'American Idol' Recap: Big Talent in Chi-Town
'American Idol' Recap: Big Talent in Chi-Town
Bill King
Bill King
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Because two hours of American Idol is never enough for one week, we're back for two more hours of both amazing and cringe-inducing performances. C'mon, when was the last time you watched four hours of the same show in a 26-hour span and it didn't involve reruns or catching up? Probably not since last season. But Ryan Seacrest says it best, "This is American Idol," and there's nothing quite like it.

The two-night premiere continues as the judges head to Chicago, where we're promised heartwarming stories of perseverance, stuttering and increasing tensions in our diva catfight that make poor Keith Urban (sitting between them AGAIN) feel like a scratching post. Both of these women are known from their dramatic showmanship, but for now we'll buy into the belief that they really don't like each other. At least until the expose.

So will the next American Idol come from the Windy City? If so, he or she will begin the journey tonight. Or began it several months ago and we're just seeing it tonight, but you get the idea. Let's get started!

Singers to Remember

MacKenzie Wasler is the 17-year-old daughter of Vince Gill's pianist and has been singing since she was kindergarten. She's a tiny blond girl with a sweet, pleasant voice. She has great control that Mariah thinks can be further honed, and Keith and Randy think she has a bright future. She's the first contestant of the night, and she gets the first golden ticket. But with her voice and her connections to the music industry, I have no idea why she needs this, except for exposure. I bet her dad did the whole "you have to do it on your own" thing.

Kiara Lanier recently sang at President Obama's birthday party and got a hug from and a photo with the Commander in Chief. She's got a great voice (no goose bumps though), and of course she's going through to Hollywood. But again, we've got two contestants who are already legitimate singers and have the connections. I get this show is a different opportunity, but it doesn't seem like these girls need the show to be successful. And the people who NEED American Idol to have a shot are the ones America rallies behind. 

Stephanie Schimel
just turned 21 (then they put 20 on screen to confuse us) and works at a lingerie store. She has a pretty but subdued voice, and I can't imagine she'll be good when she has to belt it out. Keith calls it a "Carrie Underwood, Gwen Stefani blend," which seems like a huge overstatement. I agree with Nicki, who says she wasn't wowed, that nothing jumped at her and that she didn't have "it." She falls into the "prove us wrong" category. Then things get really awkward for Steph (and Keith) as Mariah and Nicki start going at it about interrupting each other. 

Rocker (and baker) Gabe Brown was picked up in Iowa City on the brand new American Idol Small-Town Bus Tour, which, like the nominate-a-friend-via-the-web option we saw Wednesday, apparently exists now. He brings cookies to the judges and, when they ask him how long he's been singing for, says, "I've been making noises and humming...since I was 2." I hope he's good, because he could be the floppy-haired funny guy this season.

He scream-belts some Rolling Stones, which Keith loves, but Mariah wants something softer. His attempt certainly falls short of "soft," but he has potential. He definitely has to tone it down a bit in Hollywood, or he won't last long. He's like Adam Lambert when it comes to the screaming, but he doesn't have the same control or quality of voice to pull it off on that level.


My first impression of Isabelle Parell is that she's an awkward 15-year-old who doesn't have great fashion sense and is likely to be really bad. She also has the type of parents who embarrass you (they ask Ryan Seacrest if it's true that the cameramen get all the dates), which prompts her sister to shush them outside the audition room. But after seeing her up close and hearing her voice, I am completely changing my tune.

She asks Keith to sing a "Baby It's Cold Outside" duet with her, and she nails it. She's just a cute, cute girl with big hazel eyes. She's adorable, and the best part about her is that she's got a ton of room for growth, both vocally and persona-wise. Nicki says she has a star quality about her, to which Isabelle nods and quietly says thank you. She's the type of girl this show is all about, just a regular girl with parents who embarrass her and who could absolutely morph into a star. She's my new favorite. 

Nicki hits on 22-year-old Griffin Peterson before his audition, and he's another singer with a good voice that's just too quiet for Hollywood. He's the reverse Bikini Girl, because Mariah and Nicki put him through on his good looks while Randy shoots him down.

Curtis Finch, Jr., is a tutor at a St. Louis charter school who just seems like a nice guy. He's our Gospel singer of the season. 

Mariah Pulice is a recovering anorexic who used to only eat a slice of cheese a day because she felt fat compared to her high school classmates. She is brought to tears recounting her struggle and says that music saved her life. Her voice is decent, and she affects the judges with her emotion. She's moving on to Hollywood, but personally, and I hate to say this, music probably isn't her career. I'm glad it brought her back from the brink, but I don't see her as a superstar. I hope I'm wrong, though, and she deserved to advance.

Pulice is the final performer of Day 1 in Chicago, and we already have as many featured contestants advancing as we did in two hours Wednesday.

Brandy Neelly was adopted as a baby by her biological dad's sister because her real parents had a lot of issues, and she is grateful to have been raised by her aunt. She's also the first singer from these auditions to give me goose bumps. It's not something I plan on, it just happens. That's why it's my judge. Keep an eye on her.

Vocal coach Josh Holiday has the best voice of any guy so far this season. Student Courtney Williams is great too, as is music teacher Andrew Jones (Can't say much more about them, because we didn't get any backstories).

Clifton Duffin's parents are hearing him sing for the first time during his audition, and he performs one of his mom's favorite songs. She cries as the judges put him through (as does Keith), but his riffing was all over the place. He's got a good voice, but he really needs to work on the control and keep things reined in a bit.

Season 11's Johnny Keyser is back for another shot after he failed to make the top 25 two years ago. He is best remembered for making then-judge Jennifer Lopez swoon after his performance of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." Since then, he has apparently released a seven-track EP that cracked the Billboard charts, so expectations are obviously high for him this time around. 

Kez Ban is an up-and-coming fire performer and balloon animal artist who begs that if she is destined for the blooper reel in a way that would embarrass her mother,  send her home now. They let her out on stage, where she states that she is from planet earth. She actually has a nice bluesy tone to her voice and is a good performer despite the odd introduction. She's legit, and an interesting character to say the least. She's very concerned about the paperwork she will need to fill out, because she's got places to be. 

The last contestant of the evening is the inspirational story we've apparently been waiting for, according to all the promos. Lazaro Arbos stutters badly, and he calls his life a roller coaster. His parents said it started at the age of 6 and never improved, even getting worse after the family moved from Cuba to Florida. No one wanted to be friends with him, so he spent a lot of time at home. His dad says that because he's always alone, music is his life. And when he had trouble conveying what he was trying to say, his mother would tell him to sing it to her.

He sings "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and his stutter vanishes, leaving only a beautiful, crystal-clear voice behind. He cries as the judges send him through, and in addition to everything, I love his bow tie.

Before moving on, I just want to address the folks on the internet who say that because Lazaro sings clearly, his stutter must be fake (or at least over-dramatized). I personally know someone who has Tourette's Syndrome and is also a musical theater performer. He recently played Peter Pan on a Disney cruise ship and has appeared in a Kings of Leon music video. While his ticks are ever-present in his daily life, they disappear entirely when he performs. The human body is truly amazing with what it can do, so let's squash out the haters right off the bat.

Page 2: Singers to Forget >>

(Image courtesy of FOX)