American Idol continued down the audition highway to Pittsburgh in the season 11 search for a superstar. This audition show was only one hour long, which is a nice length after the two hour premiere. I think the Idol producers automatically know how to win me over because they played a video package with “Black and Yellow” as the background song. With 10 seasons under their belts, the Idol team can put together perfect montages in their sleep, which they proved multiple times in this show.
The goal of the Pittsburgh audition, in my expert opinion, had to have been “find the most insane people we can possibly find in this city, but make sure they sing, and we’ll put them through” because the quirkiest people in the world were all over America’s televisions screens, starting with our very first contestant, Heejun Han.
Heejun is possibly the most starstruck and nervous person I have ever seen audition for American Idol. He was nervously telling the cameras how he thought he was good, but then arrived at American Idol auditions and saw people that were so much better than himself, and how he wasn’t sure he could even audition for the judges. However, he had an innocent persona that was really winning me over, so I was so sad that we were about to see our first trainwreck of the night right out of the bag. After shaking out (and shaking out, and shaking out, and shaking out) his nerves, Heejun opened his mouth to sing “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” To the shock of everyone in America, he was SO great! He had such a mature and beautiful quality to his voice that the apparent nerves were nearly overlooked. Also, good job on being original because I’m not sure that I have ever seen someone audition with that song, at least not in recent memory (and believe me, I have a great audition memory). The judges naturally LOVED him, and after all his arm shaking (look up a video if you didn’t see the show) he grabbed his golden ticket and ran into the swarm of friends waiting outside for him, who all claimed they had never ever heard him sing before. Well, I hope we all get to hear much more of him and see more of his shaking arms throughout the competition.
The second contestant of the evening was, again, an absolute nut job; however, I can’t decide yet if he was nutty in a good way or a bad way. I liked his voice, but he needs to rein some of his energy in. Reed Grimm was his name, and he auditioned for Idol as an already seasoned performer. His parents had a band, and when he and his siblings were born, they were automatically added to the show, meaning Reed has been performing since he was 2 years old. He chose, interestingly enough, to sing the “Family Guy” theme song. Song choice is so crucial on Idol, and while this would have been shot down so quickly in later rounds of the show, it does make him stick in the minds of the viewers and judges. Plus, I loved the soulful, jazzy quality of his voice. Not something I think we’ll be hearing on mainstream radio anytime soon, but he is for sure a quality performer.
A short couple of clips were shown of Adam Marcellus, a pop/R&B singer, and Chase Likens, a country singer, were shown. I really liked the little bit I saw of Adam, but was not so much feeling Chase. I found him extremely forgettable and can’t even imagine him making an impact during Hollywood week. I’m hoping Adam surprises us with some great performances.
Next up was one of the more annoying moments of the night, in my opinion. This is mostly because I absolutely, in no way, ever, think planking is funny. Sadly, planking was such a big part of the next segment, even stealing the spotlight from Idol hopeful Savannah Novacek, who was actually auditioning. Her sister, whose name I did not write down, planks while her sister sings because “it helps her sing better”. I mean, maybe it does help her sing better, but she had a fairly normal country voice in any case. I will admit, her vocal was confident and she was consistent, but when Idol has produced such country stars as Carrie Underwood and Kellie Pickler, there is no room for anything less than absolutely wonderful. Randy said her voice reminded him of Karen Carpenter or Faith Hill. To me, she was somewhere stuck between Taylor Swift and Lauren Alaina, so I will probably forget about her and her planking sister in five seconds.
Let me note, also, that the American Idol producers should have used this planking bit as an opportunity to get a lot of people to plank into an 11 for Season 11; instead, a lot of people just ran to the middle of the floor and planked, which wasn’t funny or unique. A short misstep in a good night.
Creighton Fraker was the next contestant of the night. My first reaction- who is this crazy person? My second reaction- is this Justin Timberlake’s unknown younger brother? My third reaction- why are you doing vocal ornamentations on literally every note? He came in and sang a song that he made up on the way to the audition from New York. However, it wasn’t some kind of miracle song…it was just a song about the judges picking people to win American Idol. So…that was a song. Again, audiences will remember it, so that’s good. As far as his voice goes, I could take it or leave it. I cannot truly tell you what it sounds like other than one million runs. I like when people can do runs and put ornamentation on notes, but this was just absolutely overdoing it. Calm down for Hollywood, Fraker.
Precious PRECIOUS BABY (sorry I’m excited about this next contestant) Even Frankewitz went next and if he did not steal every single heart in America, I don’t know who could. He is so young. I can’t believe he is even 15. The video story they did on him was so great. His parents were just so supportive and he was so polite and excited to be following his dream, and he even noted what we were all thinking: “People say I look like Justin Bieber.” He sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” for his audition and wow does that boy have a pure voice. It is definitely not the most mature, and doesn’t even have as much character as 14 year old Bieber’s voice had, but I think with some work this kid can do well. I hope the pressure of Hollywood week isn’t too much because I’d love to see him get into the voting rounds.
Bringing in the big second chance sob story of the night was Travis Orlando, an Idol hopeful who was cut last year because he was not deemed ready by the judges. He sang “Isn’t She Lovely” and if he wasn’t ready last year, I definitely thought he was worthy of a golden ticket. He had that smooth R&B voice that fit so well with the song, and put in some nice runs without overdoing it Creighton style. Then, when you think he could possibly be cut by the judges for still not being quite so ready, we were bombarded with his story that made my friends cry, and me get chills all over. After the audition last year, Travis’ mom left her twin sons and ailing husband to be with a new family. They were evicted from their apartment and currently living in a shelter together. Travis dropped out of high school to help take care of his father. To top it off, his father couldn’t be at the audition because he is on dialysis and his brother was away at college. Just when all hope seemed to be gone, Travis scored that golden ticket. Now, Mr. Orlando better work hard to impress in Hollywood and keep impressing us.
At this point in the show, I just had to make an observation I hope everyone else was making- the observation that Jennifer Lopez is the most beautiful woman in the world. Like, find a more beautiful woman and show me. I’m sorry what? You can’t? I can’t either! Back to auditions…
Wedding singer Erica Van Pelt was up next to sing for the judges, and I really did appreciate her performance. No, she doesn’t have a voice that will sell millions of records, possibly not even sell a song that will climb the iTunes charts, but she did have a confidence and presence that will hold the attention of an audience. This has to be from her years of performing as a wedding singer, just having fun entertaining people at weddings. I liked her deep full voice, but there was just that one little level of power missing that, if developed, could take this young woman far.
Now, it wouldn’t be American Idol without a train wreck moment, right? In Pittsburgh, the Idol team only graced us with one contestant featured not advancing to Hollywood- Shane Bruce. This boy. This interesting, young, coal-mining boy. His video package definitely included a clip of him singing a song in his coal-miners outfit. However, what really got me going was his answer when the judges asked what he was going to sing. His answer was, and I quote, “Have y’all seen the movie Shrek? You know that Hallelujah song they play? I’m singing that.” That Hallelujah song. From Shrek. Does he not understand that “Hallelujah” is definitely one of the greatest songs ever written? To add flame to the fire, the poor boy was just so mediocre, and didn’t really seem to even care all that much that he was performing on American Idol for his shot at fame. As I already said, the judges did not send him through to Hollywood. He was very calm about it, and didn’t mention coming back to audition again. I honestly can’t really figure out why the team decided to feature this audition as one to show. It was just…meh. Except for the Shrek quote. I’m still processing that one.
Before the final commercial break, we were given a teaser of a contestant who, according to J-Lo, “could win it all”. I was so excited to see this one, and that is when I was introduced to this year’s “Too cool for school” contestant, Hallie Day. Honestly, did this girl care that she was on American Idol? I mean, I’m all about unassuming artists, but there is just something about being in front of Randy, Steven, and Jennifer that would get just about anybody excited. Hallie just kind of…stood there. She dropped out of school at 16 and moved to New York City to be a part of a girl group (if you could all see this picture, they were just TOO COOL for anything. It’s great). She has also been married for 6 months to a great guy who helped her overcome some drug addictions, which is always a good thing, but I’m still not sure about her overly nonchalant attitude. She sang “I Will Survive” for the judges, and they were just so impressed, raving about how unique she was and how captivating she was, even leaving Steven Tyler calling for her to sing another song just to hear her again. Personally, she was not the most unique person I have ever heard audition for Idol, and definitely not the best performer. She just sort of stood there with her shoulders slumped and head so far forward I cannot imagine that she was comfortable. Oh well. She advanced to Hollywood, so I really do hope she grows on me because I am all about a good story of overcoming your demons and achieving great things.
So while Pittsburgh may not have trumped my favorite from last night (still all about Lauren Mink over here), I am absolutely going to be keeping my eye out on Eben Frankowich, with a hopeful eye on Travis Orlando, and a side-eye to Hallie Day because I’m still not sure how I feel about her.
Plank on, Pittsburgh.