Recap: American Idol 11×01, Year of One Thousand Dreams

American Idol is and always will be my first television love. I don’t think one single show can ever replace it in my heart as #1 or make me feel so many emotions so quickly. Having said that, I was absolutely elated when I woke up and realized, “Today is the day. Season 11.”

Season 11. How can a show still be good after 11 seasons? It’s not easy, as you’ll recall if you have been a fan for a few seasons. That last season with Simon was a struggle, and that’s coming from the #1 supporter of everything Simon Cowell puts out in the land of television. It just lost so much of its luster. Then along came two people named Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler who absolutely brought a new vibrant energy to the show. However, could they keep their newly found magic sparkle with Season 11 getting underway? In tonight’s two-hour premiere, the answer was an absolute yes.

The night started out with an absolutely fantastic and heart-wrenching montage, reminding us that American Idol has been on for over a decade. If that doesn’t shock you, I’m not quite sure what will. What started out as a summer throw-in talent competition has become a media juggernaut, churning out artists in various mediums- radio, film, stage, with a few even dipping into the literary world (I know you all read Clay Aiken’s memoir…just me? Ok.). You can’t deny the staying power of Idol when you see six year olds getting excited to see Kelly Clarkson announced as the winner of season one, then turning around 10 years later when they are finally old enough to audition for their own shot at superstardom. Once the montage wrapped and Ryan Seacrest, being perfect as always at his job, kicked off the show, I knew we had a good show on our hands.

One thing I am SO glad the Idol producers have figured out is that now that we are 11 seasons in, if someone is watching American Idol, it is because he or she has always watched American Idol. If someone has always watched American Idol, we don’t care to see audition after audition of people who are so bad they make us want to YouTube videos of William Hung, to remember at least what a great bad audition can be. While tonight did feature some awful people and awful reactions, helping people begin the road to their dreams coming true was the main focal point.
We started off the show with David Leathers, Jr. aka mini-Michael Jackson. In case you were watching and didn’t hear what this kid said, he is SEVENTEEN. I would have put him at 13 or 14 if I was feeling generous, but I knew that “Mister Steal Yo Girl” (as he says his friends call him) was going to impress all of us. He certainly didn’t fail to impress me. I loved his audition. His voice was smooth and great and so mature for a 17 year old that looks like a 14 year old. And he had all of the swagger needed for someone going to complete in the nation’s biggest talent competition.
Second up was Gabi Carubba, the “champion tap dancer”. Honestly, I think she should have auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance, seeing as she was so excited about meeting Nigel Lythgoe. She didn’t have a bad voice to be sure, but the judges comparing her to Luther Vandross is an absolute stretch if I’ve ever seen one. She seems like an extremely sweet girl, but if she gets swallowed up in Hollywood (which is extremely possible), I hope she finds her way into Cat Deeley’s arms quickly.

Brianna Faulk, Nico Starr, Molly Hurt, and Elise Testone were the next hopefuls of the night sent through to Hollywood, but they were sadly given only the “you get about 5 seconds of airtime for people to see you going through to Hollywood” treatment. Let me note quickly, however, that this is not always a bad thing. In season 8 how much of Kris Allen did we ever see before he sang “Man in the Mirror”? About six seconds. Truly. He was never shown singing and did not get a special treatment video package in the audition rounds, and look how far he went (he won season 8, in case you weren’t watching). Some of these people may surprise us.

Next to be thrown into the judges den was the extremely tall and incredibly young Shannon Magrane, who brought in her extensive family of sisters, mom, and dad (who formerly pitched for the Cardinals). After an incredibly awkward moment of Steven Tyler telling this underage girl how he she is in front of her entire family, Magrane began her rendition of “Something’s Got a Hold of Me”. She’s good. She’s not the best. She’ll never win, but people will remember her for her height.

Amy Brumfield, if not the best singer in the world, gave us the most interesting story and most quotable line of the night. “I live in a tent, in the woods.” She does, by the way, with her husband and dog. If you weren’t watching, the producers gave us a grand tour of the tent, complete with her explanation of “This is where the magic happens” when the camera was on the bed (what was her dog doing?) and “This is our bathroom” upon a viewing of the woods. Yes, she sounds like a nutcase. Yes, her husband and this random man there to support her were quite strange characters. Yes, she could easily be bested during Hollywood Week. However, isn’t there always that charming backwoods person on American Idol that has to be taken through? I thought of her as a less-talented version of Crystal Bowersox, personally.

Stephanie Renae, precious little girl that she is, was next for the night. She was just so nervous. Who wouldn’t be, auditioning for global superstars? However, excusing her lackluster performance to nerves cannot serve as a decent excuse 11 seasons in because we have got to find a superstar fast everyone. She’s a pretty girl, and once she opens up I can see her having a great voice, but I don’t feel like this is her year to even break into the semi-finals rounds.

The twist of the night finally came when Schyler Dixon came in for her audition. Last year, her brother Colton Dixon wowed audiences and judges, until he wasn’t chosen to be in the Top 24 contestants. Colton appeared again this year, but only as a supporter of his younger sister- or so he thought. As soon as Schyler entered the room, the judges remembered her brother and insisted that she go retrieve him from outside the room. Once inside, they begged him to audition until he finally agreed. Schyler went first, and even though she is young I loved the tone and quality of her voice and, although this sounds weird, the way she pronounced her words in certain parts. It was a classic sound that I could imagine in a smoky bar. When she finished, she slumped off stage (attitude check, sister) to let her brother perform. Colton chose to sing “Permanent” by David Cook, one of my favorite Idols. While it wasn’t perfect, it was a good song. He was definitely the most memorable audition of the night at that point. They both easily made it to Hollywood, but with Schyler’s “well that was unexpected” as she left the room, I feel most people could already be opposed to her attitude.

My official (calling it) FAVORITE of the night, Lauren Mink, was up next. She is a 25 year old who works with disabled adults and of course her video package almost made me cry. She is absolutely gorgeous and has so much charm. To top it off, homegirl sang “Country Strong” and in that moment stole my heart. I don’t really need to say anything else except that of course the judges adored her, I adore her, and I hope America adores her and she keeps singing the best songs from the best movies about being country strong (that would be Country Strong, everybody).

Ashlee Altise helped us near the end of the night (2 hours is a LONG show), and I can just smell a Fantasia in the making. Was her voice superior? No. Did she have on the strangest outfit? Yes. Was she entertaining with her weird little “JoyHop” (probably going to become a “thing” as she goes on)? Yes, but nothing we haven’t seen before. I predict she could get through Hollywood, but won’t be surprised if she ends up sinking and being a bit of a diva during the group rounds.

Good ol’ boy W.T. Thompson got his interesting story on our televisions tonight- he quit his job to audition for American Idol. His wife is SIX MONTHS pregnant. His voice is mediocre. This all sounds like a bad combination to me. Yes he made it, but I couldn’t tell you what he sang and I wouldn’t recognize him walking down the street. Man better work his butt of before Hollywood if he has a prayer of a chance. Either that, or he needs to go beg for his job back so quickly.

Beautiful wonderful gorgeous NBA dancer Brittany Kerr was the second to last contestant sent through to Hollywood tonight. She looks like Carrie Underwood if Carrie Underwood had been put together in her first audition. Yes, Carrie is a blonde Country bombshell these days, but back when she showed up in her frumpy jeans and pink t-shirt, she wasn’t something to write home about. Brittany, on the other hand, has the looks but not quite the voice of a Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson. You see me raving about how gorgeous she looked, but I can’t remember what she possibly could have sang, or even what style of music it was. However, I hope she goes decently far because she is a great dancer and beautiful, and I always wish people could dance on Idol.

Finally, the last contestant of the night. Phillip Phillips. No, I did not look away and type his first name twice. His name is Phillip Phillips. Phillips Phillips, Jr. to be exact. His daddy owns a pawn shop that he works at, and he has more charm than any of the contestants that auditioned prior to him combined this evening. Plus, his mom’s huge crush on Ryan Seacrest (“You get more handsome every year”) was just adorable. Phillip had a guitar, but chose to sing without it. In that moment, I was so afraid because I saw something I recognized…the moves of Taylor Hicks. If you don’t remember him, it is probably because your mind has blocked out every strange performance this season 5 winner ever gave. Yes, winner, against the odds of Chris Daughtry, Mandisa, Elliot Yamin, and Katharine McPhee. It is probably still American Idol’s greatest mystery. Anyhow, I loved Phillip’s voice but those out of control moves have simply got to go. Immediately. He sang a second song with his guitar, and that was just fantastic. He performed “Thriller” with such enthusiasm and originality that I could see that as a later performance and iTunes single for the show. The judges love him, the internet already loves him, and I’m holding out on my love card to see if his stage technique improves by or during Hollywood.

Well, we’ve done it. Two hours worth of those who made it through, and we didn’t even have to talk about those who didn’t. While tonight had some easily forgettable contestants, I would definitely watch out for Colton Dixon, Lauren Mink, and Phillip Phillips as the competition moves into Hollywood in a couple of weeks. I won’t waste time talking of any of the odd antics of those who were rejected tonight, but I will leave a picture of a certain Steven Tyler.


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