American Idol swept into Chicago's Adler Planetarium to check out the windy city's star power, hoping to find stellar talent and the next Idol. Astronomical crowds were waiting, hoping to rocket to Hollywood and celestial fame. The Insider is now officially out of metaphorical star references.
First to meet the panel was 17 year old, MacKenzie Wasner from Lieper's Fork, Tennessee who wowed the judges with Vince Gill's "Whenever You Come Around." Nicki's dad, Pete, plays keyboards for Vince, so smart song choice girl! Nicki said, "You are a star!" and MacKenzie grabbed her ticket to Hollywood.
After a brief, ear-splitting encounter with a yellow-mohawked, nineteen year old "fast food service" worker (the Insider is sooooo PC!), the judges were treated to twenty-one year old Chicago native Kiara Lanier. Kiara sang for President Obama at a fund raiser, and was Singer-In-Chief in front of the panel, earning a unanimous "wow" for her version of Celine Dion's "The Prayer." Nicki called her voice "pretty frickin' pretty" and was so floored that she nearly fell out of her leopard print, US Navy-approved, Admiral's hat!
Twenty-one year old Wisconsinite, Stephanie Schimel's "Dream a Little Dream" earned her an overall "yes," but Nicki took issue with her eye shadow and voted no. And then we got a nice dose of Nicki v. Mariah Round 2, as poor Keith's head whipsawed before he started literally banging his head on the desk. A man's gotta do, what a man's gotta do. Meowwwwwwwww!
Next Ryan got a very public massage from twenty-seven year-old Melissa Bush. We checked the city Code and no laws were broken. Melissa sported what can best be described as a pink, skin-tight, alien disco outfit with sparkles that highlighted certain features. Bush sang as the judges focused on her "Downtown"....by Petula Clark. The judges were unanimous about Bush. It was a no. Not even a close shave.
Marion, Iowa's, twenty-one year-old Gabe Brown, brought cookies and the first kick-ass dose of rock, as he belted out the Rolling Stones', "Gimme Shelter." Volume was no issue and Gabe was only a shout away from a yes. He sang "We All Die Young" by Steel Dragon, which carried the day with Ms. Carey and earned him a golden ticket.
Ninja-dancing singer, Kevin Nabity, whipped out his martial arts sticks and, shall we say, "interesting" auctioneer vocal stylings for Randy and the crew. Sadly, neither his singing of Styx, "Come Sail Away" nor his "fast-forward," sub-titled, okay, weird version of Bare Naked Ladies' "One Week" impressed the judges and ol' Kev was released back into the wilds of Iowa.
After a string of no votes and a river of tears, we then met fifteen year-old, Isabelle Parell from the thriving metropolis of Centerton, Indiana. Fifteen. Yes, skipping school for an Idol audition is encouraged in most American school districts. Isabelle sang "Baby It's Cold Outside" WITH Mr. Urban. Playing hooky paid off as she didn't get the hook. Nope, the judges hooked her up with a trip to the next round.
Keith then played hooky due to a concert gig, leaving Randy as the soul source of testosterone, until, that is, a bevy of Chicago's buffest boys paraded before the panel leaving Nicki panting. The manhunt hit the max when we met Wisconsin corn-fed hunk Griffin Peterson who sang Needtobreathe's "Wash By the Water". Randy said no, but Mr. G hit the spot for Nicki. In a rare moment of detente, Mariah agreed and Griffin moved on to the Hollywood round.
We went from the big G to Gospel, as twenty-four year old Curtis Finch, Jr.'s melodic runs on "God Is Able" wowed the judges. Next Mariah Pulice, shared her emotional story of fighting anorexia, and how singing saved her soul. Her version of the Beatle's "Let It Be" left her namesake judge in tears as Mariah took home some Hollywood gold. Not a bad way to end day one and the wow of Idol in the midwest.
Day two started with seventeen-year-old, Brandy Neely from Louisville, Kentucky who brought the country classic, Hank Williams' "Cheating Heart" and bought herself a trip to Hollywood. Next up, Josh Holiday sang Brian McKnight's "Back at One" and got a unanimous Mc-Yes from the judges. Two for two on day two!
And then twenty-two year old Illinois native, Clifton Duffin, Jr. completed the trifecta of talent as he killed it with Luther Vandross' "Superstar." This was Clifton's Idol and in-front-of-parents debut and there wasn't a dry eye in the house as Mom and Dad grabbed their son as he grabbed a key to Hollywood.
Chicago's Ieisha (eye' e' sha') Cotton sang Ashanti's "Thank You," but was told no thanks by the panel. Season 11 contestant, Johnny Keyser was back for more, singing "Try a Little Tenderness." Once again, the panel loved him and he was on to Hollywood, after a brief throw-down between the judging Divas.
Ladies and gentlemen of planet Earth! Proving that you can't judge a book by its fire-breathing cover, street performer Kez Ban had a sultry, bluesy set of pipes underneath her red dress / combat boots combo and crushed it before the panel. A little "I've Got No Strings" from "Pinocchio" and her original song "Azure Sky" earned this earthling a trip to Hollywood. Quirky but cool. That's how she rolls, ya'll!
And then the tide turned. In a very special homage to Les Mis, we gave you Les Miserables. Get it? This montage of mangled, marbled-mouthed vocals featured a raft of those not on the road to stardom. The crescendo included a flurry of F Yous from those who had inexplicably dreamed the dream. Nineteen year old musical theatre student Ashley Curry's dreams were crushed too, as Randy stepped in as guidance counselor to suggest she change her major.
As the sun sets, we meet our last contestant, Cuban born Lazaro Arbos from Naples, Florida who struggles to be heard through his stuttering. But when things are tough, the tough get going---in this case through the savior that is song. Lazaro's stuttering disappeared and out came a beautiful, stammer-free version of Simon & Garfunkle's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." Tears of joy and four yes votes! In the city of the Miracle Mile, a musical miracle as we say goodbye to Chicago and 46 contestants say "Hello Hollywood!"