The third set of American Idol auditions takes us to Charlotte, where we’re promised the catfight of the decade between judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj (Take THAT, Simon and Paula!). It remains to be seen how much they actually dislike each other, but we should get some serious insight into that in the next two hours. The “feud” has been largely disappointing so far, but this is apparently the week where the judges overshadow the talent (and thankfully the awful singers).

Ryan Seacrest kicks things off in a NASCAR racecar, where he cheerfully listens to Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” while frenzied drivers race to the finish around him. If you’ve never paid attention to the lyrics of that song, it is one of the most horrible songs ever written. The first line is “I was tired of my lady,” and it’s all about a dude who got sick of his wife, so he puts an ad in the newspaper looking to have an affair. But boy is his face red when he meets his fling in person and it turns out to be his wife. “We both hate our marriage and were totally excited to cheat on each other, but I guess this curious wrench means we’re still in love!” Great message. The only song that might be worse is Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” a catchy little jingle about a school shooting. But I digress.

Before we get to the individual performances, let’s cover the fight. It seems like a logical place to start, seeing as how the show begins with a montage of entertainment show clips about how it shut down production for the day. Poor Keith Urban had no idea what he was signing up for, while Randy Jackson is probably just happy to be around people who have opinions.

The Buildup

“They say the end of one chapter is the beginning of the next, and that’s exactly what we found out in Charlotte,” a somber Ryan Seacrest waxes. But what if the book is over, Ryan? What then?

It starts out pretty benign, with Mariah making a comment about Nicki’s breasts being too large to fit in a contestant’s bra. Meh. 

The tension finally starts to grow when a black rock and roll chick (see Taisha Bethea below) isn’t quite rocking enough for Mariah, while Nicki appreciates that she is avoiding the typical R&B runs that most girls her age would be doing. Mariah isn’t sure of the girl’s identity as a singer, but Nicki argues she doesn’t necessarily have to fit into a mold or type of performer at this stage of the competition.

After that, the judges struggle to agree on anyone, which sets the stage for the so-called epic dustup. It all revolves around 20-year-old Summer Cunningham, a pretty little blond girl, and her performance of “Lean on Me.” We’ll just call her the first “singer to remember” of the night.

She sings it very well, with a slight southern twang. Nicki loves her look and her tone, and Keith asks her what type of singer she wants to be. She offends him by saying, “I did the country thing,” which he compares to saying, “I did the brain surgery thing.” Nicki is clearly frustrated when Randy says her voice naturally lends itself to country, and when Mariah asks what she grew up listening to, what she was passionate about and that she only sees her as a country artist, Nicki plunges over the edge. 

She wonders why they are picking the poor girl apart over her country comment, and then she calls out Mariah and Randy for saying crap about pop stars. Mariah takes offense, and she and Nicki bicker over each other for a bit. 

I’m siding with Nicki, who fears they are bullying people into a type of music they might not want to do. That being said, Summer might have a better chance of success in that genre, but her soulful country voice was probably good enough on its own at this point. 

Randy’s parting shot of “Just trying to help you a little bit. 30 years. A little help. Insight!” leads Nicki to say, “Oh you’re right, I’m sorry. I can’t help her. Maybe I should just get off the [expletive] panel.” Then Mariah and Randy laugh at her, with Mariah chiming in that SHE was saving the walkout for the next time Nicki ragged on her. That prompts a nice “shut the [expletive] up from Nicki as she exits the room.

Now normally, “the show must go on” would be the mantra, as scores of potential American Idols are still waiting to audition. But it makes better headlines if you call it a day, even if the show went on for years with only three judges (eliminates ties that way, too!) 

The TMZ take on things, as well as the other gossip shows (which we see a montage of), blew it up way bigger than it actually was, with rumors that Mariah was going to quit and other nonsense. Either way, all the judges are back on Day 2, and there’s no real mention of it again. What an over-hyped waste of time. If the fact they shut down production was really that big of a deal, I would’ve much rather seen interviews with the judges, Ryan Seacrest and contestants and maybe had one less featured performance. It you’re all about building the drama, show us the aftermath!

Things are a little cold and tense on the panel before the first audition, with Nicki playing with her phone, but 15 minutes later (of show time, not necessarily real time) they are all laughing together. It was all just foreplay. On to the performances!

Singers to Remember

Brian Rittenberry is our big, husky manvoice this time around, because every season has a few who come out of the auditions. His wife was diagnosed with stage 4 appendix cancer a few years ago, and her grapefruit-sized tumor grew to the size of a basketball. She was given two years to live, but here they are three years later, and she’s doing well. His “Let it Be” rendition wows the judges, and I hope he doesn’t go the same route as most previous big, husky singers who can’t make it out of Hollywood. 

Jimmy Smith has an inspirational man crush on Keith Urban, and he’s our sweet-sounding country artist of season 12. Glad we’re getting the stereotypes out of the way early. I wonder if we’ll get another Gospel singer in Charlotte, too.

Sarina-Joi Crowe, Haley Davis and Na’Chelle Fullins-Lovell all go through to Hollywood somehow, but they all scream one and done. All the performances were shaky and at times shriek-y, and I’m not sure why the judges loved them so much. 

Isabelle Gonzalez was nominated by her aunt, and Randy takes a trip to Alpharetta High School to surprise her with an audition bib. She’s the shy, sweet girl with the unique voice. Very Ingrid Michaelson/Regina Spektor. Check.

Taisha Bethea is the female lead singer of a rock band with all-male musicians. Her Johnny Cash isn’t quite rocking enough, but then she belts out some angry Alanis and goes to Hollywood. Female rocker. Check.

Navy reservist Brandy Hamilton is our sensitive soul singer who has no training and only sang in church. Check! She tearfully shouts, “Please don’t fight. It makes us sad” on her way out. 

Ashley Smith, her nose ring, horrible pink lipstick and delicious sandwich interview all the other contestants, and she’s just outgoing and nice and friendly. At 5 foot and 1/2 inches, she reminds me of the black Snookie. She is a prime candidate to just plain suck, but she crushes her Carrie Underwood song. Definitely keep an eye on this one. She’s quirky, weird and fun, and she’s our first non-stereotypical contestant of the show!

Pretty blonde Janelle Arthur once played a young Dolly Parton in a show, and she sings Keith’s “Where the Blacktop Ends.” Even he is impressed, and Randy calls her a young Leann (or Lee Ann, depending on whether he means Rimes or Womack). Charlotte is popping out country stars like the Lance popped steroids.

Randy Barber, aka The Voice of Charlotte, is a formerly homeless street performer who donates half his proceeds to the needy. His rendition of Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be” is the first goose-bump moment of the show. His deep voice is crazy big, but I definitely worry he doesn’t have the depth in it to go very far. Hopefully it was just nerves that kept it so static.

Candice Glover got cut in Las Vegas last season, and she’s back to make another run (a la Johnny Keyser) at the finals. She’s definitely one to watch, and I expect she’ll make the top 40. The judges swoon, calling her the best of the season so far, and Nicki wants to skin her and wear her.

Ja’Bria Barber hunts and fishes and is a big fan of frog gigging. For anyone who doesn’t know what that is (basically anyone not in the Barber family), it’s when you go to the creek at night, catch bullfrogs, cut off the legs off and fry them up. Apparently, it tastes like chicken. The judges don’t like that giggers wastefully throw away the big fat bullfrog body, but I think it’d be weirder if she ate the whole thing. At least frog legs are a delicacy in some places. Anyway, “frog killer,” as Nicki dubs her, sings well and moves on.

Charlotte’s last audition is 26-year-old hairstylist and mother Seretha Guinn. She brings her 3-year-old daughter London Marie, along for the ride, and she hasn’t told her boyfriend that she’s trying out. He was in a serious accident last May (they don’t say car accident, so I’m sure more will come out on this later) that left him in critical condition and unresponsive for two days. He broke both hands, lost a finger and has undergone eight surgeries, with two to go. She kept her audition a secret so that she could give him surprising good news to lift his spirits.

London is wearing a little pink tutu and brings a stuffed bear to give to Nicki, who she calls Dun Dun (the same name as the bear). She oddly chooses to sing “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme, which startles the judges, but her bluesy rendition has them bobbing their heads in approval. Her performance of Leann’s “How Do I Live Without You” brings out the goosebumps. She’s a star.

Page 2: The Best of the Worst Singers in Charlotte  >>

(Image 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