From New Jersey, the American Idol audition roadshow travels south to New Orleans for more audition highlights from the city which insists we call it N’Awlins.
In an hour which heavily featured the good over the N’Awful, here are five successful contestants to watch out for in Hollywood Week (and beyond) – and one truly awful one who we will thankfully never see again.
Piano teacher Jordan Dorsey sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song which has been attempted by many Idol contestants over the years. Most have made the proverbial pig’s ear of it, but in season five eventual runner-up Katharine McPhee gave a memorably good rendition of it. This was in the same kind of league. J-Lo said it gave her goose bumps. Me too.
It took me a while to place this Bob Dylan song, Make You Feel My Love, until I realised it had been recently covered by Adele. I hadn’t even realised it was a cover until then, much less a Dylan song. Who says reality TV can’t be educational?
Long-time Idol fans will remember the geeky Clay Aiken, the world’s least likely looking pop star with the most incredible Broadway voice, who was runner-up in season two. Brett Loewenstern is perhaps the closest we have seen to a Clay since then. Looking for all the world like a joke contestant – and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Shaggy from Scooby Doo – Brett, with his high-pitched voice and his admission that he puts baby oil in his hair, was one of those kids who you just know is top of the bullies’ hit-list at school. When he announced he would be singing Queen‘s Bohemian Rhapsody, I was already penning his obituary in my head. But not only did he look like Clay, he sounded like him as well.
Mark him down as one of those contestants who will go on the kind of Idol journey – and makeover – which guarantees progress to the final few weeks. Either that, or someone will beat him up in Hollywood Week and he will run home crying.
15 going on 12, Jacee Badeaux took on the mighty Otis Redding and Sittin’ On The Dock of The Bay, and showcased a voice that made him sound like Justin Bieber‘s chubby brother. In a good way. I fear the stress of Hollywood Week may be too much for him, though. Jordin Sparks may have been just 17 when she won season six of Idol, but the difference in ages between Sparks and Badeaux might as well have been two decades as two years, such is the difference in maturity. He’s a talent, though.
Last but by no means least in New Orleans, we had Paris Tassin, who fell pregnant at 18 and gave birth to a daughter with hydrocephalus. Actually, forget the sob story: she was brilliant on the merit of her own voice, despite singing a twee country song (my least favourite genre) by season four winner Carrie Underwood (my least favourite Idol). She was good – really good. Put her right up alongside New Jersey’s final contestant, Travis Orlando, as one of the early favourites.
And finally, let’s rewind a bit to …
The pizza maker/dishwasher (no, really) looked like the love child of S-Ty and Mick Jagger. And then he opened his mouth to sing Lady Gaga‘s Bad Romance and the resemblance abruptly ended. Watch the video if you dare, but you may want to cover your ears first.
Thoughts on the first two post-Cowell episodes
In these first two shows, at least, there has been a definite shift in focus away from the increasingly outrageous freaks, geeks and fame-hungry, talent-starved wannabes who have dominated recent seasons towards spending more airtime on contestants who can actually sing. This may just be a temporary thing, with a couple of fairly straight-down-the-middle episodes to give us viewers a chance to familiarise ourselves with the new judges before turning the spotlight back on the contestants, but I’ve appreciated the chance to remember that, first and foremost, American Idol is a singing competition.
In trying to avoid the brashness and it’s-all-about-me-ness which increasingly characterised the Cowell era – and, one suspects, provide a clear separation from the fireworks-laden over-the-top extravaganza (singing ability strictly optional) which is the template for X Factor – the Idol producers have made a brave move. Their back-to-basics approach, focussing on talent over soap opera, comes with the risk of depriving viewers of the one big ‘water-cooler moment’. There has been no equivalent of a Pants on the Ground or a William Hung:
As for the rejigged judging panel, the two new additions certainly add an air of star power and credibility which Kara Dioguardi and Ellen DeGeneres sorely lacked. Steven Tyler provides the pithy one-line soundbites, but delivered without Cowell’s increasingly caricatured cruelty. Jennifer Lopez is more compassionate, but has not really carved out her niche just yet. But it is certainly a promising line-up, and no doubt individual roles and characteristics will become increasingly apparent over the coming weeks.
Overall, the changes to the format have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary, with a general nicing-up of the show and the lowering of the minimum entry age to 15. (Does this mean we are heading for a Bieber-style winner, I wonder?) Certainly, the move to reduce the number of weeks it takes to get to the final 12 is a good one – in previous seasons it has felt like it has taken forever to chip the dead wood away a couple at a time. For now, however, American Idol remains the best and most credible talent show in the world. Even with Cowell’s upstart X Factor waiting in the wings ready to grab the crown, the formula has been hugely successful for nine years, so why change it wholesale?
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Link: American Idol website