“American Idol” set forth for Little Rock and San Francisco on the January 7 auditions, and it didn’t take long to find some jaw-dropping voices, and inspiring stories, even for Jennifer Lopez, who caused everyone to gaze at her soft pastel ensemble. Season 9’s title-taker, Kris Allen, was there to lend encouragement, but it was Cameron Richard (REE-chard), a real Louisiana boy, who inspired everyone with his life story of being born with a cleft palette, being told he would never talk, eat, or even breathe normally, and then hearing him spin Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love” so beautifully in his Cajun style. Jennifer Lopez listened with her jaw dropped, and Harry was taken with the offer of beignets, and called Cameron “a young Paul McCartney.” That was only the start of a night that would hold chickens (literally), laughs, and lifting voices, from the farm to the West Coast. Ryan Seacrest was unexpectedly called into a new kind of duty, just before an emotionally supercharged finish to premiere week.
Daniel Farmer was really only interested in singing his audition song, D’angelo’s “How Does It Feel,” to Jennifer Lopez, captive in his heart, and she was certainly captivated by his song, and didn’t hold back her vote for gold. Harry Connick, Jr. cautioned Daniel about doing runs, reminding him that they are like dives, and should only be done “if you can nail it.” Keith Urban had similar advice, but Daniel still took three yeses to Hollywood. Dalton Rapattoni teaches in Dallas at the School of Rock program for kids, but his rendition of “Phantom of the Opera” for acoustic guitar no kid stuff, and it impressed the panel, with Harry Connick Jr. leading off with “I dug it,” and Jennifer Lopez remarking that Dalton brought “an interesting mix” to the competition. Keith Urban agreed that his “artistic contribution” was clear, so this young man that Harry calls “pretty” is off to Hollywood. LaPorsha Jennings knows well what tough times are. This Mississippi girl has been through single motherhood and domestic abuse, and come out singing her own song. Jennifer Lopez held her beautiful, smiling, giggling baby girl while Mama sang, and did she sing! Harry Connick, Jr. raved that she “destroyed runs,” and Keith soaked up her “fresh take” on the song. The honor of handing her that golden ticket went to her daughter, and this mom’s life is about to change.
15-year-old Maddie McAllister brought her good luck chicken, with no name of her own, to her audition, and she gave her all to “Cowboy Casanova” while Keith Urban held her bird, but by unanimous decision, the panel said her voice was a few years from being ready, and to keep trying. Next came, Trent Harmon, who is more than ready to stop singing to only cows, and sing for people instead. “Cows don’t buy albums,” he asserted. He really impressed and surprised everyone with his R&B, hip-hop kind of style on “Unaware.” Harry called it his favorite audition, Jennifer Lopez said. It was surprising, and Keith Urban only said, “Come get your ticket.” That cow practice must have made the difference. Brook Sample seemed only able to say “I’m sorry,” after what seemed like 1 million mess ups in her estimation, but somehow, when she finally got to the stage, she sang the Dixie Chicks’ “Cold Day in July” flawlessly, sailing to three yes votes, and then getting advice to gain some confidence, so that she can stay a survivor. Olivia Rox has her super supportive parents behind her all the way, and her bluesy-soul style with “When I Was Your Man” won her unanimous praise as “very talented,” and a sense that she will be staying a while. There came a girl-talent onslaught so strong that Harry said the title of the competition should be changed to “American Girl Idol.” Jessica Clark, Ameet Kanon, and Kayla Mickelson all used their powerful gifts to power their way through to gold, and Melanie Tierce could not have chosen better when she chose Andra Day’s “Rise Up” as her showstopper for the audition. Keith urban gave her a standing ovation, Harry Connick, Junior called her performance “stunning” and was transfixed by her eyes. Needless to say, America will see her in Hollywood.
Malie Delgado is a reigning Miss Alaska, and her vibrant personality and exposure won her a regular radio show, but that didn’t stop her dream of becoming the “American Idol.” She tore into Gretchen Wilson-style gospel as if her soul embodied it, and the judges couldn’t help but feel it. “You’re so strong and present,” Jennifer Lopez praised. Harry noted that she was “the prettiest blue” among the ocean of talents. Her way was all golden. A fun montage followed, involving all the suitors of Ryan Seacrest through the years, of all sexes, including Jason Green. Brandyn Burnette brought things back to business, singing his original song, “Lost,” so heartfelt, in deep pathos. Harry coached the young talent on just what to say to Ryan Seacrest, sitting for the first time as judge on the panel. It worked. The compliments on his Labrador, and inquiries about his sister’s wedding, as well as the song, won him Seacrest support, and that of the three other judges. Mr. Burnette will be the only auditioning Idol contestant with four yeses. Kristi Jewel and her parents take the title as most adoring Idol family. Besides their daughter’s focused quest to follow her own Idol dream, their home brims over with everything “American Idol,” including tapes of every season. They were so excited to see their daughter inside that audition room, and pulling for her all the way while she sang Jessie J’s “Mama Knows Best” like a girl much wiser than her years. The panel couldn’t help but see all the love in her parents’ eyes, and they were moved to give her triple gold. Harry felt for that father’s love. It was a matter of preparing for a lifetime versus not preparing at all with Sarah Hayes, who couldn’t seem to remember if she had a song to sing, or any of the words. She started over several times, with several songs, and never rose to her moment. Harry was ready to give her a yes, but he was alone in that charity. It’s always better to be ready.
Cameras went back to Little Rock for Tristan MacIntosh and her audition. Her mother is serving in the military overseas, and Tristan is trying her best to make her proud, pouring out her heart with Mickey Guyton’s “Why Baby Why.” Keith Urban told her she had so much “coming together “ as a performer, Jennifer saw her as like Alicia Keys, and the piano man told her “I like you.” Harry read a very special e-mail message at the end of her performance, and asked her if she knew who was from. “My mom,” she said with tears. Suddenly, her mom, the major, stepped out from side stage, falling into a lasting embrace, surprising even the rest of the family watching from screens. Those kind of moments set “American Idol” apart– artistry and heart.