American Idol 11 – Pittsburgh Auditions – Recap and Videos

Here’s your American Idol 11 Pittsburgh auditions recap post. I’ll be live blogging tonight at Entertainment Weekly. Do join me there if you’d like! I’ll be back here as soon as the episode ends on the East Coast to post videos, polls and a full recap!

Entertainment Weekly Live Blog

For you chat fans, I also set up a client here if you’d like to gab Idol.

Tonight is MY hometown! So I am REALLY excited.  Auditions are only 1 hour tonight. YAY.

Pittsburgh is the City of Champions, the perfect place to find a superstar, says Ryan Seacrest as he walks across one of the ‘Burg’s many bridges, set against the striking city skyline.  NO I’m not being sarcastic! It really is!

Thirty eight hopefuls make it to Hollywood from the Pittsburgh auditions. So the talent was there!  So much talent, that the producers decided not to showcase even 1 bad audition. Yes, you heard me right.  Pretty sure it’s an Idol first. Every. Single. Hopeful. featured tonight could sing.

Even the lone Idol reject, Shane Bruce, could sing.  Surprisingly, all 3 judges said no to the nervous, but sweet voiced hopeful, who came from a family of coal miners.

Maybe the shock of an all-talent-all-the-time episode is why it felt so…off to me?  I can’t put my finger on it, exactly. The hour felt flat.  Your typical Idol episode usually runs the gamut from the excruciating, to the ridiculous to the average to the OMG WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST SEE.  In Pittsburgh, everyone was good some a little better than others.  Steven and Jennifer had some solid critiques. But, still, more often than not, all 3 judges put a contestant through without any disagreement. I don’t want them to battle it out X Factor style. But, c’mon guys, mix it up a little.  And be a little more discerning. If you have reservations about a contestant–say no.

Having said that. I am NOT going to  complain about the lack of bad talent. I’m totally fine with that. I just wish the hopefuls they chose to highlight weren’t so forgettable.  The singers who made an impression on me were Reed Grimm, who came to the auditions with a sense of humor, and Erica Van Pelt and her deep, arresting alto.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, so when Idol took a minute to poke fun at the accent, I got a little homesick. Yes, we talk funny and love our football.

Heejun Han – Flushing NY – Age 22 – “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” by Michael Bolton – When Heejun walked into the room, I thought he’s either going to be a William Hung or a Clay Aiken (who was presented as such a geek, he stunned the audience when he finally opened his mouth to sing.)  As it turned out he was more Clay. But I would stop short of calling Heejun a great singer.  He’s solid but not awesome.  The judges over praised him, but I think the bar was set so low, any glimmer of talent coming out of this guy would be considered awesome. Still, he’s got a cute personality. Keeping him around for Hollywood could be good TV.

Reed Grimm – Ellsworth, WI – 26 –  “Family Matters Theme” – Reed Grimm has been featured in a lot of the Idol promos, so the producers obviously like this guy. (Reed pre-Idol preview)  His jazzy vibe instantly brings to mind Casey Abrams. Reed’s challenge is to appear credible without the shtick. For all of Casey’s talent and musicality, he had a hard time impressing Idol audiences with his straight-up talent. I think it’s why he couldn’t advance past 6th place. We’ll see. Reed is charming and talented enough—he could catch on with viewers and be the thing that won’t go away. Like Savannah’s Phillip Phillips, Reed could be good for ratings, but super bad for selling records post Idol.

Aaron Marcellus, Teaneck NJ – 27 , Chase Likens, Point Pleasant, WV –  20 – More 5 second auditions worth noting.

Samantha Novacek – Sutersville, PA – 19 – “We Never Loved At All” by Faith Hill – Samantha brings her sister, who tells us that she’s FAMOUSLY known as Patty the Pittsburgh Planker.  Can I say upfront that planking is incredibly stupid, not to mention a meme that is way past its peak?  Maybe Samantha wanted to do sis a solid by getting her some screen time. Otherwise, Sam is a good enough singer, she didn’t need a gimmick.  Jennifer is pleased with Samantha because she felt “some guts behind the voice” (nicely said, Jlo!)   “Sweet, clever, great notes” said Steven.  “I liked the vibe,” said Randy who compared her to Faith Hill and The Carpenters. Two acts that are so so similar. NOT.  I would say great tone, pretty voice, smart phrasing. She’s a keeper. And, don’t bring your sister to Hollywood. You don’t need her.

Creighton Fraker – Queens, NY – 28 – “Original Song” “Who’s Loving You” by Smokey Robinson – Creighton is a self-described “starving artist” from NYC. He scraped enough dough together for a bus ticket to Pittsburgh. During his 9 hour trip, he wrote a song for the judges.  It’s clever, so it works at getting their attention. Next, he sings “Who’s Loving You” by Smokey Robinson.  Creighton would be the result if Jamiroquai and Justin Timberlake had a baby, says Jennifer. Uhm. No. He oversings.  So many singers don’t understand that less is more.  If he were younger, I’d say give him a few more years. But, at 28 he’s probably set in his ways.  The forced ornamentation makes for unpleasant listening. Randy sorta gets It calling his technique “wild”.  But Randy finds Creighton’s sloppy runs and vocal affectations “intriguing” so he puts him through. 3 yesses (Creighton Fraker pre-Idol Preview)

Eben Franckewitz – Milford OH – 15 – “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers –  Eben sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” as if it were a hymn  he was singing in a church choir—the song was completely scrubbed clean of any longing or passion.  Not the greatest song pick. It would have been better to choose a more youthful number.  With his bowl haircut and angelic face, he’s definitely got the Bieber vibe going on. His mom seemed really nice and supportive. But really? Eben needs to go back to Ohio and finish school.  Unless he’s cool with singing teen pop, he needs to mature before he can tackle songs that call for  big emotions.

Travis Orlando – Bronx, NY – 17 – “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder – It took me a while to dig up Travis from the recesses of my brain.  He auditioned last year with a sob story that actually got worse over the course of the year.  In 2011 he was merely homeless.  Since then, his mom, who was featured in his audition video package, ran off with another guy. So now he’s homeless and momless. He’s quit high school and feels American Idol is his last chance. I’ve always found this kid’s desperation unsettling. He needs to find a realistic path to solving his problems. Nevertheless, he’s got a sweet soulful tone, and deserves to go to Hollywood. Jennifer and Steven think he’s holding back, but give him the thumbs up anyway.  The kid sobbing over his family woes might have had an influence. Ya think. (Last Year’s Audition)

Day 2 – Steven and Randy entertain the waiting hopefuls while they wait for a tardy Jlo. What a Diva!

Erika Van Pelt – 25 – South Kingstown, RI – “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” by Carol King –  I was expecting bland from Erika the wedding singer, but was pleasantly surprised to hear her sing with a deep throaty alto. Apart from a few unfortunate runs, (really, the runs. Stop) I liked Erika. Steven couldn’t stop himself from whooping while she sang.  Her old-fashioned look and sound will ultimately hold her back.  I don’t expect her to survive Hollywood. (Erika Van Pelt Pre-Idol Preview)

How much you wanna bet that “comedy sound machine” Steven was playing with during auditions was handed to him that morning by a producer? Whoopie cushions are next.

Shane Bruce – Moundsville, WV – 19 – “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen – Shane is a coal miner, like his dad and his granddad and…you get the picture. He’s proud to work underground and is happy to have a steady job, even if it means eventually dying of black lung disease.  Anyway. The producers have followed him to work, down into the mines, where he serenades his co-workers. He sounds great. Back in the audition room, he nervously sings “Hallelujah” but it’s still pretty solid. Yikes. He thinks the song is originally from Shrek. Sadz. After his performance, he expresses disappointment, “I usually hit that better.”  The judges agree and don’t put him through. It’s baffling, because the trio has advanced many a nervous Nellie with potential.  I’m thinking he was sacrificed for a story arc?  He looked so sad as he walked out of the audition to give his family the bad news. It’s back to the mines. Tragique.

Hallie Day – Baltimore MD – 24 – “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor – Hallie is last up. You guessed it—she’s got a big juicy sob story. At 15, she quit school and moved to NYC to sing in a girl band. When that dream fizzled out, she turned to drugs and eventually tried to kill herself. Life was bleak until her knight in shining armor arrived. She married him–he encouraged her to sing again. And here she is at American Idol. Yay.  She sings a song about telling a guy she can stand on her own two feet. This after telling the judges a man saved her life. Hm.  Hallie’s got a big belty voice.  It remains to be seen if she has charisma too. But the judges think so. Jennifer believes she is looking at a star.

About mj santilli 35002 Articles
Founder and editor of, home of the awesomest fan community on the net. I love cheesy singing shows of all kinds, whether reality or scripted. I adore American Idol, but also love The Voice, Glee, X Factor and more!