The farewell flight of American Idol Airlines may have just left the tarmac, but a less-than-stellar run through Denver and Atlanta auditions had many critics, including myself, inching toward the door with parachute strapped as the plane was still ascending.

But I was pleasantly surprised, wowed even, by the talent that turned out in Little Rock and San Francisco, which has me hoping that perhaps one last superstar can be discovered before the franchise’s indefinite hiatus.

And the next pie in the sky on the Idol tour is my beloved birthplace of Philadelphia, and as such, the good, the bad and the ugly (see photo) is sure to be on display in the City of Brotherly Love. 

Hopefully, no one will throw batteries (unless J.D. Drew auditions).

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Last week, I briefly discussed the many avenues by which singers can be discovered these days and the impact they may be having on the everyone-gets-a-trophy generation. Feeling entitled and being coddled into believing you’re a star while lacking drive could be a contributing factor to the dwindling talent pool, but I may have overstated the overall effect moving forward. 

Much like the addition by subtraction that got Atlantic City back into the black, the swan song of shows like Idol, The X-Factor and The Glee Project could quite possibly reinvigorate the industry for the future. With The Voice being almost entirely invitation-only, pre-cast by recruiters who contact managers and agents across the country, the options for truly undiscovered talent are dwindling.

I wonder if America’s Got Talent will be inundated this summer, even as that show has moved away from crooners in crowning a ventriloquist, magician, interactive dancer and animal act after six straight singing-related winners. In which case at least Simon Cowell will be around to tell auditioners that they’re horrible. 

But maybe a few years of dream-chasing, without 16 talent shows a year to make young people famous, will create a sense of desperation and determination that make the 2021 American Idol 16 reunion season one for the record books. That will be right around the same time that Simon is done with AGT and will be looking for something new and nostalgic, because of course he’ll be sentimental as his Valentine’s Day baby turns 7.

But that’s then, and the now is in Philly. Let’s break it down (because nothing is better than a one-hour Idol).

The Good

Clay Aiken is on hand to help guide the hopeful, because apparently my city is only worthy of runners up. Additionally, functioning sound is seemingly unnecessary, as the first five minutes is a botched mess of mismatched audio tracks and dead silence. I want to put this whole episode down in the “bad” section right now. 

The background music plays fine, but the judges, first singer Gianna Isabella and the vignette about her freestyle queen mom Brenda K. Starr (who happens to be J-Lo’s bestie) are completely inaudible. I had to make my wife turn off the DVR’d Bachelor in the other room to confirm I wasn’t crazy, and now it will take her even longer to read that recap. But then Gianna offered a quality “House of the Rising Sun,” J-Lo and Brenda reunited, and we’ve got our first golden ticket. 

I feel like I’m watching a Sixers game (if you don’t get that reference, just know the 76ers are 4-36 at press time … and they’re an NBA team … and NBA is basketball). 

Isaac Cole is 15 and plays his original country song acappella on an acoustic guitar (it sounds funnier when he describes what he’s about to do). His voice is fine, but not particularly steady or strong. J-Lo almost cries though, so he’s a lock. Harry advises him to lose the twang, because you don’t need it to be an authentic country singer coming out of the northeast. Keith doesn’t think this work-in-progress is quite ready yet, but it’s still a “yes” before he fills in a blank spot on Isaac’s guitar case with his John Hancock. 

After a montage of rejections, we’re nearly halfway through the show with only two so-so advancing acts. But then 17-year-old Sara Sturm walks through the door and starts cracking jokes about her hostessing job at a breakfast restaurant called Eggs-pectations. Her Meghan Trainor shows off some serious potential, but she needs to grow into her body and her personality. But by Philly standards, she might as well have just knocked out Apollo Creed, may he rest in peace. 

Jenn Blosil is the embodiment of every weird role Drew Barrymore has even played combined with Cousin Eddie from Christmas Vacation and weed, but her “Radioactive” on the piano is raspy, smoky and delivers goose bumps. She’s unique and certainly memorable, and that’s an audition that will stick in your mind. And that of your spirit animal’s. 

Channeling the new Zac Efron/Robert De Niro flick Dirty Grandpa, 17-year-old Harrison Cohen brought his pop-pop and sings an original song written about his experiences as a ladies’ man. It’s actually pretty good, with a voice and performance to match, outside of the laser-beam eye-f–k slapping J-Lo in the face. 

And with only five somewhat quality singers featured thus far, the final slot goes to John Arthur Greene, who accidentally shot and killed his brother while playing cops and robbers at the age of 8. He held him in his arms and watched him die, and yea, that’s some heavy shit right there. 

Greene coped with music and brings his brother with him everywhere. While he’s doing this for himself, he and his brhost are a package deal. Oh, and he’s currently in Matilda on Broadway, so there’s that, too. So many mixed emotions right now. 

He’s good, sounding like a bluesy Marc Roberge (O.A.R.), though there are some control issues. Harry says “no” because he doesn’t see there being anything else other than this, and J-Lo doesn’t think he’ll be able to hang later on, but he’s still headed to Hollywood. 

The Bad and the Ugly

After 21-year-old dollar-store employee Derek Huffman gets all his Clay trivia questions wrong, he does a literal karaoke rendition of Shaggy’s “Angel,” complete with boom box. He also changes “Who’s gonna have your back when it’s all done” to “Who’s gonna hold your back when it’s all done,” like she’s vomiting after a long night of drinking or something. It’s a chorus of “no’s” and so he takes his shirt off and tosses it across the lobby. “I guess they don’t like a good entertainer,” he says (more or less verbatim). “Guess they’d rather have Whitney Houston. Another Adam Lambert. A repeat.” Yep.  

Janitor Ellis Banks wants to give the judges a performances they’ve never seen, and that consists of a bedazzled Speedo, a cape and a “Jesus headpiece.” On a large black man. His rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” is as over-the-top as can be and includes a pre-song drop, among other fierce moves. His voice isn’t actually terrible, but the whole package is certainly not for what they are searching. He’s not swayed though, because being a superstar is about offering something original, even if it’s mostly terrible. 


And that’s it for a condensed trip to the land of my birth, with only a handful of standouts. The only memorable ones for me are unsuspecting talent Jenn Blosil, who has a huge potential for implosion, and genealogically blessed Gianna Isabella, mostly because her name sounds like someone trying to be famous. Like, you know that’s not her real full name. For comparison’s sake, my wife’s proposed acting name was Lanie Andrews (it is NOT Google-able, people. It was only if she continued), which sounds like a porn star.

Additionally, does John Arthur Greene’s backstory make you like him more or feel bad for him? Or does the fact that he’s using said backstory while already successful on Broadway kind of make you feel queasy? And is there anyone in this group who will advance far in the competition?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I just caught a wicked right hook from Ivan Drago. 

American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.

(Image and video courtesy of FOX)

Bill King

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Emmy-winning news producer & former BuddyTV blogger. Lover of Philly sports, Ned, Zoe, Liam and Delaine…not in that order