me when I didn't even know if I could believe in myself," Didi said. She wore a satin floor-length tube dress with blue and red patterns, contrasting with her long, frizzy, strawberry-blonde hair. She sang the Beatles song "Hey, Jude," playing a little with the melody. She reminded me a little of Megan Joy Corkrey from season 8, but a bit more subdued. Afterwards, Kara observed, "You really want it bad," at which Didi agreed and started crying. Kara told her, "You're good" and Randy said she has good range. When it came time to vote, for some reason Simon gave her "a very small yes." Guest Avril Lavigne said, "Yes. I think you have huge potential." She got four yeses.
Sixteen-year-old Aaron Kelly, Sonestown, Pennsylvania, had a difficult childhood, being adopted by his aunt when his mom couldn't take care of him. He was a fresh-faced young guy with spiky hair, a blue T-shirt, and a white beaded choker. He sang "'The Climb" by Miley Cyrus, which Simon called a good song choice (perhaps because he'd chosen it for his X Factor winner to sing). Simon also predicated "The Mums will love you." Randy liked that "that voice comes out of someone who's shy." With guest Kristen Chenonweth's vote, it was four yeses.
The next wannabe, Kimberly Bishop, 20, Altamone Springs, Florida, said she should be the next American Idol because "I would be really into recycling and helping kids in Africa." She wore a black minidress with dyed-black hair and lots of purple sparkly eye makeup. After telling Randy that "You've lost weight" (yes, about four years ago; thanks for noticing) and adding, oddly, "I've seen you on TV," she gave a really weird performance of the Katy Perry song, "I Kissed a Girl," complete with strange accent and jerky gestures. Kara called her "a seductive girl" and said, "I think you're naughty." (Really?) But she got nos from Randy and Kara. Simon told her (jokingly, I hope), "I would have said yes, but it's a no." Afterwards, Kimberly asked, "May I be excused or do you want to hear another song?" If she wasn't on drugs at the time, she's probably got some other sort of problems. [VIDEO]
Shaddaii Harris, 22, Arlington, Texas, had a lot of things going for her: natural good looks and a supportive mom, who had dreamt about having a "little girl baby who was always singing" and had told her that she had a gift. Wearing a stylish sleeveless dress in multiple earthtones with ruffles on the bodice and shoulders, Shaddaii attempted Fallin by Alicia Keyes. But her singing couldn't match her voice: she gave a completely tuneless performance with big, awkward dance movements. Simon complained, "I can't hear that song any more. I'm allergic." Kara told her, "That wasn't even the melody, sweetie." Randy observed that "she doesn't even know it's not the melody. This is not a good singer." Even after receiving four nos (with the vote of guest judge Neil Patrick Harris), she continued trying to sing another song, desperately trying to fulfill her mom's predictions. The judges were not swayed.
The show wrapped up with Hope Johnson, 19, Arlington, Texas, who had overcome poverty, including missed meals. She says she'd told herself, "There's always tomorrow, and things are always going to be better. Just make it through." She wore a scoop-neck dress that had a black top and black-and-white polka-dot skirt, along with a pearl choker. She delivered a countrified version of "I Hope You Dance," which was sweet-sounding, except that she petered off at the end of the phrases. Kara said, "I'm going to remember you." Randy called her "very sweet" and liked the song choice. He praised her tone but advised her to "work on completing the phrases." Simon's assessment: "I like you. You're cute." With a "yeah" from guest judge Joe Jonas, she got four yeses.
To end the show, we saw another montage of golden ticket recipients. In total, over 100,000 people tried out for season 9, and 181 got tickets to the next stage of the competition.
Next week: Hollywood, where Ellen DeGeneres joins the panel as the fourth permanent judge. Based on the preview clips, she's going to be a bit tougher than Paula and perhaps offer more useful criticism.
It's not enough to want it; you've also got to produce the goods.