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TV Column
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 02/03/2012

‘American Idol 2012’: Final auditions, in St. Louis


Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest in St. Louis. (Michael Becker - Fox)

It’s the last “American Idol” audition episode before Hollywood Week.

“American Idol” rolls archive footage to remind us that eight years ago it found Carrie Underwood at the St. Louis auditions and she went on to become major and now the show’s back in St. Louis. That was then, this is now, and now is the final show of a very dull round of audition cities with hardly any memorable talent we can remember. “Jesus take the wheel,” as Carrie would sing – and, no, a sneak preview of a Madonna video does not count.

“Idol” has a new character: Cantankerous St. Louis cab driver Walter gripes at an “Idol” staffer in his vehicle about “all the congestion your people are going to create.” We love Walter. We would swap him for Randy at the judges table.

First auditioner Johnny Keyser, 22, a waiter and student from Florida – you may remember him from all those “Idol” promos warning the new season was starting. This good-looking guy is being pitched as one of “Idol’s” deserving over-comers of adversity. Seems Mom and Dad got divorced when Johnny was three. That’s it. Johnny sings Sam Cooke’s “Change Is Gonna Come.” Ever heard that ’46 recording of Frank Sinatra singing “Ol Man River”? Kinda like that. But the judges adore him, and keep telling him to keep singing. “You know you’re gonna be a star, right?” JLo tells him, but she was smitten from the moment he walked into the audition room. “Sexy,” she says after he leaves with a ticket to Hollywood.

William Hung return to kick off a package of lousy auditions, but this time packaged as a silent, black-and-white flick, a la “The Artist.” “I find your singing to be disagreeable…baby,” JLo’s dialogue card reads.

Then, because this is an election year, “Idol” runs what’s basically a commercial for its all-American self, with scenes of the auditioners outside, singing together and generally loving one another. One auditioner notes her parents auditioned in Season 4 (when the upper age limit was raised to 28 years old, but still.) “After all, ‘American Idol’ is where this generation comes together,” Voiceover Seacrest says. No, really, he says that. Paid for by the Committee to Keep “American Idol” Ratings From Tanking This Year.

Rachelle Lamb, 26, is here with her adorable daughter Madison. Rachelle is today’s “he held me back” Idolette wannabe, blaming lousy husband for keeping them from pursuing their dream. She’s divorcing him. Minus points for Rachelle for discussing all this in presence of little Madison; plus points for giving “Find Somebody New,” from Faith Hill, a solid country treatment. It’s a song, Rachelle tells the judges, and Madison, “he didn’t like.” “Then that’s the one we want to hear!” raves JLo, while Madison drinks this all in.

Walter the Cantankerous Cabbie stops by for a minute to visit. “St. Louis is turning into the Gateway to the Worst,” Seacrest intones, while footage of nutty auditioners rolls by and the formerly crack “Idol” Civics Cliche Squad runs up the white flag and surrenders its duty to script some – any – intelligent comments that acknowledge the Audition City.

Reis Kloeckener, 20, got bullied in high school but says he found a safe haven in the school choir. He has a sweet voice and performing “Lean on Me.” “That was so beautiful you made me cry,” says Tyler, who remains quiet and teary for some time.

After that, Tyler goes outside the audition room to give some auditioners a pep talk. That includes Ethan Jones, 22, who comes in to the audition room with a bleeding cut over his left eye which he attributes to bumping his head and then nervously scratching it. He quit school to become a full-time musician with his dad, who is a big wheel in the local rock scene, Ethan says. But Dad turned to drugs and alcohol and is now away in rehab. Tyler seems very impressed. “It’s so good that he can be a power of example to you,” says the Aerosmith frontman, known for being a frequent rehab guest. Ethan wows the judges. “I love the whole unassuming thing…you look nothing like you sang,” Randy marvels “I want to meet your father when he gets out,” adds Tyler. Ethan phones his father and they each say they’re proud of the other.

We’re back from a commercial break and right into the Madonna video for “Give Me All Your Love.” Sexy cheerleaders chant “L U V Madonna Y O U You Wanna?” and she appears in a raincoat pushing a baby carriage. Then she ditches the raincoat, the kid -- and the husband who held her back -- and starts stepping out in the company of a whole team of football players. She’s in the full swing of a song, best described as Madonna-esque, when the video comes abruptly to an end in the middle of a sequence. Like that “The Sopranos” finale. Which means people will be discussing it for days.

Day 2 of St. Louis auditions dawns with JLo wearing a star-patterned dress in the hopes that it will bring forth a star.

Instead, they get the chubby jolly auditor of the hotel where the auditions are being held – which is never named because “Idol” no longer gives away millions in free publicity. At Seacrest’s urging, Mark Ingram rounds up other hotel employees to come into the audition room and they all swear up and down that Mark is great though it’s important to mention that Mark has described his job as one in which he goes around checking up on the other employees. Anyway, he’s very loud and pitchy on Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” “I love everything about you except the melody,” Tyler says. The audition is followed by a gag sequence of hotel guests being awakened by the sound of his singing coming through the walls.

Tonight’s final act is Lauren Gray, 22, who also sings with her dad in a band. She does Adele’s “One and Only” but only gets about five notes in before the judges start raving – even about how she blows some of the high notes. “I love the way you break, you go up there, and you’re fearless,” Tyler gushes. “I didn’t need to hear that song right now,” JLo says, dabbing tears, which we’re apparently supposed to understand is a reference to her split from husband Marc Anthony -- who, we’re guessing, was holding her back. “Two words,” JLo says of the St. Louis auditions: “Lauren Grey” as producers show us more shots of Carrie Underwood in case we don’t get JLo’s point.

So, that’s it for “Idol” Auditions Season 11. And if you thought the auditions were tough to take, Ryan promises the “most emotional and exhausting Hollywood week ever” is coming up, as we see a contestant fall off stage and an ambulance racing by.

Wednesday night: Auditions go to Portland

Last week: Auditions go down to Texas

Auditions climb to Aspen

Special Sunday episode features another Bikini Girl, and Jim Carrey’s daughter

Winter TV Press Tour 2012: Ryan Seacrest coy about his ‘Idol’ future

Interactive: “American Idol’s” decade of hits and myths

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 02/03/2012

 
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