Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines as the race to Hollywood continues in Charlotte, North Carolina. The show kicked off with Ryan burning rubber at the Charlotte Motor Speedway before returning to his day job and joining former Idol, Scotty McCreary, in welcoming the thousands of Idol hopefuls.
First up, was twenty-eight year old, hometown girl, Naomi Morris. This singing fashionista captured Ryan's attention as she brought her ample assets before the judges. No off-the-rack stuff for this gal! There were two things everyone loved about Naomi. Sadly, neither of them involved her singing. She warbled Aretha Franklin's "Respect," got a unanimous no, and walked away with nothing. No Golden Ticket, not even a booby prize!
Naomi's Double D-rated performance was followed by Joel Neimeyer from Carlisle, North Carolina and the Supine School of Singing. Yep, Joel was the first contestant to sing while laying on the ground, providing the audience with never-before-seen access to a contestant's nostrils. Sadly, his version of Michael Buble's cover of "Feeling Good," well, stunk. No, this John Heder look-alike was neither Napoleon nor Dynamite.
The talent turnaround came in the form of twenty-seven year old, Georgia native, Brian Rittenberry. The big man took on the Beatle's "Let It Be" and got a big yes from the judges. Mrs. Rittenberry purportedly had a "hall pass" if she ever met Keith Urban. When Keith obliged, however, she settled for a hug and avoided the wrath of her husband and Mrs. Urban. Luckily, big Brian, kicked off a big string of singers who wowed the panel.
Jimmy Smith sang "Bless the Broken Road" by Rascal Flatts and he was pitch perfect, earning a unanimous yes and a "you mad fly" from Nicki. Alas, there was no interpreter on staff to translate for Jimmy. As Keith complained of hunger, three more winning voices came before the panel. Sarina-Joi Crowe (17), Haley Katherine Davis (26) and nineteen year old Na'Chelle Fullins-Lovell, all howled as they won a ticket to Hollywood. Anyone notice that Keith was hungry?
We're not sure if he is a Hatfield or a McCoy, but our next contestant was twenty-three year old Matthew Muse from Florence, Italy. Ok, that was a lie. Clearly, this singing cowboy is from South Carolina. He sang Brad Paisley's "When I Get Where I'm Going." Guess where Matt isn't going? Though his Hollywood dreams were dashed, the judges encouraged him to model or work on "Toy Story 4" as Woody's body double.
Next Randy took the bus to Alpharetta, Georgia to invite sweet sixteen year old, Isabella Gonzalez to the auditions. Her Aunt nominated her and the Dawg surprised Isabella in school. She sang Sam Cooke's "Nothing Could Ever Change This Love" and this Georgia peach won a ticket to Tinseltown.
After the break, alt rocker, Taisha Bethea took two swings in front of the judges. Her version of "Folsom Prison?" Meh. She was better suited to "You Ought to Know" by Alanis Morrisette, but the judges split on her fate, and lucky for Taisha, Keith Urban broke the tie and sent her to Hollywood. And the split decisions kept on a comin? and the tension was a buildin' as twenty year old, Summer Cunningham took the stage, her version of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" went well. And then Summer got caught in the middle of a singing steel cage match on the panel that ended in Nicki "getting off the F'ing panel." Oh, by the way, Summer's going to Hollywood.
Day two started with a clip of tabloid's tiny titan, TMZ's Harvey Levin and news outlets around the globe, talking about the Minaj meltdown. Despite yesterday's diva Donnybrook, everyone showed up for work, though the quiet on the panel was deafening as is often, the aftermath of battle. Notice the Insider's use of literary techniques including hyperbole, motif, and alliteration? Try to find that on another talent competition! But I digress.
The first contestant was twenty-five year old hometown girl Brandy Hamilton who sang "All I Could Do Is Cry" by the late, and oh-so-great, Ms. Etta James. Her soulful, emotional take on the song, won over the judges. Brandy left, ticket in hand, but not before telling the judges that their squabbles made her sad. Her admission. A little judicial contrition.
Brandy was followed by the bespectacled, nose-ringed, potpourri powerhouse, called Ashley Smith. The twenty-two year old local girl is living proof that good things come in loud packages and that the rumors of an Urkel / Oprah love child may be based on more than tabloid surmise. She killed it with Carrie Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" and her golden ticket scream was heard in Iowa. After a menage-a-Minaj montage of Nicki's contestant nicknames, we met Tennessee native, twenty-two year old, Janelle Arthur.
Janelle sang "When the Blacktop Ends" and this is where her journey begins. Four yeses and she's going to Dollywood, er uh, Hollywood! Phew! Some great talent, no angst from the arbiters of talent, and all is well in Idol land.
Keith has to bolt to watch the Mrs. get an award at the New York Film Festival. Before he leaves he is treated to a non-stop parade of no-go, until we meet twenty-seven year old, Charlotte local, Rodney Barber. Rodney went from living on the streets to using those same streets as his stage. The self-proclaimed "voice of Charlotte" did not disappoint with his rendition of "I'll Be" by Edwin McCain. The Dawg and the rest of the judges were inspired by Rodney's story and his voice and he's on to Hollywood.
Another singer in search of a second chance was our next contestant, Candice Glover. The twenty-two year old from St. Helena Island, South Carolina made it all the way to Vegas in Season 11, but her dream of Idol greatness ended there. The gospel according to Candice worked for the judges, earned her a standing ovation, and Randy said "best audition I heard so far this season!" Nicki said she wanted to "skin and wear" Candice. Candice passed on the invite, but she did grab her ticket to the next round.
Next we met the least PETA-friendly contestant in Idol history, sixteen year old, frog killing, Ja'bria Barber. Yep, Ja'bria loves to hunt frogs and eat their legs, but the Dawg don't believe it tastes like chicken. She sang Bonnie Raitt's version of "Pride and Joy," and L'il Ms. Froggy is hopping on to Hollywood.
Charlotte produced a bevy of broken dreams and tears, but also, some big time talent. Case in point? Final contestant, Serena Guinn, a twenty-six year old mom hoping to turn a year of tough times into a ticket to the big time. Her performance of the theme song from the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" moved Nicki to tears, impressed Randy and Mariah, and Serena's going to Hollywood, which, is actually really close to Bel Air.
In the end, of the thousands who came to the raceway, thirty-seven contestants earned a spot in Hollywood and the fast lane to becoming our next American Idol. Next stop, Baton Rouge ya'll. Home of the Dawg! Get ready to laissez les bon temps roulez and pass a good time yeah cher!