American Idol Recap: Missouri Loves Company

It’s fitting that American Idol chose Walter the Angry Taxi Driver as the mascot for its St. Louis audition episode — the seventh and final tryout telecast before Hollywood Week kicks off next Wednesday. Indeed, it was hard to stop myself from griping and kvetching over the course of an hour that managed to show us only five of the city’s 46 Golden Ticket recpients — and yet still found time to give us a flashback to Statue of Liberty Guy, my pick for the all-time lamest, most egregious offender in the show’s “Anything to Be on TV Hall of Shame.”

Okay, okay…I’m going to calm myself by focusing on images of Season 4 champ Carrie Underwood driving a tractor and carrying buckets of slop to the cows on her family farm. Ooh, and there she is petting puppies! (In all seriousness, that file footage of the country superstar preparing for her Season 4 Idol audition in St. Louis was pretty incredible, no?) So quick, before Randy starts yelping “Where’s the arch? Where’s the arch?” let’s recap the action.

Johnny Keyser is 22, grew up with a single dad, and wouldn’t make it past the audition round for America’s Next Top Waterskiier. But he’s handsome in a Chris Richardson 2.0 kind of way, and he scores points for his work ethic: He’s got a job as a server at an Italian restaurant and is also a college student. (Doing a weekly performance, filming a “Ford music video,” and ironing Uncle Nigel’s $100 bills will be a piece of cake for this kid!) Johnny goes for a high degree of difficulty by choosing “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and while you could accuse him of showboating a little, his choice of runs is pretty exquisite, and his voice is rich and soulful. Better still, he doesn’t get flummoxed when J.Lo playfully interrupts his audition with quips like “You know you’re gonna be a star, right? Keep singing!” or when Steven’s foot pops out from behind the judges’ table clad in socks and sandals.

Next up is a little homage to silent-film Oscar nominee The Artist: Idol‘s version, “The Contestant,” can’t be all bad if it pokes fun at Randy and J.Lo’s respective uses of “dawg” and “baby,” right? And while it’s not exactly Cougar Town or Up All Night, it’s at least a little ripple across the stagnant surface of the Idol audition pond.

Rachelle Lamb, on the other hand, is not afraid to wallow in the backstory of choice for reality contestants in the 2011-2012 TV season. Her soon-to-be ex-husband held her back from pursuing her music career!!! And by golly, no one is going to tell her little daughter Madison that you shouldn’t be able to chase your dreams!!!  (Question: Anyone else wonder if “held me back” could possibly be code for “No, honey, I don’t support the idea of you quitting your day job and losing your health insurance so you can do open-mic night at every pub in the city”?) Rachelle’s cover of Faith Hill’s “Find Somebody New” is playful and in tune, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say her voice strikes me as fairly ordinary. I hope she didn’t quit her day job for this.

Babyfaced Reis Kloeckener, 20, is our next contestant to “come on down,” and he shares with the judges his tale of joining his high-school choir as a way to cope with being bullied. Steven points out that Reis’ teenage torment will be good songwriting fodder in the future — and this gets me thinking that the Aerosmith frontman really ought to make an “It Gets Better” video, even if it turns out to be 75 percent unintelligible. Reis’ rendition of “Lean on Me” shows off a gentle, controlled voice, and it packs an emotional punch in spite of a few boy-band-y contrivances, and despite the fact that Reid keeps his eyes closed from start to finish. Steven is moved to tears. The judges unanimously vote to send him to Hollywood. And Reis’ friend hoists Seacrest in the air as if he’s filled with down, not flesh and blood.

Speaking of blood, Ethan Jones strolls in looking like a young Gary Busey with a gash on his forehead. He tells the judges he inherited the lead vocal spot in one of St. Louis’ biggest bands after his dad checked into rehab. As he shares his story, Uncle Nigel hits the button labeled “Coldplay’s ‘Fix You,'” because Congress passed a bill in 2010 that the song must accompany any and every reality TV anecdote about recovery from addiction or life-threatening accident. Ethan’s cover of “I’ll Be” is pretty, but doesn’t show a whole lot of originality, either. If I were in the judges’ chair, I’d have asked for a second song before deciding Ethan’s fate, but J.Lo is already picturing his face in a CMT video, and Randy is still concentrating really hard trying to figure out what an arch looks like, and so Ethan’s going to Hollywood, baby!

Should we talk about the sweet, sweaty, energetic hotel employee who got what felt like a half-hour of screentime for a version of “Overjoyed” that would’ve been okayish if we were all on our fourth Long Island Iced-Tea at karaoke night? Nah, let’s not.

Instead, we’ll conclude our St. Louis pitstop with Lauren Gray, a likable 22-year-old whose job as frontwoman in her dad’s southern rock band is all part of her family’s one-stop wedding business. Lauren’s rendition of Adele’s “One and Only” begins with a powerful, bluesy vocal blast, but she never once reels it in, and the lack of dynamics becomes a little exhuasting by the time she’s finished. With a little guidance, Lauren has enough raw talent to be a true Top 24 contender, but the judges bury any inclination for constructive criticism under a patina of praise. J.Lo tells Lauren she’s got one of the best female voices they’ve heard. Steven says the break in her voice is “one of the sexiest things on the planet.” Randy references Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post,” because he’s wondering if a post is similar to an arch. And my brain automatically turns to prior Idol renditions of the ditty by Tami Gosnell and Bo Bice.

Keep searching, Dawg! And no need to rush to Hollywood. We can handle that part of the competition without you!

What did you think of the St. Louis auditions? Are you ready for Hollywood Week already? And who have been your favorite Golden Ticket recipients of Season 11? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol news, commentary, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!