We’re back for another week of auditions! In case you missed our previous article on the Boston, Austin and San Fran auditions, you can check it out here. Now, let’s get right down to business for this week. Once again, both of us will pick the contestants that stood out to us during the auditions – for night one, there are six a piece and for night two, five each – for a total of 22 standouts. Here are some of Ashleigh’s standout’s from Wednesday night’s show from Detroit:
1. Jade Lathan – “You Know I’m No Good” (Amy Winehouse) – J-Lo stole my comment before I was able to even write it; but I love the flute-like quality in Jade’s voice. When she reaches for those higher clips at the ends of her phrases, the whistle in her upper register has great impact. She’s has a few inflection problems that might signal some inconsistency in her future, but her golden ticket means that we’ll at least get to see one more shot from her. Overall, though, she was one of my favorites of the night. She had an infectious energy and her mix of soft and hard stylings made her stand out for me.
2. Ryan Nisbett – “Angel” (Sara McLachlan) – Alright, alright, alright. Not only did he pick one of my favorite songs of all time (and a perfect audition song; it’s so easy to show off on), but this kid walked in the door and was immediately on my radar. He evoked an unfamiliar sensibility, at least from an Idol point of view, and made you want to pay attention before he even opened his mouth. Whether you like the pompadour and the popped collar or not, he at least made you stop and look. His vocal offering seems to be of the same polarizing variety; a mix of that shouty, power ballad texture, and maybe some high-tenor musical theater influence thrown in, I personally think he has a lot to bring to the Idol stage. He could run into some problems with his random key changing, and if he doesn’t take control over his transitioning between chest voice and head voice, he might find trouble in Hollywood. I’m rooting for him, though.
3. Maurice Townsend – “So High” (John Legend) – I really really really REALLY hate it when Idol contestants exploit their kids on national television. Like. Really hate it. However, there was no denying Maurice’s silky smooth talent, and the John Legend favorite was such a perfect song choice for him that I would totally believe that it was his own song if I had never heard it before. His inflection and his believability, paired with his unique look will have him sitting pretty comfortably in the Hollywood rounds, I think. His dancing eyebrows are gonna need to take it down a notch, though.
4. Malaya Watson – “Ain’t No Way” (Aretha Franklin) – Generally I do not support the 15 and 16 year olds coming on this show. I think that’s too young to start out on such a massive platform, and even the most amazing kids that have gone through the Idol machine generally seem to come out of it a little bit worse for wear. Having said that, though, if they’re going to put 15 year olds through, I’m glad one of them was Malaya. She had this effortlessness to her that made her seem much older than 15, and I really appreciated the very obvious connection to song that she chose, despite the fact that the lyrical content was so far out of her depth. She put that raw talent and emotion into a strong, statuesque performance, and it definitely left me reconsidering my stance on young contestants. I do think she’s the exception to my opinion, though. “It’s just what I do.” Indeed it is, Malaya.
5. Eric Gordon – “Perfectly Lonely” (John Mayer) – I’m very territorial about John Mayer songs, I’ll just put that out there right now. So whenever someone comes through and tries to sell one to the Idol audience, I’m usually sitting off to the side with my arms folded indignantly. Eric’s choice was an interesting one, though, and his delivery implied a lot more than I expected. I loved the soulful edge to his tone, and he sort of reminded me of former Idol-turned-The-Voice hopeful Luke Edgemon (shout out!). Now, whether or not he has the range and the vocal stamina that Luke has showcased in the past remains to be seen, but I’ll be looking forward to seeing what he has up his (members only) sleeves in the upcoming rounds.
6. Keri Lynn Roche – “Radioactive” (Imagine Dragons) and “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Etta James) – I completely agreed with the judges: her second song was way better. I love both songs that she picked, but she seemed to be held back by her guitar playing, and nobody’s here for that. That seems to be a bit of a trend this year so far: have you noticed? I wish these contestants would stop getting so hung up on their playing and just focus on what they’re there for: to saaaang. And Keri has one of those voices that I really gravitate to, and I love her phrasing and enunciation. She seems to get hung up on song choices, though. Leading in with the pop number when she was very clearly more suited for the Etta James tune makes me think that perhaps she’s not quite sure what she’s supposed to be singing. She was one of my favorites of the night, though, so I’m really hoping she makes it through the Hollywood rounds.
And here are the people that stood out from the crowd for Andrew:
1. Ethan Harris – “You’ll Think Of Me” (Keith Urban) – I didn’t know what to expect when a cute young kid bearing a drawing of Keith Urban on the back of his guitar came into the audition room, but I was pleasantly surprised by him. His voice has a very unique quality to it and you could tell that some of his inflections came from listening to Urban’s music. That said, I think he’ll be another tween vote snatcher, but if he continues to sing like that, I wouldn’t mind seeing him stick around for a bit, even if he is a little young.
2. David Willis – “Too Close” (Alex Clare) – David, on the other hand, I knew exactly what to expect and while his Alex Clare cover wasn’t exactly the cool, rhythmic tune that he sang “Fever” to during Vegas last year, it still showed that he had substantial vocal chops. I did, however, get the vibe that he was a little bitter about being cut. Hopefully he can drop that attitude and just saaang his way into the finals again because he was one of the people I thought should I have made it in the first place.
3. Brandy Neely – “Wanted” (Hunter Hayes) – Like David, I knew I would like Brandy the second she walked in the room. I’ve liked her since her first audition several seasons back and while I wasn’t a fan of her makeover (way too much makeup for those bring lights and her short hair just ruined her “cool girl next door” look), I did think that her voice sounded just as warm as ever. Hopefully this will be the year that she seals the deal for herself.
4. Ayla Stackhouse – “Wings” (Little Mix) – This was an interesting choice from a girl who claimed to be deeply influenced by her Motown roots, but I can’t say I disapprove of it after hearing her sing. She turned a beat heavy song by a girl group into something really funky and cool when it was stripped down and acapella and I liked that. Like Keith said, she might live up to her name and be a stacked house in this competition if she keeps up that modern-old school twist.
5. Jena Ascuitto – “Rolling In The Deep” (Adele) – Compared to the phony Italian accent we got from another competitor on Wednesday night, I thought Italian girl Jena was as authentic as it gets and while I think should could have picked something a little more imaginative to show off her cool, swooping voice, I think we still got the picture that she definitely has talent and could be the kind of contestant that people just relate to like Kelly Clarkson.
6. Melanie Porras – “Fever” (Peggy Lee) and “Wanted Dead or Alive” (Bon Jovi) – Like J. Lo said, there was something unexpected about Melanie. Appearance-wise, she resembled Haley Reinhart from Season 11 and Kaitlyn Epperly from Season 9, but vocally she was closer to Kaitlyn and her guitar-driven cover of Fever and acapella cover of the Bon Jovi track was so opposite that I was left half confused and half intrigued. If, going forward, she can shake the confusion and leave us and the judges intrigued, I could see her sticking around like other interesting female guitarists like Brooke White.
For night two, we headed down to Atlanta for an hour long show that was jam-packed with some serious talent. Here were Ashleigh’s picks from the Peach State:
1. Majesty Rose – “Violet Hill” (Coldplay) – ALL HAIL HER MAJESTY. Okay but seriously how old are the royalty jokes going to get this season? Because Y’ALL know this girl is going to go far. Her soft tone and gorgeous control over the melody of the song was completely captivating, and Andrew and I both adored her audition. My favorite part of Majesty’s segment, though, was how she regarded the judges after she sang: her answers to their questions and her laid-back poise spoke volumes about how well she knows herself as a performer. She is coming into this competition with a firm grasp on what she has to offer, which hopefully means smart choices as she moves through the next rounds. Like I said, this girl is in for the long haul.
2. Jess Meuse – “Blue Eyed Lie” (Original Song) – I have a history of picking the pink haired rocker. Seriously. It’s an illness that I have, and I’m not entirely sure why I love them all so much, but I really do. Jess, with her guitar and her Alabama blues is a fantastic addition to the pink-haired legacy, and she even left her own stamp on the competition by leading out of the gate with an original song. She knows who she is and she knows what she has, stating “as long as I’m what they’re looking for, I’ll make it.” She knows she’s good, but she also knows that you can never guess what the judges are looking for, so there’s no sense in going in there with anything but what you know you’re good at. As much as we always love the versatility and unexpectedness on this show, I think there’s a lot to be said for those contestants that stick to what they do, and do that exact thing very well. I think Jess is going to be one of those contestants.
3. Sam Burchfield – “I Wanna Be Like You” (The Jungle Book Soundtrack) – Stop the presses, but I think this might be the first time that Harry and I have disagreed on a contestant. It may be that Mr. Jazz Man was offended by Sam’s improv’d scat at the end of the song, but I thought it added a really interesting tone to the wildly creative song choice. He wasn’t the strongest vocalist we’ve seen so far, but that has never stopped Idol from putting them through in the past. He had that fun energy and infectious charisma that often got the less-talented obviously talented ones through in the past, and maybe that will take him far enough to make it to the big stage. I know better than to question Harry, though, so maybe he’s right! Only time will tell.
4. Caleb Johnson – “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine” (Lou Rawls) – I honestly have no idea what song Caleb sang; they didn’t name it on air, and I cannot find evidence of its existence anywhere online. So whether it be something he wrote, or some extremely obscure or remixed version of a song that already exists, it was great. He has that raw grit in his voice that we’ve seen go far before, and not just because he’s been on the show 3 times. Caleb has a lot of redemption to find this season, and with a fresh crop of judges, I think he might be able to squeak through this time. He definitely has the presence for it, let’s just hope he doesn’t choke this time.
5. Ben Briley – “Arms of A Woman” (Amos Lee) – When you’re in Georgia, you’d expect that 90% of the guys that come through with guitars would be the stereotypical country boy, and Ben was not an exception there. His thick drawl and quiet demeanor is an Idol favorite, but what Ben has that others before him seem to lack is a freshness to the classic Idol troupe. I would have never in a million years expected him to pick an Amos Lee song, and he delivered the understated number with beautiful authenticity. More importantly he didn’t steam roll over it with a lot of vocal tricks: he just sang it really well. I hope he keeps that quiet confidence in the rounds to come.
And Andrew’s picks for Thursday night were:
1. Bria Ania – “One & Only” (Adele) – More Adele? Ugh. I think the worst part of this girl picking this song is that it hid her talent and the judges kind of caught on to that. She’s pretty and talented, so she definitely has potential, but she needs to make better song choices and just simplify the way she sings them. I, like Harry, don’t appreciate excessive runs, but I try not to let them cloud my judgment on the person’s voice overall and Bria has a voice.
2. Neco Starr – “Someone Like You” (Adele) – Another returnee that I have fond memories of and, one again, he picks a damn Adele song. I was surprised that he would pick something so safe given that he was known for his edgier choices back in Season 11, but the judges did voice that to him and seemed to be encouraging him to take a bit of a risk and let his real self shine, because it almost got him into the finals last time, so maybe it will do the same again this year?
3. Kristen O’Connor – “Good Morning, Heartache” (Billie Holiday) – It seems I picked all the people who love doing excess runs. That said, I thought Kristen’s song choice showed an affinity for older music and her voice was good, even despite the runs. I will say, which is more of a critique for the Idol producers: next time don’t show us the person’s life story over their audition. I want to here what their singing and how they’re singing it. Thanks.
4. Emily Piriz – “Mama Knows Best” (Jessie J) – Now here’s a female contestant I can get behind: crystal clear tone, modern music taste, pretty and wholesome but with a bit of an attitude. Yeah, Emily is Idol through and through and if she can just sing straight down the middle like this, that might just be enough to get her past all the people trying to do too much with their voice. We’ll see, I guess.
5. Jordan Brisbane – “When I Was Your Man” (Bruno Mars) – Wow, this kid is young, but like the judges said, he’s got an infectious personality. He’s cute and, I think Harry hit it right on the nose when he said that his voice is going to grow and grow as time passes. Part of me thinks that might be a reason to tell him to come back, but when you’re this talented, I say give the kid a shot and if he crashes and burns, at least it will be a learning experience.
Despite the short show on Thursday, we were still given a huge offering of talent this week. It has been interesting to see the subtle format changes, with less focus on the gimmicky contestants, as well as the blatantly awful ones. It’s apparent that idol is trying their best to showcase the entire spectrum of ‘talent’ that shows up at their cattle call auditions, without making a joke out of their process as it seems has been the case in so many seasons past. The judges have remained consistent with their demeanor, and it has been so refreshing to see real, authentic reactions from them as they make their picks for who to send through to the next round. As they head to Salt Lake City and Omaha next week, we’re excited to see what else this season has in store for us. Thanks for reading, and see you next week!
About the Authors
Andrew Rogers is Editor and staff writer here at ‘The Hudsucker’. He is a 25 year old law student who lives in Halifax during the school year and Toronto the rest of the year. Besides Law, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and food factoids. Andrew is also happily in a relationship with an American boy named Elliott. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.
Ashleigh Stokrp is Senior Editor and staff writer here at ‘The Hudsucker’. Priding herself as a ‘Jack of all Trades,’ Ashleigh has always been one to expand her horizons and try to be that person to help someone accomplish something. A singer, a writer, a counselor, a designer, a consumer of culture; there are few things that she doesn’t consider herself interested in. With a degree in psychology and a background in graphic design under her belt, Ashleigh is currently expanding her life-repitoire with a career in app building; distributing apps and producing content on Apple and Amazon’s digital newsstands. Follow her on Twitter as @anakedlight.