For weeks, the focus has been on the new American Idol judges.
On the Nicki-Mariah feud. On Nicki saying she’s not sure she can trust herself on live TV. On Mariah saying it’s all a distraction from where the focus should be — the contestants.
And on poor Keith Urban being caught in the middle of dueling divas.
Think back two years. Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler had joined the judging panel. Both appeared oh, so promising during the pre-taped audition rounds. Both pretty much stopped judging once the live shows began.
But Season 10 was still entertaining, largely thanks to contestants named Pia and Casey and Haley and Lauren and Scotty.
So while much of the focus will still be on the judges during tonight’s two-hour premiere, keep in mind that these are edited episodes to show what producers want to show.
Oh, sure, I’ll pass along my initial judgment of the judges. I’ll share what others are thinking, too.
But I’ll also focus on those contestants, especially on female singers who might finally put an end to this white-guy-with-guitar string of Idol champs.
And so we begin.
With Phillip Phillips playing “Home,” the mega-hit of a coronation song that launched him to stardom. Oh, boy, Idol is certainly going to remind us of its star-making potential, isn’t it? Well, after all, the other singing shows haven’t exactly launched any yet.
So we start off with Nicki and Mariah squabbling over a drum major hat Ms. Minaj wore to day one. Oh, yeah, Idol is going to love this dueling diva bit, too, aren’t they?
The best comment about the Nicki-Mariah situation came earlier this week from Ellen DeGeneres, near the end of her interview with Nicki. She wished Nicki well, saying if everything worked out between the judges, that would be great. But if it didn’t, that would be better.
I’m sure that’s exactly the way Idol producers see it.
And we start off in New York …
Where Michael Buonopane, a 27-year-old shuttle driver from Massachusetts, becomes the first rejected contestant of Season 12 with his own version of “We Will Rock You,” with lyrics specially designed for Nicki and Mariah. Let’s just say Randy didn’t seem impressed.
Now, some serious contestants … and I’ll place an asterisk in front of those who are off to Hollywood.
* Tenna Torres, 28, of Queens, N.Y., once attended Camp Mariah. I’m guessing that’s a singing camp. Anyway, she’s a huge Mariah fan. She’s also not new to Idol. A pop singer, she made it to Vegas last year before getting cut. But I don’t think we ever heard her sing on the show. She’s going to sing “You’ve Got a Friend.” Hey, and this pop singer has a really nice voice. Mariah is impressed, and Tenna is heading to Hollywood with unanimous approval of the panel. For more on Tenna, head here.
James Bae, 15, Long Island: This youngster hopes to become the next Justin Bieber. He even auditions with a Justin song. But … well, this isn’t going so well, is it? Hey, I didn’t say good. I said serious. And he seemed serious, even said he practices for pretend concerts in his bedroom. Once he stops singing, Mariah asks if he’s ever deejayed. Randy tells him to stop singing. As in to stop pursuing singing. And he heads off with a “no” from all four judges. None of whom had trouble being honest after that performance. Though Nicki made a nice gesture of trying to boost his spirits as he was sent off.
* Christina “Isabelle,” 21, Duluth, Ga.: She’s a college student who struggled with her weight in high school, lost 50 pounds and gets compliments from the judges on her appearance. She launches into a very soulful performance of “Summertime.” OMG, says Nicki, who says she sees her going far in this competition. She calls it a combination of “amazing skill and beautiful tone.” Christina is another contestant who listened to Mariah growing up and wants to “bring that great music back.” And she gets a “yes” from all the judges.
Kevin Ruggiero, 21, Old Bridge, N.J.: Next we get a guy who’s been dancing for 17 years and had Broadway aspirations. Then, at 19, he was told he had cancer. After 16 months of chemotherapy, the cancer came back and he had to have his leg amputated to save his life. “Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t be the next American Idol,” he says. Now he plays guitar and says he’s a “one-legged tap dancer.” He’s singing “I’m Yours.” Apparently the guitar is just window dressing for the moment. Hmm, can’t say I thought much of that. Now he starts playing and singing “Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi. And this is going much better. Keith says he likes the voice, but isn’t certain he has star power. And the panel unanimously turns down Kevin. I’m a little surprised. Usually a back-story like that is worth an automatic yes. To Hollywood, at least.
Jessica Kartalis, 19, Staten Island, N.Y.: This is the first of these surprise invites to audition for Idol. Apparently, this gal’s mom contacted Idol suggesting her daughter try out for the show. Idol’s blue bar identifies her as a student/receptionist. She shows up for the audition with a guitar and an original song — maybe named “Gone” — that comes off a little rough. Nicki doesn’t think she’s ready yet, suggesting she come back next year after she’s “molded herself.” All the judges say “no.” Jessica leaves in tears. Shame. She seems to have potential.
* Shira Gavrielov, 23, Brooklyn: The next contestant is from Israel. She says she grew up in a musical household. Her dad is a composer and songwriter. She plays piano and writes songs. At 17, she released a CD and had a number one hit in Israel, she says. She launches into Amy Winhouse’s “Valerie.” Hmm. But the judges are impressed. Nicki says she loves her. And she gets a yes from all four judges.
* Frankie Ford, 24, Brooklyn: He left school to pursue music, but says things go rough. He calls himself a starving artist who sings on the subway train to make money. He’s adopted and says his mom struggled with substance abuse. He sings “Sweet Dreams.” Or tries to. He starts off in the wrong key and stops himself, then re-starts after a long pause. This time he nails it. And ends with a nice glory note. Keith compliments his “big voice.” Mariah compliments his “inner glow.” He’s unanimously off to Hollywood as well.
Benjamin Gaisey, 27, Sinking Springs, Pa.: Here’s a singer from Pennsylvania, who shows up dressed in red plastic and calls himself a ladies’ man. Oh, that red outfit is a Halloween costume from years ago. Just what I’d wear to an Idol audition. Sure enough, he’s a joke contestant. It doesn’t help that his outfit squeaks every time he moves. The judges are more amused by all of this than I am. Keith heads under the table. And, of course, he doesn’t get a “yes” from any of the judges.
Rozanna Shindelman, 21, Staten Island, N.Y.: Here’s a young lady who tests out all her performances on her parents. Idol’s blue bar identifies her as a medical billing worker and student. Nicki growls at her. Then calls her “ladybug.” Maybe it’s the growl that threw her off. Because Rozanna heads off stage with a unanimous “No.” Nicki’s’ reaction: “This isn’t what I thought it would be.”
And that’s followed by a montage of lots of contestants hearing “no.” And we have our first contestants of the year flipping off the camera.
* Sarah Restuccio, 17, Hammonton, N.J.: Now we get a New Jersey gal who’s from the country part of New Jersey, rides four-wheelers and says her heart is in country music. She works at a blueberry farm. She’s going to sing Carrie Underwood’s “Mama’s Song.” And compared to everyone we just heard, she sounds very good. Nicki thinks she could be a huge country star. Randy wants to hear another song. So she launches into Nicki’s “Super Bass.” Yep, this country girl raps. Which brightens up Nicki, immediately. “Nobody does that,” Nicki says. Sarah gets a yes from all four judges. The country rap thing isn’t just an audition ploy. To hear more of Sarah, including a rap on an old classic, head here.
Albert Chang, 25, Queens: He works as a receptionist, but started singing in a school chorus and will sing “Phantom of the Opera” for the judges. OK, this isn’t a case where a weird lead-in leads to a great audition. Nicki says no with a British accent after a brutal audition.
* Angela Miller, 18, Beverly, Mass.: She has hearing problems. A 40 percent hearing loss in her left ear, a 20 percent loss in her right. She sings a Jessi J song, “Mama Knows Best.” And her pitch is spot on. Randy calls her one of the “best today,” and Keith calls her “an easy yes.” And Angela, one of the most impressive singers we’ve heard so far, is off to Hollywood.
Brett Holt, 28, WIllow Grove, Pa.: Here comes a guy from the Philly area who says he’s the king of Idol trivia, but is stumped on what season of Idol this is. He guesses 13. Hey, give the guy a break. Here’s tried out seven times. He’ll sing a Nat King Cole song. OK, now we know why he didn’t make it to Hollywood the first seven times.
* Gurpreet Singh Sarin, North Potomac, Md., 22: He matches his turbans to his outfits. And he’s known as the Turbanator. He says he has about 40 or 50 turbans and thinks he can bring that color and creativity to Idol. I have no idea what he just sang, but he seems to have a decent voice. Mariah thinks his voice is “very pretty.” The vote comes down to Nicki. Gurpreet pleads a little, saying he has a turban to match Nicki’s hair, which is an odd shade of yellowish-orange at the moment. That, of course, sways Nicki, who sends him to Hollywood.
* Ashlee Feliciano, 20, East Hartford, Conn.: The gal’s parents decided to adopt medically challenged children. They had three children of their own, and have since adopted four more. Ashley is in tears talking about her parents’ support of her dreams. She says she “has the best family in the world.” She’s going to sing “Put Your Records On.” She shows off nice range. Mariah calls her “potential great.” And the judges invite Ashlee’s whole family into the audition room. And once that happens, you just know Ashlee is off to Hollywood.