Whether you know it as Hotlanta, The ATL, The City too Busy to Hate or The Athens of the South, Atlanta is typically thought of as a progressive, multicultural, thriving town. During the past seasons of American Idol, Atlanta has given the show some of it’s most successful stars, including Fantasia, Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson, not to mention it’s the birthplace of Idol host, radio personality and E! Network’s diminutive producer, Ryan Seacrest. That said, there seemed to be high hopes when Idol took over the Georgia Dome during this past summer for initial auditions.
Despite the hopes and build-up, when judges Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi and Simon Cowell were joined by guest judge Mary J. Blige on the 27th floor of the W Hotel with Atlanta’s picturesque cityscape as their backdrop it didn’t take long to realize the talent pool was apparently drying up.
First to take the ride to the 27th floor was Dewone Robinson. During his pre-taped segment, we learn that his claim to fame is that his great-uncle discovered Gladys Knight & the Pips. He attributed this non-fact to music running in his blood. When Dewone announced he would be performing an original song, viewers knew they were in trouble. Not one to disappoint, Dewone screeched through the original Lady, We’re Not Together Anymore, or as he pronounced it, Lay-T. No real shock when Dewone didn’t make it through. On the upside, I hear Gladys Knight’s Chicken and Waffles is hiring, and look on the bright side, he’s already got an in.
With one for the reject reel, in true Idol fashion, it was time for something good, to that end, up next was Keia Johnson. The beautiful young woman with a bubbly personality and freakin’ awesome hair walked in and the room instantly lit up. While Simon poked a bit of fun at Keia for having previously been awarded Miss Congeniality, but not the title in a beauty pageant, Keia took it in stride and has a fun answer for every prod. When asked what she’ll be singing, she mistakenly said, “Titanic song.” While everyone watching knows the song’s actual title is My Heart Will Go On, Keia did something very difficult to do with it. She made me forget about Celine Dion‘s chest-pounding signature move when she performs the Oscar-winning track. With compliments on her phrasing and how she ended notes, making the song her own, it was four yeses for Keia, who will indeed go on to Hollywood.
Up next were three more young women who made it through. Joining Keia in Hollywood will be Miriam Lemnouni, Noel Reese and Tisha Holland. Kara complimented Tisha by saying she had given the best performance of the day.
With a handful of girls making the cut it was time for the producers to insert a decent male singer. Jermaine Sellers, a self-described church singer from Joliet, Illinois seemed up for the task. During his chat with Ryan, Jermaine shared that since the age of 17, he has been caregiver for his mother, who has spina bifida. WIth this, my ears perked up, because I too was born with a mild case of spina bifida and know how potentially debilitating it can be. As if that weren’t enough to get me a little choked up, Jermaine stepped in front of the judges and performed Joan Osbourne‘s One Of Us. He slowed down the pace and phrasing to put his own spin on the thought provoking song. My only complaint is that he, like so many other potentially good singers Whitney–ized the end–you know, adding all those trills and scales to extend a note. Four yeses and Jermaine became the first male hopeful to come out of the Atlanta auditions.
It was then time to meet Christy Marie Agronow, a 25-year-old host and producer of the Atlanta-based 411, The Show. Like Keia before her, Christy Marie has a great personality and is totally upbeat. Unfortunately, when she took on Pat Benatar‘s Love Is A Battlefield, her battlefield seemed more like a vocal minefield.
When the pre-taped segment for Vonore, Tennessee’s Vanessa Wolfe began, my friends Scott and Amber (who had joined me for the show) and I began to grumble about the ever-present negative stereotypes Idol always seems to showcase. You see, Vanessa and her friends like to jump off the bridge into the river for fun, she doesn’t really go to the mall and she has never been in an “aeroplane” before. As we continued to cringe, 19-year old Vanessa reveals she sees Idol as her chance to escape her small town life and make something of herself. Ok, I’m in, as I say a silent prayer that she somehow knocks their socks off. For her song, she chose Wagon Wheel from Old Crow Medicine Show–an initial sigh of relieve filled the air. Still wondering if this is gonna be good or really bad, with a singing voice that somehow crosses Season 7’s Brooke White and Kristy Lee Cook, Vanessa, despite her obvious nerves, had done enough to show Cinderella-potential to secure her golden ticket. Who knows, maybe while she’s in California she can even take a dip in a cement pond, just like Ellie May Clampett.
When the judges reconvened for day two in Atlanta, it was time to stereotype the working class of Alabama in the form of welder Jesse Hamilton. While Jesse didn’t really need any help in the stereotype department, he revealed to Ryan that he had almost died three times. In a literal cheap dramatization, Idol foolishly recreated all three scenarios just before Jesse met up with the judges. While Jesse recounted his near-death experiences and struggled to remember the beginning of the Garth Brook‘s hit, If Tomorrow Never Comes, Mary J. physically doubled over in laughter. In a poorly veiled attempt to cover for Blige, Kara kept saying, “she’s really emotional.” Needless to say, tomorrow will never come for Jesse‘s singing career.
What could possibly follow that? Holly Hardin, a chunked-out Kellie Pickler-wannabe dressed in her Halloween guitar costume, of course. I’m guessing Party City didn’t have an adult-size guitar costume, as Holly seemed poured into and nearly spilling out of a child’s size XL. Avid reality singing competition viewers like myself might recognize Holly–without the guitar get-up, as she was also featured during the auditions of 2008’s America’s Got Talent. Once again, thankfully Holly‘s shrill speaking voice is nothing like the fuller tone when she’s singing. For Idol, she sang You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man–my personal favorite song from Miss Loretta. With Randy, Kara and Mary J. on board, Simon initially rejected the chance for a trip to Hollywood, but eventually acquiesced.
Time once again for another clipfest of rejects. This time Lathan Davenport‘s singing is compared to a cat barking. Hansel Enriquez seemed lost without Gretel, and despite a t-shirt proclaiming that Britney Spears changed his life, Blake Smith‘s cover of Oops! I Did It Again, didn’t do it for him.
Enter Mallorie Haley from Winner, South Dakota. She sang Piece of My Heart, which judging from her ample bosom was just about to beat right outta her blouse. That said, no shocker that Simon smiled during her entire audition. Also no big surprise that she made it through.
Up next was what can only be described as the result of cloning between Snoop Dog and Steve Urkel, Antonio Wheeler, aka Skii Bo Ski. He annoyingly rambled on and on about how it’s all about Skii Bo Ski, had the Idol logo shaved into his hair, even had his moniker emblazoned on his shirt, although during his pre-taped segment, he discovered it was misspelled. In spite of his foolish antics, he managed a decent rendition of I Heard It Though the Grapevine and with the advice to do away with the rediculous persona, he was awarded a golden ticket.
At this point I was thinking this show, despite its hour-and-a-half scheduled time seemed to be going on and on. Unfortunately Carmen Turner and Lauren Sanders were up next. Sorry, but when a 19 and 20 year old pair of girls still refer to themselves as BFFs in 2010, you know it’s not gonna be good. Being BFFs, they insisted on auditioning together. I’m thinking, great, that’s two down with one set of insults from the judges. Once inside, they continued to drone on and on about their devotion to each other, but the judges split them up for their individual shot at a ticket to Hollywood. I didn’t think either of them were very good, but I couldn’t see beyond a future in legit adult films for Carmen and a not so glamourous internet porn career for Lauren, whose five-head would make Tyra Banks‘ forehead look normal. At least the judges agreed with me on Carmen‘s more obvious potential, as they once again split the BFFs by giving Carmen the go-ahead for Hollywood.
Three more girls get a pass, although we didn’t learn their names during the next montage. After the fast forward montage, a voiceover from Ryan informed viewers that Simon took a bit of a break due to a migraine–some might call it a smoking break, but that’s purely conjecture.
While Simon is away, Bryan Walker, a police officer who looks well-beyond his 25 years takes his turn at fame. The Sevierville, Tennessee native–thank God someone normal from Tennessee is showcased–might not have the looks of your typical Idol, but his rendition of Superstar proves he’s got the chops.
North Carolina’s Lamar Royal was next. His take on Seal‘s Kiss From a Rose, in which he flubbed the lyrics, wasn’t absolutely horrible. The judges offer constructive criticism, but Royal becomes a royal pain and begins to mouth off, at which point Mary J. uttered my new favorite expression, “I was about to get my duck on”–referring to the fact that she turned to duck under the desk, not sure what Royal was about to do next. While Mary J. didn’t really offer much feedback during much of the show, in one witty remark, she provided the funniest moment of the night.
Blige‘s funniest moment didn’t hold the title long, as there was time for one last audition–enter General Larry Platt. While at 62, the military veteran is obviously well-past the show’s age limit, General Platt offered up an original rap song titles Pants on the Ground, in which he laments the popular inner city fashion of droopy trousers. As Simon said, we’ve probably not seen the last of General Platt. Hmmm Simon‘s much-touted upcoming American version of X Factor has no age limit, just sayin’. As General Platt made his way out the door, viewers were treated to a Pants on the Ground all-sing when those remaining in the interior of The W Hotel chimed in on one final chorus. With that, the Atlanta auditions came to a close with a less-than-impressive 25 contestants moving on to Hollywood Week.
American Idol continues to feature auditions next Tuesday as they breeze through Chicago assisted by a Music City favorite whose rumored to be on the verge of a long awaited comeback, country superstar Shania Twain.
Remember, I will follow each night’s competition by posting my full wrap-up, giving an insider’s look at this year’s hopefuls. Be sure and click the SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this article (located between the headline and the article itself) to insure you receive FREE email alerts whenever I’ve posted a new article.
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