The "American Idol" train pulled into San Francisco on Wednesday night (February 9) for its final shot at discovering a diamond in the rough in the same city where the show found Adam Lambert two years ago. And, wouldn't you know it, they found the man who just might prove to be the straight-young-dad version of Lambert in James Durbin, along with a gang of really strong female contenders.
Ukrainian singer and sexy video vixen Inessa Lee, 22, was not one of them, though. She seemed more primed for next American, um, adult entertainer, with her belly dancing, yoga poses and an especially wobbly "All Out of Love" by Air Supply. Steven Tyler was charmed, but even her Betty Boop voice and their shared Eastern European ancestry wasn't enough to punch a ticket to Hollywood. "Cute, you get 110 percent; but singing ... eesh," Tyler said.
Duffy has been good to a number of auditioners this year, and a song by the Brit did the trick again for raven-haired Tucson, Arizona, dance-studio manager Brittany Mazur, 21, as well, who brought a smile to the panel's faces with her rich, soulful voice. There were also unanimous yeses for jazzy Lara Johnston and sensitive brawny belter Matthew Nuss, whom Tyler dubbed a "diamond in the rough."
Stefano Langone had one of those stories "Idol" cannot resist. The unemployed 21-year-old was told he'd never walk again after a horrible car crash, but he rallied and brought his positive energy to Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," nailing his audition thanks to some powerful, if a bit nasally, vocals. "Nice voice, dude, got a little 'hood up in there ... I like that," Randy Jackson said, praising Langone's streetwise phrasing. Jennifer Lopez had props for his matinee-idol looks and star quality too.
Big round glasses and LBC attitude got karaoke host Clint Jun Gamboa some attention in the audition room, but it was his high-and-tight, gospel&B-flavored cover of Travie McCoy's "Billionaire" that put him through. "The notes and the way you sang that song was brilliant," Tyler said, with Jackson calling Gamboa one of the best auditions of the San Francisco trip.
The night's signature wackadoodle was unemployed El Paso, Texas, clown Kenneth Berba, who ran into the room wearing a homemade lion outfit that earned him an immediate no. That, of course, set up the obligatory horrible-singer montage, highlighted by a maniac in an incredibly detailed homemade Transformer costume that blew the judges away more than his silly try at "Born to be Wild."
Not easily impressed by other people's footwear, Lopez loved Julie Zorrilla's golden shoes. The 20-year-old student comes from a well-heeled family that left Colombia to escape shakedowns from the nation's guerrilla fighters in the 1990s, and her brilliant smile and upbeat attitude was almost as engaging as her emotionally rich cover of the "Idol" staple "Summertime." Breathy and leisurely, Zorrilla put plenty of attitude into her take on the "Porgy and Bess" classic.
"Fabulous, beautiful, great range," Tyler told the alluring beauty. "And great star quality." Lopez appreciated her confidence, and Jackson liked how she switched up the arrangement.
We've had precious few rockers so far this season, and it seemed like long and curly-haired blond belter Dave Combs, 25, might have the stuff. His rough-and-tumble attempt at the Beatles' "Oh! Darling" just didn't do it for Tyler (wearing a Beatles T-shirt, no less), who just seemed annoyed at how off the melodic mark Combs was. He was the first of a string of fellas who blew it and got harsh rebukes from the Aerosmith singer.
A week after her house burned down, strawberry-haired free-spirit barista Emily Anne Reed, 26, proved to be plenty cute and fun to look at, but her falsetto attempt at Harry Warren's jazz tune "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me" split the judges. Lopez loved her unique, high and squeaky tone, but Tyler thought the melody left a lot to be desired. Randy disagreed and complimented the unusual tone, which left it up to Lopez, who agreed to give Reed one more shot.
The producers saved a doozy for the final audition spot. The hard-knock story told by James Durbin, 21, was almost too much to believe. He grew up barely knowing his bass-playing dad, who was always on the road, and was raised by his mom after his father died of a drug overdose. Later diagnosed with both Tourette syndrome and Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, Durbin turned to music to help calm his sometimes-rattled nerves.
The unemployed young father with the faux-hawk had everything to prove to the panel, and he immediately grabbed their ears with a wailing, Lambert-esque moon-shot take on Led Zeppelin's "You Shook Me." And, in what will likely be another boost to Aerosmith catalog sales, he asked if he could give "Dream On" a shot as well.
Tyler dug it, shaking his head along, his eyes closed as he took in Durbin's booming, emotion-laden voice. "I like you, I like your voice, my god, what a range," Randy said. "Wow, that was over the top, wow, that was so, so good," Tyler added. "You sing from where you're supposed to sing from, from feeling, from heart, from our soul, from the need to feel and make others feel," Lopez gushed.
And so it goes. Next stop, Hollywood Week, which kicks off Thursday night, promising much more elation, heartbreak and stress-induced meltdowns.
Who was your favorite from the San Francisco auditions? Let us know in the comments!
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