Tony Bennett sang that he left his heart in San Francisco, and it would appear that that was exactly what American Idol producers, with the help of some heart-wrenching backstories and good editing, wanted the Idol viewers to do as well. The one-hour final audition episode was loaded with heart-rending stories of loss, pain, and heartache. And it also gave the American Idol viewer a glimpse into two, perhaps three, contestants who could easily make it to the final weeks of the competition: Julie Zorilla, James Durbin, and Stefano Langone.
Dealing with emotional backstories during audition weeks has become as American Idol as controversy and melodrama and those tone-deaf caterwaulers who always defy credulity and test the discerning ear. At the San Francisco auditions aired Wednesday evening, the viewer was presented with plenty of the latter (including one guy, Drew Beaumier, who might not make it as a singer, but his personal Transformer gear, which turned him into an actual working little red car, could very well make him rich), but more than the usual share of heart-pullers per episode as well.
The first such story came from Stefano Langone, a young man who survived a horrendous wreck only to be told he wouldn’t walk or function as he had before. He was walking and fighting to use his appendages in a pre-wreck manner within four months. His rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through The Grapevine” impressed the judges; Steven Tyler told him he had survived the wreck for a reason — to go to Hollywood.
Julie Zorilla is flat-out beautiful and everyone is knocked out by her gold shoes. She arrived via the Denver School of Arts and her parents having to escape a war-torn Colombia. They lost everything they had to guerrillas and emigrated to the United States when Julie was 8 years old. She performs the classic “Summertime” to low-key perfection. Steven Tyler is captivated. Jennifer Lopez notes after they give her a golden ticket that Julie Zorilla might be the “best ever” and “the winner.” To make the story even better? It was Zorilla’s 20th birthday.
The week before the San Francisco auditions, Emily Anne Reed experienced the trauma of losing her apartment from a fire. But she’s a trooper, singing “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me” in a voice that could have been coming from your great-grandmother’s old Victrola. There’s an “O Brother Where Art Thou?”-quality to her voice that is easily likable and although Steven Tyler likes her, he doesn’t believe she’s ready. However, judges Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez think her uniqueness is worthy of a second chance in Hollywood.
And if three heart-wrenching backstories weren’t enough, American Idol producers threw in a fourth and final one at the end of the auditions. James Durbin, looking a bit unkempt with a shock of hair cresting on top of his head, presented a tear-filled testimony to a hard life, where he grew up not knowing his father (who also died of a drug overdose when James was 9 years old) and the victim of bullying due to bouts of Tourette’s Syndrome and a mild case of Asperger’s. But he met a girl named Heidi who believed in him, and they had a child. And with them and his singing, he could forget all the bad that had been part of his life. He presented the judges with Muddy Waters’ “You Shook Me” and impressed the judges. He asked Steven Tyler’s permission to sing the iconic “Dream On” and simply nailed it. At times, his high notes were reminiscent of Adam Lambert, who was also discovered in San Francisco a couple seasons back. Jennifer Lopez noted that he seemed “transported” when he sang; he explained that he didn’t have to worry about his Tourette’s Syndrome when he was singing.
The San Francisco auditions presented some of the strongest contestants yet, possibly rivaling only Nashville in the sheer amount of true vocal talent. But that talent has to be able to keep up, perform on demand, and present well on a continuing basis. And those with gold tickets to Hollywood will be asked to do just that as American Idol enters its Hollywood Week phase. There, they will eliminate several hundred contestants, narrowing the running down to just 60 hopefuls on their way to being the next American Idol.
Will Julie Zorilla make the cut? Will James Durbin? Or will it be someone from the Austin or New Jersey auditions?
We shall see… The journey begins on Thursday evening at 8 p.m. on Fox Television.
“American Idol,” Fox Television
“San Francisco Auditions,” AmericanIdol.com