Thursday night was the last round of auditions before American Idol heads to Hollywood and according to host Ryan Seacrest's voiceover during the previews of Hollywood Week, it will be unlike any Hollywood Week we've ever seen; a message that would have held a bit more weight if it wasn't accompanied by images of the Top Gun-esque hangar that we've seen before, clips of the judges trying to their best to terrorize the hopefuls, group-round brawls, and shots of random contestants lying seemingly lifeless on the floor. Adding a few new rules, here and there, does not constitute major change. If they really wanted to turn Hollywood Week on it's head, the judges would announce that contestants would be immediately eliminated at the first glimpse of histrionics or melodrama.
Now that would be a competition! But let us not wish our lives away but focus on the present. Omaha, Nebraska.
Overall, Omaha had it's standard bell curve of contestants but it's the outliers who are always the most interesting. Quaid Edwards was an outlier only because of his lineage and his dazzling smile. Quaid is the son of Jolie Edwards from "Jolie and the Wanted," a band who apparently toured with Keith Urban back in the day. Of course, Quaid wasted no time and dove head first into the name dropping portion of his interview, telling Keith who his mother was. Keith, the consummate professional expressed surprise but took the whole thing in stride. Even after they awarded Quaid a golden ticket for his performance of "A Change is Gonna Come," Keith's failure to even inquire if Jolie was there certainly didn't make her seem especially wanted.
Interestingly, Harry Connick, Jr. himself was an outlier more than once in Nebraska saying "no" to contestants like 15-year-old Madisen Walker, who likes to eat brownies, wear mullet dresses, and apply obscene amounts of mascara, Alyssa Siebken who opted to sing, "No Hands," from Walka Flocka Flame, and timid small-town girl, Andrina Brogden. Despite his "no's" Harry watched each of the girls sail through to Hollywood and though he may be harsher than the other judges at times, he always seems genuinely happy for the contestants who make it through, even if he deems them unworthy. Harry is just a cool cat.
But even the coolest of cats falter from time to time. When 25-year-old Tyler Gurwicz auditioned (I'm quite certain that must be 25 in dog years) he gave a performance that was only remarkable because of the strange, almost angry faces he made whilst singing. It was clear that Keith did not like him but Jennifer, who was once married to Marc Anthony, has a high threshold for unpleasant faces and voted yes. Harry initially said no but faltered and asked Tyler to sing a second song. After which, Harry changed his mind and voted Tyler through to Hollywood but almost immediately after, he regretted his decision, claiming that he believed he had experienced a lapse in judgement. Yes, Harry, we are all in agreement.
We were also all in agreement when Jennifer Lopez called 16-year-old, Dajontae Lenear, the cutest thing she'd ever seen. Dajontae gave a strong performance and got all three judges to agree to send him to Hollywood- no easy feat. It was frustrating that Idol opted to lump Dajontae's audition into one of their time-saving audition montages. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for time-saving efforts on Idol's part but Dajontae was charming enough to carry the spotlight on his own.
One contestant who deserved the spotlight on Thursday was Air Force Singer, Paula Hunt who gave a gorgeous performance of Etta James's, "All I Can Do Is Cry." In addition to her hypnotic voice, Paula exuded such a passion about her work in the military it was hard to not be impressed. Paula then explained to the judges that her mother was her musical inspiration. Paula's mother seemed to be on the right track in the music industry with record deals lined up until she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and lost her voice soon after. It was a tragic tale made only more tragic when we Ryan talked to Paula's mom after her daughter earned the ticket to Hollywood. In a wheelchair, she shakily explained that she can't sing anymore so now her children do it for her.
Yup, as a country we collectively wept at that moment.
But before we wrap, there is one final contestants who deserve honorable mention. It may be bold to say that Idol was saving the best for last when awarding Tessa Kate the final gold ticket to Hollywood. Surely she wasn't the best of all the hopefuls we heard but she did sing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," and that earned her a few bonus points in my book. In fact, since Adam Lambert covered Cash's, "Ring of Fire," in 2009, this writer has had an affection for contestants who can perform Cash songs well. So we're going to keep an eye on Tessa Kate - she seems to have that special spark and could go far.
Join us next week for the first installment of the Hollywood Chronicles. Are you ready for the drama?