First time in Pittsburgh for “American Idol.” We kick off the show with a Speed Tour of Pittsburgh Cliches: black and yellow, the Terrible Towel, girls who say “yinze guys,” a bridge.
First auditioner is Heejun Han, born in Korea, from Flushing, NY. Speaking of clichés, Heejun Han is a model of Asian impassiveness with an odd twist. He tells the camera he thinks he is a “little good” as a singer, but some of the others who are auditioning are “just crazy good, and now I’m thinking I’m not that good at all.”
Heejun also worries about the size of his head, which is “really big” compared to Ryan Seacrest’s which, Heejun notes, is really small. We’re getting major cues that this Heejun is a geek show. But no, his audition of Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” is good, and we begin to question the whole impassive act. Randy: “I’m really impressed -- and shocked.” After getting his ticket to Hollywood, Heejun gives a performance for the camera: “Hollywooooooooooood. I’m coming.” His comic timing is too good. We think the judges just got punked on their own racial stereotypes.
Reed Grim, 26, from Wisconsin has been on stage, in the family band, since age 2. He sings a jazzy version of the “Family Matters” theme song and it’s obvious this guy is a musician. The judges love him (“genius” says Tyler) and he’s through to Hollywood -- but we know that the “Idol” gods have put the big ol’ Scat Curse on jazzy singers so he’ll never survive.
A mélange of good singers later, we meet Samantha Novacek. Samantha is a nice, straight-head country singer who performs Faith Hill’s “Like We Never Loved”. She ignores her sister, Patricia Bell, lying on the floor in a catatonic pose. Patricia, you see, does planking, the silly public display of a yoga position that we thought was something done in good fun. But Patricia is dead serious about it and claims she’s there because it makes Samantha sing better. “I’m not a singer. I’m a planker. I’m planking her to Hollywood,” Patricia says. Right. Samantha doesn’t even acknowledge Patricia during her audition, and we suspect that she’s a victim of planking abuse. The judges ignore Patricia, too. It’s all uncomfortable-making, but anyway Samantha sails through to Hollywood, though we suspect Patricia is going to ride her coattails to Hollywood, in “support”.
Creighton Fraker will audition with a tune he just wrote on the way to Pittsburgh, he tells the judges. They swallow it. The tune is about them. The judges simper and coo. “Like Jamiroquai and Justin Timberlake had a baby,” marvels JLo, who is only comfortable when she’s figured out who an Idolette is exactly like. Tyler asks him to sing a song with an actual beginning, middle, and end. While Creighton sings, JLo begins to obsess again: “Who does he remind me of?” she asks Randy. “Who is he right now?” Tyler gushes: “Most amazing thing I’ve ever seen, you are sweetly insane.” See you in Hollywood, Creighton!
Eben Frankowitz is a very cute 15-year-old with Justin Bieber teeth and a Justin Bieber haircut. He gets the full treatment, including a show of his home video as he travels to Pittsburgh and his Mom advises him, “Let everybody else do their thing – you do Eben’s thing.” We guess the producers spotted his photo and thought he’d be a draw for Generation Bieber. “Who do people say you look like?” Randy says, on cue. “People say Justin Bieber,” Eben blushes. Eben performs a lovely choir-boy take on “Ain’t No Sunshine” and the judges love him. “Some people are just born to do it. I think you’re just one of those people,” says JLo.
We remember Travis Orlando, the formerly homeless teen from the Bronx who auditioned last year and was visited by a full crew from the American Idol Documentary Unit (Our Motto: “Create Your Own Reality”). Now he’s back at 17, with an even sadder story: mom split, dad in dialysis, eviction from an apartment, family back in a shelter. Travis sings “Isn’t She Lovely” and he’s just competent. Travis doesn’t seem to grasp that if you’ve got a painful back story the rule is you’re supposed to sing like you’re in pain. The judges are clearly disappointed. “Your voice has gotten stronger but there’s still a part of it that, you’re not coming all the way out with it,” JLo says. Travis starts pleading that he’s doing this to show his mom that he’s worth something, and that he’s scared but determined to go on singing and well, what are they going to say: come back when you’ve suffered even more? He’s through to Hollywood.
Erika Van Pelt from Rhode Island gets a lot of back-story screen time but we’re not sure why, since she’s got to be representative of thousands of auditioners – a DJ cum wedding singer. That time chewed up, we finally see her audition with Carole King’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and she’s moderately entertaining with a smoky low voice. “Very sexy -- very sure of yourself,” says Tyler
Next up, a genuine coal miner from West Virginia. We have a soft spot in our heart for these kinds of stories -- people who haven’t been in a family band since they were two, and haven’t auditioned in their living rooms for “Idol” since they were six. You know – actual real people. We see Shane Bruce, 19, singing for his fellow miners, underground. “How’s that guys?” he asks. “Great, now get back to work,” somebody says. “I’m proud to be a coal miner, definitely,” Shane tells the Underground Idol Cam. “ If I had to choose something to be for the rest of my life, I’d have to be a singer.” He auditions with “Hallelujah” but he’s too nervous and the judges faces tell us it isn’t going well. Tyler waxes philosophical about the virtues of a steady job, telling Shane “sometime routine is the key to life,” and adds, “you singing to them down there, maybe that’s your forte.” We think rock star multi-millionaires probably should not lecture coal miners about the meaning of life. If Occupy Wall Street could make that clip into a commercial they’d raise millions.
Hallie Day, the last audition of the show, is a 24-year-old waitress from Baltimore. Hallie’s got it all: Deborah Harry-esque blonde hair and cheekbones, some singing chops, and a trump-that story. At 15, she went to New York to be a singer in a girl group, became an addict, went home to Baltimore but “I didn’t want to sing or perform I just wanted to kill the pain.” So she “drank a bottle of pills” and ended up in the emergency room. Then “music and my husband saved my life.” We aren’t told exactly how, but we’re sure details will be forthcoming if she survives Hollywood Week. Because Hallie gets the back-story/song-choice connection, she chooses “I Will Survive,” the Gloria Gaynor anthem and really sells the song. The judges adore her. And JLo, who, like we said, is only comfortable when she’s figured out who an Idolette reminds her of, finishes the auditions with, “I know this is obvious but – Blondie!”
Wednesday recap: Season 11 kicks off with auditions in Savannah
Interactive: “American Idol’s” decade of hits and myths
Last season: Scotty McCreery named “Idol” Season 10 champion