Jan 25, 2012


It is hard to believe but here we are in Season 11.  This is the second year of the new kinder and gentler American Idol with returning judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler and America’s favorite announcer Ryan Seacrest.  This year, the focus is clearly on the talent. Let’s see who got the Golden Ticket to Hollywood!

American Idol has had a major impact on the music industry. The number one rated entertainment show has successfully created and developed the careers of  music stars including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, David Clark, Daughtry and Adam Lambert. It has also produced some real duds including Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, Lee DeWyze and Kris Allen. The jury is still out on Scotty McCreery.  A whole generation of kids has grown up watching American Idol and it has become an important part of American Pop Culture.

While I really missed Simon Cowell last year, with his appearance on X-Factor it now seems normal that he is no longer part of the American Idol scene. In fact, I really got to enjoy the addition of judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez and couldn’t wait to hear what Steven Tyler would say next. For the attorneys at Fox, Tyler is a walking and talking sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. More on that later.

Season 11 premiered with a 2-hour episode in Savannah, Georgia. Savannah is one of the prettiest cities in the United States and worth a trip on your next vacation. Listed below are some of the standouts from the first show. While they all might not be great singers the combination of a good story and what brought them to audition, make them worth watching when they move on to Hollywood.

David Leathers, Jr. from Fayetteville, North Carolina, who supposedly beat out Scotty McCreery in a local singing contest, opened the show. He is 17 years old but looks like he is 12. David who fashions himself as a lady’s man sang 21st Century’s “Remember the Rain”. He has a great personality and a voice to match. The young girls will definitely love him and he has a chance to go deep into the competition.

Gabi Carrubba is a champion tap dancer with a lot of personality, energy, and a surprisingly good voice. She sang “Sunday Morning”, by Maroon5. I really like her. She could be one to watch.

Schyler Dixon auditioned with her brother, Colton last year. Schyler didn’t make it and Colton was given a Golden Ticket to Hollywood. In fact, Colton almost made it to the Top 24 last season. It was obvious that the judges loved Colton and they convinced him to audition again. While I didn’t love either of the auditions, they both made it through to Hollywood. It was obvious that the judges preferred Colton, and Schyler was clearly annoyed by the whole thing. It must have been an interesting ride home.

Lauren Mink, a Program Director from Kentucky, sang an above average version of “Country Strong”. She has a beautiful smile and a strong voice. Randy thought she sounded a little like Jennifer Nettles from Sugarland and the judges agreed and unanimously sent her to Hollywood.

As soon as Brittany Kerr, a beautiful NBA dancer walked through the door Steven Tyler said “I say yes!”  She sang Joss Stone’s “Spoiled”, and sang surprisingly well. With her looks and a decent voice she could make her way through. The guys (including me) will certainly love her. Interesting, when it came time to vote, Randy and Steven gave her a thumbs up and Jennifer voted no.

Shannon Magrane, the 15 year old, 6 foot tall daughter of St Louis cardinal pitcher Joe Magrane was forced to audition in front of her whole family when the judges asked to meet the family.  During the family greeting, there was an awkward moment when Shannon’s father asked Steven Tyler about how things were in Bean Town? Steven Tyler blurted out that “Bean Town was Hot, Humid and Happening, just like your daughter”. The look on Randy’s face was priceless. Shannon without missing a beat, proceeded to belt out a soulful version of an Etta James song “Something’s Gotta Hold On Me”. I thought this was one of the best auditions of the night and she is well worth watching.

Amy Brumfield is the story of a girl who lives in a tent in the woods. This is one of those human interest stories that American Idol highlights every year. She basically has no possessions and had to borrow a dress and shoes for the audition. What she does have is a great attitude and a decent voice. She sang “Superwoman”, by Alicia Keys. While it wasn’t the best audition of the day I was certainly rooting for here to get to Hollywood and was glad when the judges agreed. She has a lot of work to do but hopefully her appearance on the show will lead to better things for her and her boyfriend.

W.T Thompson: In what was the most compelling or stupid audition of the night W.T Thompson from Appomattox, Virginia, quit his job at a federal prison to audition for “American Idol.” Oh, did I mention that his wife is 6 months pregnant. Yeah, what was he thinking!!  His audition was average at best and sending him to Hollywood is probably just delaying the inevitable. Randy warned him that he would “be eaten alive in Hollywood”, but the judges put him through. While I will be rooting for him, I am afraid that this going to end badly.

Phillip Phillips, no I am not kidding that is his name and it’s his dad’s name as well. Phillip who is from Leesburg, Georgia, sang a unique version of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition”. While he definitely doesn’t have the best voice in the competition he might be one of the most talented. The judges asked him to grab his guitar and he sang a terrific version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. The judges were thrilled by his performance and immediately sent him to Hollywood. I really like him and am hoping for big things from him.

The Savannah auditions resulted in 42 Golden tickets and for the first time in American Idol history… it is on to Pittsburgh.

Heejun Han, who was born in Korea and now lives in Flushing, New York, was the opening audition in Pittsburgh.  In a bad case of profiling, I immediately thought of William Hung who sang “She Bang” in his now infamous 2004 American Idol audition, but Heejun Han was no William Hung. In a complete surprise, Heejun sung a surprisingly good version of Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You”, and in a unanimous vote was given his ticket to Hollywood. While I don’t think he can win he earned the right to try.

Reed Grimm: In what I thought was the most interesting audition of the day Reed Grimm sung a very different and quirky version of the theme song from “Family Matters”. While I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, it certainly did stand out and earned him a trip to Hollywood.

Creighton Fraker, from New York, sang an original song that he wrote on the bus while travelling to Pittsburgh.  Creighton was a bit of an odd ball, with a different kind of voice. After replaying his audition multiple times I still wasn’t sure if I liked it. The judges gave him a ticket to Hollywood, but I didn’t like him as much as the judges and believe that he will have to improve his vocals significantly to have a chance in Hollywood.

Eben Franckewitz a young 15-year old from Milford, Ohio sung “Ain’t No Sunshine”, by Stevie Wonder. A Justin Bieber look- a-like, Eben sung with confidence. The kid has great voice and if he can hold up to the emotional stress of Hollywood week has a great chance. Definitely one of the best voices we have heard so far and will should only get better.

Travis Orlando who tried out last year, sang “Isn’t She Lovely”, by Stevie Wonder. Since his last audition Travis’ family has fallen on hard times. His mother walked out, they got evicted from their home, they live in a shelter and Travis dropped out of high school. While the judges thought his voice got better, I wasn’t impressed. While he got his Golden Ticket to Hollywood, he will be a long shot at best.

Erika Van Pelt, a Rhode Island mobile DJ and wedding singer  sang a good version of Carole King’s ”Will You Love Me Tomorrow”. I really liked her. I thought her voice was good and I think her experience as a wedding singer will definitely help her in Hollywood. She could be a ‘Dark Horse’, in the competition.

Hallie Day was the final audition of the day (which is always good). The path that led her to audition to American Idol was indeed a bumpy road. Hallie dropped out of high school when she was 15, joined a girl group, moved to New York and became a drug user. Eventually returning home, her life in shambles, she tried to kill herself with an overdose of pills. Fortunately with the help of her new husband, Ryan, she has turned her life around. Hallie did an interesting version of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. She sang with purpose and emotion. I really liked her voice, she is pretty and if she can remain focused will have an opportunity to do well in Hollywood.

The Pittsburgh auditions resulted in 38 Golden tickets. Next week American Idol heads to San Diego, California. I really enjoyed the first two shows and while they are still showing some of the bad auditions the focus is clearly on the talent.