American Idol: St. Louis auditions
The narrative was clear after Thursday's American Idol: St. Louis, Missouri, is where country megastar Carrie Underwood auditioned for Idol and maybe St. Louis auditioner Lauren Gray will be this season's star.
Just in case we missed the point, Ryan Seacrest summed it up at the end of the episode: "Eight years ago, Carrie Underwood launched her career from St. Louis. Maybe this is the start for Lauren Gray, or one of the 46 hopefuls heading to Hollywood."
Or maybe one of the dozens of other golden ticket holders from other cities on the audition tour, whom we've had only scant glimpses of since the season premiere.
The good news is the audition episodes are over. And next week, Ryan promised, will be "the most emotional and exhausting Hollywood week ever" (though doesn't he say something similar every season? Mind you, I don't think we've seen anybody fall off the stage and hurt themselves before).
The other good news is that Idol saved us some choice bits for this last audition show and Lauren Gray was one of them. Lauren had as much vocal power as Adele, whose "One and Only" she sang, but I heard Amy Winehouse-like flavour too. Though her voice broke a little reaching for a high note, Steven Tyler told her it was "the sexiest thing on the planet" and she was fearless. The 22-year-old from Hardie, Ark., is definitely a Season 11 contender.
So is Johnny Keyser, 22, from Pompano Beach, Fla. He sang Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" like an old soul: beautiful tone, beautiful control, beautiful phrasing, beautiful face to go with the voice. I think it's the first time I've seen the judges ask an auditioner to keep singing.
"You know you're gonna be a star, right?" Jennifer Lopez asked him. "Keep singing!"
We only saw six people sing at length on Thursday night, five of whom got golden tickets. The rest of the show was a grab-bag. Along with the usual stuff -- Steven communing with the adoring masses, Ryan hanging with auditioners and their families, crowd scenes, snippets of bad auditions -- we got a preview of Madonna's "Give Me All Your Luvin'" video, bons mots from Ryan's cranky cab driver and a tribute to The Artist.
"We got to blame somebody for all this congestion that you people are going to create," Walter the cabbie griped. "They said 20,000 people are going to be here all trying to get their day in the sun. Beats the hell out of working, right?"
Walter was pretty amusing. The tribute to The Artist, the silent movie widely expected to win this year's Oscar for Best Film, was a head scratcher. We were told, "Some auditions are best seen and not heard" and then watched a silent segment called "The Contestant," in which a chap in a white fedora and tie elicited laughter and pained facial expressions from the judges, with title cards that said things like "I'm amused by your off-key rendering ... dawg." They even threw in a shot of Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier from The Artist. Not sure what it all had to do with a singing competition but anyway...
Back to the meat of the matter: the singers.
For the second night in a row, we had a single mom try out, complaining that her ex held her back from pursuing a singing career. Rachelle Lamb, 26, of Mountainview, Mo., turned up with cute blond daughter in tow and gave a hearty, twangy rendition of "Find Somebody New" by Faith Hill, a song her ex supposedly hated. She got three yeses.
Justin Bieber-haired Reis Kloeckener was sort of like a real-life version of Glee, but without the slushies. He said he'd been bullied in high school to the point he considered quitting, then he joined the school choir and turned things around. He sang "Lean on Me." Steven said it moved him to tears and made him "all crazy inside." It wasn't a tearjerker for me. Reis had a pleasant voice, but too breathy and not very strong, I thought.
Ethan Jones, 22, of Pontoon Beach, Ill., came in with a hard-luck story about his dad, with whom he used to play in a country band, who was in rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. No tears from Steven on that one, but he said he could relate and wanted to meet the father when he got out of rehab (he seemed like he meant it, too). Ethan did a nicely raspy version of Edwin McCain's "I'll Be," got his golden ticket and a tearful phone call to his pop.
The night's unsuccessful contestant was Mark Ingram, 28, an auditor at the Hilton hotel where the auditions were being held. His was a cautionary tale about why all those co-workers who tell people they sing really well should not be trusted. Mark brought a gaggle of supportive co-workers into the audition room with him, but his voice -- while not terrible overall -- broke badly on Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed." So it was back to auditing for Mark.
And that's it until Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CTV when the Hollywood Week shows begin. Bring 'em on, I say.
(The photos of Lauren, Johnny and Reis are by Michael Becker for Fox.)