After thousands of auditions, ‘Hollywood Week’ and Las Vegas performance rounds, it’s finally over or is it? American Idol announced their ‘Top 24’, but in a surprise twist they announced that the judges felt compelled to add a 13th guy making it a ‘Top 25’.
Four guys who were eliminated during the cut from 42 down to 24 will be considered as the 25th contestant. Those four include Johnny Keyser, Jermaine Jones the ‘Gentle Giant’, Richie Law, and David Leathers Jr. While you could make an argument for all four, I thought the judges made a huge mistake in cutting Johnny Keyser, and he is my pick to be added as the 25th contestant.
Unfortunately the judges didn’t have the same strong feelings for the girls. There were a number of girls eliminated that easily could have been part of the ‘Top 24’ including Gabi Carrubba, Lauren Gray, and Shelby Tweeten. I wish the judges would have considered bringing one of those talented girls back as well. A common theme of this year’s American Idol is the number of contestants that have tried out in previous seasons. A number of the ‘Top 24’ contestants had tried out before. It just goes to show you that the experience they gained and the lessons they learned in their previous attempts were invaluable. Lastly who would have thought that Pittsburgh would be the hotbed of American Idol talent. The Pittsburgh auditions yielded just 38 of the 300 plus ‘Golden Tickets’ to Hollywood. Surprisingly, eight of the contestants from the Pittsburgh auditions made it to the ‘Top 24’.
So let’s take a look at this talented group (listed alphabetically, not by favorites!):
• Deandre Brackensick: is a 17 year old American idol veteran from San Jose, California. He tried out last year at age fifteen and just missed the ‘Top 24’. This year, he is definitely more comfortable and appears to be enjoying the ride. With his long curly hair and his falsetto voice he will be a favorite of the young girls and has a great chance to make it to the ‘Top 10’.
• Adam Brock: a 27 year old from Washington, Pennsylvania earned his ‘Golden Ticket’, in the Pittsburgh auditions. He says he’s a ‘large black woman trapped inside a 27-year-old man’s body’. I like Adam and he has a great voice. I just don’t know if he has the type of voice and mainstream appeal that will carry him all the way through. His journey should be interesting to watch.
• Colton Dixon: is another returning contestant from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Last season, Colton earned a ‘Golden Ticket to Hollywood’, and just missed making it to the ‘Top 24’. At the Savannah auditions, supporting his sister Schyler, Colton wasn’t going to try out, but the judges convinced him to audition again. With no preparation, he earned a ‘Golden Ticket’ and an eventual spot in the ‘Top 24’. Colton is an experienced 20 year old who knows who he is as a singer, and I expect him to be a ‘Top 10’ finalist.
• Creighton Fraker: is a 28 year old from Queens, New York. Due to the American Idol age restrictions this was his last chance to audition. You might remember his Pittsburgh audition, he took a risky move and sang an original song that he wrote on the bus while travelling to Pittsburgh. The judges gave him a ticket to Hollywood, but after replaying his audition multiple times, I still wasn’t sure if I liked it. Well I definitely like him now. He has a different kind of voice and has gotten better each time I have seen him. If he continues to improve, he could earn a spot in the ‘Top 10’. I will definitely be watching him closely.
• Eben Franckewitz: is a young 15 year old from Milford, Ohio. I absolutely love Eben. With his voice and innocent good looks, he will be a fan favorite. His confidence is soaring and his voice is getting better with each performance. When I first saw him in Pittsburgh, I knew he had the potential to be a ‘Top 10’ finalist and his performances since then have only reaffirmed that opinion. As Randy Jackson likes to say ‘Eben is in it to win it’.
• Reed Grimm: is a 26 year old from Ellsworth, Wisconsin. Reed has been singing his entire life and is another member of the Pittsburg audition alumni. He is definitely the most interesting and quirky contestant in this year’s show. He is this year’s Casey Abrams. I don’t think he can win, but I guarantee you he will entertain you and have the most fun of all the contestants while he is doing it.
• Heejun Han: is a 22 year old from Flushing, New York who loves his job working with special needs children. You can’t help but like him. I was happy when he got his ‘Golden Ticket’ to Hollywood at the Pittsburgh auditions. I just wasn’t sure how far he would go once he got there. While he struggled in the ‘Group Round’ performances, his individual performances were very good. I definitely underestimated him, and I hope I don’t make the same mistake again. While he is talented, I think confidence issues and lack of experience will prevent him from making it to the ‘Top 10’.
• Joshua Ledet: is a 19 year old from West Lake, Louisiana. Joshua has a great voice and really impressed me with his performances in both Hollywood and Las Vegas. I was absolutely convinced that he would be part of the ‘Top 24’ and if he continues to sing with the same passion in the live performances will be a ‘Top 10’ finalist as well. It is going to be very tough to send this guy home!!!
• Chase Likens: a 20 year old from Point Pleasant, West Virginia. This is Chase’s third audition, having previously auditioned in Season 5 and Season 10. While Chase is very likeable and has a good voice he seemed to slide under the radar and had very little face time throughout the audition and Hollywood week shows. Chase said, ‘he was awestruck that he made it to the Top 24’, and so was I but for a different reason. While he has the potential to surprise, I believe the competition is too good and this will be a short trip for him.
• Aaron Marcellus: is a 27 year old from Atlanta, Georgia who auditioned in Pittsburgh. He is another returning contestant who auditioned in both Seasons 7 and 10. I like Aaron. He is good looking and has a great voice. He is also one of the few remaining R&B singers in this year’s contest. Jennifer Lopez really likes him and if he gets off to a good start could make it to the ‘Top 10’.
• Phillip Phillips: a 21 year old from Leesburg, Georgia is one of my favorites and reminds me of a young Dave Matthews. I love his grit and the passion in his voice. His ability to play a mean guitar will be a valuable asset as well. He definitely has the talent and is worth watching. The older American Idol fans, 25 to 40 years of age, will certainly like and vote for him. The key for Phillip will be the ability to garner enough of the young girl votes to assure a long run and a spot in the ‘Top 10’. I am rooting for him!!!!
• Jeremy Rosado – a 19 year old from Valrico, Florida is this years’ American Idol nice guy. Jeremy did a great job on his final Las Vegas solo performance, and I believe that performance carried him to a ‘Top 24’ position. If he can consistently perform like that he could surprise. While I like Jeremy and he has a good voice, I think he is in over his head and would be totally surprised if he lasts more than a few shows.
• Baylie Brown: a beautiful 20 year old from Krum, Texas auditioned in Galveston. Baylie auditioned for American Idol in Season 6 when she was 16 years old and came back to give it another try. She actually made it to Hollywood on her first try, but got the boot because she forgot the lyrics. Four years later, she has definitely matured. She is the total package with good looks, a great voice, and a winning personality. She is a definite ‘Top 10’ finalist and one of my favorites to be the ‘Next American Idol’.
• Hollie Cavanagh: an 18 year old from McKinney, Texas is another familiar face. Hollie auditioned last year, when she was 17 and got a ‘Golden Ticket’ to Hollywood. She was clearly in over her head and that was as far as she went. She is back this year and is a year better and stronger. Unfortunately, we didn’t see enough of Hollie in the Hollywood week and Las Vegas shows so in my mind, she is still an unknown quantity. In a dramatic moment, Hollie, Shelby Tweeten and Areil Sprague all faced the judges together with the last spot in the ‘Top 24’ on the line. In a unanimous vote by the judges, Hollie got the final spot. I was actually surprised that she made it. Based on the performances that we saw, I thought that Shelby Tweeten had earned the last spot. While she has a good voice and has improved greatly from last year, due to the strong competition I will be surprised if she makes it the ‘Top 10’.
• Hallie Day: I absolutely love Hallie Day. She is a beautiful 24 year old girl from Baltimore, Maryland who also auditioned in Pittsburgh. She has the look, can really sing and has the sad story that American Idol and their fans truly love. 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. Unless she gets hit by a bus, she will definitely be in the ‘Top 10’ and is one of my favorites to win it all
• Jen Hirsh: is a 25 year old from Agoura Hills, California. Jen has one of the best voices in the ‘Top 24’. Her solo performances in both Hollywood and Las Vegas were outstanding. She has great potential and should be in the ‘Top 10’. The only thing that scares me about Jen is that I am not sure what voting block will support her. She could be this years’ Pia Toscano, the contestant with the best voice that couldn’t capture enough of the young boys and girls (10 – 16) and the country crowd vote to make it to the very end.
• Brielle Von Hugel: is a 17 year old from Staten Island, New York. Brielle tried out last year as well but her trip ended short of the ‘Top 24’. Being a New York guy, I really like Brielle but her mother is absolutely annoying! She is hard working, focused, and can really sing. Unfortunately, the talent level in this years’ show is off the charts and unless a few favorites falter, I can’t see her making it to the ‘Top 10’.
• Haley Johnsen: is a beautiful 23 year old girl from Beaverton, Oregon. For whatever reason, she didn’t get a lot of screen time and they never showed her final Las Vegas solo performance. Obviously, it must have been good or she wouldn’t have made it to the ‘Top 24’. What I saw of her, I really liked, but I am going to with hold judgment at this time and watch her closely in the live shows.
• Skylar Laine: is an 18 year old country girl from Brandon, Mississippi. Skylar loves to sing, hunt, and ride all terrain vehicles, and is this season’s Lauren Alaina. She is very likeable, has a terrific voice and reminds people of a young Reba McEntire. Unfortunately there is some tough country competition in the girl’s bracket including Baylie Brown and Chelsea Sorrell and unless they falter, I don’t think she can make it to the ‘Top 10’.
• Shannon Magrane: a 16 year old from Tampa, Florida had what I thought was the most memorable audition of the season. Shannon, the 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’. Without missing a beat Shannon, proceeded to belt out a soulful version of an Etta James song and earned her ‘Golden Ticket’ to Hollywood. Despite forgetting the lyrics during her Hollywood week performance, she earned a spot in the ‘Top 24’. She has a great voice and sings with a maturity well behind her years. Maybe it’s her height, but sometimes she appears stiff when performing. I loved her from the first day I saw her and will be shocked if she doesn’t make it to the ‘Top 10’. She is well worth watching and if she loosens up and doesn’t forget her lyrics, she has a chance to win it all.
• Jessica Sanchez: is an unbelievable 16 year old singer from San Diego, California. The voice that comes out of this 90 pound girl in unforgettable. Her rendition of the “Prayer” in her final Las Vegas performance was one of the best. While the girls’ field is definitely strong, I believe she is up to the competition and will be one of the last one’s standing.
• Chelsea Sorrell: is a 23 year old country singer from Stokesville, North Carolina. She has a great voice and is really talented. Unfortunately in my mind, she is the number two rated country singer in a talented field that includes both Baylie Brown and Skylar Laine. So unless Baylie falters, I don’t think we are going to have two female country singers in the ‘Top10’. I hope she can prove me wrong.
• Elise Testone: is a 28 year old from Charleston, South Carolina. She is another contestant that might be caught up in the numbers game. I really liked her Hollywood Week and Las Vegas performances but there is so much talent and if she doesn’t capture a large following early on, she has no hope of making it to the ‘Top10’. Her confidence and experience will definitely be a big help. In any other year, she could have been a contender.
• Erika Van Pelt: is a 26 year Rhode Island mobile DJ and wedding singer. She reminds me a little of Kelly Clarkson. She is very likeable and is easy to root for. I liked her immediately at the Pittsburgh audition and she has continued to impress. She has a lot of experience and knows how to sing. Her experience as a wedding singer will definitely help her as they change the song types and styles from week to week. If she continues to improve she could make it to the ‘Top 10’, and if she gets a few breaks and some of the favorites falte,r she could go even further.
The top 13 men will perform live next Tuesday, with the top 12 women taking the stage live Wednesday. Viewer votes will determine which singers will be eliminated Thursday.
On a side note, at the end of all the auditions, I picked 10 of the 300 plus ‘Hollywood Golden Ticket Winners’, as contestants to watch. Four of the original artists on that list (see below) made it to the ‘Top 24’ and I am still alive with a potential 5th artist if the judges add Johnny Keyser to the list. My four sure bets were Shannon Magrane (Savannah), Phil Phillips (Savannah), Eben Franckewitz (Pittsburgh), Baylie Brown (Galveston).