'American Idol' Season 11 Aspen Auditions: High and Mostly Dry
The talent, like the Colorado mountain air, was thin, with one hopeful sending judge Randy Jackson straight to the bathroom.
Do these people know or care what they’re auditioning for anymore?
That’s what I thought while watching Iowa’s bizarre Magic Cyclops, who spoke like a member of Spinal Tap and looked like a cross between Axl Rose and Slash and had an accent as phony as Madonna’s (learned from watching the BBC on PBS, as his explanation went). He sent Randy Jackson straight to the latrine.
No, really. “I have to go to the bathroom,” declared Jackson.
We were equally perplexed when San Diego contestant Aubree Dieckmeyer kept confusing American Idol with America’s Next Top Model, and amused when Gabi Carrubba wanted to hug Nigel Lythgoe for his involvement on So You Think You Can Dance. As for Magic Cyclops? His whole audition reeked of someone gunning to be the Last Comic Standing, as he declined to say how old he was, quipping that “a lady never reveals her age,” refused to show his eyes, and channeled Neil Diamond singing “James Buff-ay’s” “Margaritaville.” Perhaps Idol producers are hoping Magic Cyclops will be this year’s Renaldo “You Are My Brother” Lupuz: a surprise for the season finale complete with exploding confetti.
But it’s no wonder Jackson headed straight for the stalls. The thin, high altitude Aspen, Colorado mountain air had to be getting to the judges and the contestants, one of whom auditioned solely for the purpose of stealing a kiss from Steven Tyler. Some were so bad, they weren’t even ID’d, and after one girl beat-boxed Ben E. King’s soul classic, “Stand By Me” (season 6 runner up Blake Lewis can rest easy -- she was rejected), it was enough to make Jackson ask, “Really, Aspen?”
That said, nine golden tickets got airtime, although frankly, not many of them are likely to survive Hollywood.
Take, for example, Jenni Schick: a music teacher from Virginia from whose boyfriend approved a list of people she can kiss: Lady Gaga, Adam Levine, and Tyler. Of course first, she had to sing for her supper, and while I commend her for singing Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker” (it’s nice to hear a rock song for a change), but she was way too star struck and focused on making out with Tyler (prompting him to pun, “Holy Schick!”). Her determination swayed his “yes” vote, as he said he was “voting to kiss her.” Jackson said he liked her growl, and that Schick was “wild, crazy, and anything can happen.” Still, she appeared more interested in Tyler’s soft and voluptuous lips. She’s not going to survive.
Curtis Gray, a 28-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Florida, looked half asleep in his video package, filmed at 6 a.m. At 10:45 a.m. he appeared slightly more alert, and competent enough to impress the judges with Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.” While kind of boring, Tyler called him a “major talent” approved his golden ticket.
The next three contestants were rushed through, so it stands to reason that they’re probably not going to make a splash in Hollywood. For example, Richie Law, a 19-year-old baritone much like Season 10 champion Scotty McCreery, sang a Josh Turner song, but there was something lacking in his presentation: namely, personality. Devan Jones, a 26 year old from Colorado, had a nice, high falsetto and did a wonderful job with The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved,” but Mathenee Treco was annoying with his over-the-top 00 you could even say sacrilegious -- rendition of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” He hit the money note, but his herky jerky dance moves were an unwelcome distraction.
In what was perhaps the best old school American Idol bad audition package of the new season, we met Tealana Hedgespeth, who cried to the cameras that she spent her whole life living in the shadow of her talented twin sister. Clearly suffering from Jan Brady “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” syndrome, Hedgespeth decided to audition for Idol to show people, in her words, that “I can be amazing, too.” The first clue that this was going to be deliciously awful was her choice of outfit -- a black and yellow throwback to Blind Melon’s immortal Bee Girl. She then announced her song choice, Melissa Etheridge’s “Bring Me Some Water,” and from the first note, I was grabbing for the earplugs. So was Jennifer Lopez, who issued an immediate threat to Tyler: “If you ask her for another song, I’m going to kill you,” she said. This audition prompted Tyler to actually hurl an insult when he asked, “Have you ever recorded your voice and listened back? Then you’ll hear what we’re hearing.” Could the judges’ sweet façade actually crack this season?
Haley Smith, an 18-year-old from Utah, professed a love of the great outdoors, and from the beginning gave a clear picture of who she was as a person: she lives in a log cabin, has three jobs, and suffers as a “vegetarian working in a meat department.” Lopez correctly assessed that Smith is probably more comfortable performing with a guitar, but her version of Rufus and Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good” is surprisingly funky. Tyler was extremely impressed, telling her it was an honor to hear her sing and praising her voice as right out of his “era.” She’s no David Archuleta, who represented Utah magnificently as the runner up on Season 7, and I don’t know if she’s strong enough to rival Season 9 runner up Crystal Bowersox, but is awarded a trip to Hollywood, nonetheless.
Next up was Alanna Snare, a bartender that specializes in selling Rocky Mountain Oysters (bull testicles -- the less description the better). For a nanosecond, there was promise, but her version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” featured notes only the cows could love. Suffice to say, we have not found our next Kellie Pickler, as Tyler asked her if she had ingested any of those oysters. Snare offered another song, but the judges politely declined.
Shelby Tweten, a 17-year-old from Minnesota, revealed that she’s been diagnosed bipolar and is struggling with depression. She also said that Idol has given her a reason to stay on her meds. That’s a first, and frankly the revelation worried me a bit -- what will happen if she is rejected? She sang a sweet version of Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home,” and impressed Lopez, who loved not only the song but Tweten’s rasp. Jackson said that Twetan had a “great voice” and she was “fearless as a singer,” and she is put through to Hollywood.
Jairon Jackson was warned by friends to avoid doing an original song, but he said that he had “faith in his choice.” Hey, it’s worked for other people this season (Jayrah Gibson, who wrote a song for Jennifer Lopez, “Shake Your Moneymaker,” already sailed through with his golden ticket), so, why not? Jackson’s song, “So Hard,” desperately needed a hook, but his honeyed tenor had a nice romantic quality that intrigued Lopez, who said, “You’re a lover… you’ve got something special.” Tyler offered his first “beautiful,” critique of the night, and Jackson was off to Hollywood.
Angie Zeiderman believes ”it is time for a vintage glitter queen on American Idol,” and compared herself to her imaginary BFF, Lady Gaga, when Lopez questioned what kind of artist she imagines herself to be. But Zeiderman was glorious. With a voice that channeled Liza Minelli, coupled with purple hair and the look of a sexy librarian, she launched into “When You Got It, Flaunt, It,” from The Producers. Much more of a Broadway Baby in a “let me entertain you” way, it turned off Jackson, who hates the vibrato of musical theater. But Lopez disagreed, and was clearly impressed by Zeiderman’s shenanigans. In an effort to prove she was more than a show pony, Zeiderman took a quieter approach with Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou.” The more understated song choice changed Jackson’s mind, who said she was in “her own world.” And really, Jackson shouldn’t dump on musicals. Many ex-Idol contestants, like Constantine Maroulis, Ace Young, Clay Aiken, Diana DeGarmo, Fantasia Barrino, Frenchie Davis, Justin Guarini, and Taylor Hicks, among others, have seen massive success on The Great White Way.
Thursday’s auditions will be held in Galveston-Houston. Will they be a success like Savannah or a bust like Colorado? Your thoughts, Worshippers?