Idol has officially begun! The tedious auditions rounds are over, and finally we get down to some good sangin! As Randy Jackson has said over and over again in interviews–Season 9 is a girl’s year: Janell Wheeler, Mary Powers, Didi Benami, Lily Scott and Crystal Bowersox are all Top 12 material.
Didi in particular, is not only a beautiful singer, with an awesome tone and gorgeous phrasing, but she’s polished and poised. She’s that “package” singer Kara Dioguardi is always yammering about. And what these girls all have in common: They’ve got that Brooke White female singer/songwriter vibe going on, and I’m betting one of these girls could very well make it to the very top.
Katie Stevens is also very good, if not as charismatic and experienced as her fellow hopefuls. And while Haeley Vaughn’s vocals may not be stellar, she’s got personality and chutzpah to spare. I find myself rooting for her.
Oh yeah. The guys. Uhm, there’s Andrew Garcia, whose soulful, self-assured take on Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” I really enjoyed. Also, Mike Lynche, the big guy with the about-to-go-into-labor wife has a sweet, retro-soulful vibe. Casey James (who unfortunately shares a name with a porn star. Go ahead. Google it) has a rough-hewn bluesy vibe that shows promise. But I have to say–neither held a candle to the best of the girls.
Of course, not to forget Ellen Degeneres, who debuted on the judges panel tonight. It’s hard to really know how she’ll do until the live shows begin. Ellen’s perfect bon mots from tonight’s show were plucked from hours and hours of footage. Obviously, TPTB want to set her in the best light. However, if she can live up to her best soundbites, she’s going to be great.
Ellen appears to have a knack for zeroing in on specific aspects of a performer, whether good or bad, to offer constructive critiques that are both humor-laced, and pithy.
It’s tempting to make unfavorable comparisons between Ellen and Kara Dioguardi here. But I don’t want to get down on Kara too much. Ellen’s long experience in front of the camera is definitely helping her. Kara has never really figured out how to make the most of the medium, and I’m not sure she ever will.
Not much interaction between the judges tonight, so it’s really tough to gauge chemistry right now. How the quartet works as a unit will become clearer once the live shows begin.
In the meantime, tonight’s show gets an A from me. Tomorrow is the group round, and I hope the producers keep the superfluous drama to a minimum in order to focus on squeezing in as much singing as possible.
Live blog and videos after the JUMP…
The auditions are finally over. Tonight, the Hollywood Rounds begin! Hooray! The drama! The Singing! Ellen Degeneres! HERE WE GO!!!
100, 000 came from all corners of the country, 181 remained (well, more or less…). Crying! Drama! Rejection!
The kids perform at the big Kodak theater. Ryan introduces Ellen Degeneres. She tells the crowd that she knows what it’s like to stand on stage and please a whole room full of people.
“So this is it”, Ellen says to Simon, “I come on and you leave.”
The contestants take the stage in groups of 8 to sing, a ‘capella or with an instrument.
Skiboskii and Katie Stevens are in the first line of 8. We get a recap of Katie and her sick grandma. Katie sings Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and she’s poised, confident, very good. The judges approve.
Skib0skii is all “How you doin!”. He sings “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg”. He’s an ass, but he does not suck. “You frighten me” says Ellen. His stalking of the stage freaked her out. “Don’t frighten your audience….sexy and scary–it’s a fine line, ” she cracks wisely.
The verdict? Katie Stevens advances, Skiboskii is cut. He challenges the judges a bit. Simon tells him it’s time to go home. Randy suggests that he change his name. – VIDEO
Simon’s on the warpath his first day (perhaps announcing his resignation earlier that day influenced his mood) Ellen is also critical with the hopefuls, but she sugarcoats her critiques with humor.
Andrew Garcia is up next. He sings an acoustic version of Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up’ with an acoustic guitar. The judges dig it. He’s soulful, confident. Kara calls it “genius”, and says Paula would have loved it. She compares him to Adam, who she says would take a song and flip it.
Country girl Vanessa Wolfe is overwhelmed, crying. She sings “Rain” by Third Eye Blind and she’s way off pitch. Not good. Ellen tells her she should embrace who she is, and that she needs to let go of the nerves.
Andrew Garcia advances, Vanessa Wolfe is cut. – VIDEO
A parade of contestants are cut.
Cornelius Edwards (split pants guy) and Meagan Wright are both cut. Amadeo DiRocco is cut (He’s awful). Amadeo begs for a second chance, and it’s a little pathetic.
Janell Wheeler takes the stage with her guitar to sing a folsky version of Estelle’s “American Boy”. The judges are impressed and she sails through to the next round. – VIDEO
A parade of hopefuls with instruments are cut. Bosa Mora! Holy crap that was awful.
Haeley Vaughn (African American country singer) takes the stage with her guitar to sing “Change” by Taylor Swift. She’s a little pitchy, but there’s something arresting about her.
Mary Powers is next. She sings Pink’s “Sober” (a Kara Dioguardi co-write). Ellen tells her she has an amazing voice. (Indeed, Mary’s got powerful pipes)
Both Mary Powers and Haeley Vaughn make it through to the next round. – VIDEO
Ellen effs with a line of kids before she sends them all through. Toddrick Hall, Charity Vance and Ashley Rodriguez make it to the next round. Forty-six contestants make it through by the end of Day 1.
The second half of the group auditions on Day 2
Simon tells the crowd not to be nervous, boring or forget the words.
Beatboxer, Jay Stone takes the stage. He beatboxes some crap, and Simon tells him he’s ridiculous. Lilly Scott says she wants to show everyone she has what it takes. She sings “Lullaby of Birdland” by Ella Fitzgerald with her guitar. Yep. She’s got what it takes. She’s got a nice jazzy tone, great phrasing. “Everything about you is refreshing, unique, ” says Kara.
Sam Larson and Lilly Scott make it through. Jay Stone goes home. – VIDEO
Mike Lynche (NOPE, not DQ’d) talks to his wife on the phone. She’s pregnant and her water just broke. He decides, with her blessing, to stay in Hollywood and chase he dream. He pulls out the guitar to sing “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer. “I thought that was good” says Simon, “A good choice of song, good arrangement.” he says. Mike’s got a sweet, neo-soul vibe. He’s put through to the next round. – VIDEO
Justin Williams, the cancer survivor, and Tim Urban take the stage. Tim sings David Cook’s “Come Back to Me”. He’s got a nice tone, but he’s pitchy and a little whiny on the high notes. Kara calls it “shaky” but “pretty good” (I thought it sucked.) Justin takes the stage at the keyboard, and seriously? I have no idea what the hell that was (Eta: It was “Fly Me To the Moon” Really?). He oversings–a case of nerves and trying too hard, perhaps. “Interesting” says Randy. That was a tactful way of putting it. – VIDEO
Tim Urban moves on to the next round, while Justin goes home. Paige Dechausse and Erica Rhoades (Barney chick) are also sent home. The two sisters from Jersey, Amanda and Bernadette Desimone, are also cut.
Maddy Curtis (she’s got 5 brothers, one with special needs) sings what sounds like a hymn. She’s stiff and dull. And her prettified voice doesn’t improve in Hollywood. The judges aren’t thrilled. They tell her she picked the wrong song.
Casey James? The guy who took his shirt off for Kara? Wow. He really is more than a pretty face. He’s much better here in Hollywood than he was in his audition. He sings a bluesy number with his guitar. Randy calls him a “real singer/songwriter.”
Casey James advances to the next round, Maddy Curtis goes home. – VIDEO
It’s the last line of the day. Didi Benami takes the stage to sing “Terrified” by Katharine McPhee, written by Kara Dioguardi. Didi is incredibly polished, poised. She’s got a beautiful voice, great tone and phrasing. Wow. She’s going far. Simon loved her and the song. He likes the idea of ordinary people making it on Idol (Didi is a waitress)
Crystal Bowersox is doing Idol for her son. She sings “Natural Woman” with an acoustic guitar, and she’s terrific. The audience breaks into spontaneous applause while she sings. Simon calls her “infectious, real”.
Crystal Bowersox and Didi Benami both make it through to the next round. – VIDEO
Ninety-five contestants advance to the next round. Tomorrow? Group rounds!