American Idol promised to bring the special guests for its farewell season, and on Thursday’s audition episode, the Holy Ghost himself came down from heaven, inhabited the soul of a single mother named La’Porsha Renae, and delivered a rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” so explosive that Kim Jong-un was like, “OK, girl, I surrender.”
Oh, did I mention La’Porsha wasn’t even the Season 15 hopeful who moved Keith Urban to tears? Or the one who somehow managed to score four “yes” votes from a three-judge panel? Or the one whose gut-punch of a closing audition had just about every person on the Idol set reaching for the Kleenex?
Crazy, I know.
But that’s good news, ultimately, for fans hoping that The House Currently Occupied by Nick Fradiani will manage to churn out one more genuine chart-topper by the time Fox wraps it in clear plastic and carries it to the curb in early April. (Ugh… as if cancellation isn’t painful enough, we have to suffer a shortened season, too? I blame Randy Jackson.)
If Night Two’s impressive talent pool is any indication, Season 15 shouldn’t be an easy march to victory for even the most otherwordly vocalist — and that’s exactly how it should be. For behind every Kelly is a Tamyra, behind every Candice is a Kree, behind every David is another David, a Syesha, a Jason, a Brooke, a Carly and a Michael. (You get the picture.)
Anyhow, let me run down the 14 Golden Ticket recipients we got to see from the verrrrry strong Little Rock, Ark. and San Francisco auditions (to misquote Montell Jordan, thiiiis is how they should do iiiit) in order from least- to most-promising:
14. Kyrsti Jewel, “Mama Knows Best” | If this 15-year-old’s parents weren’t such maniacal Idol superfans, no way would she have scored a Golden Ticket on the basis of her her muscular but undeniably strident pipes.
13. Cameron Richard, “Give Me Love” | Bayou kid who was born with a cleft palate brought the passion — but not nearly enough polish — to his Ed Sheeran cover.
12. Jessica Clark, “Come Together” | Received the dreaded montage treatment, but didn’t make enough of an impression with her limited screen time to make me think said treatment was undeserved.
11. Kayla Mickelsen, “Broadripple Is Burning” | Mad props for zigging in the song choice department, but producers didn’t let us hear enough of her performance to allow for any kind of informed opinion about her vocal ability.
10. Malie Delgado, “Chariot” | Erstwhile Ms. Alaska was as “on” as fluorescent bulbs in a 24-hour gas station — which (fair or not) made her Gretchen Wilson cover come off as more hammy than heartfelt. Oh, and why pick a jam with an extended rap breakdown for an audition situation? Feh!
9. Dalton Rapattoni, “The Phantom of the Opera” | Handsome Goth kid impressed Harry by turning a Broadway standard into an emo acoustic jam. And yet while I concur that his cover showed the kind of creativity you want to see in an Idol finalist, I need more evidence that his voice is strong/distinctive enough to survive the voting rounds.
8. Brooke Sample, “Cold Day in July” | Apologetic Arizona waitress showcased a gorgeously smoky tone, but the way she strained for a few big notes — and her shtick-heavy persona — give her the look of a Hollywood-week evictee.
7. Ameet Kanon, “Mercy” | Shown in snippet alongside Jessica and Kayla, but Ameet’s Duffy cover had a sass and a swing to it that left me wondering if she might be some sort of stealth missile sneaking up on her more heralded Season 15 rivals.
6. Daniel Farmer, “How Does It Feel” | Came off like a joke-reel contestant with his “hot for J.Lo” interview package, but to my great shock, the goofy-sexy singer delivered D’Angelo’s intricate slow jam with a winking sensuality and pitch perfection. Can he dial back his horndog swagger and make voters take him seriously? A single Jared Cotter “palm swipe” in the live shows, and dude is outta here!
5a. Whoops! Forgot to add Brandyn Burnette’s “Lost” to my countdown. Even with Harry mugging and hugging him from behind, the teenager delivered his original song with breathtaking intimacy and emotion so deep you could feel his voice begin to crumble beneath its weight.
5. Melanie Tierce, “Rise Up” | Hippie chick whose eyes mesmerized the judges gets an A+ for her choice of Andra Day’s inspiring ballad. And while her phrasing and tone matched the emotion of the lyric, there were a few moments at the top of Melanie’s range that got a tad bit hinky for you for me (yes that was a Randy Jackson reference… sorry!)
4. Tristan McIntosh, “Why Baby Why?” | 15-year-old with an otherworldly maturity and composure proved gloriously restrained on her Mickey Guyton cover, falling away to a whisper in spots, rumbling to life in others, while delivering a lyric about a dead relationship that continues to haunt. I might’ve dabbed my eyes a little even if Tristan’s stationed-overseas Army mom hadn’t made a surprise appearance at the end.
3. Olivia Rox, “When I Was Your Man” | Yes, yes, there are far too many 15- and 16-year-olds in Season 15 — many of whom will travel the tragic paths of crash-and-burn young’uns like Daniel Seavy and Thia Megia before them. But while Olivia’s intro package proved uncomfortable “stage kid!” to me, it was hard to deny the ache and lilt with which she infused Bruno Mars’ lost-love ballad. She’ll need to quash the affected enunciation that mucks up her authenticity, but as Harry noted, she’s an extraordinarily talented kid.
2. Trent Harmon, “Unaware” | Mississippi teenager who lives and works on a farm (complete with farm-to-table restaurant) came across like he’d be a twang-y, surface-level performer, which is why — much like the judges — I got a crisp slap (in the best possible way) when he opened his mouth and delivered a level so buttery and soulful you just want to get a knife and slather it over a biscuit. Trent might want to sing into a mirror and work on reining in his face-pulling, but if that’s what it takes to achieve his spectacular falsetto, then I’ll just close my eyes and enjoy.
1. La’Porhsa Renae, “Creep” | I described La’Porsha’s next-level vocals at the top of this recap, but again, can we gather ’round and give her a slow clap for her ferocious dismantling of Radiohead’s ode to haunted outsider-ism? With less swaang than Haley Reinhart’s Postmodern Jukebox cover and less thee-a-tuhh than Kimberly Nicole’s Voice rendition, La’Porsha let her lower register rip on phrases like “perfect soul,” proving herself to be (in the words of Harry) an “assassin with runs.”
On that note, I pass the mic to you! What did you think of Night 2 of the American Idol Season 15 tryouts? Hit the comments with your thoughts — and check back on Monday (or thereabouts) for the season premiere of Reality Check — starring yours truly and the incomparable Melinda Doolittle!