Eight years, "American Idol" held auditions in St. Louis, and one of the people they found there - an Oklahoma girl named Carrie Underwood - turned into one of the biggest stars the franchise has ever produced. The judges - Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler - descended on St. Louis Thursday night, hoping that lightning would strike twice.
The show began with a montage of Carrie's first audition, and ended with the tagline, "Aren't you glad she took the trip?" It was just the first instance of padding in the hour-long show, which included several humorous segments along with the actual auditions, of which we saw relatively few. One segment, called "The Contestant ," was a takeoff on the Oscar-nominated movie "The Artist" - the joke was that the contestant shown trying out was so bad that his segment was presented as a black and white silent film. There was also a running joke with a local cab driver named Walter, who kept complaining that the 20,000 people trying out for the show would cause traffic problems in the city.
The other bit of padding that kept us from seeing additional contestants was the special preview of Madonna's new football-themed video "Give Me All Your Luvin'." About a minute of the video was shown; the full clip will have its premiere Friday at 9 a.m. on Madonna's YouTube channel, according to MTV.
Of the contestants we did see, only two were real clunkers - Mark, an auditor at the hotel where the auditions were being held, who butchered Stevie Wonder's "Overjoyed" and "Part-Time Lover," and Oliver, whose rendition of Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" was barely recognizable. The rest all went through to Hollywood. Here are their stories:
Johnny Keyser's parents divorced when he was three, and it's just been him and his dad together since then. He sang Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," and the judges loved him so much that they wouldn't let him stop singing - they kept asking for more. "You know you're gonna be a star, right?" Jennifer asked him; when he left the room, she added, "He was sexy." He got a Golden Ticket.
Rachelle Lamb is a divorced mom who brought her daughter Madison into the audition with her. She said her ex-husband took away her dreams of being a singer, and now she's chasing them again. The judges liked her rendition of Faith Hill's "Find Somebody New" - she's going to Hollywood.
Reis Kloeckener transferred into a large public high school from a small private one, and was bullied so badly that he considered dropping out. Then, he joined the choir and found friends and acceptance. No, it wasn't an episode of Glee, but it sounded like one. He sang Bill Withers' "Lean on Me," and Steven Tyler told him, "You made me cry. You made me tear up and get all crazy inside." Reis is going to Hollywood.
Ethan Jones dropped out of school to join a band with his dad, the founder of one of the most popular groups in St. Louis, but he took over the group when his dad went to rehab for drugs and alcohol. He sang "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain and the judges loved him. Steven Tyler, who's had his own struggles with substance abuse, even said he wanted to meet Ethan's dad. After the audition, Ethan called his dad to give him the good news, and his dad announced that he was "totally clean and sober."
Lauren Gray sings every weekend in a Southern rock band with her father, but she tried out with Adele's "One and Only." Her soulful, emotional voice made Jennifer's mouth drop open in disbelief; she said Lauren had "one of the best female voices I've ever heard." Steven praised the "break" in her voice. Lauren's going to Hollywood, and Jennifer said her name was the one she'd remember the most from that day.
All in all 46 contestants from St. Louis received Golden Tickets. Next time, it's the start of the dreaded "Hollywood Week," and in Fox promos, it appears as though we'll see a lot of contestants either getting sick, passing out or both.