Unlike the previous nine seasons of American Idol, season 10 started out with a lot of uncertainty as viewers watched to see how the new panel of judges would do. Along with Randy Jackson, the only returning judge, rocker Steven Tyler and actress/pop chanteuse Jennifer Lopez joined the fold. If the first night of auditions is any indication, the judges will do everything they can to rebound from season nine and make this a strong year for the music.
About their goals, Steven said he wants to find a Janis Joplin of this era. J. Lo found the prospect exciting of changing someone’s life. About her judging, she said she was going to be compassionate: “I’m not in the business of crushing spirits.”
Music producer Randy predicted that J. Lo and Steven would bring excitement and energy: “It’s hot. Let’s go, baby.” So far, his prediction is proving true, with the two singers providing valuable feedback and trying to emphasize the music over the presentation.
After montages about the judges and the audition process (more people auditioned than ever before), we were introduced to the musical mentor, record producer Jimmy Iovine, who will be sheparding the contestants through the season.
The auditions kicked off in New Jersey, with former finalist Constantine Maroulis showing up the first day to announce Ryan Seacrest.
After a montage of people talking about how great they’re going to do, the auditions got started. Unlike previous years, the backdrop immediately behind the hopefuls didn’t show the previous winners but had some silhouettes, the American Idol logo, and the slogan, “They all start somewhere.” The side panels showed the winners. I’m not sure if this is an acknowledgment of the fact that last year’s winner, Lee DeWyze, was largely regarded as a fluke in terms of his singing talents.
Rachel Zevita, who showed up in a simple white scoop-neck shift, had previously auditioned in Season six with an opera song. Back then, she made it to Hollywood but was cut on the first day. For this audition, she sang the Leonard Cohen song, “Halleluia.” I actually thought it was a bit meh at the beginning, mostly because she started low so that she could get into her stronger, higher range at the end. J. Lo acknowledged “this wasn’t the best audition you could give, but I know you could sing.” Steven urged them to “let her in the door, water that flower, because it’s going to grow.” She got through with three yeses, and J. Lo predicted that they should keep their eye on her.
Next up was Caleb Hawley, who wore a blue and white striped shirt and sang a Ray Charles song, “I Just Love You So.” He was kind of a bluesy guy, and Steven got into it, providing percussion for him. At the end of the audition, he proclaimed, “Yes!” J. Lo liked his tone and thinks he’s cute. Randy jumped on board. Three yeses.
At 15, Kenzie Palmer of Middlesex, Pennsylvania, was the first 15-year-old to audition since the age was dropped. She had long curly brown hair and wore a white shirt and a heart necklace. She had a decent voice but nothing terribly special, IMHO. Steven wasn’t feeling that pizzazz. J. Lo disagreed and argued for her. Result: three yeses.
Yeses were easy for J. Lo, but then she had to get used to saying no. She got an opportunity with Achille Lovely, 25, from the Bronx, who sang a very low, heavily accented version of “Dress You Up.” She was a striking young woman, dark-complected in skinny jeans and a red plaid shirt, but her singing was terrible. Randy was laughing, while Steven was trying not to. J. Lo was just looking at her oddly. Steven told her she wasn’t hitting the notes: “You’ve got to pull those wild horses in.” After Achille tried to explain herself and that she’s working with a vocal coach on her accent, J. Lo said, “It’s not about your accent, it’s just about the singing.” After the disappointed Achille left, J. Lo said, “I hate this. Why did I sign up for this? I want to go home!”
Tiffany Rios, from Morris Plains, New Jersey, looked like a cast member from “The Jersey Shore,” and decided to wear a star bra and tight leggings to show off her “assets.” She claimed to be a dance instructor and, given all that, was much better than anyone could have predicted. She sang an original song with lyrics such as “Baby, you’ve got to put me through to the next round.” Her high notes at the end just imploded, though, and Steven made bomb sounds. Referring to the stars, he asked her, “What’s with the jujubees on your yoyobees?” She closed her shirt to sing another song and proved she has a big voice (although she’s not always on with the notes.) J. Lo told her, “You have a really good voice,” but advised her to change her outfit if she wanted to be taken seriously. Steven liked her energy. Three yeses. Um… what?
At the close of a montage of really painful auditions. J. Lo finally got the hang of sayhing no, telling Melkia Wheatfall, “You’re very sweet, but this is not for you.”
The first requisite sob story of the season was courtesy of Robbie Rosen, 16, who was in wheelchair for months at 5 years, then transitioned into a walker and made a full recovery. He performed a boy band version of the Beatles song “Yesterday,” wearing a white T-shirt under a plaid shirt, with cargo shorts and white sneakers. He had curly hair, not quite long, not quite short, and a friendly face. His performance was kind of breathy, but the teen watchers will probably love him. Steven liked the arrangement; J. Lo thought he was cute. Randy gushed, “Crazy, mad vocals right there. Should we vote?” J. Lo answered, “No, Hollywood. Bye.”
Then a montage of the contestants saying who they wanted to sing for. Most of the girls more interested in singing for Steven. In turn, he seemed to have fun flirting with them.
Boy Scout Chris Cordeiro, 18, showed up in a green plaid shirt, a straw hat and horn-rimmed glasses. We got to see a “Don’t text and drive” public service announcement he created for his Eagle Scout project, including a shot of him in his Boy Scout uniform. Randy immediately commented on his outfit: “Looks like Camp American Idol.” Chris went with the Frank Sinatra signature song, “My Way.” Unfortunately, his way was tuneless. Steven expressed disappointment: “I thought you were going to knock us down.” Randy claimed, “You scared everybody in the room.” After telling him no and sending him away, J. Lo asked Randy, “How did you do this for 10 years?”
If anyone could make Chris look good, though, it was Michael Perotto, who showed up in a pink and green plaid shirt and told the cameraman he always has to burp when he’s nervous. He sang “Proud Mary” by Ike and Tina Turner in a very pinched voice that sounded like he was trying to do an impression. Steven asked him, “Did you eat a lot of paint chips as a child? American Idol has a higher standard here.” Michael claimed, “I can give you something higher standard” and started to sing another song. Randy cut him off: “Stop. God, stop.” Steven threw in a famous movie quote: “What we have here is a failure to communicate… vocally.” J. Lo observed that it “sounds like you’re singing in a voice that’s not your voice.” He said it sounded like “an imitation of a woman’s voice.” Trying to make him feel better, Steven told him, “You’re a natural for Broadway.” Hmm — don’t think so. Michael out of desperation, said, “I’ve been singing for years. I think people would tell me if I sucked.” Ouch. Even so, he was not deterred afterward: “I’m not going to give up, and I’m not going to let anybody tell me I can’t do it.”
Ashley Sullivan, 25, Springfield, Massachusetts, babbles when she’s nervous and hopes that maybe she can be “the first awkward Idol.” She admires Britney Spears and did her own awkward versions of her dance moves in the lobby. For good luck, she’d brought a picture of Britney Spears in her back pocket. She sang “Gimme Gimme” from Thoroughly Modern Millie, demonstrating a surprisingly powerhouse voice. I like this girl. She’s got a great personality, but she’s got a voice to match. Steven said, “Wow,” but nothing else. Ashley asked, tears springing to her eyes, “So is that a no?” She really turned on the waterworks. J. Lo told her she’s adorable, but “the way you sing and the way you act… is not for American Idol. It is for a musical; it is for Broadway.” Ashley told them she wants to be the first show-tune pop star, that the mainstream needs to get Liza Minelli. J. Lo said, “I love her.” Randy was not impressed: “It’s a no for today.” J. Lo and Steven both gave her yeses. Randy said, “I think they’re both insane.”
Victoria Huggins, 16, is avidly working for her 15 minutes of fame, providing video updates from American Idol, presumably on her blog, though she didn’t say (of course, that won’t be allowed with the competition starting). She had a strong southern accent, a million-watt smile and seemed like a little pageant star, wearing a little flowered dress with a rose-colored shrug. She sang “Midnight Train to Georgia” in a way that reminded me of the SNL parody of Miley Cyrus. J. Lo complimented the skirt and Steve, somewhat inappropriately, observed it had “just the right amount showing.” Victoria said, “I want to appeal to the boys, but I want to be a lady.” Then out of nowhere to Randy, she said, “Yo-yo, dog.” Randy claimed she has the “most personality ever on Idol.” Three yeses.
Sob story number two came from Melinda Ademi, whose familly are war refugees from Kosovo. They came to the U.S. after applying for the green card lottery. She had thick dark hair and wore a red sleeveless shirt, black leggings, and tennis shoes. Singing “If I Ain’t Got You,” she demonstrated a very nice voice. Steve liked that “you’re pretty and play it down.” He said, “Your singing was sweet, straight and beautiful.” Three yeses. “You won the lottery twice,” Steven told her.
Next was singing waitress Devyn Rush, 20, New Hope, Pennsylvania, who did “God Bless the Child.” She was overly enunciating words in her jazzy voice. A little cheesy. Steven was impressed: “That was a dessert to the lunch.” J. Lo loved it, too. Randy liked that her subdued look (just a plain blue shirt and jeans) made her look “like you’re not trying so hard.” He told her she has a really good voice with “just the right amount of sauce in there.” J. Lo advised her to start paying attention to her look, too. Three yeses.
Another montage of no’s, some of them funny, including Genise Deal, who did the Monkees song “I’m a Believer” and had the judges singing along.
Yoji “Pop” Asano, 25, from Japan, prepared by doing martial arts forms, chasing birds. J. Lo asked him for his story, and he thought for a long time before saying, “I’ve been imitating Michael Jackson since I was 2 years old.” Then revised it: “Before I was born.” But he didn’t want to do that, so he went with one of the songs that apparently the producers suggested auditioners do, “Party in the USA.” You couldn’t really tell what he’s singing because of the accent, but he did some crazy dancing, Michael Jackson style. J. Lo shouted, “It IS a party in the USA!” Not enough to get though to Hollywood, though.
Yet another montage of painful auditions, and then sob story number three, Brielle Von Hugel, 16, Staten Island. Her Dad was a member of a doo-wop group, instilling a love of singing in her. He suffered from throat cancer and is currently cancer-free. She did “Endless Love,” wearing a flower in her hair, a short brown dress and short boots. She definitely has potential. They called the father in before Steven told her, “I think you really sing beautiful. I say yes.” J. Lo agreed: “You’re young and you sound really beautiful.” She said she has a tiny little work to do, “but I’m going to say yes.” Randy chimed in: “I think you’ve got a good voice. Definitely have some work to do but definitely have potential.” (Stop copying me, Randy!)
The final audition, and final sob story, came in the form of Travis Orlando, 16, whose family had once lived in a shelter in the Bronx. He has a twin brother, and he’s cute, so the teens will like him. He wore a red message T-shirt and horn-rimmed glasses and did “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, giving it a little bit of a jazzy vibe, a little bit of a Michael Jackson feel. Some audible breaths but very nice. Steven wanted to hear something else, so he did “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. Randy liked his voice but told him he needs “to shake out the vibe.” J. Lo called it a “unique tone, almost sweet.” Randy, yes. Steven: “Guess where you’re going? Hollywood.” His brother and mom dashed in to hug him. Mother: “Oh, thank you, God.” They shook hands with the judges. The brothers hugged while crying.
Fifty-one people were off to Hollywood. Tomorrow night, the Big Easy, New Orleans.