photo: Michael Becker/Fox
Apparently it’s not so easy to find great talent in the Big Easy.
So on Thursday night, American Idol headed to Harry Connick Jr.’s hometown, New Orleans, and while the episode was more fruitful than Wednesday’s Minneapolis debacle, it was still a letdown after last week’s excellent auditions. The truly stellar singers were so few and far between, that’s probably the real reason why this episode was only an hour long. It wasn’t just because Fox wanted to put the Backstrom premiere in Thursday’s 9 p.m. timeslot.
This is why it was especially frustrating when the judges inexplicably let one promising singer slip away. Jazz siren Sarah Quintana impressively wailed a fantastic old-soul version of “St. James Infirmary Blues,” with Harry actually enthusiastically accompanying her on piano… but then Jennifer Lopez and, surprisingly, Harry himself turned Sarah down. (Kudos to Keith Urban for being the lone dissenter in this case.) While I’ve kept my recent Idol recaps mostly focused on the successful contestants, as opposed to the soon-forgotten rejects, this time I simply must make mention of Sarah, because I think J.Lo and Harry made a big, big mistake here.
Maybe Jennifer felt threatened by a singer as talented as Sarah. But why wasn’t Harry convinced? Was Sarah just too old a soul, at age 28 (the far upper end of the Idol age limit)? Maybe the judges thought she was too “beaten down,” a distasteful comment they made about 28-year-old Jess Lamb a couple weeks ago. (Funny how no one made that complaint when 29-year-old Mark Andrew sang in Minneapolis this week.) I would just like someone to explain to me why the judges let a second-rate Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator through on Wednesday, and a 10th-rate Freddie Mercury wannabe through last week, but didn’t give Sarah, a real original, a golden ticket of her own.
Oh well. Maybe Sarah could try out for The Voice, where I’m sure she’d be welcomed with Pharrell’s open arms. As for the contestants who did get through this Thursday, there were some standouts. Here’s who made the grade:
Jelly Joseph – This flame-haired Bourbon Street diva somehow made Adele’s oft-covered “Rolling in the Deep” sound fresh and new again. Keith liked her spunk. Harry said he’d been waiting for a singer like her to represent N’awlins. In other words, he was ready for this Jelly. This dynamite lady definitely provided one of Thursday’s bright spots, and not just because of her hair.
Tiffany Stringer – This 16-year-old cheerleader was so obnoxiously, aggressively perky, she made Cheri Oteri’s Spartans character on SNL seem sedate. Seriously, if Tiffany had walked into the audition room dragging her fingernails down a chalkboard, I would have found her less annoying than she was doing a drill-team chant of Cher Lloyd’s “Want U Back.” And yet, Tiffany made it through… while the 12-years-her-senior Sarah Quintana did not.
Greyson Turner – This cuddly 15-year-old surprised with his original song, “Chasing Shadows,” and his unexpectedly mature, rockabilly-tinged voice. J.Lo loved his intensity and passion. Harry loved his husky rasp. I’m not sure how this kid would do performing covers, which obviously Idol will require him to do. But there’s no denying that he has raw talent.
Quentin Alexander – And the Best-Dressed Auditioner Award of Season 14 goes to… this awesome dude. Quentin was superfly, from the top of his jaunty hat to the cuffs of his tweedy “half-tribal, half-pilgrim” schoolboy suit. His nerves showed as he crooned Lorde’s “Royals,” but his phrasing was creative, and he certainly looked like a star. He just looked friggin’ cool. (Harry compared Quentin to Terence Trent D’Arby and Sly Stone; Keith namechecked Andre 3000.) Quentin could and should push the quirkiness a bit more, as Harry advised… but I think he has the potential. And I think American Idol Season 14 would be much less interesting without him.
Mikey Duran – Here was another surprisingly strong original song, the folksy and guitar-slappy “My Demise,” played by a guy who gave me a vague Phillip Phillips vibe. Again, it was hard to tell if his wispy, nasally voice would work with cover songs. But I’m at least curious to hear Mikey’s other originals.
Nalani Quintello – This montaged contestant, a repeat auditioner, added some extra twang to the already countryish OneRepublic song “Counting Stars.” It was a nice audition, but just that — nice, not amazing. But of this episode’s country-girl medley, Nalani was the best of the bunch.
Tori Martin – Tori’s star-spangled headband was the most interesting and memorable thing about her. The short amount of her fodderific audition that was shown was more than enough. I doubt we will see much more of Tori this season.
Hope Windle – Hope was a pretty girl with a pretty voice, but her cover of Keith Urban’s “Stupid Boy” was so wooden, so flat, so meh. There was zero star quality here. Harry actually said he “didn’t feel anything” when he watched Hope perform. But Hope got through anyway. (Oh, and Sarah Quintana didn’t, in case you forgot.)
Ricky Dale Hendricks – This country youngster, who covered Garth Brooks’s “The Thunder Rolls,” looked like he walked right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. I experienced major Scotty McCreery flashbacks when the wholesome 17-year-old appeared onscreen. But unfortunately, Ricky didn’t have the polish and radio-ready voice that Scotty had back when he was 17, in Season 10; Ricky was real rough around the edges. But Keith called him a “natural talent” with tons of “likability,” and let’s face it, Ricky does have teen-heartthrob appeal. Girls will love this kid.
Dakota Suarez – This vivacious drag queen, who also goes by the name Bianca Jade, showcased a just-all right voice on Florence & The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” (“I think you have a nice voice, but it’s not an incredible voice,” said Harry.) Maybe Dakota should’ve just lip-synched instead, a la RuPaul’s Drag Race. But while Dakota was no Courtney Act or Adore Delano/Danny Noriega, he was a fun and engaging performer. Clearly, he lives every week like it’s Hollywood Week, so I guess he deserved that golden ticket.
Adam Lasher – Adam was one of the best contestants in New Orleans — which was no surprise, considering that he learned how to play guitar from his famous uncle, the one-and-only Carlos Santana. Even with a broken thumb from a recent skateboarding mishap, Adam wailed on his guitar, and I loved the tone of his sexy, lazy, growly voice. His original song, “These Shoes,” was pretty awesome as well. Obviously talent runs in the Santana family.
Erica Washington – An adorable single mom with an adorable Emeli Sande hairdo and an adorable daughter, Erica walked into the audition room with great energy and totally slayed Beyoncé’s “Halo.” She had poise, grace, and power. I was so happy that Erica was good; I really wanted her to be good, because she’s the kind of contestant everyone in America roots for. Harry loved the “thick sound” of Erica’s vocals, saying, “I didn’t think about Beyoncé once.” Uh-oh. Alert the Beygency! But really, Erica is star in her own right.
So there you have it: A somewhat underwhelming night, with a few promising hopefuls. Will this uneven season get back on track next week, when the final auditions take place in the Bay Area? We’ll see what San Francisco treats await Idol fans next week. Until then, Parker out.