Soul-heavy singers battle fuse-blowing Nicki Minaj for the Charlotte auditions spotlight

By Annie Barrett
Updated January 24, 2013 at 10:42 AM EST

American Idol

S12 E3
  • TV Show

Welcome to Charlotte, NC, where the security guard doesn’t even know who famed race car driver Ryan Seacrest is. What a quaint fictional land! Wednesday’s auditions brought us tons of talent, so let’s focus on that instead of the over-hyped Nicki Minaj vs. Mariah Carey brawl that Idol refused to even air, opting instead to show a group debate in which Nicki Minaj somehow emerged as a rational hero.

Whatever, you know? I’m sick of caring about their conflict. These two obviously can’t stand each other, but tonight they found common ground in that they both lust after extra-tasty-crispy turkey bacon (surely a possible new #nickiname for Mariah) — so why not just focus on the positive? Here’s who made it to Hollywood!

I was all set for some major bawlin’ as soon as Brian Rittenberry, 27, wondered “How do you explain to your 5-year-old son that mom was gonna go to heaven?” But it turned out his wife survived her stage 4 cancer and has lived to get both sets of nails done and meet her “hall pass,” Keith Urban. Mrs. Rittenberry wants it, Ryan! Also: Dude, not in front of the children, Ryan!

I liked how unexpectedly high Brian went on his raspy cover of “Let It Be,” and Keith was enamored by Brian’s “good light about you, and soul.”

I found myself rather enamored by Keith’s desperate-to-escape chest tattoo. For the record.

Jimmy Smith, 25, decided to audition online last-minute after “looking on Twitter at work trying to find a car buying guide for his first clunker.” Story of my life, Jimmy. We have so much in common already. His clear, country vocal on “Bless the Broken Road” was divine, even though I could not stop imagining the different ways in which the Makeover Madness team would attempt to rejigger Jimmy’s curly blonde ramen noodle hair. It was verging on Timberlake circa 2000, but with those green eyes and that smile and cute personality, this guy could be a real contender if his look was updated to the correct decade. I loved the way he gushed, “Oh, wow!” after Mariah said she couldn’t wait for the world to hear that “something incredibly special and unique” she spotted inside of him.

Nicki said Jimmy had “the sweetness I need to hear from my country singers,” which could be a direct translation of her first comment, “Poppin, poppin, you poppin’ like you MAD fly” — I’m not sure.

NEXT: “Black girls can’t rock!” –Randy Jackson Quick hits! Aw, sorry, you guys: Sarina-Joi Crowe, 17, half-shouted “Mama Knows Best” but in a pleasing and controlled way; probable Oompa Loompa descendant Haley Davis covered “Blue Bayou” with class and style, and Na’chelle Fullins-Lovell executed a series of high-pitched runs that previously only Mariah Carey could pull off. Watch out, girl!

Guest usher Scotty McCreery found one of his middle school classmates, who was hilariously not super-duper jazzed about it.

Isabel Gonzalez‘ audition was worth it merely for the footage of Randy Jackson’s fantastic voyage down to Alpharetta, Georgia in a big yellow school bus that I was hoping would say ‘REMEDIAL VOCAB’, but did not. Isabel’s aunt had to nominate her because she’d be too nervous to do it on her own — but this adorable creature in a demure patterned dress and socks with loafers showed no sign of worry during her beautiful rendition of “Nothing Could Ever Change This Love.” Mariah was spot-on that Isabel looks like a young Phoebe Cates, and I agree that audiences would fall in love with her based on that face alone. I don’t think her actual voice is quite wow-worthy just yet, but she’s so young. She could come back…

Did Isabel’s teacher’s question — “Can anybody tell me what an SAT score means or why that’s important?” — give anyone else the willies? Sorry if you’re still in high school and need to remember/care about the answer.

I liked Tiasha Bethea‘s back story — the 21-year-old fronts an alternative rock band of three shaggy-haired white dudes so just the visual of them all was to die for. Love her spirit, love her wide-eyed optimism, hated how Randy immediately pooh-poohed her song choice of “Folsom Prison Blues” after she said she wanted to stick with rock and roll. How is Johnny Cash not rock? I wasn’t bowled over by the vocal, though — and her subsequent cover of “You Oughta Know” was a pitch-perfect imitation of Alanis but otherwise nothing special. She’s another one I’d like to see down the line after at least a year of digging deep and figuring herself out. Mariah and Randy said no; Nicki and Keith said yes, and apparently Keith had been appointed Special Tiebreaking Wizard for the Charlotte round (this is a thing now?), so she’s through.

NEXT: Did you know country music and brain surgery were the same thing? After belting out a pretty and controlled “Lean On Me,” Summer Cunningham, 20, made the mistake of personally insulting Keith Urban. Hardly, but he took her comment that she’d “done country” and was now into “more of a soulful country?” to heart. Stop internalizing the kids’ jibber jabber, Keith!

Mariah and Randy attempted to steer Summer back onto (or keep her on? she never said she quit country, so all of this was even more absurd than it played out) the country road because of the “natural yodel” in her voice. Nicki Minaj suffered through these agonizing 30 or so seconds of not being in the spotlight with some tremendous eye rolls and out-of-this-world stank faces. A stunning achievement in disinterest.

Nicki’s point was a good one — the judges shouldn’t “scare” contestants into “lying” about their true passion just to earn a spot in Hollywood, and it might not be the best idea to immediately pigeonhole those who want to branch out. It’s too bad the Edible Arrangement chose to follow up her reasonable argument with a threat to “get off the f—ing panel” and a hearty stomp off set. But hey, Mariah was about to do it anyway, at some point. “That was my move — I was gonna do that the next time [Nicki] ragged on me,” explained the other grown woman on the panel. Let’s hear it for the adults!

Brandy Hamilton was a sunny presence in her marigold blazer to kick off a subdued Day 2, but I think I appreciated her theatrics and phrasing during “All I Could Do Is Cry” more than her voice itself. Brandy’s performance was so chillingly convincing that Nicki felt “like I was watching my man walk down the aisle and getting furious inside.” I know that’s what we were all wondering. Who let Nicki Minaj into a church?

NEXT: ‘I want to skin you and wear you.’ –Cotton Candy Head Ashley Smith, 22, is the rare “overwhelming social butterfly” you somehow can’t help but love. Fellow pastel wig enthusiast Nicki instantly named Ashley “Blondie” and assured her that “five feet and a blondie — that’s a package right there.” Could Ashley be the African-American country star Idol‘s been waiting for? She could sing in any style, I’m sure, but I swear I wanted her to cover Carrie Underwood’s entire discography after that effortless spin on “Cowboy Casanova.” Granted, she was totally out of breath, but I still think effortless is the right word here. Her whole segment just had me grinning. My favorite part was when she began her vocal with a big ol’ “UM…”

Janelle Arthur made it through to Hollywood Week season 10 and Vegas season 11, so she’s definitely one to watch. The 22-year-old fitness instructor made a genius move in singing Keith Urban’s own “Where the Blacktop Ends” — Chest Tat was rapping on the desk, yelping “Oh!” at the difficult transitions, and eventually wailing “Yeahhhh! I just love that song!” after he and the song had climaxed. Randy compared Jannelle to a young LeAnn Rimes, Mariah complimented her “pretty demeanor” (“That means a lot, whispered Janelle in a tiny moment that almost made me cry, WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME), and Nicki called her effort “a really good job without doing too much” — a perfect summation. Four yeses!

Formerly homeless street performer and bouncer Rodney Barber, 27, was a hometown hero — “The Voice of Charlotte.” He was certainly loud! Keith called his cover of “I’ll Be” “crazy big,” which was a nice euphemism for “huh.” Rodney was excellent auditions-episode fodder, but I’m guessing he’s less “the next American Idol” and more “a great and inspiring man who happens to sing well.”

Oh joy! Rapture! Someone at Idol‘s got a brain. The luminous Candice Glover, 22, got the gentle boot from Steven Tyler after really wailing in a Vegas trio with Jessica Sanchez and DeAndre Brackensick (SIMBA!) The judges righteously stood up following Candice’s show-stopping “Syrup and Honey” cover — well, Randy and Mariah did, while Nicki made up for her laziness by informing Candice of her desire to “skin you and wear you.” This is my new favorite audition so far — I rewound a few times to hear her “Iiiiiiiiiii’m sweet enough” and the powerfully pitched grunt on “makin’ a livin’,” complete with hand-wringing to match the tightly twisted vocal. Just fabulous. “You are what people in America watch American Idol to hear, to see. I’m not even worthy to critique you,” said Nicki. Correct on all counts! Nicki Minaj wants it, Ryan!

NEXT: The Fresh Princess of Charlotte Bullfrog hunter (unofficial occupation) Ja’Bria Barber seemed super grounded and real and wise beyond her 16 years — and not just because she likes to feast on delicious frog legs. Alas, Nicki and Mariah’s concern for the festering bodies of bullfrogs (another shared interest, huzzah!) will likely overshadow Ja’Bria’s soulful cover of “Pride and Joy” — Bonnie Raitt’s version, mind you. Love that she specified that. The way Ja’Bria smiled with her eyes mid-song — just so freaking thrilled to be singing — reminded me of Melinda Doolittle, though Melinda’s vocals were way better.

I wish Seretha Guinn had only sung “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” instead of piling on “How Do I Live” at Nicki’s request, because she sang that second one in about three different keys near the end. Thank God the Fresh Prince thing wasn’t just a gimmick to get three seconds of screen time! Seretha’s light, breathy, melodic spin on what’s essentially Will Smith rapping was whimsical and fun. Reminded me of Lily Allen a bit.

The 26-year-old hairstylist also wins Best Highlights of the night — I loved the light blonde streaks at the tips of auburn layers. And obviously Seretha wins cutest kid, too — 3-year-old daughter London, who had a pink bear for Nicki named Dun-Dun, but I think that was a misunderstanding and the bear was supposed to represent Nicki. They did look a lot alike, and the bear left with the baby. NO BEAR FOR YOU.

Were you wowed by the Charlotte talent? Does chicken get a bad rep? And what would your #nickiname be? I’m going with “Cave Troll” for me as it’s 3 a.m., I’m sitting here in the dark (DVR powered off, boo hoo), and I don’t think Nicki Minaj would be impressed with my broken-drawstring varsity basketball sweats. But I’d also be thrilled with “Gumby.”


Mariah Carey gets the Nicki Minaj phone call: A very special ‘American Idol’ dramatization


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Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.
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