American Idol started off their second episode of Season 12 with Nicki MInaj announcing to a crowded room of contestants that the next American Idol was in that crowd – she could feel it in her bones.
Perhaps the producers believed her because as much as Nicki tried to prevent otherwise, this second episode of American Idol was not all about her. This episode actually dedicated a good portion of the show to contestants, which was a nice twist after Wednesday night. This is not to say that that viewers weren't subjected to what one can only believe will be the recurring theme of this season: Mariah and Nicki bickering. In mere seconds the show went from happily sending cute-as-a-button country girl Mackenzie Wasner through, to an unruly mass of screeching women, unintelligible insults and one Keith Urban who looked like he'd rather have bamboo shoots stuck under his nails than to sit between the two judges whose behavior made them look ridiculous. Or, in Minaj's case, even more ridiculous.
At one point during the first day in Chicago, Keith Urban actually bailed on the judging panel. Sure, he claimed he was leaving because he had a concert in Las Vegas, but the relief in his eyes, as he slowly backed away from Minaj and Carey, told a very different story. Unfortunately, with one judge down, there was no stopping Nicki from continuing her domination of the panel, while alternating between a nasal New York accent and a faux British accent. Both of which are equally unnerving.
Thankfully, the producers did not cheat viewers of the opportunity to see actual auditions on Thursday. In fact, they even dedicated a segment called "The Miserables," (which Urban and Jackson certainly could have starred in) an homage to the particularly bad singers. As much fun as horrible contestants are to watch, it's always nice to be reminded that this is a talent competition and encouraging when some of the contestants actually have it.
- Kiara Lanier who once had the opportunity to sing for Obama at his birthday fundraiser in Chicago, gave a solid rendition of Celine Dion's, "The Prayer." Kiara also displayed a good deal of confidence as well as a strong stage presence.
- Isabelle Parell enchanted viewers with her humble and endearing character and also with her cute duet of, "Baby It's Cold Outside," with Keith Urban. Randy was obviously immune to Isabelle's charm but despite his rejection, Isabelle will be headed to Hollywood.
- Brandy Neelly was a breath of fresh air and her performance of Hank Williams's, "Your Cheating Heart," and gave a solid start to Day 2 in Chicago.
- Kez Ban believed that she might have the talent to earn a golden ticket but also suspected that she may have been a little to bizarre to make it through. In fact, in one of her video interviews, Kez requested that the producers tell her if she ran the risk of ending up in a segment that would embarrass her family. Despite her presence of mind, this newbie fire-performer, who apparently doesn't have a beard due to a performance mishap, was clearly situated in the bizarre category. However, she surprised everyone when she sang a fantastic original song accompanied by impressive guitar skills and a really powerful voice.
In addition to quite a few strong vocalists, Idol also managed to outdo themselves with heartwarming tales of inspiration in this episode. After watching Idol over the course of 10+ seasons, one begins to develop an immunity to the cheap tricks that Idol producers continuously pull in an attempt to reduce viewers to swooning, sob-ridden schmucks. On Thursday night, they managed to break through some of my defenses.
When Mariah Pulice, shared with the audience and the judges, details about her ongoing struggle with anorexia - it was hard not to recognize the sound of genuine pain and anguish in her voice. While her performance of, "Let it Be," was slightly better than average, it was the emotion that she imbued the song with that earned her a ticket to Hollywood. There was a brief moment when her family rushed in to give thanks for her ticket, that a tingling may have been detected in the tear-ducts. Of course, Mariah P. had to go and ruin it by pushing the whole gratitude thing a little to far by clutching her ticket to her chest, passionately declaring that it meant everything to her. No, not just everything but everything.
When, Clifton Duffin and his parents explained to host Ryan Seacrest that they had never heard their son sing, it was intriguing to see how he would perform. Announcing he would be singing one of his mother's favorites, a Luther Vandross song, he prepared to come out of his musical shell as Ryan quietly ushered his parents in to watch their son from the sidelines. After Clifton's performance, poor Keith Urban was weeping as he watched Clifton's mother hearing her son sing for the first time. Well, it was either that or Keith had just realized that he was only two episodes in to a five-month sentence.
And despite Idol's strong efforts to bring us to tears, it wasn't until Lazaro Arbos was introduced that Idol's grip on this writer's humanity truly took hold. With the near debilitating stutter that his parent's explained had been plaguing him since he was six-years-old, Lazaro struggled to communicate what he would sing to the judges. But when he opened his mouth and the words of, "Bridge over Troubled Water," tumbled effortlessly from his lips and more importantly his heart, it created such a sense of release and triumph that tears were shed.
This concludes Day 2 of the American Idol premiere recap and gives us all a moment to ponder what Season 12 holds in store for us. Did anyone ever suspect that somehow Mariah Carey would end up being the more conservative woman on the panel? Are Nicki's antics endearing in the way that some of Steven Tyler's were or is it only a matter of time before she grates on the nerves of the viewers? Any contestants you felt deserved special mention who remained unnamed? Sound off below in the comments!