Good talent isn't easy to phind in Philadelphia — at least judging from Wednesday's episode of "American Idol," in which the show traveled to the cheesesteak capital of the world to audition aspiring singers for its 15th and final season.
The City of Brotherly Love brought us a few trainwreck contestants: We met a guy who failed every question in a tete-a-tete "Idol"-contestant trivia test administered by Season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken (all the answers were Aiken himself), unsuccessfully auditioned with boom-box accompaniment, emerged with his shirt over his head, and then declared that he was "pissed" not only for himself, but also for the show. And there was a janitor from Indianapolis who sang Lady Gaga's "Born This Way," danced around in sparkly bikini bottoms and a glittery "Jesus hair piece," and then vowed to make his mark on music some other way.
"Idol" has always punctuated its audition parades by offering up poor unfortunates who may or may not be aware that they are being mocked, but, as Aiken recently pointed out, the current judges don't really seem to know how to respond to these untalented sacrificial lambs. Too humane to make fun of them, they seem rather to endure them — painfully — before gently sending them on their way.
Their obvious discomfort mirrors ours.
Thankfully, the show did manage to phind a phew singers worth the Hollywood plane phare (only one was from Pennsylvania, but who's counting?).
They were …
Gianna Isabella, a 15-year-old from Jackson, N.J., whose mother is '80s pop singer Brenda K. Starr (her big hit: "I Still Believe," a song later covered by Mariah Carey, whose career Starr helped launch before her own star faded). After a sound glitch deprived us of hearing about Starr's connection to Jennifer Lopez (they used to rehearse in the same studio) and how proud Starr is of her young daughter, Isabella showed off her vocal strength with "House of the Rising Son." "Your mommy would be proud," Lopez said. Then she called Isabella's mommy in and let her hand her daughter the golden ticket herself. Aww.
Isaac Cole, also 15, a country singer and Keith Urban fan from rural Pennsylvania. Before launching into Lee Brice's "Love Like Crazy," the Bieber-coiffed kid announced, "I'm gonna do my a cappella song with the guitar," which Urban dubbed "the line of the day." Lopez said the song touched her heart. Harry Connick Jr. called Cole "smart," but advised him to stop singing with a twang. Urban called him a "work in progress" and said he wasn't sure if he was quite ready yet. Cole reassured the judges that he was a "fast learner," and managed to collect three yeses — along with Urban's signature on a reserved spot on his already autograph-filled guitar case. Sweet.
Sara Sturm, a charming 17-year-old from Centreville, Va., who first amused with her stories of waitressing at a punnily named breakfast restaurant — Eggspectation — and then impressed with her full-throated take on Meghan Trainor's "Lips Are Moving." Urban said Sturm was one of his favorites from the day (mine, too), and then added, "Just to be clear, you did meet our eggspectations." Cute.
Jenn Blosil, 23, a "quirky" (her word) character from Orem, Utah, by way of Brooklyn, N.Y., surprised the judges with her rendition of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive," accompanying herself on the piano. "I find you very interesting, compelling almost," Lopez said, later calling Blosil an "artist" and declaring that she adored her voice. Urban admired Blosil's ability to tell a story and seem "very present." Connick called the performance a "nice surprise." Three yeses.
Harrison Cohen, a 17-year-old from New York City, whose "awesome, foxy" grandpa gives him dating advice. After declaring himself "single and ready to mingle," Cohen gave a performance of an original song that could truly dazzle the ladies. Certainly it wowed the judges. Lopez said it was the sort of pop song she felt like she might hear on the radio right now. Connick tried to play like he wasn't impressed, wondering aloud if Cohen had the "powerhouse" chops to "bookend" Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson, but the other judges didn't play along. Cohen got three yeses, and a chance for his grandpa to dispense dating advice to Lopez. Use it and be well, Jen.
And last but not least, John Arthur Greene, a 27-year-old, originally from North Carolina, with a haunting story about why guns shouldn't be kept in houses where children play. Greene is now performing on Broadway in the musical "Matilda" and gave a solid performance of Urban's "Somebody Like You," which for some reason left Connick unconvinced. "I think you have a very strong voice, but I'm just thinking, you know, what else is there?" he said. Lopez said she was unsure whether, at some point, Greene would be able to "hang with" some of the other singers in the competition, but added that she thought he had "something." Urban said he was "curious to know what else" Greene could do and, joining Lopez, voted him through. Connick said no, but it didn't matter. Greene was headed to Hollywood.