Season 12, Season 12 auditions

Idol finds Lazaro and lots of talented ladies in Chicago

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OK, the verdict is in. And as fun as dueling divas are, they must not be must-watch TV.

TV by the Numbers reports that American Idol dominated TV ratings on Wednesday night, drawing nearly 18 million viewers.

Mackenzie Wasner started off the Chicago audittions in a brilliant fashion. But viewership among 19 to 49 year olds was down about 19 percent from last year and the lowest for an Idol premiere since Season 1.

Probably not what Idol had in mind when it brought Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj on board.

Judging from the previews, they’ll battle some more tonight.

I’m just hoping Idol also finds time to introduce us to more Idol worthy talent. Last night, we were introduced to just eight Hollywood-bound singers over the course of two hours.

If you want to hear more from those singers, head here. I’ve posted non-Idol videos of everyone but Frankie Ford, simply because I couldn’t find non-Idol video of Frankie Ford.

Oh, want some good news? It’s not Idol-related. At least not really.

Fifth Harmony has been signed to a record deal. Deservingly so. They were the most improved act over the course of Season 2 of The X Factor.

I’m more excited to learn that Voice winner Cassadee Pope has landed with Republic Nashville. Here’s betting she becomes the contestant to disprove this nonsense that, among the singing shows, only American Idol can produce a star.

* MacKenzie Wasner, 17, Leiper’s Fork, Tenn: Here’s a young lady whose dad performed with Vince Gill and who gave her first performance in kindergarten, singing the ABCs with her father. Hey, this gal is singing about an angel and has the voice of an angel. I think the song was “Whenever You Come Around.” Mariah says she has a gorgeous voice and star power. Nicki says she “blew her mind” and it was like listening to her first single. She won over country judge Keith, too. And she’s unanimously headed to Hollywood.

Kiara Lanier is Hollywood bound on American Idol. * Kiara Lanier, 21, Chicago: She’s a college student/teacher, according to Idol’s blue bar. She’s a good-looking “ladybug,” says Nicki Minaj. She can speak in a British accent, just like Nicki. She says Mariah inspired her to sing. Oh, and she sang for our president at his birthday party. With all those credentials in her favor, she launches into Celine Dion’s “The Prayer.” And Nicki’s face breaks into a huge smile. Because she’s the second very talented female singer we’ve heard just 15 minutes into tonight’s episode. Nicki calls it “pretty freakin’ pretty.” Mariah says she has “huge potential.” And Keith says she showed up ready to be a star. She’s Hollywood bound.

* Stephanie Schimel, 20, Milwaukee, Wisc.: She’s a lingerie store employee. She’ll sing “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” Hmm, and she has a very sexy tone to her voice. Nicki wasn’t wowed, saying “nothing jumped at me.” But the other three judges were clearly impressed. Folks, we met Stephanie before. Back in Season 10, when she was a brunette. And she’s going to Hollywood on a 3-1 vote.

Melissa Bush, 27, Grandville, Mich.: The massage therapist shows up wearing sparkles, ready to massage Ryan’s back and bearing a gift for Randy Jackson. Then she launches into “Downtown,” proving what we suspected. She’s one of the contestants who won’t be Hollywood bound.

* Gabe Brown, 21, Marion, Iowa: This guy is another of Idol’s small-town finds. He’s a rock singer who comes bearing treats for the judges. He says he’s a baker, too. He’s going to sing “Give Me Shelter.” OK, it’s a little over the top. OK, make that way over the top. This isn’t singing, dude. This is shouting. Replies Keith: “Do you have something with volume?” Mariah asks for something more mellow. So he sings “We All Die Young.” But he can only control quiet for a little while. Nicki calls him authentic. She’s also nicknamed him Curly. And he’s heading to Hollywood with four yes votes. Not sure how that happened. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed at all.

Kevin Nabity, 25, Polk City, Iowa: Oh, boy. Now we have a guy who’s into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and does Ninja rap? What the heck is that. He also dances and does computer animation. OK, you know it’s going to get bad when they have to flash the words to the song on the screen. He’s speed-singing a Bare Naked Ladies song. After that flops, he launches into a brutal rendition of “Come Sail Away.” And he isn’t heading to Hollywood.

Isabelle Parell is Hollywood bound on American Idol* Isabelle Parell 15, Cenerton, Indiana: She wants to sing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and she has asked her favorite judge, Keith Urban, to sing the male lines. Isabel has a really sweet, delicate tone to her voice. And, hey, folks, she’s only 15. Keith says he likes her voice, but questions her choice of singing partner. Mariah says she loves Christmas and was happy to hear Christmas music in the middle of the summer (?). Nicki loves her poise. And Isabelle gets three yeses, but a no from Randy. Nevertheless, she’s Hollywood bound.

* Griffin Peterson, 22, Oconomowoc, Wis.: Nicki suggests “grrr” might be a better name than Griffin. You guessed it. He’s a good-looking guy. He’s going to sing “Wash by the Water.” He’s got a pretty good voice. Not nearly as good as three of four ladies we’ve heard tonight. Randy isn’t impressed. Mariah sees his potential. Probably more as a heart-throb than a singer, apparently. Nicki insists girls will flock to his concert.

Curtis Finch Jr. turned out to be one of the best male singers we've heard so far on American Idol. * Curtis Finch Jr., 24, St. Louis: This guy is a tutor at a charter school. He calls himself a hard worker who believes in perfecting his craft. Nicki nicknames him Finchy. He launches into a brilliant rendition of “God is Able.” Hey, at long last, a guy who can sing as well as some of the ladies we’ve heard. Randy calls him a “crazy vocalist.” And he’s through unanimously. And he brings in a female friend who’s a big Mariah fan.

Mariah Pulice is Hollywood bound on American Idol. * Mariah Pulice, 19, Darien, Ill.: She says she’s battling anorexia. During high school, she says all she would eat, is a piece of cheese each day. And that anorexia engulfed every phase of her life. Once she started recovering, she says music was the thing that helped her persevere. She’s going to sing “Let It Be.” She has a nice voice. Certainly good enough to merit a golden ticket. Nicki says she “really felt that song” coming from her. Randy said he “loved it.” And Mariah says she felt touched by the performance. And, of course, Mariah is Hollywood bound. Mariah the contestant breaks into tears. And her family came prepared with confetti.

Brandy Neelly is Hollywood bound on American Idol. * Brandy Neelly 17, Louisville, Kentucky: Here’s a young lady who was adopted by her aunt. And says she’s thankful for her adoptive parents and the loving home they provided. She’s a big fan of Keith. She’s going to sing “Your Cheating Heart.” And here’s predicting the judges will be big fans of Brandy. She went sharp in a couple of places, but also hit some incredible notes and showed off a big voice. Nicki calls her “super, super special.” Mariah loves her voice, too. She gets a unanimous vote to Hollywood, too. “America, here I come,” says Brandy.

* Josh Holliday, 24, Celeste, Texas: He’s singing “Back At One.” Not crazy about his voice, but it’s better than most of the guys we’ve heard from to this point. “I love that,” Mariah says. Randy suggests he “has something cool going on.” Nicki says he has “an exciting sound.” He’s Hollywood bound, too.

* Courtney Williasm, 18, Greenville, Miss.: Another impressive female singer. We only see a short snippet of her audition.

* Andrew Jones, 28, Chicago, Ill.: He turns in an exuberant version of “Knock on Wood.” He’s going forward, too.

* Clifton Duffin, 22, Country Club Hills, Ill.: Here’s a guy whose parents didn’t even know he sang. He says he didn’t feel confident enough in his voice. He’ll sing “Superstar,” one of his mother’s favorite songs. And, of course, he’s pretty darn impressive. His mom and dad join him in the audition room in time to hear the judges compliment their son. Mariah says she “loved it” and says she can relate to him because she used to sneak off and sing to “escape.” Keith calls him a diamond in the rough with raw talent. Another Hollywood-bound guy.

Ieisha Cotton, 19, Chicago, Ill.: She’s a professional dancer and a big-time fan of Mariah Carey. She’s going to sing “Thank You.” Unfortunately, the singing isn’t as good as the dancing. Randy calls her tone deaf. And other judges are shocked at his honesty. Ieisha doesn’t sound discouraged. She says she’ll try out again next year.

Johnny Keyser is Hollywood bound on American Idol. * Johnny Keyser, 23, Pompano Beach, Fla.: Hmm, think we met Johnny last year. Yep, when he was featured in a Season 11 audition episode. This time around, he’s singing “Try a Little Tenderness.” He’s not close to the best male vocalist we’ve heard, but he’s got the star look. Mariah calls him “a star.” And after some verbal jousting among the judges — that would be Nicki and Mariah — Johnny is Hollywood bound. No surprise there.

* Kez Ban, 27, Durham, N.C.: Now we hear from a fire performer who also makes balloon animals as a street performer. She says she doesn’t expect to win, but would like to go to Hollywood. She sings “Pinocchio.” And it’s better than you’d expect. Then she picks up the guitar, sings “Wander Til the Day I Die” and it sounds even better. Hmm, and it’s an original song. Nicki calls her “very captivating.” And Keith says he likes her voice a lot. And the singer who feared she might wind up on the blooper reel leaves with a golden ticket.

Ashley Curry, 19, Flossmoor, Ill: She’s a college student, a musical theater major, who decides to sing Jessie J’s “Mama Knows Best” for her audition. And she launches into it full tilt, over-the-top style. Nicki says she might do better with the right vocal coach. Randy isn’t convinced. The singing jolts Mariah out of her sleep. Randy calls the vocals “shocking.”

* Lazaro Arbos, 21, Naples, Fla.: Idol has been building up to this contestant all night. Lazaro has struggled with a stuttering problem. Lazaro says his battle with stuttering is like a “roller coaster.” Things others would find easy are hard for him, he says. His mom says he started stuttering at age 6, has worked and worked on it, but it hasn’t improved. Lazaro says no one knows where the stuttering came from, but that he has few friends as a result. And that means music is his life, his father says. He’s going to sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” And he doesn’t stutter when he sings. And he sounds very good. Keith calls his voice “beautiful” and says he should sing all the time. The judges’ compliments have Lazaro in tears. And, of course, Lazaro is Hollywood bound. I have a feeling we’re going to see and hear lots more of him.

Here’s a bonus video of Lazaro singing.

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