American Idol: Season 10, Milwaukee auditions – The good, the bad and the Gokey

It’s audition city number three for American Idol, and in this episode the series pays its first ever visit to the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Where, I hear you ask? Well, just in case it ever comes up in your local pub quiz, here are five things you need to know about Milwaukee, but were too afraid to ask:

  1. It is the 26th most populous city in the US, with a population of just over 600,000.
  2. The city used to be the biggest producer of beer in the world.
  3. Milwaukee hosts the world’s largest annual music festival, Summerfest, which attracts upwards of 800,000 visitors every year.
  4. The city is home to a number of major sporting teams, including baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers.
  5. Milwaukee was the setting for the TV series Happy Days, which is commemorated in the city with a statue of Arthur ‘The Fonz’ Fonzarelli.
Danny Gokey, the Milwaukee singer who finished third in season eight (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Milwaukee is also the home of season eight’s third-placed finalist Danny Gokey. You remember him: the gospel-y country-y singer with the array of funky glasses, who stood out early on not only for his great voice, but for the fact he auditioned just four weeks after the death of his wife.

And, in one of those wonderful pieces of serendipitous coincidence, one of Gokey’s final performances before he was eliminated was … Dream On by Aerosmith, whose front man is, of course, new Idol judge Steven Tyler. Or S-Ty, as I like to call him here.

Anyhow, it’s over to Kermit the Frog Ryan Seacrest at Milwaukee’s Bradley Center sports arena. Here is my pick of the city’s auditions, ranging from the good to the bad, and finishing off with this season’s tear-jerking Danny Gokey-style story.

THE GOOD

Scott McCreery

MAD magazine's Alfred E. Neuman (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

If you’ve ever read the satirical MAD magazine, you will be familiar with the character of Alfred E Neuman. Step forward his doppelganger, Scott McCreery.

In what is fast turning out to be one of the underlying themes of this year’s series, the teenager completely belied his appearance, singing country star Josh Turner‘s Your Man with the twang and mature tone of a man who has already seen everything there is to see in life – 16 going on 60. It was like listening to a post-WWII old-timer singing tales about the day he survived the Pearl Harbour bombings. As an audition, it was both magnificent and unique. And I say that as someone who loathes country music with every fibre of my being.

McCreery’s performance prompted the following memorable but ever so slightly confusing outburst from S-Ty:

Hellfire, save matches, f*** a duck and see what hatches.

I have no idea what he meant, but I wholeheartedly agree.

J-Lo agreed, but without the profanity. And R-Jack made it a full house of yeses from the panel.

Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Will get dragged down in Hollywood Week.

Naima Adedapo

Naima Adedapo, a janitor at Summerfest, auditioned with For All We Know, a song once covered by her idol, the Grammy award-winning soul singer Donny Hathaway, who took his own life aged just 33. She ticked all the boxes: a great song choice which showcased a powerful and distinctive voice, and Naima herself struck a chord with her strong personality and striking looks. She could go a long way in the competition, although I have doubts about how she will cope with more contemporary material.

Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: A great throwback voice, but will fall just short of the top 12.

Molly DeWolf Swenson

Molly DeWolf Swenson was not, it would be fair to say, your average Idol contestant, being a Harvard graduate and White House intern who professed to love President Barack Obama. (No, not in a Monica Lewinsky sort of way, as she was quick to point out.) My heart sank when she told the judges she was going to sing (Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay, and then leapt with delight when out came a rich, deep, smoky voice with shades of Amy Winehouse, but without the roughening effect of the booze, fags and drugs. I fear, however, that her undoubted talent will be offset by her elite education, and her role as an Obama-loving intern will probably not play well to staunch Republican voters.

Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Will survive Hollywood Week, but likely to be eliminated before the final 12.

Steve Beghun

Pronounced ‘Big-goon”, Steve Beghun started badly, attempting to make a joke about his name and his appearance which went down like the proverbial lead balloon. A certified public accountant who claimed, probably not that jokingly: “I’m an auditor, so I don’t have many friends”, Beghun also doubles up as a wedding and funeral singer. His rendition of The Script‘s The Man Who Can’t Be Moved, however, did grab the judges’ attention. S-Ty started wittering on about “echoes in the room” and added:

I found you to be disturbingly great.

And that pretty much summed him up. A great voice with a beautifully rich tone, but utterly lacking in charisma. Cowell would have muttered something about a cruise ship. He would probably have been right.

Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Will scrape through Hollywood Week, but lacks the charisma to build a fan club to match his talent.

Scott Dangerfield

Season two runner-up Clay Aiken

Long-time Idol fans will have immediately clocked the physical resemblance of Scott Dangerfield to season two runner-up Clay Aiken. Both teachers, Scott could easily have been Clay’s marginally less geeky younger brother.

The similarity didn’t end there. Just as Clay knocked me off my feet with his initial audition, so too did Scott. Singing the little-known Dreamin’ by jazz/folk musician Amos Lee, you simply would not believe that a voice as rich and soulful as this could come out of a skinny white kid. It had to be seen to be believed. As Randy said, never judge a book by its cover. (Unless it’s tall, leggy and blonde, of course.)

Dangerfield received the first “100 million percent, yes!” of the series from R-Jack – maths has never been his strong suit – and a unanimous set of affirmatives from J-Lo and S-Ty. It was one of the easiest decisions they will ever make.

Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Has a shot at the final 12.

THE BAD

Joe Repka

A communications student, Joe Repka‘s ambition is to work in radio. He certainly has a face for radio and – as we discovered when he started singing Billy Joel‘s The Longest Time – he has a singing voice which belongs in a sound-proof room, five miles below the surface somewhere in the uninhabited expanses of the Pacific. It was only about 30 seconds, but his audition certainly felt like it lived up to his song’s title. Cowell would have had a field day with his rapier put-downs, but this new-look panel prefers to kill with kindness. However you put it, it was still an overwhelming no, though.

Judges’ decision: No. Prediction: Coming to a hospital radio station near you soon.

Nathaniel Jones

Nathaniel Jones, a Civil War reenactor – seriously, is that a job? – looked like a 19th century serial killer with his raggedy half-grown beard, and sounded like one too as he murdered The Lion Sleeps Tonight, a song which will be familiar to anyone in the UK in their late-30s or older as being made famous by the band Tight Fit. Worryingly, he genuinely seemed to believe he could sing, allowing a comedy gold sequence to unfold in which R-Jack completely lost it and collapsed into a fit of giggles, while S-Ty showed off his perfect poker face. Unsurprisingly, Jones became yet another casualty of war.

Judges’ decision: No. Prediction: If he comes at you with a bayonet and a mad glint in his eyes, run for your life!

Vernika Patterson

So far this season, the producers have tended to focus more on genuine contestants than on the attention-seekers and the utterly self-deluded, who traditionally leave the audition room threatening some kind of karmic retribution amidst an expletive-riddled diatribe which sees their words bleeped out and their mouths covered by the American Idol logo (presumably so that lip-readers aren’t offended?)

Relative to previous seasons, Vernika Patterson was only a middling performer on the ranting and raving scale. She did, however, mangle the Minnie Riperton classic Loving You – although sadly she bottled out of truly massacring that high note at the end. After the judges had tried to let her down gently, she let rip with the usual “but I’m so much better than everyone else” which she backed up with “is it cos I is not skinny?” No, it’s because you were shit.

Judges’ decision: No. Prediction: Cat-strangler.

Albert Rogers III

Albert Rogers III – only in America, eh? –  boldly claimed he sounds like both season two winner Ruben Studdard and Usher. Eh? That’s like me saying I sound like Michael Bublé and Justin Bieber. What he actually resembled was a combination of Ruben Stuttered and a theatre usher, as he slowly suffocated the life out of Stand By Me, sounding like an old-fashioned 78 played at 45rpm.

Judges’ decision: No. Prediction: So slow he’s still exiting the building.

Megan Frazier

It had to happen. Megan Frazier, the die-hard Packers fan from Green Bay, was heralded to the theme of Monday Night Football – UK readers will know it better as the intro to Superstars – and then proceeded to sing Justin Bieber’s Baby opera-style. Genius. Like a car-crash, you just had to watch. Actually, her voice was pretty decent, but she knew she was never going to make it through, right?

Judges’ decision: No. Prediction: Unlikely to be singing the Star-Spangled Banner at a Green Bay home game any time soon.

The worst of the rest

In addition to the usual comedy song choices, this year’s bad audition tune of choice appears to involve anything by Lady Gaga. We were ‘treated’ to funny but thankfully brief snippets of comically bad versions of Bad Romance and Paparazzi.

Anyone turning up to audition in front of J-Lo singing Jenny from the Block. Just say no.

The 54-year old silver spangle-suited dentist who performed holding a giant toothbrush. He was clearly desperately trying to be this year’s Pants on the Ground. He failed. His audition was, well, like having your teeth pulled. (Thank you, thank you. I’m here all week.)

THE GOKEY

Chris Medina

Last but by no means least, the final contestant we saw in Milwaukee was well worth the wait. Chris Medina had been engaged to his fiancée Juliana for two years when she was involved in a car accident and suffered a traumatic left-brain injury which left her with severe neurological damage and almost completely paralysed. Nonetheless, he stuck by her – “what kind of a guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me the most?” – and continues to care for her with her mother. It’s the kind of sob story Idol has always done particularly well (not least Danny Gokey) but this one was genuinely moving.

By the time he had finished singing The Script’s Breakeven, there was definitely a tear or two rolling down my cheek. (I should never have eaten those raw onions, I’m telling you.) And by the time he had wheeled in Juliana to meet the judges, he could probably have won a Presidential election on the spot.

In all seriousness, notwithstanding the fact he undoubtedly has the stand-out human interest story of this season, he was fantastic. Breakeven is an incredibly difficult song to take on, requiring a pureness of tone and one hell of an upper register to carry it off – and Medina knocked it right out of the park.

It has taken three episodes, but Idol has finally given us our first genuine water-cooler moment of this season. And it was a doozy. Watch out for this guy. His story will whisk him through to the final 12, and his talent will propel him further still. Pencil him in as an early favourite.

Judges’ decision: Yes. Prediction: Cast-iron certainty for the top 12 – probable top three, possible winner.

And that’s your lot. In total, the judges put 53 people from Milwaukee through to Hollywood. What? 53? Are they receiving kickbacks from American Airlines or something?

Tomorrow: Nashville. ‘Music City’ has one hell of a reputation to live up to, and in Chris Medina it has a tough act to follow.

American Idol posts

New Jersey auditions

New Orleans auditions

Link: American Idol website