IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘American Idol’ finds big dreams in Big Apple

New York auditions serve up great talent, interesting stories
/ Source: contributor

“Idol” hopefuls from Down South, listen up. Rachel Zevita is calling you out.

Zevita, a teenager who went from opera student to rock star in training by getting her ticket to Hollywood on Wednesday’s “American Idol,” had an exuberant challenge for her countrymen living below the Mason-Dixon line.

“The South has had a lockdown on ‘American Idol,’ but no more," she announced. “This year, it’s New York!”

The Taylor Hicks, Fantasias, Ruben Studdards, and Clay Aikens of the world probably aren’t quaking in their boots about Zevita herself, given that operatic arias tend not to be found in pop songs. But New York definitely showed the best talent of any audition city thus far, sending 35 people to the next round. That made for an episode so positive, even Rosie O’Donnell would approve.

It wasn’t just that the New York hopefuls could sing, it was that they all seemed to have such great stories. A future reality show could make contestants try to write an off-Broadway play featuring the sad, inspirational, or just plain heartwarming tales of Gotham City’s “Idol” crew.

For starters, Nicholas Pedro proved that sometimes, people do get second chances. Pedro made it to Hollywood last season, but had a nightmarish group sing where he forgot the words to “Build Me Up Buttercup” and voluntarily left the competition. “Ever since that experience, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I wasn’t haunted by it,” he said before trying out this year.  

Pedro spent the year training his voice and getting better, and got another strong endorsement from the judges. This season, expect him to know the lyrics in Hollywood even if he has to write them on his hand.

Porcelana Patino was another contestant who worked hard for the money. Patino, apparently believing she was trying out for “The Contender,” got up every morning at five to work out. She lost an estimated 15-20 pounds, got her ticket to Hollywood, and is chiseled enough that she can probably beat up any judge with the audacity to tell her to go home.

Sarah Burgess looked and sounded like she walked straight out of a dime-store novel and into the auditions. For starters, the teenager complained that her father didn’t support her, didn’t believe in her, and would probably be mad that she auditioned. In fairness to her dad, Burgess exemplified every father’s nightmare — a 19-year-old girl from Ohio who skipped school, lied about spending the night at a friend’s house, and ran away to New York to try and make it in show business. Dozens of “Law & Order” and “Without a Trace” episodes are filled with the shattered dreams of similar girls.

But Burgess was luckier. She got the pass to Hollywood, called her dad, and apparently was forgiven. Of course most fathers, when receiving a call from their sobbing teenage daughter who’s run away to New York City would probably be grateful simply that she was still alive and unhurt, so it wasn’t a hard sell.

BFF, or at least for nowBest friends Amanda Coluccio and Antonella Barba first sang a duet, which sounded terrible. But they were the rare twosome who took advantage of the second chance to sing individually, and both earned tickets to Hollywood. Barba sounded better, but said her friend wasn’t at her best for the audition, prompting Simon to advise her to quit being nice and always kick people when they’re down. She refused, which probably means a large part of the Hollywood footage will be of them either stabbing each other in the back or being ostentatious BFFs.

Jory Steinberg grew up in Ottawa and met the Queen of England, so there was zero chance that Simon wouldn’t send her to Hollywood, but her voice was strong enough to make any British Empire collusion a moot point. Chris Richardson looked and sounded enough like Justin Timberlake that Simon said he could surprise in the next round. And Kia Thornton might have sang the best of any of them, breaking down in sobs when she got the good news. “One problem … no emotion,” Simon quipped as she walked out.

Of course, “Idol” would not be “Idol” without the talentless trying out, and New York was over the top in this aspect as well.

Ian Bernardo, last seen failing to place on “So You Think You Can Dance,” threatened viewers by saying he won’t stop performing until he’s a household name. He’ll likely get that based on the clips from this episode that have probably already made their way onto YouTube, but not because of any talent. Bernardo’s version of “Gloria” sounded like a warped record, and he ranted at the judges when they predictably turned him down.

He also trashed California (“Hollywood is New Jersey with celebrities”) and England (“On every show, we need a British [expletive] to judge us Americans, and I’m sick of it.”). So while he didn’t make it to the next round on “Idol,” he seems like a natural candidate for talk radio.

Bernardo was the most delusional contestant, but Sarah Goldberg was at once the most self-aware and the most clueless. She knew she couldn’t sing. Heck, she told the judges her friends made fun of her because she was tone-deaf. But she thought she could be the next American Idol anyway because the judges could teach her the tricks of the trade and mold her into a superstar.

Of course, Goldberg got rejected, and then probably got a couple of the security guards fired. She said that they told her that the judges had been out drinking until 3 AM, “and that is RUDE!” Indeed, Simon missed the morning of the second day’s rehearsals, proving that Manhattan isn’t exactly Vegas. What happens in New York, shows up on national television.

Isadora Furman claimed to be clairvoyant, but couldn’t predict that she’d perform as poorly as she did, and also had a hard time keeping track of what day it was. But besides those three, the other rejected contestants were more tragic than humorous.

Ashanti Johnson had already made it to Hollywood twice, but the third time wasn’t the charm. The judges turned her away, and she responded with the kind of impassioned appeal that gets standing ovations on Broadway. Sadly, the judges were as heartless as any theatre critic, and her pleas fell on deaf ears. At 28, her “Idol” dreams are over.

Sadder still was Nakia Claiborne. She started out, vibrant, energetic, and had the judges clapping and swaying to “Dancing in the Sheets.” But when she slowed down to sing a ballad, the flaws in her voice became more pronounced, and she didn’t get the golden ticket to Hollywood.

A supporter outside told her to cheer up, she could go back to Virginia, keep singing, and try again next year. But the devastated Claiborne wasn’t optimistic. “Sometimes, you get tired of hearing ‘no.’ And it’s not just singing — you get tired of hearing ‘no.”

Unfortunately for Claiborne, this is the stage where the judges say “no” a lot more often than they say “yes.” Even in New York.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.