There's nowhere to go but down after a flat but sturdy set of Pittsburgh auditions

By Annie Barrett
January 20, 2012 at 05:05 AM EST
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Well, that was a rather staid auditions hour. One and done! I always go into these episodes assuming we’re in for all sorts of colorful, crazy, time-wasting crap, but I think the wackiest part of this one was Steven Tyler proudly displaying his “secret red box” (not a euphemism, surprisingly) and GIANT plate of fruit.

I also loved when Steven treated the kids to a singalong of “Pink” as Jennifer Lopez sauntered in late, ready for some play, wearing her own glorious abs as a belt. Where can I buy a belt like J. Lo’s abs? Let me know if you have ideas.

Heejun Han, 22, set the tone for the episode. If anyone was going to be a trainwreck, it might be him — swanning around backstage as if in a daze, claiming “Now I’m thinking I’m not good at all,” marveling at Ryan Seacrest’s fist-sized face but then shying away from a side-by-side comparison because “I don’t think so, it’s just too much.” I very much enjoyed the Korean nonprofit organizer from Queens’ perspective and laid-back energy, and the fact that he delivered a convincing rendition of a Michael Bolton classic makes him one of my early faves.

Reed Grimm, 26, may have a more populist bent. He showed up in Pittsburgh fresh off the beach and launched right into a unique take on…the Family Matters theme song. Genius. Ooh. Now do Full House! Step by Step! Newhart! As J. Lo said, the mark of a great performer is that you never know which [TV theme] they’re gonna do. Reed is so handsome and universally appealing that she had to resort to pounding the table like a toddler who cannot yet speak and wants more birthday cake in order to get the fellas to help her vote Reed through.

Aaron Marcellus and Chase Likens got a quick “Now you see ’em…” edit. Aaron earned a “YO! You can sing.” from you know who for his “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and Chase has some of the longest eyelashes I’ve seen on a man. Both seem promising. Then out fluttered a steady stream of golden ticket holders. It was the Flashdance of the century. (38 made it through in Pittsburgh.)

NEXT: Plank you vedy much Oh. I don’t know if I can, with the planking. Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor” played after 19-year-old Samantha Novacek’s Faith Hill audition — because there was her sister, way down there on the ground. Samantha didn’t need her sister Patricia’s talent (planking was even her listed occupation; isn’t it wonderful when you can make money doing the thing that you love?) to convince the judges that her sweet and clever vocal should earn her a golden ticket. But she probably did need her to get on camera. So it goes.

Only Steven was confused. “So she’s gonna come out [to Hollywood] and plank? While her girlfriend sings?” Meanwhile, Ryan was excited that he got to show everyone he could do a push-up.

I’m not sure I was totally buying what Creighton Fraker, 28, was selling. He’s the “starving artist” from NYC. His occupation actually said that. Was he currently starving? That’s a little hyperbolic. Amusingly, Creighton explained to the Idol audience that “There’s a lot of people trying to do what I do there” over video footage of him wearing bunny ears and rhinestone shades and playing the keyboard in a park as a girlfriend blew bubbles. Clearly I’ve been away from New York for too long. I’d forgotten that this is all anyone does there. Anyway, the judges dug Creighton’s look and his energy and the way he sounded as if “Jamiroquai and Justin Timberlake had a baby,” according to J. Lo. Well, when you put it like that. Maybe I do like him.

I had trouble distinguishing between the speaking voices of the little boy from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Eben Franckewitz, 15. In fact, the kid from the promos for Fox’s upcoming Touch sounds like them, too. What’s with that? Oh they all sound the same to you, Annie. Little boys. Sorry. Eben’s first name and his supportive (but not overbearing — so difficult to strike that balance on TV) family are huge plusses for him. I thought his cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine” was very pretty but lacked any sort of real emotion. He was kind of like Jacee Badeaux in this way. It’s not necessarily his fault that he’s got no pain in his life from which to draw musical angst. I hope he didn’t make it through just because of the Justin Bieber lookalike shtick. Kid’s got a lot more going for him besides that.

You may remember Travis Orlando, 17, from his sob story in season 10 — specifically, the visual of a pay phone left dangling off the hook to display his family’s poverty. (Here was my first impression of him last year.) His home(less) life may have become more dire, but on the bright side, his background music has been upgraded from OneRepublic’s “Come Home” to Adele’s “Hometown Glory.” He sounded fine, but I might have been expecting a more haunting and rich vocal based on the big backstory buildup. His desperation bordering on a potential nervous breakdown left me a little freaked out. He wasn’t faking it or anything, but the whole segment was just so orchestrated. “Yeah, go tell your dad,” encouraged Steven, a bit listlessly (I think he was taken aback by the horror of it all) before Travis got on the phone next to Ryan. “It’s everything we’ve dreamed for,” said a voice in the phone, right on cue.

NEXT: Pelt can belt!I loved the last two ladies. Rhode Islander Erika Van Pelt, 25, had a lovely alto and natural disposition. (Can I just say I can’t believe how many people I want to call “natural” this week? Yes, Idol, yes!) It was very courteous of Randy to only lightly titter after Erika said she was a wedding singer and mobile DJ. What’s better than a mobile DJ? An iPod, if you’re shy, but other than that, nothing. Steven Tyler was beautiful, just beautiful, singing along with the beltin’ Pelt on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and reacting with pure giddiness at some of her inflections and tonal choices. “It’s in the water up there,” he explained. “Some kind of magic.”

Hallie Day, 24, was part of a girl group called Plum Crazy after moving to New York as a high school dropout. I love how if you Google image search “plum crazy” you just get all these crazy purple cars. Anyway, Hallie moved back home to Baltimore and endured a rough time with no support system until she eventually tried to kill the pain by swallowing a bottle of pills. But with the help of her now-husband, Ryan, Hallie reinvented herself as a platinum blonde with plenty of hope and pizazz and…I honestly just love her! As she blazed her own trail through “I Will Survive,” I found myself head-bopping along in earnest for the first time this season, and it wasn’t just because the judges were doing the same thing. I’m not an ape! I’m not a robot. I’m glad Hallie made it through (alive) and, like Steven, just enjoy watching her sing. Randy acted like that was skeezy, but come on, dawg, you know it’s pretty much the point of the show.

Sad: Coal miner Shane Bruce, 19, introduced “Hallelujah” as the song from Shrek. Silly kid. Real adults know that this song originally appeared on The O.C. But that’s not even the sad part. It turned out Shane’s “hometown audition” (a new thing) — “In the Still of the Night” performed in front of some endearingly embarrassed coworkers — sounded better than his audition at sea level. Some people just sound better in a mine! The way Steven told Shane “Sometimes routine is the secret of life….maybe you singing for them down there is where you’re meant to be,” was not only delivered gently and sweetly; it was good advice that so many of the delusional souls we’re used to seeing during the audition weeks should take to heart.

Of course, Shane was the opposite of delusional, which made his self-aware disappointment even more heartbreaking. Plus, we got to see a little kid sing in a mine. Hidden gem of the year! This is the way to do a “NO” audition, you know?

Or maybe not. Do you miss seeing all the colorful disasters? We’ve really seen so few of them! I shouldn’t jinx it….

See you Sunday!

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Read more:

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‘Idol’ premiere recap: On the Seacrest of a Wave

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‘American Idol’: What we want to see from the judges

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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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