The second week of "American Idol" auditions brought our judges to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the first visit to the beer-and-cheese-loving Midwestern town busted out of the gate with a surefire star in the making, as well as the by-now-familiar slow-motion glamour montage complete with Steven Tyler yelps and profane bleeps. The trip also served up one of the most touching "Idol" audition moments of all time and a healthy roster of talented young teens.
Though the focus was to be on the auditioners this year, the episode opened with Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler doing an endearing a cappella duet of Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" accompanied by an Altoids tin and some cheeky lyrics about bad singing. As if we could forget that Tyler is a world-famous rock star, right?
But that was soon replaced by the froggy voice of Garner, North Carolina, native Scotty McCreery, 16, who wowed the judges off the bat with his perfect country rumble through Josh Turner's "Your Man" and Travis Tritt's "Put Some Drive in Your Country." Both songs sounded like the work of a career cowboy crooner rather than a high school baseball prospect. "Well hellfire, save matches, f--- a duck and see what hatches!" Tyler enthused to the howls of the whole "Idol" crew. "That's beautiful."
Host Ryan Seacrest humored budding radio host Joe Repka, 19, an awkward communications major who lost the panel off the bat with his lame "radio voice," then set them howling like dogs with a warbly operatic slog through Billy Joel's "The Longest Time."
Emma Henry, 15, said she's watched the show since she was 5, and her raspy, emotional "True Colors" by Cyndi Lauper had rough spots but won Tyler over with its unique character. "I want this so bad; this is what my life is about," the emo teen wept after judge Jennifer Lopez said no and Jackson reluctantly put her through. "Don't disappoint us," he cautioned.
One of the bright spots in an otherwise grim day of auditions in Milwaukee was colorful belter Naima Adedapo, who killed it with a gospel-tinged slow-and-easy version of Donny Hathaway's "For All We Know," which was powerful, self-assured and oh-so-buttery. "I like you a lot," said Lopez, who called Adedapo the whole package. They also gave a thumbs-up to wedding/ bar mitzvah singer Jerome Bell, 27, when the New York native slayed Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" thanks to high energy and a sugar-sweet falsetto. "So good, so good," Tyler gushed.
One thing has already become clear this season: Singing Lady Gaga is a terrible idea in an "Idol" audition. Every time. And don't show up with giant toothbrushes or wearing your Civil War re-enactment costumes, because that mess doesn't wash.
Admitting that they lowered the age limit in part because of Bieber Fever, Seacrest said there have been a lot of stellar 15-year-olds so far this year, with startlingly confident California native Thia Megia proving them right after a soulful stroll through Adele's "Chasing Pavements." She set off an avalanche of 15-year-old gold-ticket winners, providing a glimpse of the youthquake that is sure to shake the Hollywood rounds.
It's unclear why 22-year-old Harvard grad and White House intern Molly DeWolf Swenson even needs "Idol," but the statuesque blonde proved she has some other skills with a smoky "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" that appeared to catch Tyler's eye. "Who knew what was goin' on at the White House?" Randy said, with Tyler adding, "That's great. You got attitude, you know where to put it, geez, that was beautiful!"
Day two brought more R&B belters, a (terrible) Obama impersonator, an operatic destruction of Bieber's "Baby" and a Minnie Riperton slayer with some serious bad attitude. Then there was mild-mannered awkward loner accountant/ funeral singer (is that even a thing?) Steve Beghun, who did a Jason Mraz-meets-Josh Groban warble that Tyler called "disturbingly great" and which was just good enough to get him to Hollywood.
Milwaukee student teacher Scott Dangerfield, 22, looked like an indie-rock slacker but came on like a blue-eyed soulster when he sang Amos Lee's "Dreamin'." It felt a bit mannered but was so compelling to Lopez that she called it her favorite audition so far, counseling him to keep the grown-out Bieber hair and nerdy glasses.
Hire a rock star and you'll get a few groupies, such as self-avowed Chicago rocker girl and bartender Alyson Jados, 26, who immediately caught her idol's fancy. "Wow," Tyler said wide-eyed while looking over the raven-haired beauty with the voluptuous mouth. "You look like you could be one of my ... nope, I can't say it. ... One of my friends."
She knew just what song to pick, too, growling out a cover of the Beatles' "Come Together," which Aerosmith famously covered in the disastrous 1978 "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" movie, segueing into a duet with Tyler on Aerosmith's "Dream On."
Tyler appreciated that she sang one of his songs but said he was scared by how pitchy her performance was, though Lopez liked her stage presence and performance quality. Randy gave it a no while Lopez said yes, so it was up to Tyler, who faked left and then sent Jados to the next round.
The night ended with one of the all-time "Idol" audition tearjerker stories, courtesy of Chicago's Chris Medina, 26, who told the tragic tale of his fiancée's life-changing car accident. After getting engaged following eight years together, she suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2009 and Medina explained how he stood by her side and is now her caretaker.
His finger-snapping amble through "Break Even" by the Script had touches of heart and soul, and after he wheeled girlfriend Julie in to meet the judges, they broke the good news that he was going to advance. "Nice kid, he sang great," Randy said.
Thursday night's show will take the panel to Nashville for another night of auditions.
Who was your favorite "Idol" hopeful in Milwaukee? Let us know in the comments below!
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