There are still a few months to go before the American Idol Airlines farewell flight lands on the tarmac and retires to its hangar for good, but while that plane is just reaching the pinnacle of its final ascent, one iconic portion of “The Search for a Superstar” is drawing to a close.
Because of an abbreviated process, there are just 10 hours of featured auditions played out over three weeks in the 15th season, which come to an end this week. And as such, you’ll have to determine for yourself if you’ll be shedding a tear at the conclusion of the sometimes inspiring, sometimes infuriating rite of passage.
To Show or Not to Show
I have a love/hate relationship with the auditions, because for every touching backstory or potential superstar uncovered, you have a bunch of schmucks who thinks they’re awesome and proceed to make complete fools of themselves before invariably blaming the judges or America.
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Now, don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoy both a cocky douche who embarrasses himself and throws a tantrum, and anyone who doesn’t look like a singer and ends up being exquisite. But I genuinely feel bad for those who have big dreams and the best of intentions but are just brought out to be laughingstocks and end up truly devastated as a result.
Thankfully, Idol has shied away from featuring the real worst of the worst in recent years after a wave of backlash over perceived mean-spiritedness, focusing instead on quality performers. But still, we’re about to experience that tug of war for the final time, at least until the aircraft is inevitable dusted off and thrown back into the sky as a vintage plane. So stay tune for 2021 (my predicted revival date), but will you miss Idol auditions in the meantime?
Now on to the beginning of the end, where the heaven-sent one-hour second-to-last audition show takes us back to all the cities we’ve previously visited (with some help from the Idol bus tour).
First up is Poh, who comes to us via Baltimore, She is named after her favorite childhood Teletubby, and is the sister of Season 14 Top 24-alist, Shi Scott. She’s more of a dancer than a singer, but after her big sis had such success, she figured why not? She takes on Sara Bareilles, and while there are traces of talent, it’s all over the place and generally unpleasant. Harry finds many of the things she does refreshing, and he literally says he does not not care about her voice. J-Lo thinks it was really good, and Keith loves her rasp and then compares her to freaking Rihanna.
After cycling through the list of currently-doing-nothing former winners (Kris, Lee, Taylor and Rubes) and runners up (an increasingly bitchy Clay) who are helping out during the audition process, it’s time for 15-year-old Amelia Eisenhauer and her good-luck Katana blade. She performs in her family band and plays the fiddle. Her Annie Lennox shows flashes of brilliance mixed with over-sung runs and hints of not-readiness. There’s potential, but the judges swoon over her unique voice. At least Harry urges her to hit the notes more cleanly.
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Joy Dove is the self-proclaimed life of the party and life of the building as she bursts into the audition room with the gusto of a champion. She sings “Jambalaya” and puts a powerful voice on a song that doesn’t show it off at all. But the energy is great, and the judges love that she sings loud.
The Voice alum MacKenzie Bourg has the same birthday as Harry and put together a medley of judge songs. He starts with Keith’s “Stupid Boy,” followed by Harry’s “Come By Me” and J-Lo’s “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” and caps it off with Keith’s “Making Memories of Us.” He sings them all like Jason Mraz, and they’re all pretty great.
Jenna Renae breaks the elevator door and then the judges’ hearts with a stirring rendition of Sara Bareilles’ “She Used to Be Mine” on the piano. It’s not technically perfect, but she delivers some goose bumps and is maddeningly appreciative.
The First of the Returnees
The final slots of the evening go to returning auditioners, and first up is Adam Lasher. If you recall, Adam is Carlos Santana’s nephew and a whiz on the gee-tar. Here are the varied things I wrote about him last year:
Audition: Adam Lasher is Carlos Santana’s nephew and has performed on stage with the guitar legend, which would you make you think he’d have his own “in” into the industry. A skateboarding hand injury doesn’t affect his playing ability, and his original song already sounds like a recorded track. He reminds us of the fact that everyone on The Voice is at least a pseudo-pro invited there by producers who saw videos of their performances. If you want, you can check out Adam’s channel on iTunes (no, I’m not linking to it, but there are 14 songs you can buy).
Hollywood Week 1: Adam Lasher, also of The Voice plus “I’m related to Carlos Santana” fame, shows off some sick guitar skills singing Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Games,” and like last time, it’s radio worthy because this guy is already on iTunes.
Hollywood Week 2: Next up is Adam Lasher Carlos Santana, Jr., who doesn’t get nervous. But while his “Free Fallin'” oozes talent, it just doesn’t do it for me. Keith wasn’t blown away either, unhappy that Adam didn’t handle the octave change very well.
The Present: He does a unique take on “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” that is not quite my cup of tea, and he seems pretty similar to last season only with a fully functioning hand. I guess when you’ve performed with Carlos, you stick with what apparently doesn’t work.
The Last of the Returnees
The show caps off with the now-16-year-old Emily Brooke, who made last season’s Top 48 and has spent the year honing her craft. She was the star of the Season 14 premiere, and here’s what I had to say about her:
Audition: We cap the premiere off with 15-year-old Emily Brooke, who believes that Ryan Secrest spoke to her through the television and told her to audition. She gave up all her weekends to perform live and raise enough money to afford the trip from Florida, and now it’s time for all that hard work to pay off. And her rendition of Carrie Underwood‘s “Blown Away” does just that. In all honesty, she could use a professional touch to tweak her vocal technique, but she’s just oozing with star potential.
Hollywood 1: Next up are Mark Andrew, “Ryan Seacrest spoke to me through TV” one act to watch Emily Brooke, Sinatra/mobster wannabe Sal Valentinetti and toy designer/bushy haired Adam Ezegelian. All are good and likely through.
Hollywood 2: But Alexis isn’t the only one who isn’t feeling well. Emily Brooke, of the group Three-to-One Brunette has food poisoning, and it’s unclear if she’ll even be able to perform (yeah, right). She grabs a barf bag in case she has to vomit and joins Riley Bria, Keri Lynn Roche and another dude whose name I don’t get because FOX isn’t kind enough to put it on the screen when he sings. All four survive, even if a rush to the bathroom is in Emily’s future.
Showcase: Emily Brooke is another youngster taking a crack at the Idol stage, and she’s been performing live on weekends for years. She takes a big risk singing Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy,” and it does not pay off. It’s a big of a surprise, because she was an early favorite. Verdict: Eliminated.
The Present: She’s still country and still rocking the twang with rampant use of inflection, but this time around, she has that professional touch I initially found lacking. The improvement is evident, and Harry dubs her his favorite of the day. We’ll see how far she can go this time around, but I’m betting a lock for the Top 24.
The Good But Not Good Enough
Mario Vons was born with a degenerative condition that left him totally blind by age 10, and after a pissed-off rebellious period that nearly left him institutionalized, he ended up a high-energy happy-go-lucky man who sings Natalie Cole’s “Inseparable” to honor his grandmother. It’s erratic and not very commercial, a great-for-church voice, if you will.
He definitely has talent, and I was going to say that group round would likely be the end of him before the judges decide to not let him get even that far. They praise his spirit, but he’s not what they’re looking for, and they send him on his tearful, self-loathing, “I blew it” way. C’mon, judges, he’s definitely better than some of the other scrubs you sent through, and he has the emotional story that compensates for “what you’re looking for.” At least let him go to Hollywood and end it there. I hate this crap.
And just because they can’t all be good, auditioning as a duo are brothers Andrew and Aaron Birdwell. They are self-proclaimed Dungeons and Dragons nerds who have less talent than a demilich, and when rejected, they ask if they can sing another song. Yeah, also a “no.” Sorry that your mom is going to be disappointed though.
And with that, we are a short two hours away from the final American Idol audition of all time (wink wink). Emily Brooke is the one I’m keeping my eye on, but MacKenzie Bourg, Jenna Renae and, to some degree, Adam Lasher were standouts.
Who were your favorites, and do you agree that a lot of middle-of-the-road talents are moving on this season? At least enough so that the judges could’ve tossed the blind dude a bone. He probably wouldn’t have caught it, but the guy who was with him would have picked it up and carried it to Hollywood for him. And it would’ve been appreciated by all involved parties. Dang judges.
American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8pm on FOX.
(Image and video courtesy of FOX)