Sob stories are nothing new on "American Idol." And there were plenty of 'em on Thursday's Galveston, Texas, episode, including the usual suspects like a struggling single mom and an ex-"Idol"-contestant trying out for a second time. And sure, there were some nutty auditioners as well, including not one but two wannabe William Hungs caterwauling Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" (ack! unbreak my ears!) and countless wannabe Scotty McCreerys croaking out "Your Man" (aka the "babylockthemdoors" song). But there was ONE sob story that I'd truly never seen on "Idol" before, in all 11 seasons: a singer who was born without ears.
Yes, when Ramiro Garcia came into this world 28 years ago, his parents were told he would never speak or hear, because baby Ramiro was born bizarrely earless. But at age 4 he started undergoing a long series of surgeries to build ear canals and external ears, and eventually was he not only finally able to speak/hear, but also sing--quite well! Today Ramiro is a worship leader at the Lakewood Church in Houston, and when he auditioned for Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson with "Amazing Grace," all three judges were moved. No, it was not the most amazing audition of the season, or even of the day, but it was hard not to root for someone who'd been through so much and come out of it with such a great attitude--especially when his father started crying in the waiting room. I am not sure if Ramiro will go much farther on "Idol," but he's clearly already won at life.
Honestly, though, there were very few truly exciting contestants in the mix this Thursday. Where was all the Texas-sized talent? Only a few singers got golden tickets out of Texas, and only a couple of those really stood out to me and made me prick up my own ears. Here's a recap of who else made it to Hollywood...
Skylar Laine - This 17-year-old country girl introduced herself to America with the declaration, "Let's go shoot some deer," hunting rifle in hand. And then we saw her sitting in her teenage bedroom, which instead of being postered with Bieber and JoBros pinups was decorated with an actual mounted, stuffed elk head (presumably of an elk that got on the wrong end of that rifle). It was enough to make me yearn for Wednesday's episode, when we had vegetarian auditioner Haley Smith instead. At least Skylar could have redeemed herself by covering the Sex Pistols' "Who Killed Bambi," but instead this young pistol-wielder auditioned with Pistol Annies' "Hell On Heels." Her voice wasn't bad, but I couldn't get the cold, glassy, dead eyes of that slain deer out of my head while I watched her, and I was creeped out. I will say this, though: Skylar seems like one tough girl who could handle Hollywood Week--and handle Jimmy Iovine, too. They might want to frisk her for weapons when she shows up in Los Angeles.
Baylie Brown - Country cutie Baylie tried out for "Idol" five long years ago, when she was 16, and was cut during Season 6's Hollywood Week after she forgot her lyrics during a fateful group number. Now all grown up and looking/sounding better than ever before, Baylie seemed truly ready for her close-up. (She was a cast member on CMT's "The Singing Bee" last year--ironic, considering her aforementioned lyric-forgetting incident--and she's been a staff writer for the Universal Music Publishing Group since 2008, so she's gotten some experience under her cowgirl belt.) Baylie's polished performance of Bon Jovi's "Bed Of Roses" was almost Underwoodian. I bet Simon Cowell is sad now that he let this one get away all those years ago. This girl definitely has the X factor.
Kristine Osorio - A copiously tattooed reformed rocker chick and erratically employed mother of three going through a divorce, Kristine used the money she'd set aside to pay for a divorce lawyer to instead buy a plane ticket to her "Idol" audition. It might have been money well spent. Her cover of Nelly Furtado's "Scared Of You" was really special and cool (she was giving me a real Vanessa-Olivarez-from-Season-2 vibe, which was a good thing), and Steven told her, "Your tenderness is beautiful." Kristine, who used to sing in a band with her ex, put her musical career on hold to raise her kids, and at age 28, she's in her last year of "Idol" eligibility, so I hope she gets her shot now--and that she didn't make a mistake by cleaning out her legal fund.
Linda Williams - This bundle of energy (and nerves) was so excited after her bug-eyed, bulgingly neck-veined audition, she exclaimed, "I'm about to pee myself!" Steven retorted, in one of his best Season 11 one-liners so far, "Go right ahead, 'cause you were that good!" But Jennifer Lopez had her doubts about Linda, and this was one rare time when I was totally Team J.Lo, because I thought Linda's wailing rendition of Alicia Keys's "Fallin'" was way too all-over-the-place and over-the-top. Maybe she'll be better off in Hollywood if she takes regular bathroom breaks (and maybe a Valium), but I was not fallin' for Linda this evening. I think Jennifer was right to cast the one vote against her.
Cortez Shaw - If singing doesn't work out for Cortez, this nice young American college student might want to go into politics. Or at least motivational speaking. Or maybe he could preach at Ramiro Garcia's church. Every sentence that came out of Cortez's mouth was an inspirational soundbite (samples: "'American Idol' is opportunity at its finest"; "I want to show people that through hard work and determination and passion, you can really do it"; "There is hope, and no matter what happens in life, you can still achieve you dream"), and while his sloganeering was laid on a little too thick, there was still something very likable about this guy. Cortez's jazzy, finger-snapping arrangement of Adele's "Someone Like You" was a little off, but there was no denying his voice--or his megawatt smile, or his good attitude. Cortez Shaw for President!
So next Wednesday, "Idol" moves on to Portland, where I not only sincerely hope that the singers are more exciting than they were in Galveston, but that someone has the genius/obvious idea to audition with the "Portlandia" theme song "Dream Of The '90s." Will the dream of the Idols be alive in Portland? We shall see.