The final night of “American Idol” final auditions week took the judges’ panel and anyone watching on a surprising and unexpected sonic ride Thursday, January 21, and the results were sometimes shocking, but still left a bittersweet tinge in the awareness that another season will never be. Nonetheless, there was much to celebrate in the offerings of the final hopefuls dreaming of Hollywood, and a surprise birthday celebration for Harry, including a surprise little friend!
Jessica Cabral is part of a touring family of musicians, and she did what every performer dreams of doing, she “captivated” the entire judges’ panel, in Harry Connick, Jr’s words, with her rendition of “Brand-New Me,” and he also exclaimed that she had “talent with a capital T” as she took the first golden ticket from the San Francisco auditions. Cody Estrengo is a world champion target shooting horse rider, brimming with spirit, and a decent belly dancer, but a truly pitiful voice. He butchered “Proud Mary” to pieces before being told to stick to his other callings. Brian Dale Brown was the shock of the night. The stout gentleman definitely has a presence, and a past. He has auditioned 10 times in the competition, calling himself “golden god.” When Keith Urban asked him what his favorite movie was, his answer was “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” with one of his reasons being, “Danny Elfman is a genius, no offense,” which sent Harry storming out, teasingly. His treatment of “Unchained Melody” was so affected with growls, it sounded like he was sitting on a toilet, but the judges somehow heard a voice in clutter and pained expressions. They gave Brian three yeses this tenth time. Gina Naomi Baez brought along her sweet dog, Tinkerbell, dressed just like Gina, in blue and sparkles, while she sang “Lips Are Moving,” but the judges were not moved that she was an artist, so her dream hit a stall for now. Melanie Huber fought her way through lymphoma before being in the contestant line of “American Idol,” and she has a whole new conviction about going after what she wants. She sang Bruno Mars’ “Talking to the Moon” with such natural beauty and emotion, she captured everyone. Keith heard “storytelling” in her voice. Harry lovingly said “I love what I’m seeing, from the top of your head (still re-growing hair) to your toes.” Her moment was beautiful, as is she.
A slew of artists brought family along for support, and accompanying strings, and Rachel Karryn, Caroline Byrne, and Bianca Espinal were among those who took gold. Justin Sullivan is completely enamored by the first “American Idol,” Kelly Clarkson, his audition was really part of a dream to sing with her one day, so Harry moved Kelly’s giant commemorative sign , so it would be near Justin for his song, but it wasn’t enough to win him that coveted ticket. All three judges said he was “good, not great” and that could not be the “bookend” to Kelly Clarkson’s season. Chynna Sherrod is already more of an artist and she realizes, and she swept the judges away with “Everything,” the Ariana Grande song. Harry called her “fantastic,” Ms. Lopez thought she was awesome, and Keith felt “such life” from her performance to her gold. Harry revealed a secret passion for “finger monkeys,” that his fellow judges took to heart, because when it was time for his birthday celebration in Atlanta, he was presented with that exact “little friend” for his gift, and his daughter was delighted via telephone, too. The connection between the judges is a special part of this competition, and it will be missed. They are artists who never steal the spotlight, but celebrate each other, and their young talents. Lillian is a truly authentic country girl, and she wrote her own perfectly fitting audition song, “Country Boyfriend,” that got the judges tuned in to her sincere twang and country truth. Jennifer loved her spirit and her song, as did Keith, but Harry didn’t feel it. Two votes still get her to Hollywood.
Casey Haynes is sober one year from the dilemma of drugs in his life, and something real came through for Jennifer Lopez on his song, “Brother” by Need to Breathe. Keith felt the power, but said that was not enough, but Harry’s vote gives him a chance. Zach Person is already more unique than most in the competition, because he’s 18 years old, and a self-supporting, professional musician! His audition of Gary Clark Jr’s “Next-Door Neighbor Blues” was completely original, and flawless. The judges unanimously loved him for being “who you are,” and no matter how the competition ends, the world will hear this young artist for a long while. Colette Lush is another comfortable artist, and she sang her version of the Jackson Five classic, “Who’s Lovin’ You,” like she could do it in her sleep. Jennifer gave her a “wow,” while Harry said she was “hope for all redheads.” Keith was pleased that she did not sound like anyone, so she took gold for herself. Avalon Young certainly didn’t dress up for the occasion of her audition, but her beautiful voice in her Beyoncé song took everyone on her journey, and they fell in love. Harry and Keith loved her accompaniment, and how she played to her voice, and now she’ll be playing in Hollywood. Usen Isong is a background actor by profession, with an impressive list of credits, but now it’s time for him to emerge from the background and sing. He chose Sam Smith’s “Not the Only One” for the audition, and Harry said everyone following him would say “oh, crap!” “You can sing” is what Keith said, and Jennifer applauded that he took his moment seriously.
Jaci Butler has bright green hair and one big voice. She already fronts a touring rock band, and they encouraged her to take her shot with Bruno Mars’ “Every Day It Rains,” and her power punched her through to that coveted ticket. One young man had to wait for ticket delivery, but it was all worth it, and next was Stephany Negretti, who took her turn with the popular “Who’s Lovin’ You” again. Jennifer Lopez told her to stop thinking about the notes, and start thinking about what she was singing, but it didn’t stop her from getting three votes through to Hollywood. Manny Torres was the last talent to try for his ticket, and he particularly wanted to impress Jennifer Lopez, a sister Puerto Rican. He went with Maroon 5’s “This Love,” and barely got started before it was “Right on, Manny,” from Keith. Harry gave him the compliment of “I don’t wanna hear more,” and his “focus” and Jennifer noted earned him the final golden ticket for the ages.
Auditions are over, and now the tough part really starts on “American Idol” for a worthy farewell.