~February 3, 2009~

Over 100,000 people auditioned for American Idol. Now, the fun and games are over as 147 people from all over the nation hit Hollywood. First day out, contestants had one shot to prove their worth in being there. Some succeeded tremendously... some failed miserably.

For the first time, contestants were given a boot camp before they even set foot on-stage. They spent time with stylists, makeup artists and most importantly, vocal coaches. They also benefited from the wisdom of surprise mentor Barry Manilow who extolled the importance of preparation meeting opportunity. Contestants had the opportunity. How they prepared was all up to them.

In a new, cut-throat twist, auditioners sang a cappella and then the decision was immediately made on whether to send them home. Their futures literally rely on this one audition.

Judges and I split over one of the most promising singers
Lil Rounds
started out the auditions. Judges loved her before she ever made it to Hollywood and that continued as Kara and Paula gave her a standing "o" for her singing of Whitney's "I Will Always Love You". I thought before that she was a top contender, but I found this audition shrilly and she almost lost her top notes. I would have put her through but with concerns.

Don't lose sight of what the judges saw in you
One of the real tragedies of the first night of Hollywood Week is Rose Flack. You might remember this sweet, dread-haired blonde who recently lost her parents. She got to Hollywood, got around all of the other singers and started to question herself and her capabilities. She has a really nice, bluesy voice and has every right to her place in this part of the competition. But as she sang, you could hear that her confidence is shattered. She went through but it would be a tremendous shame if she doesn't get her confidence back.

Bikini babe is back...and she's actually dressed this time
I'm sorry to say it, but this girl can sing. It's a horrible thing to say, but I simply don't like her loose personality. From throwing herself at Ryan by trying to French kiss him all the time to Simon fawning over her, it just seems like you have to take a shower after seeing her because of the filth she revels in. And because of that, it is extremely hard to take her seriously when she says, "I love to have the music around me. That's what's missing." Randy and Simon enthusiastically said "You're right, you're right." Guess what - that's what's missing for all of the other contestants too. I'm disappointed in Randy - he's normally a level-headed guy, but he's hopped on the Simon Sleigh of Sliminess with this one. I agree that this audition was better than her first. I guess in the future, I just prefer to keep the drooling out of the decision-making.

The Nine Lives of Nick/Norm
How many of you thought comedian Nick Mitchell a.k.a. Norm Gentle would not make it through if he didn't buckle down? I sure did. He squeaked by in getting to Hollywood because he was so darn entertaining. And, despite his vow to leave his persona behind, headbanded and shiny shirted Norm Gentle made another appearance. From past experience, I couldn't believe the judges even indulged him. Normally, they put up with no frivolity at this point in the game. But he started to sing, then encouraged the barren balcony to join in and even shouted to Ryan to also lend his voice. He was hilarious but ran the dangerous risk of getting immediately booted. Amazingly, he made it through and I agree with Randy - the crazy thing is this guy can sing. But I think his nine lives are up.
Bottom Line: He has got to buckle down next round, get rid of the antics and just really sing. Otherwise, he's outta there.

The woes of coming back
Two singers returned to plead their case before the judges.
Dennis Brigham - made very strange faces with eyes bugging out as he sang, bordering on over-expression. Simon said, because of his expressions, "I don't think anyone is going to take you seriously as a recording artist." He returned after he didn't make it, singing more and trying to prove the judges wrong. This might have flown during the city auditions. But it's a whole different level now and judges don't appreciate their decisions being questioned. He grumbled and told them they suck as judges. It only solidified their No answer.
Erika Wesley - the show only aired a few seconds of her audition so I have no idea how it went. But she decided to come back to ask for another chance. Paula and Simon got into it because Paula said she was out-voted while Simon said she voted No. Simon said he stood by the decision he made and Erika thanked them for hearing her out. She handled going back with class.

Interesting smatterings
Von Smith - Simon called Von's performance "indulgent nonsense". While I don't agree with Simon's phrasing, the audition was not good. Von was screamy and opened his mouth far too wide. It seemed like he was trying to sing with passion but it just ended up being over the top. He can sing but needs guidance. The judges gave him another chance but the problem is, he doesn't know what he did wrong, so improvement is going to be tough.
Rocker Jackie Tohn really performed her song with her husky, bluesy-rock voice. To me, she was treading the line of being over the top, though she made it through to the round. I think her days are numbered though. I don't know that she has the necessary versatility to go beyond the one style she can currently sing.
Best friends Jamar Rogers and Robert Downey Junior look-alike Danny Gokey both made it through. Danny tackled Seal's "Kiss On a Rose". I would never audition with this song - it is a tough, tough song to nail and it's even more difficult to shine. I dig Danny's voice but was afraid the song sunk him. But Paula said, "You are ready to record," and both guys made it through. These two are the first true friends who both can actually sing.

Never underestimate the choice of a good song
Singers at this level often choose songs simply because they like them. But there are more important things at stake: Does the song sit in the right place for your voice? Does it show off what you can do? Are there any problem areas? (If so, get rid of it. You've got only one shot and you can choose from any song out there.) Judges are looking for that Wow! factor and they won't find it solely based on a song you just happen to like.
Case in point: Nathaniel Marshall. - Chose "The Anchor Holds" by Ray Boltz and the judges were on the fence about song choice, though his explanation went a long way in helping his cause. He tearfully said he related to the song because he still had music as his anchor even when there wasn't anything else. I understand their being on the fence because the song melodically really didn't stretch him or show what he could do. But I really found his voice sweet and soulful and the audition was spot on.

What could you possibly have been thinking?!
Emily Wynne-Hughes, the tattooed punk rocker wowed the vocal coaches at Boot Camp with her song choice. Then at the last minute, she changed to a completely different song, which the judges hated. Luckily for her, they gave her another chance.
Word of advice: if the American Idol-appointed vocal coaches are good with your song choice, don't swap it out for an un-rehearsed counterpart.

104 made it through to the second part of Hollywood Week.

Tomorrow night is the dreaded Group Day where people's ideas and personalities clash as they prepare their group for joint-performance. The very nature of a lot of these personalities is that they won't mesh well with others and, with the added pressure of an opportunity of a lifetime hanging in the balance, there will be casualties along the way. Looking forward to seeing who makes it... and who folds.