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‘American Idol’ recap: season 11, audition city #2 Pittsburgh

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This is the first time “Idol” has ever gone to Pittsburgh for auditions. And this may be the first time in 11 seasons that “Idol” did not feature even a few moments of a godawful singer. Even the one singer featured who didn’t make it through wasn’t cringe-worthy.

And there’s no doubt the final singer Hallie Day will make the final 42. She has that special something about her.

This turn towards the positive is clearly an emphasis on the “warmth” and “humanity” that Nigel Lythgoe is pushing.

They passed through 38 to Hollywood. We hear 10 folks who do.

First up is a guy who could be the next William Hung. Heejun Han from Flushing is acting odd, comparing his head size to that of Ryan Seacrest, a clueless quirkiness that yelps “Bad singer!” And his friends and family  say they’ve never heard him sing.  So nobody is expecting much. And he sings a Michael Bolton soul classic “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You.” The shocker: he is actually good! And off to Hollywood he goes.

Reed Grimm, an Ellsworth WI 26 year old nanny, channels his own Casey Abrams by crooning the theme song to “Family Matters.” It’s all spirit and light. “That was genius, beautiful,” Steven said. “You had us all enthralled,” Randy said.

Then like yesterday, we get a string of good singers: Aaron Marcellus, Teaneck N.J., works the soul (I just realized he is the same guy from Atlanta who made it last year to the final 40 but went by Aaron Sanders. Was he hoping the judges wouldn’t remember him from a year ago? Huh?) Chase Likens of Point Plaseant, W.V. hits the country mark. “Bingo!” Steven said.

Funny how the producers give Pittsburgh credit for singers who all come from somewhere else.

Samantha Novacek’s sister Patricia planks (seriously!) while she sings a Faith Hill song. She has a pretty tone but the camera spends more time with the planker. Samantha doesn’t have a lot of personality but the voice is good. “Very pure sounding,” Randy said.

After the break: New Yorker Creighton Fraker, a self-described “starving artist,” sings an original song. He has a bit of that Paul MacDonald tone that is either charming or annoying. Or both at the same time. “There’s something about it I’m kind of intrigued by,” Randy said. I wasn’t quite as impressed as Steven Tyler, who says he’s “sweetly insane.”

Milford, Ohio’s 15-year-old Eben Franckewitz . “People say I look like Justin Bieber” he said.  (Barely). He has a pretty young boy’s voice. He has confidence and warmth, more so than Jacee from last year.

Travis Orlando, a high school dropout who was here a year ago and is now 17, returns. He sings one of those over-done “Idol” audition tunes by Stevie Wonder, “Isn’t She Lovely.” He’s good but I don’t see any star quality. “Your voice has gotten stronger,” J. Lo said. “But you’re not coming all the way out with it.” Sob story came on after the audition: his mom abandoned him and he now lives in a shelter with his dad and brother. But he is given a shot at Hollywood though it’s unlikely he’ll make the top 42.

Erika Van Pelt, a Rhode Island mobile DJ and wedding singer (think Justin Guarini!), works one of my favorite Carole King songs (”Will You Love Me Tomorrow”) and shows off  maturity and quality tonal ability. “The voice matches her,” J. Lo said.

Shane Bruce, a 19-year-old coal miner from West Virginia, gets some video love. You hear him singing “In the Still of the Night” in the actual coal mine. He performs the incredibly overplayed “Hallelujah” but it isn’t even close to as good as, say, Jason Castro’s. Disappointing. It wasn’t awful but lacked that “wow” factor.

Final singer is always a good one: it’s Hallie Day, a newly married waitress with a major sob story that deserves a sad Elton John song in the backdrop. He had dropped out of high school at age 15 and joined a girl group, got into drugs. She returned back home and almost killed herself with pills. Her husband Ryan encouraged her to try out for “Idol.” Her world-weary pain is etched on her face as she sings “I Will Survive.”  That pain is reflected her vocal stylings, which are excellent. “I could see you stealing the show,” J. Lo said. “You do have a gift. Your husband is right.”

“Idol” is back Sunday after the NFC Championship in San Diego. I can’t recall “Idol’ ever airing on Sunday!

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By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk

210 comments Add your comment

JTesla

January 19th, 2012
7:16 pm

Get well soon Rodney. Pittsburgh… and only an hour? That has to be good.

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Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
7:41 pm

Stay warm, drink lots of fluids, rest!

Don’t worry about us.

Burnt Weinee Sandwich

January 19th, 2012
7:43 pm

Flu like medical condition? Either you have the flu or not. If you do, it’s your fault for not getting vaccinated. If you don’t have the flu, then you are not that ill. No sympathy from me.

jarvis

January 19th, 2012
7:44 pm

Just so you all know, I got my period today so I am in NO mood!

Rodney Ho

January 19th, 2012
7:58 pm

Thanks @Jarvis! I got a flu shot months ago. The symptoms seem like the flu but I’m trying to live in denial about it…

Harriett

January 19th, 2012
7:59 pm

Hi, JT and Deirdre! Ready!

Harriett

January 19th, 2012
8:00 pm

Take care, Rodney!

Rodney Ho

January 19th, 2012
8:03 pm

I’m here! Could this be the next William Hung? He’s acting a bit like a jerk.

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:05 pm

Heejun…no confidence…was that an act? He’s not too bad, not great.

Harriett

January 19th, 2012
8:06 pm

I liked him, but he’s too silly

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:07 pm

He can sing but he’s just a teensy bit annoying.

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:07 pm

Heyjun surprised me, but he should change his name to HeyJude!

Rodney Ho

January 19th, 2012
8:10 pm

But alas, the twist!

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:11 pm

Like Reed! Theme song from Family Matters????? That takes guts!

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:12 pm

So far the Pittsburghers have been good but weird.

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:13 pm

Reed has got some Taylor Hicks in him!

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:15 pm

The planking sister needs to go home…the singing sister can stay.

Highlander

January 19th, 2012
8:15 pm

Give me a friggin’ break. Is her sister going to plank all the way thru a concert???

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:16 pm

What the plank was that?

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:17 pm

I wish we could see some of those singers they skipped over

Highlander

January 19th, 2012
8:18 pm

Blame the producers. I look at that the same as someone showing up in a costume. Just BS to get some TV time. They shouldn’t have let it work, IMO.

Rodney Ho

January 19th, 2012
8:18 pm

Planking? That was so August, 2011! Which is when this was taped, of course…

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:18 pm

Pittsburgh has the weirdest auditions I’ve seen in a long time.

Harriett

January 19th, 2012
8:18 pm

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:20 pm

He doesn’t have a job…do you suppose the rabbit ears have anything to do with that?

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:22 pm

Looks a little like Justin Timberlake dresses like Elton John. Good voice though.

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:22 pm

Reminds me of Paul MacDonald but better.

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:23 pm

We’re into percentage yeses tonight.

Highlander

January 19th, 2012
8:24 pm

Really weird but great vocal. Gotta disagree, D. 100% better than PMc.

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:24 pm

Good analogy Deirdre!

Highlander

January 19th, 2012
8:24 pm

Sorry, just keeping the percentage thing going! :D

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:26 pm

Hey Rodney, I just read what you wrote about Creighton…great minds, eh?

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:27 pm

So far, Pittsburgh is making ST look normal.

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:30 pm

Eben Beiber…..kid has a nice voice.

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:31 pm

Eban is good but another 15 year old? He may have less problems on AI than say XF but he still only 15.

Highlander

January 19th, 2012
8:33 pm

Agree, DanJ.

Rodney Ho

January 19th, 2012
8:34 pm

The sob story after the audition! That’s unusual.

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:34 pm

Travis, sympathy ticket to Hollywood. Could someone explain how a mother could EVER leave her kids????

Highlander

January 19th, 2012
8:35 pm

First full pity vote of the season!

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:38 pm

I don’t think anyone can explain it Deirdre other than the mother is a ______!

Rodney Ho

January 19th, 2012
8:38 pm

Kiefer Sutherland’s “Touch” gets a promo. Worthy? I have only watched the first 15 minutes so far. It’s intriguing if a bit slow.

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:41 pm

Erica Van Pelt…..like her deep voice

Rodney Ho

January 19th, 2012
8:41 pm

41 minutes in and we have not heard a single really bad singer!

Pitchy

January 19th, 2012
8:42 pm

You guys sure have been chattering. So far, I’m liking the talent.

I’m so tired, it’s been a long, long day for me. About to hunker down and relax with you guys and AI.

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:43 pm

Yay to not hearing bad singers!!!!

Harriett

January 19th, 2012
8:44 pm

Erica needs to lose the melisma.

DanJ

January 19th, 2012
8:44 pm

Kick your shoes off and have a beverage of your choice Pitchy.

Pitchy

January 19th, 2012
8:44 pm

Going back to read your comments.

First to you Highlander – I thought the same thing, if she believes she sings better when her sister planks, what is she to do if she goes further in the competition. Surely she can’t plank all the way through her performances…A gimmick that’s going to fall flat (even though her head and feet are a little elevated).

Deirdre

January 19th, 2012
8:45 pm

I’m pretty sure this show won’t end without one bad singer. It’s tradition. But one is way better than 10.

Pitchy, I don’t know how much time you’ll have to relax, the show is almost over.