Based on opening night in New York, Nicki Minaj brought color, pizzazz and the occasional British accent to the “American Idol” stage season 12. Whether that will help enliven the ratings is a big question mark.
Overall, this panel is a bit tougher than past years. They turned away some passable singers, even one that’s missing a leg. Nicki, especially, set the tone and would often say singers weren’t quite ready for primetime if they fell just short of the mark.
I can’t say I necessarily saw the next “American Idol” tonight though, based on spoilers, three of the eight singers we saw (and were readily identified) go to Hollywood will make it into the top 40. Of the eight singers who didn’t make it through, only five were truly bad.
But the ratio of good to bad was significantly greater on the bad side than in recent years. I think the show purposely backed off the bad auditions the past two or three years but brought back the William Hung factor tonight.
Anyway, there’s 10-minute intro/opener featuring Phillip Phillips performing “Home,” a cavalcade of the big stars the show has generated plus quick bios of the judges.
Eventually, we get around to New York auditions, first with a goofy auditioner who walked in singing “We Will Rock You” while Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey were gabbing endlessly about Nicki’s hat.
Then we get to the first decent singer:
- Tenna Torres of Queens, who performed with Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” with some interesting pauses and inflections. Great singer? No. But not bad. And she is the first one through. What makes her most memorable is the fact she attended Camp Mariah at age 13 and showed pictures of her with Mariah from that time period. When Mariah asked for copies of the pictures, Nicki looked flabbergasted .
Then a string of good singers with no names.
William Hung alert #1: James Bae, 15, Long Island (”One Less Lonely Girl” Justin Bieber). He’s almost as bad as Hung. And why does he have that big headset around his neck. Who does he think he is? Me? “Do you have a girlfriend?” Nicki said. “I’m single,” James said. “We need to do a collide.” Mariah thinks he should DJ, not sing.
- Christina “Isabelle” from Boston and New York, now in Duluth, GA (”Summertime”) She has a seriously strong voice. “OMG,” Nicki said. “You should feel so proud… I am blown away.” “You’re a natural singer,” Keith Urban said. “I like the vulnerability in your voice.” She’s a Mariah fan. “I want to bring the great music back.” “You know who you were,” Nicki said.
- Sob story #1: Evan Ruggiero, Old Bridge NJ, 21.(”I’m Yours” Jason Mraz, “Wanted Dead or Alive” Bon Jovi) He had cancer at age 19 and lost a leg. He’s just okay with Mraz, too many skips and stop. He’s much better with Bon Jovi. “I like your voice,” Keith said. “I don’t see you for the competition,” Nicki said. “It’s overall not strong enough.” I’m impressed they didn’t say yes despite his missing leg.:
- They visit some contestants who were “nominated.” The first is Jessica Kartalis, 19, from Staten Island, nominated by her mom. She didn’t quite have it with “All I Ever Wanted.” Nicki said, “You can’t expect Idol do to everything for you,” she said. “I felt for you so bad going to the wrong key,” Mariah. She isn’t quite ready. “It’s so close to a yes for you but I can’t tell who you are yet,” Keith said.
- Shira Gavrielov from Brooklyn and originally Israel (”Valerie” Amy Winehouse) She had a No. 1 hit in Israel but came to New York to break it bigger. She has a solid, very pretty voice. “You just excited me,” Nicki said. She was a clean yes.
- Sob story #2: Frankie Ford (”Sweet Dreams” Eurythmics) He lives with his adopted mom since age 2 and is a starving artist who makes money singing on the subways. He started the song but stopped partway through. Nerves. He started again and came up roses. Strong voice, strong drive. “A lot of musicality,” Keith said. “I believe in you, kid,” Randy said. “You don’t have the best voice but there’s something about you the people would like to see more of.” This time, the personality transcended the story, which actually colors his singing.
Joke contestant alert: Benjamin Gaisey, dressed in a “Thriller” outfit and cheap afro wig (”I’ll Make Love To You,” Boyz II Men). His plastic outfit squeaks. That’s what you’ll remember than his tone-deaf singing. Keith hides under the table.
Rozanna Shindelman, 21, Staten Island (”To Know Him Is To Love Him” Amy Winehouse) She has never sung in front of people, except her parents. She has some chops but needs vocal training. She was clearly nervous. “That was bad,” Randy said. Direct there, Randy!
A string of bad singers, including a farter and angry rejects.
Sarah Restuccio (”Mama’s Song” Carrie Underwood, “Super Bass,” Nicki Minaj) A Jersey girl who works on a blueberry farm is okay but seems a bit flat with the Carrie song. “I see a complete package,” Mariah said. Randy asked her to do something. She was more entertaining doing Nicki’s rap song though it confused Randy. “It’s my jam,” Sarah said. Keith didn’t feel her first song but was more into the second, wondering what her identity is. She gets four yesses.
William Hung alert #2: Albert Chang, Queens. Uh oh. Is “American Idol” really trying to “Hung” us. This guy is easily the worst singer we’ve heard in ages. I don’t even know what song it was. “Your range is bigger than Mariah’s” Nicki said, mocking him. “Terrible,” Randy said. Then Nicki’s faux British accent pops up in random spots.
Angela Miller, 18, Beverly, Mass. (”Mama Knows Best” Jessie J. ) has loss of hearing in both ears. She has charisma and a good, if not terribly special (to me, at least), voice. “Impressive,” Randy said. “Real tone with real soul and a beautiful texture,” Mariah said. I’m not sure I’ll remember her by the time we get to Hollywood.
Brett Holt, Will Grove, PA (”When I Fall in Love” Nat King Cole) is someone who considers himself a big”Idol” trivia expert yet didn’t know what season William Hung performed (season three, of course!). He had no range. They mocked him by having him dream that he had gone to Hollywood.
Gurprett Singh Sarin, North Potomac, MD (”Sunday Morning” Maroon 5) calls himself the “Turbanator” with 40 to 50 turbans (including a lavender one) and has a really engaging voice but looks a bit stiff on stage. “I love your look. I think you have a pretty voice but not a standout voice,” Nicki said. “Your voice may be too light,” Keith said. “I like like light, breathy stuff. I thought it was really pretty,” Mariah said. “I’ll give you a yes.” Randy does, too. No from Keith. He lobbies and convinces Nicki to give him a yes.
Ashlee Feliciano, East Hartford, CT, 20. (”Put Your Records On” Corinne Bailey Rae) – Her parents take in developmentally disabled kids and she loves them to pieces. She has a pleasant voice, a sweet demeanor. Nicki raved about her pretty voice and wanting to go to her concert. Keith loved her lower register. Randy invited the family to pop up in the audition room for a collective “awww…”