Jan. 31, 2013 at 8:40 AM ET
“American Idol” has been criticized for how cookie-cutter of a competition it seems to be -- just think of how many years in a row the winner has been a white guy with a guitar (answer: five). But the auditions are the time where the show thrives on unpredictability, bringing in singers who seem sure-fire trainwrecks and allowing them to show the hidden talent within.
For example, few hopefuls this season have looked less like an “Idol” contender than Matheus Fernandes, who closed Wednesday’s show. The transplanted Brazilian doesn’t fit the mode of the traditionally successful “Idol” hopeful, since he’s less than five feet tall. And those who watched “The Glee Project” were likely not surprised that he made it to Hollywood, since he came in eighth in the first season of that show and didn’t exactly make many friends along the way.
But for those who were unfamiliar with his experience there – and judging by the ratings, that would be most of you -- had to be shocked that he had both the poise to make a joke at his own expense (“First question -- is there a height requirement on this show?”) and then did well enough with “A Change is Gonna Come” to get four yes votes. Whether or not he lasts the first day in Hollywood, who knows? Doesn’t really matter. He did his job by providing a reason to watch the auditions.
Then again, was Fernandes a better story than Matt Farmer? The Iraq war veteran suffered a traumatic brain injury in combat, then said the doctors told him the medication he took to recover would make him sterile. Judging by his three-year-old daughter, who came into the auditions with him, big pharma may not have been 100% accurate on those side effects. And the trauma didn’t affect his voice: He, like Fernandes, sang “A Change is Gonna Come,” and also got four yes votes.
And were either of those guys more surprising than Micah Johnson? Johnson’s speaking voice was negatively affected by a botched tonsil operation, but the nerve damage apparently doesn’t affect the singing muscles, because he nailed “Chicken Fried.”
“You should sing all the time,” Keith Urban told him. Not the most useful advice in the world, but he meant it well. Mariah Carey, meanwhile, turned it into an anecdote about her own nerve damage that went away, because that’s Mariah Carey. Bless her heart.
We also saw Briana Oakley, who said she had to eat lunch by herself in the bathroom to avoid bullies after her appearance singing on a different show. That allowed the judges to remind everyone that bullying is bad, and the only people allowed to intimidate others as the result of their efforts on a singing competition are them.
Other performers of note included Papa Peachez, a self-proclaimed “big black woman trapped in a little boy’s body.” He owes his status to Nicki Minaj, who wheedled Randy Jackson into letting him advance to Hollywood after the judges deadlocked 2-2. The dude has no chance of winning, but at least he’ll get some frequent flier miles.
Ann DiFani was this week’s recipient of the Randy Jackson Bus Tour Ticket, as the Big Dawg surprised her at an Arkansas football game. The Razorback fans cheered, one of the few times all season they had the opportunity to do so given the team’s 4-8 finish in 2012.
And two more serious contenders slid under the radar because their backgrounds were not as compelling. Sanni M’mairura showed both vocals and poise, though he struggled to keep it together at the finish, and perky Rachel Hale has the Kellie Pickler accent in a more well-rounded vocal package. She’s one to watch for sure.
All were sweet music to the judges, and Nicki Minaj voted to send all of the above through. For someone who claimed that she wouldn’t be one of those suckered by every sob story, she’s been nothing but a softy towards those traditional “Idol” success stories, as far as we’ve seen. But she’s also the judge who lays the smack down when needed, as she did when the Bacerott brothers wouldn’t leave well enough alone after being criticized.
“Your part of the audition is done, so let's take it down a notch,” she said.
They weren’t alone. After Thursday, everyone’s part of the audition will be over, thanks to the truncated coverage of the opening stage of the competition. So if you want to see more inspirational tales of contestants overcoming adversity, this is your last, best chance until next year.
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