It’s hard to remember the last “American Idol” auditioner who got the hard sell from the producers and editors that James Durbin did in Wednesday’s reel of the San Francisco auditions.
Durbin’s father was a bass player, but he died of a drug overdose before his singer son got to know him. To make things worse, a young Durbin was diagnosed with Tourette’s and Asperger’s syndromes, and was picked on as a child. He was lucky enough to meet a girl and fall in love, and now is the father of a baby. And by the way, he’s unemployed, and there are times he can’t even afford to buy diapers.
So really, who was going to be rooting against this guy? Terrorists? Drug dealers? I mean, the deck was stacked enough in his favor that it was almost a letdown when he sang well enough that he’d be a contender even if he were an upper-class guy from New York City. He even pulled off “Dream On,” which is hard enough to do when Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler isn’t judging you on it.
But one note for the production team: Pace yourself. Catching Mom on camera saying “Daddy would be so proud of you” was too much, too soon. We haven’t even gotten to Hollywood yet! Save some of this for March.
'American Idol' meets Movie of the Week
This being “Idol,” there were other overcoming-adversity story lines to focus on as well.
Stefano Langone survived an accident so severe that EMTs initially thought it had killed him, and he still has the severe scars to prove it. It didn’t do anything to his voice, however, and his rendition of “Heard It through the Grapevine” was one of the best auditions of the season so far.
“You survived the accident for a reason, and I’m going to tell you why — you’re going to Hollywood!” Tyler said.
Julie Zorrilla is another favorite who had to fight through obstacles. Her parents moved to the United States from Colombia to avoid the dangers of the local terrorists, forcing her to adjust to a new home as a child. That wasn’t the biggest hurdle she faced, however. It was the decision to sing “Summertime,” which had been performed poorly by nearly every “Idol” contestant since Fantasia knocked it out of the park in season three.
“You made some interesting choices with notes that actually really worked,” Randy said. “It was really smart.” That got her a golden ticket as her 20th birthday present, as well as a comment that she was one of the favorites. Time will tell.
You can dance, but you can’t sing
Anyone hoping that Simon Cowell’s departure would get rid of some of the leering and innuendo has been sadly disappointed. Tyler not only takes things to a whole new level, but also seems to have inspired Randy to take it up a notch.
For example, when Inessa Lee mentioned that she belly danced and did yoga, it was Randy who asked her to demonstrate first her dancing and then her downward dog. And then he didn’t even send her to Hollywood. Randy, Randy, Randy … that is a good way not to get a second date.
And the winner of 'Most Distinctive' is ...
Emily Anne Reed wins the honor for the most unique voice to hit the airwaves thus far. Her sad story paled in comparison to Durbin (just a burned-down house, which in the realm of “Idol” story lines barely rates a teardrop). However, her voice … her voice was 90 percent folk and 10 percent Betty Boop.
“When you spread your wings, you better spread ‘em far kid,” Reed said, quoting her father’s advice that inspired her to move from Virginia to Hollywood. She got to spread them as far as Tinseltown (despite Tyler’s "no" vote), but the warning label for her is that voices like that tend not to do well once the voting begins.
More than meets the eye … or not
Nearly all of the hopefuls who show up in costumes are super annoying, but Drew Beaumier gets some props for creativity. He came dressed as an actual working transformer … switching from automobile to robot humanoid and back again.
He didn’t sing well enough to advance, and didn’t look like it bothered him that he didn’t. Singing isn’t his forte. But if you need someone to make you a Halloween costume next year, Beaumier’s your man.
Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him , where he live tweets each "Idol" show.