A Dose of Reality: American Idol 4: Audition Week 1, Episode 1
by The Trades Staff
Published: January 19, 2005
Welcome to American Idol 4! This season American Idol is giving us something old (vote for your favorite contestants) and something new (older contestants (up to age 28), guest judges in the audition rounds, and a more extended semi-final format). And we at The Trades are following suit, providing both something old (our popular roundtable feature during the voting phases), and something new (our new coverage of the audition rounds).
I'm Molly Bishop, and this first episode kicked off in my hometown, Washington, DC, where people waited two days in the Washington Convention Center to start auditions. Simon, Paula and Randy were joined by the first of several guest judges during this season's auditions, Mark McGrath (lead singer of Sugar Ray).
Early on, we saw some prime examples of the type of older talent that American Idol is trying to introduce by allowing older contestants. Sean McNeill, a 27-year-old youth director, gave a smooth rendition of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" that had all the judges giving smiles to match Sean's own. Simon admitted that the voice wasn't amazing, but that Sean was likeable, which counted in the competition. (Sean earned points from me by freely conceding Simon's point that too much smiling can affect the voice.)
Similarly, another public-minded professional, Anwar Robinson, a teacher from Pennsylvania, was well-served by Stevie Wonder. His rendition of "You Are The Sunshine Of My Life" was a little slow for me, but he had good vocal tone, and it'll be interesting to see what he does in the future. The judges all admired his ability to sing straight, without a lot of runs, and I do appreciate that as well.
Regina Brook, a 28-year-old from Ohio, was so excited by the change in rules that allowed her to compete that she hocked her wedding rings to pay for her costs in auditioning. She chose to sing "Misty," which I didn't really think worked for her. The judges were torn -- Mark McGrath liked her voice but wasn't sure, and Randy was all in favor of her based on her voice. Simon asked for Regina's husband to come in to see how he felt about her auditioning. The husband, with their four-year-old in tow, said that he'd support her. Randy and Mark voted for Regina to go in, based on her voice and also on her commitment. Simon voted no, thinking her voice wasn't good enough. Paula cast the deciding vote to send her to Hollywood. I personally wouldn't have voted her through, based on this performance. I hope that she'll pick up her game a little bit, but I'm worried that she was picked for her emotional storyline and not as a true competitor.
I was more favorably impressed by 21-year-old mom Marlea Stroman, who sang "All at Once," by Bonnie Raitt. She had a few rocky moments, but had a good, powerful voice. With a little more polish, she could be a knock-out. I agreed with Simon's comment that she had a good voice but needed a little more life in her performance.
Sarah Mather, a 22-year-old with British parents, was a shoo-in, being cookie-cutter American Idol material -- pretty girl, big voice, singing Aretha Franklin ("Rescue Me"). As a bonus, she's from North Carolina, home of Clay Aiken and Fantasia. She's better than Carmen Rasmussen was in Season Two, but I'd be happy if she were cut early.
Representing the "boy band" side of American Idol, 25-year-old John Zisa gave a light, fluffy rendition of "Baby, Come to Me." In a shocking reversal, Randy made the right choice in turning down Zisa, and Simon -- Simon! -- cast the deciding vote to let him through. The guy had no charisma, only a passable voice, and Simon -- Simon! -- put him through! Perhaps Simon saw him as future snark material?
From the moment we first saw 26-year-old Brian Scott Bagley -- hip-hop dance instructor, ballet student and janitor -- I was in love. Who can resist a man dancing with a mop? But could he sing? His "On the Sunny Side on the Street" sounded a little screechy -- he's not a multi-octave singer. While some notes were sweet, others were a scratchy. Simon and Randy pegged him as a dancer who could sing; Paula thought he was a little too old-fashioned. I can't disagree with Simon and Randy on this, but I sure do hope this exposure gives Brian some good opportunities. On the other hand, while his moves weren't as impressive as Brian's, hip-hop dancer Travis Tucker brought out the vocal chops that Brian was lacking. His rendition of "Isn't She Lovely" got him to Hollywood, and his good lucks should make him a strong competitor there. He's definitely one to keep an eye on.
Constantine Maroulis, the 28-year-old lead singer of a New York rock band, sang Aerosmith's "Crying". He was powerful, but boy, that is just not a song to do a capella. Simon wasn't impressed, but Paula and Mark liked him. Paula felt he was unique to the competition and what the competition needed. I was a big fan of keeping Rocker Patrick Lake in the competition in Season 2, and I thought Peter Evrard brought a lot to the World Idol competition, but this rocker didn't do it for me. I think he's another one chosen for backstory -- will he leave his band for a solo career? And in fact, later we got to see Constantine break the news to his band, complete with Ryan Seacrest hosting the announcement. Predictably, his band was not impressed by American Idol, but predictably, he's their friend and they'll support him, or whatever.
The strangest pick of the night was 28-year-old Ian Homes II. The start of his performance of "I'll Be There" indicated some vocal ability, which was just about ruined by a strange interlude of high notes. Randy and Mark both felt "fencey" about him, but voted yes once Paula voted yes. Simon would have said no, but Ian still went on to Hollywood. I would have voted no as well, but I'm curious what will happen next. Will he reform his vocal style and pull himself together to be a real contender, or will he continue to sabotage himself with vocal theatrics? My guess -- he'll pull himself together, but in the rarefied atmosphere of Hollywood he'll reveal himself to be a mediocre singer.
The most surprising NON-pick of the night was Franchon Crews, a 17-year-old boxer. I thought she had a lovely and surprisingly sophisticated voice. Her body language was a little nervous, but her voice ... I would have thought she was in her 20s. I was surprised by the lukewarm response she got from the judges. And if they could take Ian, they sure as heck should have taken Franchon.
And of course there were the winners that we didn't get to hear, but only saw in montage. Who's that cute goateed guy? What about the lovely older woman with the dreads? The guy whose smile was so bright he could have been in a toothpaste commercial? Well, I guess they need to leave some surprises for the future.
And of course, in addition to the winners, we saw plenty of losers. (But how often can you write "he sounded horrible" and "she was awful"?). In fact, in honor of being in the Nation's capital, we were "treated" to a losers' medley of "America, the Beautiful."
Simon provided his usual snark; the other judges were, predictably, more bland in their comments. But often the contestants brought their own snark with them. When a contestant admits that she got her clothes after the lights in the fitting room were turned off, you scarcely need Simon to provide the commentary (but he did).
My personal favorite of the losers was Aven Moore, who sang "Tomorrow" with tremendous .... stamina. Simon called it "bizarrely dreadful." I say, we have discovered the next WB Superstar!
One of tonight's competitors was Derek Braxton, 19-year-old cousin of Toni Braxton. I was shocked -- A) that another Braxton relative was on a reality TV show, since sister Towanda was recently on Starting Over, and B) because Derek obviously didn't inherit the family talent.
The most eloquent moment of the night was wordless. Jessie Grazella gave an obviously lacking vocal performance, and at the end, there was only silence. Jessie walked away slowly, clearly close to tears, knowing that he had no chance. None of the judges said a word, until Paula belatedly said Jessie's name. For all the highs and lows of the night, that one was the one that felt the most real.
Check in tomorrow, as the competition moves to St. Louis, Missouri!
For more info, check out the Official Site of American Idol or SirLinksaLot.net.