American Idol in San Francisco: Why you should watch James Durbin and Emily Anne Reed

American Idol auditions in San Francisco were the final night of auditions before Hollywood Week. Some would argue that American Idol saved the best for last with the stellar performances from James Durbin and Emily Anne Reed.

Singers Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, musician Randy Jackson and host Ryan Seacrest appear onstage at a press conference to officially announce the season 10 American Idol judges panel at The Forum. One final stop in San Fransisco and the judges are headed to Hollywood Week.

On Wednesday night, American Idol took us to San Francisco for the last on-the-road auditions of the season. For some viewers, this episode marks the finale of this season of American Idol.

No dramatic Hollywood week, no heart-pounding result shows, no "Idol Gives Back" or actual season finales for them. No, for these viewers, the true enjoyment of the show is witnessing large masses of our country's youth coming together for a shared goal . . . to make fools of themselves.

But for some the final road audition is like a right of passage. These viewers have made a commitment to a journey to help find the next American Idol. Sure, they aren't physically traveling the country, sitting through countless hours of auditions, subjecting themselves to the shrewd eye of the Idol blogger with a chip on her shoulder. But do not minimize their dedication, for they are the unsung heroes of this modern-day "Star Search." If you see yourself in this description, be proud, be very proud. You have made it through another season of auditions; enjoy the riches of Hollywood Week and then you can participate in the life-changing success of the next Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood or . . . Taylor Hicks.

IN PICTURES: American Idol best selling artists

Before moving on to the promise of Hollywood week, there were some really good – and one really excellent – performances from the town that produced one of Idol's most talented and, some might say, most controversial star, Adam Lambert.

Stefano Langone, while not the next Adam Lambert by any stretch, was a nice Italian Boy who survived a serious car accident. His story of recovery and perseverance was inspiring. And his voice had potential even if it was wasted on the over-sung and woefully old-fashioned, "I Heard it Through the Grapevine," which still brings to mind the California Raisin commercial where little raisins with sunglasses performed the same song.

Clint Jun Gamboa, brought really remarkable control to Travie McCoy's, "I Want to be a Billionaire." He also had a quirky style that kept you guessing . . . is he cool or a geek . . .cool or a geek . . .which really shouldn't have been a question at all. He is a Karaoke DJ at bar, after all. Obviously, he is way cool!

The judges seemed extremely impressed by birthday girl, Julie Zorrilla, who had some big shoes to fill. Literally. Her shoes looked about two sizes two big for her feet, although in all fairness to Colombian native, Julie, those weren't a pair of shoes you pass up over a detail as trivial as size. JLo, however, must have been momentarily glamored by the twinkle of Julie's heels when she postulated that this contestant may be the next winner. Winner of what? A beauty pageant, maybe. A fashion show, maybe. But her talent was seriously diminished by her over-singing and coy behavior. Her parents were really cute, though.

If there were any justice in the world, Emily Anne Reed would be the next American Idol. Steven Tyler almost blew all credibility out of the window, when he said "no" to Emily. Even Jennifer Lopez started with the statement, "You have more of the singer/songwriter vibe . . ." as if it was something she needed to overcome! Sure, no one would ever accuse JLo of being a singer/songwriter, but this is a singing competition, is it not? Thankfully JLo came to her senses and sided with Randy, deciding to let one of the most talented vocalists through to Hollywood. When Emily picked up her guitar and strummed a tune at Steven's request, all the judges finally seemed to recognize that Emily Anne Reed may be the best thing to come out of San Francisco since sourdough bread.

For viewers holding out for something a little more Lambert-esque, James Durbin definitely fit the bill. His interesting, without being over-the-top, personal story of being diagnosed with Asperger's and Tourette Syndromes, falling in love and living in near poverty with his girlfriend and new baby may not have quite matched Adam's, but his vocal abilities came close. Steven Tyler even granted him permission to give a rendition of, "Dream On," which proved to be better than his first song. Or maybe it was the fact that tears were rolling down his face while he was singing it, helping viewers to remember, that for some of the contestants this is real life. Maybe not the sob-stories, or the antics, or the great camera angles but in that moment, James was a struggling musician standing in front of a rock-and-roll legend, singing his song. It's moments like that this define the allure of American Idol.

With that being said, Hollywood week is upon us; in addition to above mentioned, Emily Anne Reed and James Durbin, these are the ones to watch, in no particular order:

Naima Adedapo: With her strong vocals, unique look and rags-to-riches storyline, this 25-year-old has what some are considering to be the whole package.

Chris Medina: He's going to have to prove that he has more than just a heartbreaking past and hopefully the producers will give him a chance to do just that and focus more on his vocals than his history.

Paul McDonald: Sure the web is not abuzz over Old McDonald but don't count him out. If his two seconds of air time are indicative of his skill, he may be a dark horse.

Lauren Alaina: There is a lot of hype following Lauren Alaina into Hollywood. But if the nine previous seasons have taught us nothing, sometimes those with the most hype and promise lose their way. (Remember, Andrew Garcia?) Nevertheless, her audition definitely proved that she's not a one-trick pony.

Casey Abrams: The word on the street is that Casey Abrams is a multi-instrumentalist and has released three original albums. Sure, he may look like a Fraggle, but this guy has some serious talent and at 19-years-old, he seems like a veteran in this season of 15-year-olds.

Brett Loewenstern: This season's Simply Red, or Carrot Top depending on who you talk to, is simply wonderful. Let's hope that the characteristics that prevented this youth from fitting in, will now result in him standing out.

Who's on your short list to rise to the top in Hollywood?

IN PICTURES: American Idol best selling artists

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.