Following up Wednesday's two-hour premiere in Savannah, "American Idol" rolled into Pittsburgh last night for, surprisingly, the first time in the show's history. The first in a series of one-hour audition episodes, Thursday night's "Idol" yielded chiefly great, or at least moderately good, singers. Keeping in line with the show's goal (as of last season, at least) of becoming a nurturing environment, only one performer whose audition was shown did not move on to the Hollywood round.
And so, we'll be sounding off on the best performances of the night (in no particular order). Which of the contestants had the best auditions, and which seem most likely to make "Idol"'s hallowed Top 24? Read on to find out.
Hee Jun Han
Hands up -- who saw this one coming? Hee Jun sure didn't. The Korean-born contestant seemed disconnected leading up to his performance, but surprised even the judges with a pitch-perfect rendition of "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You." "I am really impressed and shocked," said Randy, while Steven mused that Hee Jun "could be an American Idol" -- at which point it was the 22-year-old's turn to be stupefied. Not bad for a guy whose own family didn't even know he could sing.
Remember last night, when we compared David "Mr. Steal Your Girl" Leathers to Justin Bieber? Meet the Biebz's true doppelganger. The 15-year-old Eben Franckewitz has been practicing for the "Idol" stage practically his entire life, and possesses a very natural soprano that impressed the judges enough to earn him a ticket to Hollywood. Both the upside and downside to Eben is that he has a lot of potential, meaning that his voice isn't fully seasoned yet. So if he doesn't stay long, don't fret -- he'll be fine.
Reed is this season's definition of "effortless" thus far. A performer who began singing at the age of two and performed with his family band, the 26-year-old nanny may be Season 11's answer to Casey Abrams -- he even has the "air upright bass" down, or so it seems. In what is undoubtedly a first for the show, he performed a jazzy version of the "Family Matters" theme (seriously), and earned a resounding yes from the judges. Look for the Wisconsin native to slide effortlessly through this competition.
It's funny how certain song choices can have a deeper emotional effect depending on the singer. If it seemed like the 24-year-old Hallie sang Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" with powerful conviction, it may be due to her back story. The Baltimore native had hit rock bottom years before, nearly taking her own life. But with the help of her husband, Hallie survived, and now moving forward to Hollywood.
The New Yorker sounded like a Justin Timberlake impersonator at first, even capping off his initial song choice -- an original tune -- with a bona fide Justin impression. But Creighton stunned the judges on his performance of The Jackson 5's "Who's Loving You," exhibiting a "wild and crazy" vocal style that is undoubtedly unique for the competition. Sure, they're impressed -- but will "Idol" fans also fall in love with his off-kilter voice should he make it to the voting rounds?
Also worth checking out: the return of tenth season contestant Travis Orlando, mobile DJ Erika Van Pelt's endearing rendition of Carole King, Samantha Novacek and her amazing planking sister.
What did you think of last night's episode? Do you like the new direction the show is going in with its televised auditions? Let us know, and remember that there's a special night of "Idol" this Sunday, January 22, after the NFL's NFC Championship Game.