Not only did last night mark the beginning of “Hollywood Week”, but it also featured the debut of Ellen DeGeneres as the new permanent judge. Considering the build-up for both events, I was expecting to be let down by one if not two of the prospects. Thankfully tonight featured amazing performances by the contestants and DeGeneres.
With all the God-awful joke auditions out of the way, the search for the next American Idol can finally go into hyper-drive. While we lost a few early sentimental favorites like Vanessa Wolfe (bridge jumping farm girl) and Justin Williams (cute cancer boy), we gladly lost a few annoying dead weights such as Skiiboski, Amedeo DiRocco and poor-man’s Blake Lewis (Jay Stone).
So what were we left with? AMAZING PERFORMANCES, that’s what. While I haven’t been overly excited by the majority of the successful golden recipients this season, halfway through the episode, that all changed tonight. For once Seacrest’s claims about “amazing talent and performances” coming after the break actually delivered. I literally found myself clapping after a handful of AMAZING performances. I liken watching Idol to me viewing a sporting event.
My top ten is comprised by eight singers who played either a guitar or keyboard, four of which were blonde haired girls. I’m telling you, this season is all about the guitar-playing-blonde-Jewel-like artist. THAT is your NEW AMERICAN IDOL.
10. Casey James
Audition Song: I Don’t Need No Doctor by Ray Charles
- He got through the first audition by taking down his hair and off his clothes. He’s been showcased twice now and neither of his performances have stood out thus far. Why is he on my list? I needed another person to round out my “Top Ten”.
9. Haeley Vaughn
Audition Song: Change by Taylor Swift
- There’s something about this girl I absolutely love. I can’t quite place it yet, but everything she’s sung so far has captivated me. Sure she has a bit of a lisp, but maybe that can be her signature thing. It’s obvious she has a thing for blonde country singers- both song choices she’s picked this season have been by current “IT” Nashville stars, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.
8. Katie Stevens
Audition Song: For Once In My Life by Stevie Wonder
- One of only two successful singers who sang tonight without playing a musical instrument. When I first saw Katie during her Boston audition, I was left feeling just “meh”. That all changed after her amazingly mature and controlled rendition of this Stevie classic. While most female Idol contestant belters have great power voices, only a few have pitch-perfect lower registers. This 17-year-old possesses that and star quality as well. I expect her to go very far.
7. Mary Powers
Audition Song: Sober by Pink
- Mary was the other singer who wowed the judges without musical accompaniment. Considering it’s been only a week and half since Pink wowed everyone with her “Sober” performance, Mary’s take on this rock song stood on its own merits. Her strong rock vocals were a perfect fit for her selection. She successfully growled without sounding too affected.
6. Lilly Scott
Audition Song: Lullaby of Birdland by Ella Fitzgerald
- While nine of the the ten spots on this list are occupied by contestants we’ve been exposed to before, Lilly was the only “undiscovered” one not yet shown by the producers. Amidst all the singers I’ve made emotional attachments to due to their previous audition segments, Scott soared past a few of them with her vocal talents. WOW, she was fantastic, had a great look and sported some amazing peacock earrings. She reminded me a bit of Jenny Humphrey from “Gossip Girl”.
5. Michael Lynche
Audition Song: Waiting for the World to Change by John Mayer
4. Crystal Bowersox
Audition Song: Natural Woman by Carole King
- Single mother and newly tattooed, Bowersox blew the “socks” off me with her exceptionally strong rendition of his much-covered King classic. Throughout the years, we’ve heard countless Idol contestants butcher this song and countless divas like Mariah and Celine oversing this track. Having said all that, Crystal’s version sounded fresh and captivating. I’m really looking forward to see what other tricks she has up her
3. Didi Benami
Audition Song: Terrified by Kara DioGuardi
- Besides having one of my favorite names of the season, Didi Benami managed to enthrall me with a song I had never heard of before. Normally picking a song that one of the judges have been involved with, annoys me to death. But with Benami’s case, I felt she wasn’t sucking up and instead chose to pick a DioGuardi penned song to inspire Kara to write for her one day. As great as this performance was, I still can’t get her “Hey Jude” audition out of my head. It was that GREAT.
2. Andrew Garcia
Audition Song: Straight Up by Paula Abdul
- I literally had to flip a coin to figure out which singer wowed me more? Though Garcia’s performance came second on my list, it had everything to take the top spot. While reinterpreting a classic into a new song is nothing new, Garcia deserves mad props for morphing a 80s dance classic into folksy acoustic ear-candy. “Straight Up” was virtually unrecognizable after Andrew’s performance. The judges nailed it on the head. Had Paula been there, she would’ve been clapping like a seal begging for food. Garcia was stupendously amazing. So far he’s my favorite guy in the competition.
1. Janell Wheeler
Audition Song: American Boy by Estelle
- WOW. WOW. WOW. This chick has it all. I am in love with Janell. Amazing song selection, pitch-perfect vocals and with musicality to spare. After watching eight seasons of female contestants pick popular tracks by Martina, Whitney, Mariah, Aretha and Celine, its SOOOO refreshing for someone to pick a song not sung before but also one that is pretty current. Like Gracia before her, she change-up the music arrangement to fit her range and her style. While Gracia is my favorite dude, Wheeler is currently my favorite girl. GO TEAM JANELL.