American Idol recap: Meet Jessica Phillips, Idol's newest star-crossed contestant

American Idol auditions in Portland, Ore., introduced Jessica Phillips. Her story of tragedy and dedication reminds viewers of American Idol Season 10's Chris Medina.

Danny Moloshok / AP Photo
American Idol Judge and musician Jennifer Lopez, plays with the hair of fellow judge Steven Tyler of Aerosmith as they participate in the American Idol panel at the Fox Broadcasting Company Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena , Calif. on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012.

Portland, Ore. debuted its talent for the first time in the history of American Idol's 11 seasons.  Unfortunately, the talent pool didn't seem particularly deep in The City of Roses. This Idol episode featured barely a handful of contestants who were notable for their vocal abilities although more than 40 Portland hopefuls are heading south with  golden tickets. 

One such contestant, 21-year-old, Brittany Zika (whose mother bears a striking resemblance to judge Steven Tyler) started the evening off all wrong.  Wrong clothes, wrong hair, wrong boots and definitely wrong suspenders.  But fortunately for Brittany, the judges looked past her desperate hipster costume and recognized that she has real potential.  Of course, they didn't actually say yes until she tore off some of the most offensive articles of her wretched ensemble.

Measuring in at 6 feet and 8 and a half inches, Jermaine Jones was probably the tallest mama's boy the world has ever seen. Jermaine's nerves got the better of him and resulted in a rather sudoriferous audition. But if one can get past the perspiration, there's a rich, deep voice that his mother describes as "a gift from God."  The judges managed to and sent the gentle giant on to Hollywood.

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Britnee Kellogg, the Brittany Spears look-a-like (all the way down to the two young sons on her hips) came to American Idol with an axe to grind.  Britnee joined American Idol's Scorned-Woman-with-Something-to-Prove Club and chose to sing, "You're No Good," for her audition.  A fitting battle cry for the young mother of two who gave up on her own dreams so her husband could chase his . . . and allegedly other women, as well.  The song was performed with passion and no small amount of talent but when she began soliciting working-mother advice from JLo, the cliches became too much to endure.  Thankfully, Britnee's entourage of supporters and two children burst in at just the right moment and saved us all from the painful righteousness that was about to descend upon the show.

And since listening to women roar and voices that are gifts from God can become a little heavy, Idol is never without its "leavening" contestants.  Portland auditions had a tie for most entertaining.  First up was Sam Gershman.  With a sweater that was woefully inadequate for her buxom figure, Sam wasn't just bursting at the seams with enthusiasm; something that never goes unnoticed by Steven Tyler.  Steven is perhaps at his most endearing when his eyes are alight with that impish, mischievous glint and viewers can see him struggling to behave.  When Ms. Gershman announces that she will be singing, "I'm a Woman" the internal battle between good and evil has never been more evident or comical in Steven's expression.  And while he managed to hold his tongue, it is easy to see it took a Herculean effort on his part.

Ben Harrison, who looked like a cross between "Chucky" and Newt Gingrich, but markedly cheerier than both the murderous doll and the GOP candidate, was so animated that he bordered on absurdity.  Nevertheless, his wackiness hovered in that delightfully entertaining zone in which viewers can't look away because despite the antics, there is something likeable in Ben's Bats-in-the-Belfry grin.  When he finally sings, "Somebody to Love," by Queen, there had to be more than a few viewers who succumbed to the same fits of giggles that the judges so nobly managed to hold in.

Some may have thought that the story of Liberian refugee, Romeo Diahan, would be the keystone of somberness on Wednesday night's Idol, but after 11 seasons, Idol knows its demographic intimately.  And while Romeo's story was both powerful and uplifting, this is still American Idol and most American women between the ages of 18 and 65 can't readily identify with refugees, so Romeo failed to earn the coveted heart-string pulling "final audition"  in Wednesday night's episode (although he did earn a "yes" from Steven and Randy and a "tiny yes" from JLo). 

The final audition went instead to 25-year-old Jessica Phillips.  Jessica's story, though not unique (it was very reminiscent of Chris Medina's from Season 10) had all of the makings of a great American love story: true love, tragedy, devotion and potential triumph.

Jessica and her boyfriend, D'Angelo Perry were madly in love when D'Angelo experiences a stroke that robs him of his memories of Jessica.  Despite this, Jessica had dedicated her life to rehabilitating D'Angelo, teaching him to not only speak but to love again.  That could be the synopsis for next summer's blockbuster romantic drama, but pseudo-reality is so much more poignant, isn't it?

Predictably, Jessica gives a strong performance and is invited to Hollywood where Idol can continue to milk, err . . . feature her story of courage and devotion.

One more round of auditions and Idol heads to Hollywood, where even more drama is waiting in the wings.  Anyone else wishing they could hit fast forward until they can hear Philip Phillips perform again?? 

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