Wednesday night’s two-hour season premiere of “American Idol” was either incredibly predictable or somewhat infuriating, depending on how much pop culture news one has been following over the past few months. If one was already aware of the Nicki Minaj- Mariah Carey diva-off that had been teased and talked about, the premiere was about what one would expect: much ado about nothing. If not, well, I know my apology isn’t much, but I’m sorry you had to sit through meaningful arguments about furry headwear and fake British accents.
Seriously though, props to Keith Urban for sitting between the two all night. He didn’t get too many words in all night, though. Maybe that’s what they hired him as — a buffer while the two ladies talk about “Mean Girls” quotes and Randy Jackson — gasp — tells the contestants whether or not they’re already in it to win it.
But hey, some singers were able to pull away the spotlight from the judges for a few minutes (or in some cases, a few seconds) last night. Let’s count down the best ones, shall we?
Frankie Ford – “Sweet Dreams”
Frankie sings for money on the New York subway (where was HE when I lived there?! I only ever got mariachi bands). Even before his audition began, I was already sold on the guy because of his can-do/will-do attitude — “I have every intention of outworking everyone here,” he said. His audition of “Sweet Dreams” begins a bit rockily, but he brought it home with a big finish and an impassioned vocal. As Nicki says, he doesn’t have the best voice, but recall that the best voice doesn’t always (in fact, RARELY) wins the competition.
Sarah Restuccio – “Mama’s Song”/”Super Bass”
If you didn’t watch the premiere, you’re probably looking at the above duo of songs and are utterly flabbergasted. HEY, IT’S OK, I WAS TOO! Sarah, an outdoorsy country girl whose away-from-audition montage recalled last season’s Skylar Laine, started with a faithful rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Mama’s Song” that would have had her through to Hollywood anyway. Then she rapped Nicki’s “Super Bass.” And was arguably even better at it. I know Colt Ford sort of has the market on country rap, but Sarah could totally be the fusion genre’s leading lady.
Angela Miller – “Mama Knows Best”
“Idol” has had its fair share of so-called “sob stories” over the years. Angela’s won’t really make one sob per se, but she’s had trouble hearing all her life — 40 percent hearing loss in one ear, 20 in the other. But fortunately for Angela, she’s a baller and doesn’t let it affect her superb voice, probably the best of the day. “I haven’t felt that all day,” said Minaj, “that thing that makes me feel something in my soul.” Her performance had just that — soul. She’s through, and I expect her to keep going through for awhile.
Ashlee Feliciano – “Put Your Records On”
Ashlee and her family adopt children whose medical backstories are less than stellar. Her voice? Take out the ‘less than,’ dawg! She does Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On,” and it’s spot-on and faithful to the original — which, in the audition rounds, is totally fine. It’s tough to say if she’s one of those contestants who will actually go far, but she seems to be a good fit for the mid- to low-tempo adult alternative crowd. And seeing her whole family was super cute!
Gurpreet Singh Sarin – “Sunday Morning”
A.K.A. THE TURBANATOR. With a nickname like that (plus a real name that has a word one letter off from ‘sing’), what could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot of things, but thankfully for Gurpreet, it was smooth sailing with a soulful “Sunday Morning.” Frankly, I’m more interested in seeing him color coordinate all his turbans throughout the year (he says he has 40-50 of them), but also have a feeling that the best is yet to come from him.
Aaaaand… as is custom with the season premiere (and with New York auditions in general), the show had its share of people who really just had no business being in front of the judges. But it’s all about TV ratings, my friends! Check out below the three that really stood out in a bad way.
First there was James Bae, a 15-year-old wannabe Justin Bieber who sings in his room as though it were a concert. Sadly, his version of “One Less Lonely Girl” wasn’t even pitchy, because there wasn’t much pitch to begin with. But Nicki loved him (in one of those ‘ohhhh, honey‘ sort of ways), and wants to do a collaboration with him one day.
Benjamin Gaisey’s crinkly red suit made as much noise as he did singing. His vocal was incredibly off, but his pelvic thrusts of glory were awwwwright. It was one of the first ‘welcome to the show’ moments for Urban, who could not even deal, eventually hiding under his desk during the audition (“It’s not safe!” he called).
And finally, Albert Chang decided to do something with his voice. Something that involved making it go really high and sound like he got shrunk to a miniscule size and was crying for help. “Your range is better than Mariah’s!” said Nicki, which was easily the funniest part of the audition.
We’ll finish off this recap with some quick thoughts that didn’t necessarily warrant discussion up top:
- The “Idol” crew is trying something new this year: fans can nominate someone who they believe should get a chance to audition, and then one of the judges goes and surprises the soul out of them and brings them to the audition room to sing. Randy braved the Staten Island Ferry to get Jessica Kartalis, who had a decent voice but messed up the key when she started singing and playing the guitar. So they sent her back. Bummer.
- Evan Ruggiero has one leg (does that make him a WGWGWOL?) and an OK voice, but apparently “Idol” didn’t want that long an acronym in season recaps and they sent him packing.
- Whoever did the editing on this episode should get a major award. The Brett Holt dream sequence, Gurpreet’s red eyes… I didn’t know what was going on half the time and loved it.
- Shira Gavrielov had a No. 1 hit in her native Israel. She has a slight accent on her English, which could affect her in the long run. Then again, Heejun Han stayed for awhile, so maybe not.
- There’s going to be enough GIFs of Nicki Minaj’s reaction faces this year to fill an entire website’s bandwidth.
- Michael Buonopane: evidence that learning to sing ALL the genres doesn’t necessarily make you a hot commodity.
Windy City tonight, folks! Be there or be… not there.
Who was your favorite audition of the evening? Do any of the singers have true star potential? Let us know in the comments!