American Idol 11×07- Gateway to the West

It is so fitting that the final round of auditions for season 11 of American Idol were held in St. Louis, Missouri, as it has the nickname of being the “Gate to the West”. After all, what is in the west? Hollywood! What are these hopefuls going after? Golden tickets to Hollywood!

The show opened with a reminiscent moment of a certain Carrie Underwood, who auditioned waaaaay back in season 4 in St. Louis. If you are reading this blog you are most absolutely certain of the name Carrie Underwood, and what that name carries. You probably have all of her albums, you may have even seen her in concert, and you could have even seen her abysmal performance in the still-inspiring Soul Surfer. It is incredible the changes Carrie has gone through in the past few years. Yes, she has always been absolutely gorgeous, but now she is a country bombshell, where as before she was more of a sweet small-town Oklahoma homecoming queen. Her story is inspiring, and her ever-growing list of awards and accolades proves that winning American Idol can mean a career that rivals seasoned veterans. However, will we find a star so successful as Carrie Underwood this time?

The night started with someone that I think can be a very very very special part of this competition, and I will honestly be surprised if he doesn’t make it to the top 12. The name is Johnny, Keyser, and he truly has the full package. He was raised by his father, who he says made “a pretty good mom and dad”, noting that they are “more like brothers.” There were moments of them at the lake, moments of them making meals together, and of course his dad is super supportive of his son’s dream. Johnny currently works in an Italian restaurant, and if he sings to the customers then they are certainly getting their money’s worth, whether or not the food is authentic or from a microwave dinner. He opted to sing “A Change Is Gonna Come” and my goodness gracious there is some soul in this white boy! He honestly had a perfect audition, and he has the right dose of confidence to be a star, without it seeming like he knows he is the best thing to walk up on the Idol stage all day. The judges kept doing this funny banter with him where they would stop him to ask a question, and then be like “keep going!” It was funny, but I personally would have felt so thrown off and scared the entire time. J-Lo, always the encourager, looked at him point blank and said, “You know you’re gonna be a star, right?” If Jennifer Lopez ever said that to me, I would die on the spot. Johnny, however, didn’t die, but sailed through to Hollywood, where I hope we see great things.

The second contestant of the night was Rachelle Lamb, who is auditioning for American Idol as much as for her daughter as for herself. Currently going through a divorce, it has always been Rachelle’s dream to be a star, but her man held her back. Honestly, I feel like this is a theme we’ve heard so many times this season. I’m not lessening the truth of these women’s stories, I’m just confused because I don’t typically feel we hear that this often. Ultimately, Rachelle wants a better life for her daughter. By the way, her daughter is PRECIOUS. If they put her on stage with her mom, there will be votes pouring in nonstop. As far as the actual audition, I love this girl’s country voice. In my mind, I just kept thinking “Faith Hill Faith Hill Faith Hill” because her entire demeanor reminds me of Hill, who has obviously had a fantastic career in Country music. The judges all loved it, with Jennifer especially noting her love for the melody in Rachelle’s voice, which I absolutely agree with. I think she has a shot of getting to the live shows.

Uh-oh, everyone. It’s that point of the show. Here come the disasters! There were some odd choices in St. Louis. A quartet? This isn’t The Glee Project. The worst Elvis impersonator, yet not singing an Elivis song. A girl with the strangest voice and largest pink wig? And of course Oliver McCraby, who stated that “Music is my wife.” That’s creepy enough to warrant a “let’s just move along”…

Reese Kloeckner was up next, and I am sure many people were reaching for the tissues during his pre-audition interview. Reese was a victim of serious bullying in high school, as he went from a very small private school to a public school with thousands of students. He wasn’t used to such a large number, and didn’t know where he fit into this new environment. Because of this, he was an easy target for  bullies to make fun of, and he didn’t even want to continue going to school. However, one day one of the choir teachers heard him singing, later on convincing him that he needed to join the choir. Instantly things became better for Reese, as he had finally found a place he truly felt that he was accepted. He sang the always-inspiring “Lean On Me”, and although I was a bit unsure for the first few seconds, his voice really grew on me. His voice is sort of reminiscent of David Archuleta, but not exactly the same, and I don’t love him as much as I love David. It cannot be denied that he is good, though. Steven told Reese that his performance made him “tear up and get all crazy inside.” I love Steven Tyler for this; he can be an absolutely insane, screaming rockstar one minute, and a big softie the next minute. Obviously the judges all loved him and sent him through. I’m simply worried that being so innocent and nice could get Reese eaten alive in Hollywood. Let’s hope for the best!

Ethan Jones was up next, with yet another story that just broke my heart and had me rooting for his success. He dropped out of school to begin pursuing a music career with his father, as the two played in a band together. In fact, his dad was a local celebrity in the St. Louis music scene at one time. Sadly, not everything was as good as it could have seemed when Ethan dropped out of school; Jones’ father began drinking heavily, eventually becoming very dependent on alcohol, to the point of checking himself into rehab. This moment was so sad because you could just see the pain this caused Ethan because he and his father are so close, and probably so alike. Steven did note that he isn’t mad or resentful toward his father, but is in fact glad that he was enough of a man to admit that he needed help. Ethan sang one of my personal favorites, Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be”. This man has a voice that needs to be heard. I could truly imagine him immediately cutting a record, going for a sound that falls along the lines of The Fray or One Republic. Strangely, after he finished singing, Ethan began talking about how he sings country music, which is not a direction I would see him going, and truly not a direction I think he should go in for his career. I think he is the type of artist who needs a vehicle like American Idol to help him find the place he fits in; this could really be a moment where he realizes that while he was singing country, adult contemporary pop may be more where his voice lies. I hope he does well in Hollywood.

Hotel auditor Mark Ingram was up next, baffling me, my friends, and probably millions of viewers at home. He actually works as an auditor at the hotel in which auditions were taking place. I can’t imagine how he possibly had time to come audition for American Idol because after he listed his many obligations, I’m surprised he ever takes a moment to breathe during the day. Many of his hotel co-workers came with him to his audition, praising him before the judges heard him sing. They were just adamant that he has this great singing voice, and that he is always singing at work. The latter statement absolutely had to be a lie. He must not ever sing at work, and simply wanted people to come watch him sing. I can’t imagine that anyone would ever beg him to sing while on the job. The thing is, when he started his audition of “Overjoyed” by Stevie Wonder, it wasn’t terrible. It was fairly pleasant to listen to, which I was scared about based upon the way he was being portrayed. Sadly, the audition crashed into the ground very quickly, as Ingram was feeling a bit too bold about his vocal abilities. Aren’t those truly the worst singers? I mean, you have your great singers who can do anything. Then you have your bad singers who pretty much know to never sing. The problem is when you have your average singers who THINK they are the next Mariah Carey. Mark falls into that category. The ways he began using his voice were just painful. I needed it to stop, and although it did for a moment, he began singing “Part Time Lovers”, which was absolutely no better. His co-workers stood by the belief that he was great, which hopefully made him feel better as he was rejected unanimously by the judges.

The last contestant of the night was Lauren Gray, who credits her dad for teaching her everything that she knows about music. In fact, she plays with in a southern rock band with her dad, in their hometown of Hardy, Arkansas. Her family seems so sweet and genuine (what family that own a florist and bridal shop wouldn’t?!), and of course they support Lauren to the fullest. She went for the big money and auditioned with Adele’s “One and Only”. I just always get so nervous when people sing Adele because only Adele can sing Adele. However, Lauren really brought it in her audition, and had the emotion and quality in her voice that is necessary when singing a song of this caliber. I was just very thoroughly impressed with her. The best part about it was the unique tricks she put into the song, making it completely her own. This was not an Adele wannabe performance. This was a girl singing a song she feels connected to and putting her own heart and soul into it. This translated easily to the judges, especially Jennifer. If you will remember, it was announced last year that Jennifer Lopez and Mark Anthony were separating. These auditions are taped months in advance, so this was most likely in the midst of all of that business. It’s really very sad because that was such a personal moment, and at first I felt a bit uncomfortable. However, in looking at the situation again, I believe it truly showed that when a great singer sings a great song, it can touch people and take them to a new place. Lauren Gray is a unique talent and whether or not she has unfathomable success on the Idol stage, I hope she can find a career for herself in the music industry.

Overall, I think St. Louis was probably my favorite audition city for season 11. There are so many contestants I’m keeping an eye out for from this city. Johnny Keyser, Rachelle Lamb, and Lauren Gray all could do well in the competition, in my opinion. However, we all know that with Hollywood coming, everything could change. Hollywood week weeds out people faster than the blink of an eye, and many we won’t even know have come and gone. In the final preview of the night for next week, many of my favorite contestants from the auditions were showcased again, and I love so many of them! I want everyone to win this year! We’ll see what happens as American Idol Season 11 moves on past the auditions!


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