American Idol San Francisco/Austin Recap: They Live for the Guitars, Guitars, Guitars [Updated]

american-idol-recap-nikki-mckibbin-sonDear Santa,

I have been a very good boy for the first two weeks of this year. But I’ve got to be honest, as someone who recaps American Idol for a living, I’m kinda freaking out. Thus far, the Season 13 judges (especially the new guy) are proving to be articulate, super funny and playful — and they’re willing to go all Peter, Paul & Mary and bring out the “Hammer of Justice” when necessary. Trouble is how am I supposed to get my snark on?

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There’s no Mariah Carey word salad to ridicule, no desperate “look at me!” antics from Nicki Minaj to jeer. Heck, not even Jennifer Lopez’s baffling button-up denim half-shirt — possibly the result of an unfortunate dry-cleaning snafu — is anywhere near as funny as Randy Jackson’s cacophonous collection of loud argyle sweaters and hideous pins.

So here’s what I need, Santa — and note, I’m not asking for much:

1. Keep the ridiculous hashtags coming. Producer Per Blankens has reduced the amount of cheese from the Idol recipe by at least two-thirds, but doozies like #IdolJourney and #ThisIsReal are the kinds of presents with which I can work. Frankly, the contestants’ hand-scrawled posters are comedy gold, too. Someone walked around with a “PUMPED” placard all day, for serious real?

2. I’m stoked that the show has almost completely eliminated joke auditions — Harry’s smack-down of that shirtless “actor” dude was “yes!” on top of “yes!” — but maybe next year you can take the few remaining outliers back up the chimney? That fella who wanted to cure world hunger and end war (in a tatty tank top? come ON!) and the tragic cowboy trying to prove a point to his ex-fiancée just aren’t where it’s at anymore.

3. Never let them try to trim the budget by losing Ryan Seacrest. Whether he’s gingerly touching the neck of a Tuvan throat singer or getting manhandled by successful contestants’ jubilant families, the pocket-sized host is the epitome of the phrase “good things come in small packages.”

3a. Hey, is it too much for me to make a quick side request for a 2014 Emmy for Ryan? Dude makes his job look way too easy to ever get recognition from people who check the Amazing Race box on their ballots out of sheer habit every year.

4. Are you out of guitars? I’m pretty sure I saw 1,467 contestants tonight with an axe slung over the shoulder. So I’m just not gonna ask for one. I don’t want the elves’ hands to cramp up or anything.

5. Finally, can you get me some kind of age-defying skin cream? I’m too lazy to go to Macy’s and have some gorgeous creature assess my fortysomething situation, but after seeing Season 1’s third-place finisher come into the audition room with her 15-year-old son (who wasn’t half bad, BTW!), I’ve got a sudden onset of Cryptkeeperitis. Anything to prevent me from turning to dust and disappearing when I shoot the latest installment of Reality Check with Melinda Doolittle on Friday morning would be much appreesh.

Anyhow, Santa, that’s all I’ve got for now. I hear you’re dropping Randy back off at The House That Kelly Clarkson Built sometime after Hollywood Week, but honestly, feel free to keep him in your sleigh. I’m sure J.Lo will soon dance with the devil and sink her talons into a future Haley Reinhart or the producers will incentivize Keith into ignoring a Candice Glover-level talent. Something will drive me into a white-hot rage soon enough, Santa! I’ve just got to believe it!

Enjoy the cookies and Sauv Blanc,

And on that note, let’s get to the part of the recap that really counts…

The 10 Best Auditions from Night 2 of Season 13 (from Austin, Texas and San Francisco)
Just missing the cut: Marlon Lindsey; Caitlin Johnson; and Selena Moreno (who, yeah, was better than her twin sister — but damn that was hard to watch!)

10. Spencer Lloyd, “Never Gone” | You’ve got to appreciate any Idol hopeful who covers an Idol alum — especially one who’d not a presence on pop radio. Harry kind of gave him a backhanded compliment by giving him a “yes” paired with the phrase “It’s an image thing,” but the kid didn’t miss a note — even if he’s not blessed with the most distinctive tone.

9. Rachel Rolleri, Sugarland’s “Stay” | Like the judges, I enjoyed Rachel’s quiet confidence — and even her goofy winces in the instances where she lost touch with her pitch. The kid’s got a lot of depth to her voice, and she phrased the Sugarland jam in a way that really made me pay attention to the lyrics.

8. Emmanuel Zidor. “Sweet Dreams”/”I Believe in You and Me” | OK, the histrionics and crying were a little 1-800-Pull-It-Together. But anyone who crawls into his audition singing Yoncé, then makes Harry get a little marshmallow-y — telling the kid that, despite his 7th-grade instructor’s put downs, that “three music teachers” on the panel are giving him yeses — has to crack my Top 10.

7. Aranesa Turner, “Pure Imagination” | I loved the butterfly delicacy of Aranesa’s delivery — at least in the brief snippet we heard during her montage. Also, it has to be said, the girl is so ridiculously stunning that she rivals even J.Lo in the beauty department. [Cue a “mirror, mirror” moment and the production of a poisoned apple somewhere on Jenny’s high-priced block. Too mean? Not after how she treated Haley Reinhart! #NeverForget]

6. John Fox, “To Make You Feel My Love” | Worship leader who looked a little like a burlier Jesse Tyler Ferguson opened the episode with a rich, caramel-y tone and a pretty falsetto, but is he unique enough to separate from the pack in Hollywood Week?

5. Briana Oakley, Sara Bareilles’ “Stay” | A victim of Season 12 Hollywood Week, Briana returned with a refreshing confidence and sticktoitiveness that felt more engaging than last season’s overplayed bullying backstory. I wish Harry (or anybody) had warned her against using too much vibrato, but in terms of vocal horsepower and charisma, the gal’s got it goin’ on.

4. Tristen Langley, “Santeria” | Harry said this audition wouldn’t have worked had everyone not known the 15-year-old’s mom was Season 1’s Nikki McKibbin, but I heard a brightness and soulful quality in the kid’s voice that made my ears perk up instantaneously. Yeah, it’s a little jarring that Nikki would allow her son to audition at such a tender age when she herself endured a lot of brutal feedback (and some subsequent addiction struggles) via her stint on the show. But I find myself rooting for him anyhow.

3. Megan Miller, “Last Name” | Remember when she auditioned on crutches last year? Of course you do! Harry was worried this beauty’s big, bold, belting style could damage her voice, but come on — you don’t approach a saucy Carrie Underwood jam like a mouse! I loved that Megan infused her number with a hint of rhythm, and looked like she was having a blast while she did it.

2. David Luning, “I Lost My Mind in Texas” (original song) | The judges’ chuckled about the dark intensity of David’s self-penned ditty, but the blues and the grit and the way-down-in-it intensity of the performance was mesmerizing. “For Idol, it’s interesting,” hmmm’d J.Lo. Indeed, and that should always be the point of the exercise, shouldn’t it?

1. Jesse Roach, “Do Ya” | Raven-haired, black-guitared beauty made it to Austin on her neighbor’s generosity, and didn’t disappoint with a silk-and-grime tone that reminded me a little of Shelby Lynne. As Harry noted, she had a nifty rasp, but didn’t make it wear out its welcome, either.

Episode’s Best Zingers
“Sorry, 64-B is out of place.” –Keith, after a stylist working on his hair delayed the next audition

“Oil worker!” J.Lo, excitedly responding to Eric Wood’s profession and probably fantasizing about how much mileage the producers could wring from it

“You’ve disrespected the process!” –Harry, dismissing a jokester contestant

“Enough with the practical jokes: You’re 32 years old, you’re from New York City, and your name is Beth Goodwin.” –Harry, expressing his disbelief that gorgeous Caitlin Johnson was only 15

With that, let me turn things over to you: What did you think of Episode 2 of Season 13? What did you think of the judges tonight? And who was your favorite Golden Ticket recipient? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

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