‘American Idol’ Recap: It’s All About Personality as the Auditions Come to an End
American Idol has only been back for two and a half weeks, but we’re already about to enter the next phase of the reboot with new judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.
I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be season 16 or season 1, but what I do know is that while the auditions are fun — both the good and the bad — Hollywood Week is when it really begins.
The big stage, the pressure, the judgments, the horrors of the group round … this is where the studs are separated from the duds, and stars begin their journey. And it’s right around the corner.
But first, we have to get through these last two hours of golden ticket giveaways. And so back to Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York City and Savannah we go.
Seventeen-year-old Gabby Barrett and her family drove to Tennessee all the way from Pittsburgh, and she’s a daddy’s girl. He is a maintenance man for Goodwill, and he spends his nights cleaning apartments to provide the best life possible for his family. She’s cute and bubbly but also grounded, and Carrie Underwood is her idol.
The judges find her rendition of Carrie’s “Good Girl” too gimmicky because when you try to sound country, you don’t sound country. They also reject her back-up songs — Carrie Underwood’s “Church Bells” and Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman.” But her personality finally comes through on an actual church song — about Jesus.
Caitlin Lucia is 22 and gigs at the same place Katy did as a teenager, and she’s rocking a tight yellow onesie while singing her hero’s song in front of her hero. It’s a folksy version of “I Kissed a Girl,” and the judges like it. They also believe that it merely scratches the surface of what Caitlin can do.
Amelia Presley is The King’s sixth cousin once removed, and her “Heartbreak Hotel” kicks off a mediocre Elvis montage that includes frog-throated Billy Crunk and wannabe impersonator Bailey Eubanks. It ends with country boy heartthrob Drake Milligan, who sounds like Elvis but impresses the judges because they think he doesn’t. Luke calls him “cowboy cool,” and then it’s a mash-up of Katy’s non-stop set snacking and bunched-up Spanx.
Katy doesn’t think “Stand By Me” is a proper choice to show off the voice of 24-year-old Mylon Shamble, until Mylon sings it. Then Katy calls it the best “Stand By Me” she’s ever heard.
Lee Vasi looks like Alicia Keys, and she duets on her all-time favorite song — The Commodores’ “Zoom” — with Lionel before launching into Toni Braxton’s “Love Shoulda Brought You Home.” She’s got the pipes, but the song goes horribly awry amid a slew of pitchless screeching. Still, the judges see potential in her and send her to Hollywood. Luke predicts that she’ll be in the Top 10 if she listens and stays in her wheelhouse.
Philly boy Michael J. Woodard fights his nerves and is all over the place with an over-run version of Ed Sheeran’s “Make It Rain,” but the judges love his infectious personality and what they see as raw potential. It probably should’ve been a no based on the lack of control, but I’ll admit he’s likable.
A montage of fashion, hair, tats and related flair ends with 18-year-old dance choreographer Brielle Rathbun, who has fully braided hair and adopted siblings from other countries. Her mom ditched the family a few years ago, and now Dad is the champion. She raspily sings Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity” out of the side of her mouth. And while I don’t love it, her unique personality and spunk mean she’s through.
Carly Moffa describes herself as “a mess,” and she’s always been a little different with a penchant for showmanship. Showwomanship? Her mother — who was diagnosed with progressive MS and had five surgeries in the last year alone — is her best friend, and she wrote her original song about “letting the lion out” to cheer Mom up when she was having a rough night. She’s got a bit of Florence Welch in her, which I swear I wrote before Katy says it, and her unique sound makes her one to watch.
Samuel (pronounced Sam-well?) Swanson is a 28-year-old Alabama farm boy who longed to see more than trees and cows, so he picked up and moved to Harlem with $60 to his name. He does a sweet and soulful take on Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” and Lionel compares him to Luther Vandross. It’s clear that the theme of the show is unique and endearing personalities.
Eighteen-year-old Jurnee was a recluse until she realized her truth and came out, and she has since met her soulmate and got married. It’s been rainbows — pun intended (her words) — ever since, and she tackles Andra Day’s “Rise Up.” There’s no emotional connection until the chorus and way too many extreme runs crammed into a song that doesn’t need it, but the judges appreciate Jurnee’s journey and keep it going to Hollywood.
That’s Adam Sanders, who made the Top 50 when he was 19 five years ago. Rejection was difficult to deal with, but he admits he wasn’t ready back then. But the aftermath was much worse, and the social media trolls targeted his weight, told him he was terrible and advised him to end his life.
He went to a dark place and contemplated suicide, believing he might not be worth fixing. But from that, he rebuilt himself and rose from the ashes a new person confident in his identity. And so the final featured audition of season 16 comes courtesy of Ada Vox, who is a seafood waiter by day and a “part-time woman” by night.
He belts out “House of the Rising Sun” in full drag, showing off a gigantic range backed by pure power pipes. Despite the persona, he assures the judges that he’s in it to win it, and he’s awarded the final golden ticket.
Now, look, I’m not dissing the talent. But truth be told, I was actually at a drag show last night (my wife and I have many theatre friends), and Ada Vox is pretty standard for the New York scene. The vocal prowess can’t be denied, but he’s going to have a difficult time separating himself from the persona to be taken seriously. Ms. Vox will definitely have a loyal following, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out from a recording artist perspective.
Being homeless isn’t enough to deter Ayana Lawson, who goes by Rose because her first name means “lovely flower” in Ethiopian. She used to play basketball but couldn’t afford new sneakers, and now music is her life, her passion, her joy.
Her guitar playing is on point during a toned-down, no-frills version of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” She doesn’t have the strongest voice in the world, but the emotional connection is raw and real. You can feel the Tracy Chapman “Fast Car”-like desperation.
The judges want to see her come back because she’s not ready yet, so it’s three nos. But, c’mon, they’ve put through far worse people. And with her backstory, she may simply need an opportunity to build the confidence and swagger they want to see now.
(ABC didn’t post a video of Ayana on the American Idol YouTube page, so I’m embedding it from another source.)
Tory N. Teasley — or TNT for short (that’s gotta be his drag queen alias) — delivers a spicy rendition of Cee Lo Green’s “F*** You” that makes Luke fall out of his chair laughing while Lionel grimaces at the coarse language.
Lucy Clearwater dedicates her folksy take on Sir Mix A Lot’s “Baby Got Back” to Luke’s backside.
Jarom Banks, sometimes known as JoJo Jerom, wears pajamas and butchers REM’s “Losing My Religion” on the piano. It’s a yes from Katy but only because he’s so weird.
Another montage of rejection ends with a guy in a red jacket dancing like Michael Jackson (pictured at the top of the recap) who sings Wham! And as Deadpool pointed out, there’s an exclamation point. So it’s not Wham. It’s Wham! Then heavy metal junkie Damiano Scarfi butchers Boston’s “More Than a Feeling,” and here he goes again on his own, going down the only road he’s ever known: rejection.
And just like that, Hollywood here we come. No one emerged as a real contender from this episode, but I’m most interested to see what Carly Moffa can do to harness that Florence and the Machine vibe.
The hell that is Hollywood Week kicks off in the next episode. It’s time to put up or shut up. Literally.
Who were your favorites and who do you think has the most potential? Is there a superstar in this mix? What are your thoughts on Adam Sanders’ transformation, and can Ada Vox be taken seriously in a competition like American Idol? Should the judges have put through Michael J. Woodard and Lee Vasi, or do they need more seasoning? And should poor homeless Ayana Lawson be heading west or did the judges make the right call? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Images and videos courtesy of ABC)
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