American Idol: Phoenix auditions (season premiere)

by Kona Gallagher, posted Jan 14th 2009 12:25AM
(S08E01) it's that time of year again: American Idol auditions. It's the good, bad and tone-deaf all vying for their chance to be the next Taylor Hicks! Or... you know, someone else. So let's get started:

We open up with a really weird slow-motion retrospective of notable past auditions to "It's a Wonderful World." I always forget how skinny and young Clay was. Seacrest has changed a lot too-- and informs us that "THIS is American Idol" from what looks to be a perch on the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Oh my God. They're showing that amazing video of those little girls completely losing it over David Archuleta not winning last season. I am laughing so hard right now. This is officially the best episode of American Idol ever.

After that, we have a montage of the audition lines yelling, "I am the next American Idol!" It's pretty scary. "One of us! One of us!" Ryan further informs me that we're going to be visiting 8 cities. From the montage they show of upcoming auditions, I've got to say: it pretty much looks exactly the same as it does every year. People dress up in crazy costumes, yell at the judges and cry. Oh, there's always crying. Lots and lots of crying.

We're starting out in Phoenix (aka Jordin Sparks's hometown), which explains the Grand Canyon. So, I learned something new about Phoenix; apparently it's very hot. I know this because every single person mentions it repeatedly. Also, one contestant wrote a song about it:

"Oh Phoenix, you're so hot.
I'm not kidding; you're very hot."

We clearly have a talented group this year.

We also get to meet the new judge, Kara DioGuardi, who I just got a chance to talk to. Seacrest very quickly gets a neg in by saying, "you probably don't know her name..." Sure, she may not be instantly known, but the lady has some cred, having written a crapload of hit songs. But tonight will be exciting, since it's our first chance to see how she'll fit her experience into the show.


We start out predictably wacky with Tuan Nguyen. He's 20, half-Vietnamese and has a giant afro. Oh, and he's going to dance. That always goes well. He's singing Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel." He's not bad; it would be a perfectly decent Karaoke performance... but then he starts dancing. It's kind of horrifying. It's really sad, because Randy starts going on about how entertaining it was, and says, "yes, yes," getting Tuan all excited... and then the judges give a resounding "no." Poor guy.

Emily Hughes's mother was a singer who gave it up to be a mom. I like Emily's plan to get a bunch of tattoos so she can never work in an office; perhaps I should try it. She sings "Barracuda" by Heart. It's a little screechy, and is just a bad song to sing a capella, but I kind of like it. The judges agree with me, which is good and bad. Good, of course, because she gets through to Hollywood, but bad because she has to completely turn her back on her band and keep them from going on a European tour. Ew, awkward.

Randy Madden is 28-years-old but looks like he's about 40. He works in a cubicle and people apparently stop him all the time and tell him he should be on American Idol. He's also a crier. His song is Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer." He mangles the words and Simon calls it "wimpy" and "cliched." We get the first judge fight of the season over the merits of joining a band. Paula tells him that the experience of working with a band and the camaraderie will help with his singing, while Simon snidely says, "Yeah, that's how 'Straight Up' was written." That's funny enough, but it becomes hilarious when Paula throws a pencil at him and says, "I didn't even write 'Straight Up'!" It's fantastic. Unsurprisingly, the judges vote "no."

J.B. Ahfua (16) sings well but kind of bores me. I'm pretty sure I'm going to forget about him in five minutes... except that it sounds like his song ends with "waking up inside you," which gives me the creeps because he looks like he's 12. The judges quickly vote him on to Hollywood.

Michael Gurr is another high school student. He's 17 and decides to sing "It starts with Goodbye" by Carrie Underwood. It's kind of terrifying. It sounds like Aaron Neville having a seizure. The judges say that they couldn't understand a word, and Randy hides behind some papers and tries desperately not to lose it. Things only get better when he sings a second song by none other than Kara DioGuardi, and she looks mortified. He also nearly passes out on his way out of the judges' room.

X-Ray (Aundre Caraway) is 20 and born and raised in Phoenix. He comes in with a guitar, but quickly puts it aside (so... is he just a prop comic?). He has an original song! It's about cacti! He dances and claps, and it makes absolutely no sense. In fact, it doesn't really have a lot of words. It's mainly crazy sounds. Randy is tickled by this guy, but all the judges say no. X-Ray does not understand and keeps singing. He has to be physically removed from the room.

Arianna Afsar is 16 and founded a group called "Adopt a Grand-friend," in which high school students hang out with senior citizens and perform for them. She sings "Put Your Records On" by Corinne Bailey Rae. She's adorable and does a lovely job. Everybody loves her and she's through to Hollywood.

Elijah Scarlett has the deepest voice in the world. Simon is not hopeful--- and for good reason. He is not good. He seems like a really nice guy, but he's just bad, you guys. Simon is predictably mean and calls it something out of a horror movie. Elijah does not go onto Hollywood.

Lea Golde (pictured) is Kara's biggest fan, has written over 100 original songs, kind of looks like Natalie Portman and is a living, breathing SNL skit. She sings "Every Time We Touch" through her nose. Simon says she sounded really annoying, and the judges pretty much agree, although Kara compliments her on her dedication.

Stevie Wright is 16 and sings "At Last" by Etta James. She has a BIG voice and pretty much kills it. Simon wants her to grow sharp teeth, but it's a resounding "yes."

Michael Sarver, 27, has the fifth most dangerous job in the world; he's a roughneck on an oil rig. He has a wife and two kids and is using AI to help out his family. He sings "Thank You" by Boys II Men. He's good, but he doesn't seem terribly unique to me. The judges really like him and vote him through.

Katrina Darrell, 20, wears a bikini to her audition and Simon's eyes nearly fall out of his head. Before she goes in though, she spends some time flirting with Seacrest, who, bless his little heart, pretends to get excited. She goes in and launches into a freakin' Mariah Carey song ("Vision of Love") and is actually pretty damn good. Simon immediately says yes, as does Randy. Kara, however, says that there's no "swing," and then they get into a sing-off, and Katrina disses Kara, who says, "wait a minute, bitch!" It's a crazy, crazy audition. Afterward, Katrina hunts down Seacrest and kisses him. The brilliant, brilliant producers play "I Kissed a Girl" while this is going on, and it just reaffirms my position that this is the best episode of Idol ever-- because you know that they didn't choose that song because Ryan kissed a girl.

Eric Thomas, aka "Sexual Chocolate," is 17. Yikes. He sings a Stevie Wonder song and does an okay job with it. Stevie is tough though. They vote "no," but apparently his mother promised to buy him a car if he didn't make it, so... good for him?

Brianna Quijada, 22, is very bubbly. She sings "Let's Hear it for the Boy," and while she's not great, she's fun. Her personality comes through and makes you want to shimmy. She kind of has a meltdown though when they ask her to sing "Killing Me Softly." It's kind of sad, because she completely blows it for herself, except that Simon decides he likes her and lets her through! It's the first big surprise of the night.

Deanna Brown, 25, is this year's Kellie Pickler. She sings "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" and has a tendency to sing out of her nose, but isn't bad. The judges like her and quickly vote her through.

Cody Sheldon, 17, loves making horror films, which kind of freaks out the judges. He sings "Wonderful World" by James Morrison and does a decent job with it. The judges are surprised he was good and vote him through.

Alex Wagner-Trugman, 19, is my new favorite. He says that he taught himself to sing in his closet, which apparently had a lot of mold in it, so he got really sick. This tickles me. Simon, on the other hand, is tickled by saying that Alex just came out of the closet. He decides to sing "Baby Come to Me" by James Ingram, but only if Randy will sing along with the chorus. Um, you guys? Simon disagrees with me, but I think this awkward, Josh Groban-looking dude is really freakin' good. The other three judges agree with me, and he's in. That guy is adorable.

Scott McIntyre is legally blind. He's the requisite inspirational story. He's also a prodigy, entering Arizona state at 14 and graduating at 19. Scott sings "And So it Goes" by Billy Joel. He's pretty good, and the audience will really dig his story. The judges unanimously say yes. I'm looking forward to seeing how far he gets.

So there you have it. The first night of auditions for Season 8. The pre-Hollywood shows are always my least favorite episodes of idol. I don't like the parade of bad singers that the judges mock, or seeing people cry or tell inspirational stories. I'm just here for the competition. With that said, I thought this was a fun season premiere. Kara adds an interesting dynamic to the show, and the producers didn't dwell to much on making fun of the freaks. I'm excited to see what's in store for tomorrow.

Of those who were featured tonight, who has the best chance of becoming the next American Idol?
Emily Hughes87 (11.5%)
J.B. Ahfua14 (1.8%)
Arianna Afsar75 (9.9%)
Stevie Wright177 (23.4%)
Michael Sarver16 (2.1%)
Katrina Darrell54 (7.1%)
Brianna Quijada9 (1.2%)
Deanna Brown43 (5.7%)
Cody Sheldon50 (6.6%)
Alex Wagner-Trugman63 (8.3%)
Scott McIntyre170 (22.4%)

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it is good to see many talented persons perform on single stage.thrilling experience

January 22 2013 at 9:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Does any one know the name of the song which was played in the 1st episode half way through? It showed the end of of the first day and a song was playing. It was kinda peppy and had a chorus sounding like 'shake, shake,shake'
Please let me know if you know the song?

January 15 2009 at 3:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I found nothing new with this first show. According to the article yesterday here about the changes to the show, I thought they were going to show less of the losers but that is all I can remember seeing from yesterday.
I did not like the new judge. She seemed no different than the rest. Maybe its because I am just used to the three judges. Loved it when Paula gave the finger to Simon.

January 14 2009 at 1:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was just going to type that Jessica! That was hysterical

January 14 2009 at 1:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How could you not mention that Ryan tried to high 5 the blind guy. Priceless!

January 14 2009 at 12:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm a little nervous about this season. I mean come on, The Blind Man and the Bikini Girl both making it through to Hollywood. If the Blind Man makes it though Hollywood Week then he will win it all weather or not her can sing.

January 14 2009 at 11:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Let's just talk a minute about Ms. Bikini, because I'm sure she's going to get a lot of press. Model Katrina Darrell banked on her assets and her gimmick got her a ticket to Hollywood. You can't fault the girl for that. But she's not going to be able to wear a bikini throughout the whole season and insulting a judge is not the best way to win points in the long run.

January 14 2009 at 11:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Although I agree that Katrina was good enough to get through, I think she signed her death warrant. Pissing off two judges during the audition round was increadibly stupid!

January 14 2009 at 11:35 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I completely agree with you Kona - BEST AI audition show ever! It had the best mix of talent and non-talent so far and didn't dwell TOO long on any one background story. Just focus on the music please and start making us care about these guys in a few weeks. I'm much more entertained by what goes on in the actual auditions than caring about all the sob stories at this point. Here's a clue AI - ALL of the people who try out have reasons why they are auditioning and MOST of them are sob stories. Nevertheless, the balance was better than its been in years past and the show seemed much more fresh as a result.

A couple of questions or comments on the individual auditions:

First of all, I LOVE having Kara on board this year. The virtual explosion that happened when Bikini Girl made her appearance was EPIC! She's a perfect foil for Simon and she's going to be able to hold her own right off the bat. Awesome.

Second, I could swear we've seen (or is it heard?) Elijah either last season or the year before. His voice was so memorable but his range killed any chance he possibly had. Nice guy though. I also thought that Lea (pictured) looked more like Keira Knightly than Natalie Portman. Either way, she needed work - Kara nailed it with her comments about her voice needing to mature and being too nasal. Just one of the reasons she is perfect for the show.

Deanna - I said the same thing to my wife about her being this season's Kellie Pickler (and I LIKED Kellie & bought her CDs). Hopefully she'll work on her image and her voice will smooth out a little with some vocal coaching. She's probably going to be one of the dark horse favorites this season but she's a little rough around the edges right now.

Arianna - loved her! She's got a lot of potential and her voice is great. She's kind of got the Jordan Sparks appeal working for her but she's a lot cuter. I think the boys will be calling in for her a lot and she's probably going to be around for most of the season.

Stevie - she's very good and I was amazed she could pull off Etta James the way she did. She's another one that will probably be around a long time this season. I don't think she'll be able to win though, she reminds me of Carly from last year and she'll probably end up exiting mid season. Even so, I loved her audition.

Alex - first off, he's just strange. Secondly, I am a big fan of his audition song and I agree with Randy - he freaking NAILED it. It's a difficult song to sing and Alex has some weird mannerisms that will keep him from being a legitimate contestant but I agree with the general consensus that I want to see him do another song in Hollywood, if for no other reason than to watch the train wreck.

Scott - just like everyone else, I saved Scott for last. He's the one who's going to tug at everyone's heartstrings this season and I'd be very, very surprised if he doesn't go all the way to the final four or beyond. He's an amazing talent and one can't help but root for him. Good luck Scott.

Oh, any bets on whether or not Bikini Girl shows up in Hollywood in a different bikini??? How awesome was that whole sequence with Ryan after she presented him with the Golden Ticket and kissed him? Loved it all! Maybe that could be Ryan's next reality show venture - the two of them trying to make it thru a weekend together... I'd watch that for sure!

January 14 2009 at 9:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Michael's comment

And I thought Lea Marie reminded me of Isla Fisher's character from Wedding Crashers. I could totally imagine her saying in her frighteningly nasal voice "Don't ever leave me... Good, cause I'd find you!"

January 14 2009 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My lasting thought from this show: Emily Hughes is a STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL girl who has ruined herself with tattoos, mouth piercings and stretched-out earlobes. Her audition was not as good as the judges made it out to be; I think she will do better in Hollywood if she stays in a lower register.

January 14 2009 at 9:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jim's comment

Agreed Jimmy. As Carly Smithson found out last season, talent cannot always overcome prejudice. No matter how great her voice is, there are going to be tons of people who simply will not vote for her because of how she looks. If you remember, Carly covered her tattoos up for nearly the whole season and I'm sure she still couldn't win over most mainstream household voters. Emily won't make it far in the competition for the same reasons. Sorry, this is "American Idol" not "Rock Star". The fact is, America isn't ready to make someone that looks like Emily "America's Darling". It just isn't going to happen dear.

January 14 2009 at 10:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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