“American Idol” auditions rolled through Motor City like a shiny, new Chrysler rolling off an assembly line, adding 40 golden-ticket-clutching, Hollywood-bound hopefuls to its roster – for a season total of 119 so far -- by the end of its stay. Who knew there was so much talent waiting to be discovered in Detroit?
Keith Urban got a fragel for breakfast – “A fried bagel … It’s a Detroit thing,” he explained -- and we got …
Keri Lynn Roche, a 24-year-old waitress whose “Radioactive” for some reason left Jennifer Lopez wanting more, but whose follow-up song, an a cappella take on Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” left all three judges convinced.
Julian Miller, an 18-year-old shoe salesman who sounded to the judges like “an artist that’s going somewhere.”
Olivia Diamond, 22, and Paris Primeau, 16, two colorfully coiffed singers who auditioned separately but whose successful auditions were lumped together in the editing room. (A third contestant, 18-year-old Samantha Furtwengler, was less successful, prompting the judges to remark upon the “roller coaster” nature of the proceedings.)
Fifteen-year-old marching-band tuba player Malaya Watson, whose “Ain’t No Way” made Harry Connick Jr. gush, “Thank you for doing such a great job.” Lopez called her voice “pure” and “special” and compared her to a young Michael Jackson.
Bryan Watt, at 29 one of the older contestants to audition this season, whose heroically good looks and “confident, patient, easy performance” convinced Connick he was Superman. “Bring the cape to Hollywood,” Connick said.
Khristian D’Avis, 22, a Detroit girl now living in Chicago, who, despite a fake-sounding Italian accent that mysteriously disappears halfway through her audition, an unimpressively thin voice (showcased on an ultrablah “Saving All My Love”), and an unsettling hunger for stardom, was sent through to Hollywood, probably in hopes of upping the drama factor. Urban got to be the voice of sanity, telling the other judges what made him mad was D’Avis’ unwillingness to listen to criticism. Clearly, that’s just the beginning of this contestant’s issues.
Jena Asciutto, a 17-year-old high school senior who writes her own music but sang Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” giving unusual treatment to an all-too-usual song choice. Urban complimented the “personality” in her tone and interesting enunciation.
Melanie Porras, a 19-year-old administrative assistant who sang a jaunty “Fever” with her guitar and then Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead of Alive” without it. “I can hear you recording records,” Lopez told her. “And I haven’t said that to anybody, I don’t think, this year yet.”
Jade Lathan, 20, who impressed the judges right away with a look that combined a floral hair wreath, nifty stockings and a little leather jacket. “It’s a very beautiful mix,” Lopez said appreciatively. Lathan’s take on an Amy Winehouse song then impressed the judges all over again. “I don’t want to patronize you, but you are absolutely adorable,” Connick told Lathan, sounding not the least bit patronizing. “You just look fresh and sweet and nice.” Plus, he said, she “did some things I didn’t expect.”
Sarah Scherb, 19, whom the judges commended on her nice voice and “beautiful” looks. Her dad works for Delta, giving Connick the opportunity to point out he is probably the only one of the three judges who ever flies commercial, that is, he said, “when I’m not on Greyhound.”
Sydney Arterbridge, 15, whose high notes on “Loving You” inspired an impressed Connick to make a quip about camera lenses breaking.
Maurice Townsend, a 26-year-old church music director and father of four with what Connick called “the most stylish family I’ve ever seen.” “Dad, you’re going to Hollywood,” one of his sons was coached to inform him.
David Oliver Willis, 22, a returnee from last year (he was cut in Vegas) whose effortless style made the judges urge him to push harder. “He definitely is born to play and sing. I just don’t think he’s going to win,” Connick said. “You never know,” countered Lopez.
Brandy Neelly, 18, another returnee, this one from Lopez’s previous judging stint, had a vocal sound that stirred debate between Lopez, who called it a “nasally quality,” and Connick, who called it a “gutteral thing.” He wouldn’t correct it; she would. “Totally subjective,” Connick declared. Urban stayed out of it. “I loved it. I love your voice,” he told Neelly.
Ethan Harris, a 20-year-old copy shop worker whom the judges described as “the lost Osmond brother, Ronny.” Harris, who said he is a “big Keith Urban fan,” collected Urban’s autograph on a picture he drew of him and then sang a Keith Urban song. Urban looked maybe a little creeped out (he said he had “mixed feelings” about the performance), but Harris got through with three yeses anyway.
Leah Guerrero, 21; Zach Day, 19; Symphony Howlett, 24 -- a triple play of yeses, memorable primarily for Day’s footwear: flip-flops.
Ayla Stackhouse, a 17-year-old Detroit native who had already made it to Hollywood (she moved there to live with her aunt) but was trying for the golden ticket nonetheless. Her take on Little Mix’s “Wings” made Connick exclaim, “You’re so cute!” and Lopez add, “You’re so good.” The judges said she had “star potential,” and Connick called her audition “smart,” predicting Stackhouse would “start exploding as this thing goes forward.”
Eric Gordon, 27 and a lab technician, whose James Dean hair, Members Only jacket and “groove” were admired by the judges. He also elicited a mildly suggestive response from Urban when he said, “My wife taught me how to use a blow dryer about five months ago.” Now, now, Keith.
Ryan Nisbett, 24, a very stylish art student with a Johnny Depp-ish look who credits a dairy- and gluten-free diet for a dramatic weight loss. After he sang “Angel,” Lopez called him “sui generis,” which she proudly explained means “one of a kind.” Connick wondered, for some reason, whether “American Idol” voters would appreciate Nisbett and told him he was “personally responsible for that hole in the ozone layer.” It was a hairspray joke, which initially seemed to confuse the contestant, who declined to shake hands because, he said, he was sick. Either that or he has a germ thing.
Marrialle Sellers, 17, who we saw briefly in the very first moments of this season’s premiere. Now, we learned her back story: Her father taught her all about music, but died just after Christmas in 2008, leaving a note saying he wanted her to go make something of her musical gifts. She reminded Lopez of Rihanna and Miley Cyrus, and that’s before she’d sung a note. After she did sing -- a catchy take on “Grenade” -- Connick was sold, telling her she will a “nightmare” for the other competitors this season. He made her look in the camera and declare her intention of becoming the next American Idol.
She might be. And so might a few others from the Detroit auditions. Did you find any of Wednesday night’s auditions particularly impressive?