The American Idol audition train rolled on to Milwaukee, which served up yet another batch of really young youngsters, a few more impressive standouts and the most ridiculous auditions we've seen thus far. But while watching and judging the wannabes, some interesting things happened to the judging panel: Steven Tyler became an even more inappropriate softie, Jennifer Lopez finally looked comfortable crushing people's dreams and Randy Jackson ... actually said something smart? So which singers inspired these changes? Let's find out.
Overall, Milwaukee delivered a heaping spoonful of talent. (Between this and the Green Bay Packers' upcoming Super Bowl appearance, Wisconsin is having a great week!) For every weird aspiring disc jockey or Civil War re-enactor there was a White House intern or CPA who was a fantastic vocal surprise. There was also a guy with a depressing back story that rivals Season 8 contestant Danny Gokey's and, of course, there was Danny Gokey, who was on hand to psych up the singers in his native Milwaukee. (I wonder if he did his terrible "Dream On" cover for Steven?)
My quick takes on my favorite auditions (both good and bad):
Scotty McCreery, "Your Man" and "Put Some Drive in Your County"
A true throwback to the country singers my dad loved. It's not my cup of tea, but this small-town North Carolinian's surprisingly deep voice couldn't help but make J. Lo smile. It also drew this oft-teased-in-clip-packages line from Steven: "Well, hellfire, save matches. F--- a duck and see what hatches!" I'm an expert in crazytalk, and that loosely translates to: "You're going to Hollywood."
Joe Repka, "The Longest Time"
This aspiring radio DJ from Toledo bonded with fellow radio personality Ryan Seacrest. (Shockingly, Ryan was as perplexed by the odd hand movement Joe used when doing his radio voice as I was.) The family member Joe brought with him told Ryan she was tone-deaf, which must be a family trait. Actually, Joe wasn't the worst singer ever, but he had an odd vibrato, and as the saying goes, he had a face for radio. Steven's advice: "Don't sing into the mic; talk into it." (Translation: No.) So, you're welcome, K100 listeners in Toledo!
Emma Henry, "True Colors"
The first 15-year-old featured tonight showed us exactly why Idol should have raised the age limit instead of lowering it. (The show later celebrated youngsters who made it through to Hollywood, though we didn't hear any of them sing.) Emma had a charming and somewhat unique voice, but she's not ready for the big stage. Randy articulated those exact thoughts, saying Emma would "get swallowed up in this whole thing." (I said he articulated, not that he was articulate.) J. Lo agreed and passed, but then Emma turned on the waterworks, swaying Randy and Steven. And so, she got a ticket to Hollywood. Let the feast begin.
Naima Adedapo "For All We Know"
She works as part of the grounds crew for Milwaukee's annual Summer Fest music event, and she's always dreamed of being on the stage rather than scrubbing toilets. She has a really nice tone to her voice, and is definitely an artist type. (Think more Crystal Bowersox than Jordin Sparks.) The judges agree unanimously to send her through, and Naima celebrates with a high kick. Why not?
Jerome Bell, "Let's Get It On"
He's a bar mitzvah singer whose rendition of Marvin Gaye was excellent, though not unlike other Gaye interpretations I've heard. Randy said the performance had "all the —isms" while Steven said it had "none of the —wasims." (Translation: Beats me!) He gets a golden ticket.
Thia Megia, "Chasing Pavements"
A quick Google search will tell you Thia has been on America's Got Talent. She obviously didn't win that, so why not give this a shot. Even though she chose a song by Adele, a singer many wannabes try to imitate, Thia's voice had an affectation that was altogether different. Or as Steven said, it "had a lot of character ... smoke and heat." We'll see her again in Hollywood.
Nathaniel Jones, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"
Two things I learned from Nathaniel: His father is not a hippie. And hippies believe in sex. Nathaniel, on the other hand, believes in preserving the memory of the Civil War and auditions in uniform. He does a pretty sterling imitation of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," but he's obviously not what this show is about. But hey, I salute him.
Molly DeWolf Swensen, "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay"
This Harvard graduate was the night's biggest surprise. Although she's now an Obama-loving White House intern (but not in the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky way, she clarifies), she's got a killer voice with an amazing range. Her lower register is rich, and she controls it well. Steven says she has attitude and "knows where to put it." Randy, who accidentally punched Molly in the face earlier in the day (yes, we saw the footage replayed six times), says to tell Obama that Idol needs her. I predict she will be working for viewer's votes well before November.
Steve Beguhn, "The Man Who Can't Be Moved"
He's an accountant and a part-time wedding singer. (Fun fact: he's a tall guy who thinks it's funny that his last name is pronounced like "big goon." He has a shockingly high-pitched singing voice, which Steven finds "disturbingly great — a weird, compelling great." That sounds bad, but he's actually pretty good. We'll see more in Hollywood.
Vernika Patterson, "Loving You"
Can we all agree that even the best singers should stay away from this song? But Vernika is a terrible singer, who stops halfway through to start again because "the lady is looking at me." (Don't you know better, J. Lo?) When the judges break the bad news, she starts a tirade about how they don't like her because she's not skinny like the other girls. She walks out before the judges can officially say no.
Albert Rogers III, "Stand By Me"
More Obama! Albert does a pretty weak impression of the president, but it's probably better than Fred Armisen's. He compares himself to Luther Vandross and Usher, and while there might be a tiny sliver of musicality deep down somewhere, he tried to do seven things too many to bring it out in this song. Steven liked how he "squeezed the flavor out of the song," but it's not right for Idol. Randy says it was terrible and a joke. Ouch. Go ahead and call SNL, Albert.
Scott Dangerfield, "Dreamin'"
Steven Tyler asked if he was wearing lipstick, and Scott said it was from the girls he was making out with in line. Which means, he totally won Steven's vote. But he is crazy good. J. Lo dubs him her favorite audition yet, and Randy, noting Scott's somewhat dorky outfit, says this is the "unassuming season." Don't worry, Scott, J. Lo loved the glasses.
Megan Frazier, "Baby"
She's a totally annoying, high-strung Green Bay Packers fan. And she sang an opera version of a Justin Bieber song. How do you think that turned out?
Alyson Jados, "Come Together"
Steven stopped himself just short of saying anything incriminating when she walked in the room. But the two eventually hugged when she professed how much she loved him and his music. She is a rocker chick, and she has a passable voice, but Steven notes that she was "pitchy," especially when she did a few bars of "Dream On." Randy passed, but J. Lo liked her performance quality. Predictably, Steven was the deciding vote, and he said yes.
Chris Medina, "Break Even"
His longtime girlfriend/fiancée was in a car wreck two months before they were to be married. She was in a coma, and eventually woke up with major brain damage. He helps her mom take care of her. He also is a really excellent singer. But the singing doesn't really matter, because the judges have him wheel his girlfriend in and for me, the whole thing is uncomfortable. I sympathize with the poor girl's situation completely, and I applaud Chris' commitment to the vows he wasn't able to take. I also understand that the show is trying to be heartwarming, but from my couch, the whole thing played out with a very depressing note. I hope he goes far, but because of his superb voice.
Which singers did you like the most?
The American Idol audition train rolled on to Milwaukee, which served up yet another batch of really young youngsters, a few more impressive standouts and the most ridiculous auditions we've seen thus far. But while watching and judging the wannabes, some interesting things happened to the judging panel: Steven Tyler became an even more inappropriate softie, Jennifer Lopez finally looked comfortable crushing people's dreams and Randy Jackson ... actually said something smart? So which singers inspired these changes? Let's find out....