As we learn who’s in the talent pool for Season 14 of American Idol, we may not always get the names and songs and backstories right away, but we do get some idea of who the breakouts to watch are. Before we got a peek last night at who auditioned in New Orleans, judge Harry Connick, Jr. started out by talking about how he hoped his hometown would be well-represented. Some Idol fans love seeing the really horrible people, but this season’s been mostly about who’s advanced to the Hollywood rounds. That changed last night, as Harry’s expectations led into a montage of dozens of horrible auditions. We finally got to take a look at 13 successful auditions, plus one very big mistake, the first of Season 14:
1. The judges finally find somebody they want to send to Hollywood when they hear Angelica “Jelly” Joseph, a large lively black lady with bright red hair. She sings R&B with range and power, and we haven’t seen as many R&B singers this season (yet) as we often do. Harry comments on her great style and elegance.
2. New Orleans has a jazz reputation, but tonight looked to be heavy on what used to be called “all-American” country kids from the Heartland. First one of that type is Tiffany Stringer, a 16-year-old cheerleader and dancer from Texas. She looks like she stepped out of a Taylor Swift song (long blonde hair, short shorts, sneakers) and she cheerleads her way through “I Want You Back.” She shows enough of the Carrie Underwood “American Girl” vocal style that softies J-Lo and Keith outvote Harry and send her to Hollywood.
3. Next it’s a 15-year-old all-American country WGWG, Grayson Turner, in shorts and sandals, who sings his own composition, “Chasing Shadows,” in voice that’s a little bit country and a little bit pop. He’s got a laid-back downhome style, but J-Lo still thinks he’s got sensitivity and passion. He gets three “yes” votes.
4 (or not). Now it’s time for the judges’ first bizarre mistake of the season. (Every year we get at least one–last year it was the cutting of Savion Wright. The season before that, it was everything about the entire season.) After all Harry’s talk about wanting to find talent that reps New Orleans, jazz/blues singer Sarah Quintana appears to fit the bill perfectly. She sings a classic rendition of “St. James Infirmary Blues” that apparently got Harry inspired enough to play piano for her. (The segment opens with her singing and him playing, so we don’t see what the set-up was that got him behind the piano in the first place.) She fits in perfectly with a number of other throwback singers who’ve been found this season, and the judges all appear to enjoy her very much. After all that, Harsh Harry has the gall to say, “No, not right for this competition.” J-Lo, usually such a softie, sides with him. Keith’s the only judge who’s impressed enough to vote “yes.” Too bad he couldn’t have talked the other two into reconsidering. A jazz singer may not win Idol but the genre appears to be underrepresented this year. The judges should have at least put Quintana in the next round to see how she fared in the arena, as Harry described Hollywood Week to another contestant.
4 (for real). Quentin Alexander, a flamboyant black guy who manages to look trendy in shorts, gives a little bit of soul to “Royals.” The judges have considerable discussion but give him three “yes” votes.
5. Bluesy voices have been underrepresented this year but Mikey, a funky dark-haired WGWG, demonstrates one. He gets three generous “yes” votes. (It’s like the judges are trying to make up for being so harsh with Quintana.)
6. and 7. and 8. As in the Minneapolis auditions the night before, we see a montage of three girl singers, barely enough to catch their names and faces, let alone learn about their singing. We’ll either see what they can do in Hollywood, or we’ll never see them again–Hope Windle, a country girl with long dark hair, Tory, another country singer, blonde this time, and Natani Quntani (?), a long-haired redhead who’s back after being cut early last year. She sings “Counting Stars,” we heard that much.
9. Time for the “Hollywood or Home” Twitter poll, for Alexis. Despite her shrill voice, she gets 57% of the voters liking her, and the judges agree.
10. We get another all-American country WGWG, 17-year-old Ricky Dale Hendrix who sings Garth Brooks’ “Thunder Rolls,” a song that’s probably a little mature for him. The judges, especially Harry, talk about how he’s young but maybe he’ll benefit from a bigger arena. “Get in the ring with Mike Tyson,” is how Harry puts it. The judges send him into the ring with Mike Tyson, aka Hollywood Week.
11. Dakota Suarez apparently represents the “T” in the LGBT community. He’s an 18-year-old male but gives his profession as drag queen, under the name Bianca Jade. He’s heavyset and looks fairly masculine in pants and shirt but his hair is a two-toned bob and his voice could be mistaken for a whiskey-voiced woman. Harry admits it might be intriguing to welcome a drag queen to Idol, somebody who could sing as a girl one day and a guy the next. However, after considering whether Idol is the correct showcase, he votes “no.” J-Lo enthusiastically votes “yes,” however, and Keith does, too, although more reluctantly.
12. We get another funky WGWG, who sings his own composition in a folksy style and sounds a touch like Jim Croce. His name’s Adam, I guess–but not a Glambert at all. (His name went by so fast that I first thought his name was Jimmy because J-Lo said something about Jimmy Kimble.) There’s something about he’s related to Carlos Santana, who he also resembles. He’s fighting health issues–he plays guitar with a wrapped-up thumb and like Crystal Bowersox of Season 9, he’s got some kind of diabetic apparatus. Keith loves his voice, J-Lo loves his voice, Harry loves him, too–and the panel coughs up three “yes” votes.
13. One more contestant to squeeze in–and it’s an elegant mature-looking black woman, Ericka Washington, with super-short two-toned hair. She sings Beyoncé’s “Halo” in a way that reminds me a little of Voice champ Tessanne Chinn. She gets three “yes” votes.
To celebrate when the auditions are done, Harry serves Louisiana crawfish to J-Lo, Keith, and Ryan Seacrest. J-Lo singles out Ricky Dale Hendrix as one of her favorites of the day. Next week brings the final auditions of Season 14, in San Francisco, where free spirits often predominate. Then we’ll see who’s in the talent pool for Hollywood Week.