‘American Idol’ recap: Steel City struts its stuff

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The ‘American Idol’ audition caravan rolled into Pittsburgh on Thursday night for part two of Season 11’s two-night premiere. It was a trim, tidy, hourlong affair in which we saw the best Steel City had to offer. (Were any of the auditionees actually from Pittsburgh?) A surprising number of the singers blended ‘crazy’ personalities and/or audition stunts with solid vocals, impressing the judges and keeping the rest of us at least mildly interested.

The most memorable vocalists included …

Heejun Han, a 22-year-old Korean American who seemed like a kook when he commented on the size of Ryan Seacrest’s head, relative to his own; told the judges they looked like wax figures, and did a weird wiggly warm-up move with his arms, but then delivered a perfectly nice version of Michael Bolton’s ‘How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?’


Reed Grimm, who said he’d been singing onstage since age 2 and bopped and scatted his way impressively through the theme song to ‘Family Matters,’ prompting Steven Tyler to compliment him for being both ‘crazy’ and a ‘genius.’

Samantha Novacek, who brought in her sister to do some face-down-on-the-floor yoga move called ‘planking’ while Novacek sang Faith Hill’s ‘Like We Never Loved Before.’ (Apparently -– and mystifyingly -- Novacek sings better when her sister ‘planks.’ ‘I’m not a singer; I’m a planker,’ the sister told Seacrest. ‘I’m just planking her to Hollywood.’)

Creighton Fraker, who wrote his own audition song (flatteringly featuring the names of the ‘Idol’ judges, natch) on the bus ride down to Pittsburgh from New York and then followed that up with another song, prompting Tyler to declare him to be ‘sweetly insane.’

Eben Franckewitz, an adorable 15-year-old sorta-Bieber-alike who sang a gorgeous, pure ‘Ain’t No Sunshine.’

Travis Orlando, the homeless teen from the Bronx who got a lot of attention when he auditioned for ‘Idol’ last year but then failed to follow through on his early promise and got cut. Deemed by the judges to have been ‘better’ than last year, he earned another chance to progress toward the ‘Idol’ crown with a sweet -– but not stellar -– rendition of ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’

Erika Van Pelt, a ‘mobile DJ’ and wedding singer with a nice smile and a resonant, throaty alto singing voice.

Shane Bruce, a 19-year-old coal miner (!) who emerged from underground (he was inspired to go into the family business like his ‘pap’) to pursue his dreams of the spotlight, but saw his dream, if not denied, at least deferred. Alas, no ticket to Hollywood. (Maybe if he knew Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ did not originate in the movie ‘Shrek,’ things would have been more likely to have gone his way? Has he been hiding under a rock? Oh … right.)


And, best of all, Hallie Day, a gorgeous blond 24-year-old from Baltimore who, as a teen, ran away from home to join a girl group in New York City only to return home crushed and hopeless. Now happily married and working as a waitress, she’s giving a singing career another shot -– and sang such a pitch-perfect, passionate rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ that Jennifer Lopez muttered, as she walked out of the audition room, ‘She could win.’

Maybe, but there are still more auditions to go. Next up? San Diego … on Sunday night.

What did you think of the Pittsburgh auditions? Any favorites? RELATED:

‘American Idol’ recap: Season 11 starts in Savannah

‘American Idol’ stars rip ‘X Factor’ and ‘The Voice’

‘American Idol’ returns to increased competition

-- Amy Reiter