Detroit, it’s gritty, it’s raw, it’s real. So, perhaps that’s why Jennifer Lopez wore a flannel shirt — without any discernable pants — during the first half of American Idol‘s Season 13 auditions from the Motor City.
I kid! I kid! OK, actually, I don’t. (I mean, what in a lumberjack’s nightmare was that getup supposed to be?) But in all seriousness, despite their best efforts, Jenny’s gams, Keith’s sunkissed glow and Harry’s wicked sense of humor couldn’t manage to steal the spotlight from the episode’s true stars: A dozen or so super-talented kids who got me genuinely excited about the battle to inherit Candice Glover’s crown and sash.
(Side note: Since Per Blankens & Co. seem determined not to mention our glorious Season 12 champ — hey, it’s not Candice’s fault Nicki and Mariah tried to turn the competition into Wigzilla vs Divasaurus — please allow me to direct you to the recently leaked “Damn.” Damn! Now go forth and pre-order!)
Anyhow, with the producers packing the episode with significant footage of a whopping 24 Golden Ticket recipients (from 40 total who were deemed worthy of going from Detroit to Hollywood), I’m gonna try to be pithy and focus on my 10 favorites — a harder task than I faced in last week’s Boston, Austin and San Francisco installments, to be sure. (Sorry, Khristian “disappearing accent” Davis, you did not make the cut.)
(Side note: I kinda loved how not all of this season’s montages are automatically yes-yes-yes or no-no-no situations; now, like Star-Bellied Sneetches and Plain-Bellied Sneetches, they’re sometimes jumbled together!)
My Top 11 Detroit Contestants (Had to Make Room for One Extra!)
(Not eligible: Marrialle Sellars — who got the pimp slot tonight, and whose audition was also shown extensively at the start of last Wednesday’s episode. Sheesh! How much of a head start can one chick get without being named Lauren Alaina? Marrialle’s pretty solid, though, and I liked how she discussed her father’s passing in inspirational terms, rather than maudlin ones.)
10. (tie) Sarah Scherb, “
I Love The Way” | This Angelina Jolie-lookin’ chica didn’t get a ton of screentime, but there was a muscularity to her vocal that made me hit rewind. Plus, her tale about her dad’s work for Delta resulted in a priceless zinger from Harry to J.Lo about the airline: “It’s for people who fly commercial: You wouldn’t know, Jennifer. When I’m not on the Greyhound, I occasionally fly coach on Delta!”
10. (tie) Malaya Watson, “Ain’t No Way” | This tuba-playing cutie has an ebullience that leaps right through the TV screen, and that rendition of “Ain’t No Way” proved she’s got a knack for dynamics that belies her tender age.
9. Brandy Neelly, “Wanted” | I was psyched that J.Lo acknowledged Brandy was an audition in Season 11 (and last year, too), and her “Wanted” showcased the same spring-water clear tone and deliberate phrasing I’d remembered. OK, maybe the song choice was a teensy bit boring, but the goal was impressing Keith Urban, not yours truly, right? (Side note: I agree with Harry, not J.Lo, that she shouldn’t abandon that tiny bit of froginess in her tone. Discuss!)
8. Ryan Nisbett, “Angel” | Hipster with a heinous moustache, a fabulous pompadour and a stunning weight-loss backstory gave me slight shades of Adam Lambert mixed with Kim Carnes — if that makes any sense — as he scraped the upper edges of Sarah McLachlan’s plaintive ballad. The guy is undeniably distinctive (a major plus given that we’ve seen close to 75 Golden Ticket recipients in just three episodes), but I’ve got to ask: Why did Harry ding Megan Miller for pushing her voice too hard last week, but then let Ryan off without a mention of that gulpy crackle toward the end of the song? Sure, the kid had a cold, but he also veered once or twice into the shrill lane, no?
7. Jena Asciutto, “Rolling in the Deep” | I dug the quirky rhythmic choices Jenna made on the verses, but what really wowed me was the explosive power she unleashed on the chorus. Yeah, her diction was a tad, er, untraditional in spots, but there was a quiet confidence about the Detroit native that made me guess she was maybe in her early 20s, not the high-school senior she is.
6. Ayla Stackhouse, “Wings” | The opening few lines of the absolutely adorable Ayla’s Little Mix cover was a wee bit schizophrenic, what with its multiple shifts and tempo changes, but the final two-thirds showed true pop-star potential, with nifty syncopated phrasing and some impressive, booming notes on the chorus.
5. Melanie Porras, “Fever”/”Wanted Dead or Alive” | Was it Melanie’s physical resemblance to Haley Reinhart that made J.Lo pooh-pooh the 19-year-old’s “safe choices” on an acoustic rendition of “Fever”? Because, honestly, I didn’t hear “safe,” I heard seductive and restrained — accompanied by some pretty heady guitar-playing. The a capella twist on “Wanted Dead or Alive” felt less surprising to my ears, but I’m still intrigued to see where the Georgia beauty goes next.
4. Keri Lynn Roche, “Radioactive”/”I’d Rather Go Blind” | The judges wanted a second song after her gritty, deeply felt, excellently acoustic “Radioactive,” which made me go all, “WHAT? YOU’RE NOT WITHHOLDING THAT GOLDEN TICKET, ARE YOU?” Thankfully, my well of rage was percolatin’ for naught: After an equally intense “I’d Rather Go Blind,” she was on her way to Hollywood.
3. Sydney Arterbridge, “Loving You” | I’m a sucker for “Loving You,” even/especially the dog-whistle portions. So while Syndney didn’t put much of a new twist on the Minnie Riperton classic, her ability to nail every single note struck my fancy. It didn’t hurt that the 15-year-old really took her time with the tune, and didn’t try to overembellish the melody, the way young’uns sometimes do.
2. David Oliver Willis, “Too Close” | If you looked closely, you could still see the tracks across David’s torso, from where Nicki Minaj hurled him beneath the bus during last year’s Vegas round. (She said she didn’t like his terrific, bluesy rendition of “Fever,” but seemed to have an even bigger problem with the fact that he was married.) Which is why I was stoked to see the dude not only return to the audition room, but deliver a scorching, acoustic version of a dubsteppy track that was soulful, aggressive and perfectly in tune. (Was it just me, or did his arrangement give anyone else shades of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Let It Ride”?)
1. Jade Lathan, “You Know I’m No Good” | I’m not gonna lie: For me, it was love at first listen regarding the sandpaper-and-squeak tone Jade showcased in a stunning Amy Winehouse cover. Long-time readers of my Idol recaps know that my attachments are frequently as enduring as they are sudden, so whether or not Jade survives Hollywood Week, you can bet her name will join the hallowed ranks of Aloha Mi’Sho (nee Mischeaux), Mishavonna Henson, Deanna Brown and Kendra Chantelle. (Check those ladies out on iTunes, would ya? You won’t regret it!)
With that, let me turn things over to you: What did you think of Episode 3 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!