To the relief of anyone who's a true fan, Wednesday night's "American Idol" brought an end to the audition rounds, the traditional home of costumed jokers, cracked-voice clowns, delusional dingbats and the occasional kewpie-doll ringer and blue-eyed crooner with a broken heart of gold.
The clip show brought together a variety of the best of this year's wannabes, from raspy-voiced Lee DeWyze of Illinois, a paint store clerk who sang a sandpaper cover of Bill Withers' classic soul tune "Ain't No Sunshine," to dreadlocked hippie chick Crystal Bowersox, a 23-year-old musician mom who went with the rocker girl classic "Piece of My Heart" by Janis Joplin.
Theater student Amanda Shechtman, 19, impressed the judges with her delivery of Billie Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache," even as they mocked her overly dramatic persona.
We learned about the fine art of the "fake out," where contestants pretend they didn't get their golden ticket only to pull it out of their shirts to the shock of their friends and family. And we watched as the judges blanked on a rogues gallery of contestants who have flamed out time and time again, including the Oompa-Loompa-skinned "Tan Girl."
Lacey Brown was back, after losing out in the top 50 last season as she watched tattooed single mom Megan Joy move ahead. The honey-voiced 23-year-old Amarillo, Texas, church event director with the spiky red hair won the judges over again, though with a buttery "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," earning her second shot at fame.
The seventh time proved to not be the charm for bottle-blond Posh Spice superfan Stephanie Fisher, a 23-year-old student/ promotional model from Jamestown, New York, whose silver dress sparkled, but whose pinched vocals on "Fever" made her sound like she had a massive head cold. At least she got a hug from Posh, who complimented her unique fashion sense while noting that she would never model that particular look. Florida nursing student Kimberley Bishop had lofty goals for when she won "Idol" — you know, recycling and helping kids in Africa — but her boozy blunder through Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" just plain scared the panelists.
There was the sad story of Hollywood's Didi Benami, a 22-year-old waitress auditioning in honor of her best friend Rebecca, who died at age 16. Benami had trouble keeping her emotions in check while singing a jazzy take on the Beatles' "Hey Jude," with guest judge Avril Lavigne saying she had "huge potential."
The year's crop of fresh-faced 16-year-olds included raspy-voiced Texas high school student Rachel Hubbard, booming Oklahoma crooner Thaddeus Johnson, Georgia's Genesis Moore, whose bluesy operatic wail bowled the panel over and hard-luck case Aaron Kelly, who blasted out a powerful country-ish cover of Miley Cyrus' "The Climb."
One of the many montages focused on athletes-turned-singers, highlighted by 6-foot-8-inch tall Florida swimmer Adrian "Blondzilla" Chandtchi, 17, who nearly drowned during a painful falsetto version of Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling In Love." Personal trainer Michael Lynche showed off his massive guns and some serious R&B chops while belting the audition classic "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers. The judges liked him, Kara DioGuardi called him a "singing teddy bear," and he made it to Hollywood. It's unclear, though, what his fate will be, since last week news emerged that he might have gotten booted after his dad blabbed to the local paper about his success, a no-no for contestants on the show.
As usual, producers saved the saddest story for last. Hope Johnson, one of eight siblings from an impoverished family, told the story of sneaking food from her tray at school back home to feed her hungry little brother, exuding an innocence and starry-eyed quality that seemed custom made for the "Idol" dream machine. The 19-year-old bartender form Arlington, Texas, had a sweet country voice that Kara said she'd remember after hearing Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance." And so ended this year's audition rounds, which produced exactly one breakout talker, viral superstar General Larry "Pants on the Ground" Platt.
With the audition rounds finally over, next Tuesday brings the debut of new judge Ellen DeGeneres as the Hollywood rounds finally kick off.
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