American Idol in Milwaukee: Chris Medina and other tearful moments

American Idol's auditions in Milwaukee built on the early promise of the new judges, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. Chris Medina and other contestants brought tears to many eyes. But can Simon ever really be replaced?

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello
Steven Tyler, left, and Jennifer Lopez, new judges on the FOX series 'American Idol,' mingle onstage during the FOX Broadcasting Company Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 11

Last week, life without Simon Cowell began; well, American Idol without Simon Cowell began.

For some of us, the distinction is hazy.

Fans of the show have proven their willingness to accept change over the years. In Season 2, we faced the loss of co-host Brian Dunkleman with a stiff upper lip. In Season 8 came the addition of Kara DioGuardi; a change decidedly more difficult to bear, but we persevered.

The producers, sensing our dedication, then let loose a firestorm of changes.

Paula Abdul gone. Ellen DeGeneres in. Simon out. Kara and Ellen out.

Now, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler are in . . . and nothing will ever be the same. Even the intro song has had some work done, a little nip here and a tuck there.

The early episodes of the season showed JLo struggling with the word, "no," Tyler struggling with several of his own words (many of which were bleeped out) and Randy Jackson, in an act of blatant symbolism, struggling to fill Simon's old seat - something he easily managed in the literal sense, although not as successfully in the figurative. But underneath it all, there is a fledgling chemistry between these three judges that is critical to the success of the show, as the Paula-Simon-Randy pairing proved.

But Wednesday night's Milwaukee, Wisc., auditions raised a new question: Rather than trying to recreate Simon's brand of caustic rhetoric, have they decided to just, well . . . say yes to everyone? For industry chart toppers, JLo and Tyler seem to be rather easily impressed and are eating up the contestants' sob-inducing stories in a way that Simon rarely did.

Yet, amid the mediocre who managed to cry their way to Hollywood, there were some contestants on Wednesday night' s show who deserved their golden tickets.

  • 16-year-old Scotty McCreery's, deep, country voice and natural confidence made JLo smile when he sang Josh Turner's, "Your Man" followed by Travis Tritt's, "Put Some Drive in Your Country," giving Randy the first name-dropping opportunity of the season when he proudly confirmed that he and Tritt produced an album together.
  • Naima Adedapo, a 25-year-old Summerfest grounds cleaner and mother of two showed some promise. But "keeping it real," will America find her facial expressions while singing, distracting and ultimately annoying.
  • This season's version of Ayla Brown, Molly DeWolf Swensen will likely be remembered as the Harvard graduate and White House intern who Randy inadvertently punched in the mouth. But her rendition of "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" was almost as unforgettable as her fat lip.
  • Student teacher Scott Dangerfield sang Amos Lee's "Dreaming," and nearly fainted when JLo exclaimed, "You may be one of my favorites so far." His swagger was more impressive than his audition, but let's see more of him.
  • Tiwan Strong, a 29-year-old daycare teacher from Chicago, performed "Twisting the Night Away" and made it through to Hollywood, only to have a relative steal his moment of victory when she doubled over, screaming she had a charlie horse, whilst hanging on to Ryan for support. Ryan massaged her leg and we can only hope that she is now resting comfortably, somewhere far from Tiwan.
  • Chris Medina sang Script's "Breakeven," and his touching story about being the caretaker of his fiancĂ©e, who suffered a brain injury two months before their wedding, made the song especially poignant. But, as Danny Gokey can attest, the story is only icing - you need the voice to get you through. Will Chris's voice be strong enough to bring him through Hollywood week?
  • One of the best in Milwaukee was Steve Beghun (apparently pronounced, "Big Goon"), an accountant whose voice was as wonderful as his dry sense of humor. Steven Tyler described him as "disturbingly great."

Hmmm. That's a good description, too, of Steven Tyler as a new judge on American idol. . . perhaps "great" is too strong, let's go with "good" . . . he's disturbingly good. But Simon is still disturbingly absent.

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