The scripting was heavy as American Idol entered its fifth week of Season 21 auditions on Sunday, an episode which ended with a cliffhanger that felt a little too produced for my liking.
Fire Wilmore, a 22-year-old single mother from Oklahoma, was the final contestant of the evening, and the show played her up big time. We got her entire backstory about entering into state custody because of her own mother’s drug problems. We heard how desperately she wants to get out of exotic dancing and give a better future to her daughter. We even watched Fire teach her 4-year-old charmer how wishing wells work. It was gearing up to be a standard end-of-episode inspirational Idol moment.
Then came the audition itself. Despite Luke Bryan’s hypnotized stare through Fire’s rendition of Bruno Mars’ “Talking to the Moon,” the judges weren’t entirely sold. Katy Perry pushed her to embrace her full voice rather than slipping into falsetto, a note she took very well, but Perry remained the only judge willing to give her a “yes.”
OK, now we’ve reached the bizarre portion of the evening. Perry comforted the disappointed contestant, telling her, “Somehow, someway, you will find what you came looking for.” Right on cue, her precocious daughter announced, “I think I found this!” and took one of the Golden Tickets from the wall, prompting a distraught Fire to respond, “Put it back. Just put it back.”
Was it heartbreaking? Sure. It also earned Fire a rare second chance to audition again in Nashville. But was it authentic? That’ll be a no from me. Idol has long mastered the art of emotional manipulation, but it’s hard to invest any genuine emotion in such a clearly staged situation.
Yours truly, The Grinch.
Other auditions from Week 5 worth discussing…
Mariah Faith, 21 | “One of the most interesting voices this season” came from this South Carolina hairstylist, whose impressive audition earned her her the opening slot at a Noah Thompson and HunterGirl concert. She initially gave the judges an easy-on-the-ears rendition of Vince Gills’ “Whenever You Come Around,” but Perry pushed her to let loose with Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” It didn’t blow me away, but little moments here and there proved that she’s got what it takes — she just need to bring it. Click here to watch.
Nailyah Serenity, 22 | Following a brief astrology therapy session, this North Carolina retail advisor left the judges gobsmacked with a contemporary take on Barbra Streisand’s “My Man.” I was worried when it started off with major lounge energy, but her personal style quickly shone through, ending strong with a surprisingly powerful belt. Click here to watch.
Kayleigh Clark, 17 | This glittery, pinked-out Mississippi chicken farmer began with a simple, pleasing performance of Garth Brooks’ “The Dance.” Hungry for a wow moment, the judges asked her for another song, resulting in a more impressive — but still boring, if I’m being honest — take on Hillsong Worship’s “I Surrender.” They’re convinced she’s Top 10 material, but I’m not sold yet.
Tori Green, 20 | I wish we’d gotten to know more about this California songstress, whose performance of Carrie Underwood’s “Cry Pretty” worked its magic on the judges. (Well, not on Bryan, but apparently he’s owning his new reputation of being the tough judge.)
PJAE, 23 | Newly confident following a 150-pound weight loss, this Oklahoma branding designer got all the validation he needed in life from his Golden Ticket, earned via a good-enough rendition of Madison Ryann Ward’s “Mirror.” I wasn’t quite as impressed as the judges seemed to be, but there were definitely impressive moments. That beautiful little riff he ended on damn near tickled my soul. Click here to watch.
Warren Peay, 23 | The phrase “so-and-so took us to church” is thrown around a lot, but I truly felt like I was in a worship service listening to this unassuming South Carolina repairman beat the heck out of Zach Williams’ “To the Table.” Perhaps that’s because he’s also a literal worship leader at his hometown’s baptist church. Who’s to say? But man, when he came through with that growl, even Perry had to lift a hand in praise. Click here to watch.
Two more yes’s we didn’t see for very long were Carina DeAngelo, 25, a meatball connoisseur (best title ever?) from Hawaii, and Johnny Knox, 26, a medical salesman from Alabama.
Paige Ann, 16 | Is there anything more on the nose than playing a song from Frozen because a contestant happens to work at a snow cone shop? Of course not. But isn’t that why we kind of love this show? Anyway, after giving the judges brain freeze, this confident singer revealed a voice far beyond her years in a stunning performance of Pink’s “What About Us.” Click here to watch.
Ophrah Kablan, 20 | One of the episode’s more interesting performers, this ball of energy from South Carolina had full command of the stage as she delivered a strong, fun, powerhouse performance of Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You.” She was a breath of fresh air in a sea of good-but-same’s, and I look forward to seeing more of her. Click here to watch.
Kamron Lawson, 21 | A-ha’s “Take on Me” is probably the last song I would ever expect to hear on American Idol, but that didn’t stop this extremely likable West Virginia cashier from killing it. His little run on “in a day or twooooo” transcended me to another plane of existence. Come on, that range! It wasn’t a perfect audition, especially when he choked while performing his second song (Richie’s “Truly”), but you can’t not root for this guy. Click here to watch.
Owen Eckhardt, 19 | Perry sees a wee bit o’ Elvis in this easy-going veterinary student. His performance of Zach Bryan’s “Something in the Orange” was good, no doubt — but exciting? I think I was more excited to see Perry and Richie’s puppies show up than I was by anything else in this audition, to be honest.
Your thoughts on the latest round of Idol auditions? Are you also skeptical of that forced-feeling cliffhanger? Whatever’s on your mind, drop it in a comment below.
Fire should have gone thru!!!!
Give her a break in Nashville!
She obviously would have to go thru or they woudn’t have given her a second chance and showed all this, hope she does well, she needs some good luck
Fire was better than a handful they sent through. It made no sense to me they didn’t give her a ticket. I don’t think it was staged in that they had to follow a no, yes, no vote but they definitely took advantage of a good story. As an Executive Producer, Katy has the ability to do what she did and I do believe it was authentic. The footage they took of her story was likely shot after she gets through her Nashville audition.
For me, the night’s standout was Kamron Lawson. That indefinable star quality was undeniable. As for the overdone dramatics, Katy provides enough of that without additional scripted nonsense.
I’m tired of the emotional manipulation. It’s just phony.
Don’t think it is fair to give Fire another chance in Nashville. They had her try 2 songs and still gave her all no. It is not fair to others that didn’t get a golden ticket. Should they be able to go for a second chance in another town‽
Agree. It seems unfair to others that were sent away without a ticket for her to be given another chance so soon. She may get her second chance, but likely won’t go far in the competition.
I miss the original American Idol where the audition rounds mainly focused on just the talented and not so talented people with minimal background stories. Now, it feels like half the show are background stories for a majority of people who won’t even make it to Hollywood. I don’t care to hear anyone’s story. I don’t care to get to know anyone until they’ve made it past the Hollywood round. In the early stages, I want to hear their voices and judge their talent, not judge their story. Stories should come in live rounds after we’ve already invested in their talent.
I agree! I wish they would start the live shows already. I’m not a fan of the shorter live show season when they would vote off one contestant a week. It used to go from March to May.
The auditions are far, far better than the live shows where the public votes for the genre and the songs they like.
Getting to kn ow these young people is what makes the show so entertaining.
you shud watch the Voice instead. they hardly talk abt the contestants. personally i am more invested in the Idol contestants b/c of their background stories. Voice contestants i can’t even remember their names by the next week. prolly why no voice winner has ever made it big.
What felt forced was the bearded long-haired man and the back and forth from Idol to church. Give it a rest. Showing me you like church doesn’t make me like you. If anything, I side-eye you about how and why this was chosen as your contestant package. You can be religious. Heck, even I believe in a creator, but I’m not shoving my non-Christian beliefs in someone’s face. The over-the-top God stuff is annoying. Just sing and if it’s a part of your life, go on mention it but spare me the long unnecessary forced enlightenment.
That dude was just a Chris Stapleton impersonator. He could have a great career in Vegas if the Idol thing flops.
Vegas? Why dump him on us? Aw shucks, this here town could eat him alive!
Fire will be saved. Just don’t look for her to make it past Hollywood week. There is too much talent that is better than her. Let’s pray that the exposure will at least keep her from returning to the pole.
For me the best two performances of the night were Ophrah and Warren . The others were just so-so in my book.
Oh,come on. When is it not staged?!
It has to be produced and staged to allow for timing and interest. Not a bad thing. Some staging’s work better than others depending on the subjects that are being incorporated into a particular production. They must work with what they have been provided.
Sad to set Fire up for more disappointments. Too much theatrics on this show. Reminds me why I stopped watching for a couple of years. Too much emphasis on the backstories while 2 people who did make it weren’t even featured. How is that fair? It’s their chance to be heard. Go back to when it was a real competition in talent.
Yeah, I didn’t appreciate the whole Fire manipulation bit, either.
I did like Pjae, Nailyah, Warren, Page and Owen.
I really like her but YES too too too STAGED!!!!
The least interesting 2 hour of auditions on American Idol for me…I’m glad I opted out of watching the last contestant! Hope better lies ahead!
Fire Moore should probably consider auditioning on the Voice instead. Although your fell sorry for me probably wouldn’t go over big there either. Everyone is looking for a break in life, not everyone is interested in your whole life story, they’d rather hear you’re there to fulfill a dream and where you want to go with.
What would be the point? The Voice has yet to produce a superstar in how many seasons?
Exactly Lyn!!! She stands a much better chance to make something of herself on Idol than on the Blake Shelton Show(“btw….did you know it’s my last season?”)
I feel much more is staged than we think, including the winners
I agree about all the background stuff, I just want the old Idol where they just sang and got judged for their singing.Bring it back…same with The Voice..all their crap about who’s doing what..I can do without.😳
Agree! Just sing, after all, that’s what they’re there to do! What’s all the background stuff have to do with it? I don’t care to hear it. Most of it is probably made up as a sob story anyway to get them a “yes”, and “you’re going to Hollywood!”