Blissfully, they kept things short and sweet on this installment of “American Idol,” the fourth of the audition shows, this one in Louisiana. After the non-event that was the previous show, with its ridiculous “incident,” it was nice to see the show get back to what it does best: finding new talent. While there was at least one completely unnecessary bad audition (less bad than simply subpar), for the most part, it focused on the positive, to the point that even the other highlighted misfire was handled with good-natured aplomb- looking at you, “Mushroom”!
We got the ball rolling with one Megan Miller, a 22-year-old Louisiana native on crutches, who actually postponed surgery to audition! I’m guessing that the typical doctor does not prescribe skipping out on potentially life-threatening- or at least, leg-threatening- surgeries for the sake of auditioning for a glorified karaoke contest, but try telling that to Megan, who would not be denied. “Something’s Got a Hold on Me,” indeed. Thankfully, her voice was as bright as her spirit and it was off to the hospital before she could be off to Hollywood.
There was clearly something askew alright about Charlie Askew, but it didn’t make this socially awkward young man any less charming. The 17-year old wowed with a sterling rendition of one of the harder singers one can try to emulate, Freddie Mercury and the aptly-chosen Queen’s “Breakthru,” followed by the song “Nature Boy,” which has been covered by everyone from Nat King Cole to Frank Sinatra to David Bowie. It was a perfect song choice, and teh judges were understandably charmed by this shy gnome-like young man. Perhaps needless to say, Askew, with a name like that, was a Bowie man all the way. It was nice to see this odd-but-endearing bird get four yeses from the panel.
Another contestant that was nominated by a relative to be on the show, in this case by her grandmother, Maddie Assel was a 17-year-old Virginia native that did a somewhat off-kilter but solid version of the Beatles’ classic “Oh! Darling!” Assel had a genuinely unique tone that set her apart from the rest and I liked her curly, unwieldy mane and dorky glasses that couldn’t hide the cuteness of the girl behind them. This adorkable miss got across-the-board yeses, and justifiably so.
We got a mercifully brief bad singer montage next, framed by a “True Blood” spoof, redubbed “True Bad,” har de har. Most of it was nothing spectacular, but I did like the lady who acted like a chicken. Maybe she should have covered this. I did get a kick out of the hopelessly amusing Chris Barthel, a LA native that Nicki dubbed “Mushroom.” He was such a sweetheart and so relentlessly upbeat that I didn’t even mind that his audition sounded less like Adam Lambert than a train running over Lambert as he attempted to continue singing. His hilariously dramatic gestures and neck swiveling and the like ensured that the panel had a great time, too, with the mushroom jokes flying fast and furious, my favorite being Nicki’s “Thank you very Mushroom” bit.
Paul Jolley was a 22-year-old Tennessee native that had a tone as nice as he was, which earned him a pass for his solid take on a Rascal Flatts song, but it was the equally nice but sonically astounding Dr. Calvin Peters that most impressed. This singing doctor would be a lot more preferable to the likes of Patch Adams, to be sure. Swinging for the fences with a Maxwell song, “Whenever Wherever, Whatever,” the Texas native was not playing around when it came to making with the singing. He got yeses across the board as well he should have. I would have to say he was my favorite of the night by far.
Next up was a rapid-fire montage of auditions that included Michelle Montezeri, 19, a blonde hippie-chick Florida native that did a super-soulful take on the New Wave-classic “Tainted Love” that I would have liked to have heard more of; Breanna Steer, 18, another R&B-influenced singer with blonde locks and dark features- Cajun, perhaps? – and Brandy Hotard, a 26-year-old LA native that did a slam-bang take on “Hell on Heels.” They all got the golden ticket.
Fireman Dustin Watts, a 27-year-old LA native was next, and Nicki clearly liked what she saw before he even opened his mouth. I like flirty Nicki almost as much as I like sage-advice Nicki, even if what she has to say is decidedly less constructive. Mr. Watts bellowed out a version of Garth Brooks’ “She’s Every Woman” that ensured him a pass to Hollywood faster than you can say “Fire!” in a crowded room.
The quickly-paced show wrapped up with the second-best performer of the night, one Burnell Taylor, who had survived the Katrina floods that took his home and lived to sing the tale. This bright, shining star-in-the-making tackled “I’m Here,” from the musical “The Color Purple” and knocked it out of the park. As Keith aptly assessed, “You could turn an atheist.” Off to Hollywood this sweetheart of a guy went, making it a grand total of 35 in all.
I liked the pacing of this show much more than previous entries. True, there was that throwaway bad singer and the so-so bad singer montage to wade through, but this time out, we got a lot of genuine talent, with little time wasted on the mediocre or subpar. I can certainly see why “AI” producers/the FOX network would want to stretch the show out a bit to fill up time slots, but it just plays better when it focuses on the talent and the talent alone. My advice: keep it simple and to the point, and focus on the good stuff, not the freak show aspect. As this particular show got more done in an hour than the others did in two, it sort of proves my point for me, doesn’t it?
What did you think? Should “Idol” stick to a relatively stealth hour of great auditions rather than an expanded two hour show that highlights lesser talent? Or the more, the merrier? Let me know in the comments section!