The singing stinks as the audition rounds hit Chicago, but guest judge Shania Twain and a handful of contestants come out smelling like roses
American Idol Audition

CHICAGO — Music, popular star of the hit reality series American Idol, crawled wounded into a cave and prayed for death’s sweet release last night after being bludgeoned by a pack of auditioners hell-bent on getting their imbecilic mugs on the tee-vee.

”It was a hideous scene,” said one badly shaken bystander. ”Music is a pretty tough customer. He’s weathered Milli Vanilli, Ashlee Simpson, even the rise of Auto-Tune, but when that blue-haired chick with the accordion clubbed him in the back of the knees, he hit the ground. And then the pack closed in: The dude in too-tight Lycra hotpants, the spastic guy hamming his way through ”It’s Not Unusual,” and the faux-mincing Tiny Tim impersonator. I started to think the brutality would never end.”

Eyewitnesses say Music made a daring escape after his attackers were momentarily mesmerized by Amy Lang, 26, a ”boob-boxer” from Westchester, OH, who had pretended to faint, then suddenly leapt to her feet and defecated on the musical legacy of Aretha Franklin.

”Three generations of soul fans revered my sultry ballad ‘Dr. Feelgood,’ but that’s all in the crapper now,” Ms. Franklin said in a prepared statement released by her publicist.

A police investigation into the incident is not expected to wrap up before the weekend, although a Chicago PD spokesperson said that country music star Shania Twain escaped the episode unscathed. Story developing….

Okay, okay, so this is, not the Onion, but you’ll have to forgive my attempts at parody, seeing how most of last night’s Chicago audition episode played out like a bad joke.

But before I get to kvetching, or perhaps in place of that, let’s talk about the handful of undeniably excellent performances we saw this evening — especially because if you’ll recall, season 8’s very worst audition episode (from San Francisco) brought us none other than eventual runner-up Adam Lambert. So maybe John Park or Charity Vance or Keith Semple is on the brink of becoming a future Guest of Oprah and International Instigator of Rabid Fan Squealing. Stranger things have happened. And the eight talented kids shown scoring Golden Tickets tonight — plus the quintet the producers chose to keep chyron- and music-free — shouldn’t have to pay the price because they were surrounded by fame-mongers who had me fantasizing about stuffing them into oversized bin liners and hurling them against a wall.

[We pause here for a moment so I can remember that just two sentences ago I was trying to be all positive and take a break from the gripe-a-thon. While I get my bearings back, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak]

NEXT: John Park makes a fan out of Shania Twain

Now where was I? Oh, yes! John Park! I have to say, it’s becoming an increasingly rare occurrence on Idol to find a male soul singer with a powerful lower register who doesn’t slather on the vibrato like cheese over an Applebee’s entrée. But John, in his crisp white shirt and with his floppy mop of black hair, delivered Blood Sweat & Tears’ ”I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” with such sexy nonchalance (especially that final lowww note), it had our charming and constructive guest-judge Shania dipping (accidentally or not) into her handbag of double entendres: ”Yes, you have a beautiful bottom end, and beautiful teeth. And nice lips… you have a nice tone down there… and you have a good head,” Shania giggled, nervously twirling the ribbon-y front clasp of her blouse. Hey, but let’s not blame a judge for a little harmless release; it was hard enough seeing so few good auditions in the course of an hour-long telecast — imagine if they’d been slowly doled out over the course of two days?

My only complaint with Shania (and Kara) was their publicly and repeatedly expressed surprise that John was able to sing, um, well, like a hunka hunka burnin’ love. I’m not exactly sure what the female judges were getting at. Are Asian guys not supposed to be able to sing soul? Or sound super-manly? Or convincingly play the role of the sex symbol? (Ladies, please immediately adjust your dials and open your damn eyes to see John Cho on FlashForward, Daniel Henney on Three Rivers and especially Tim Kang on The Mentalist for evidence to the contrary! You can send thank-you notes later. That is all.)

(See how it’s hard to get away from frenzied ranting, even when we’re talking about the talented singers?) Oh, and speaking of which, what the heck was with Kara’s advice to Katelyn Epperly, the Iowa beauty with a shaggy blonde mane and a peculiarly highlighted backstory about her parents’ separation? After Katelyn performed an appropriately melancholy take on Duffy’s album track ”Syrup and Honey,” Kara dubbed the contestant ”a pretty girl,” then whined she’d have preferred to hear her sing ”something a little perkier, a little more energetic.” Um, why exactly is that, you screeching magpie? As per usual, Kara’s critique had the unfortunate scent of something pulled directly out of her… assailed brain. (Nice save there, if I do say so myself!)

But in all seriousness, why is it that Kara was A-okay with maudlin ballads during six other televised Golden Ticket auditions tonight, but somehow not with Katelyn’s? If, in fact, Kara felt Katelyn’s rendition was lethargic or lacked a certain je ne sais quoi (see me trying to bring the classy back with a strategically placed French term that I’d feel skittish saying out loud!), then she should have explained to the girl that she needs to always sit down and carefully read the lyrics to her songs before she delivers a single note — the better to convey the ideas and emotions put forth in the music! This is not the same as choosing ”something a little perkier” — which, to an amateur singer’s mind, could easily translate as ”For my next act, I’m gonna sing ‘The Electric Slide,’ by Marcia Griffiths!” Instead, I’ll take Shania’s succinct opinion that Katelyn has the kind of voice that you could hear on a hit record.

NEXT: Angela Martin gets her third shot at stardom

I’m not sure if I can say the same for Charity Vance, but that’s more a knock on the state of modern radio than on the intriguing/peculiar sound that came out of the 16-year-old’s mouth. If this makes any sense, I’d say said vocal sounded like a mashup of Rickie Lee Jones’ warble, Minnie Ripperton’s ”Lovin’ You” squeak, and a hint of Kim Carnes’ scratchiness. Or something in that neighborhood. What impressed me most about this audition was that — like Allison Iraheta tackling Carrie Underwood’s touchstone ”Alone” last season — Charity marched right onto hallowed Idol ground (Fantasia’s ”Summertime”) and offered up a completely different, yet ultimately successful take. No, Charity didn’t come close to conjuring up the deeply felt pain and drama that ‘Tasia did — not many singers could — but Shania was right. ”You’re using your range, you’re not afraid to do it,” the country star declared. ”You probably need to hone in a little more on the better qualities of your voice… but [you have] a lot of personal style.” And at this point in the competition, what more could we ask of her?

I wasn’t quite as taken with the two other female hopefuls shown getting their Golden Tickets tonight — Angela Martin and Paige DeChausse — but I’m also not ruling out the possibility of these ladies growing on me by the time they get to Hollywood Week. (Yep, it’s the classic wait-and-see stance in effect!)

Angela recounted a laundry list of personal woes that played out like a three-hankie Lifetime movie, and for once, I’ve got to admit those heartaches — her daughter’s struggle with Rett Syndrome; the loss of her father a week before her season 7 Hollywood Week run; the fact that after cracking the season 8 top 50, she had to drop out to deal with a speeding-ticket warrant — added extra poignancy to her powerfully-sung rendition of Mary J. Blige’s ”Just Fine.” So while I’m a little concerned Angela’s audition wasn’t particularly original, it’s kind of impossible for me to not want to see her get a shot with the speed-dialing public in this year’s Top 24. As Shania astutely said, this ”try again” philosophy we hear so much about only works if you’re good. (Oh, and mad snaps to Simon for his teasing ”no” vote on Angela after telling her she’s the kind of contestant who makes him enjoy the show in the first place. I admit it: the fake-out made me howl.)

Mr. Cranky was not so kind to Paige DeChausse, which surprised me, seeing how her bluesy rendition of ”A Change Is Gonna Come” was equal to (if not better than) Angela’s ”Just Fine.” I liked the way Paige held back ever so slightly on the Sam Cooke ballad — hinting at the extra horsepower in her engine without ever feeling the need to rev it, and her jaunty bird-outline necklace was, I kid you not, my favorite accessory of season 9 so far. I can’t say that I give two birds about her ”as a teenager my asthma sent me into anaphylactic shock” backstory — how far we’ve come since the innocent days of Anthony Fedorov’s simple tracheotomy! — but dammit, if Guitar Girl is on her way to season 9’s Hollywood Week, Paige belonged there, too. Thankfully, Kara (doing something useful for once) and Shania twisted Randy’s arm into a third and deciding ”yes” vote. Three totally silent cheers for the woman who gave us ”No Boundaries”!

NEXT: Simon reminds us why we love him

Simon got it wrong again, in my humble estimation, when he gave the thumbs-down sign to faux-hawk sporting Keith Semple. Okay, I know, Bryan Adams’ ”Heaven” is so Easy Cheese that it practically comes with a tin can and a plastic nozzle (yum!), but you know that in the privacy of your own home, you wouldn’t say no to it. Maybe you even said yes to it in a 3 a.m. feeding frenzy you are currently blocking out from your brain. And Keith, guitar slung over his shoulder like a hipster geek in training, performed the golden cheddar product with grit and panache — or at least he appeared to in his nine seconds of airtime. I actually preferred Keith to the so-so guys between whom his audition clips got sandwiched: Marcus Jones (clean-cut teen who performed a better-than-adequate ”I’ll Be”) and Justin Ray (bespectacled dude with hair like Sideshow Bob who took the ‘ain’t’ out of restraint on Whitney Houston’s ”Why Does It Hurt So Bad”).

But Simon had shining, sparkling moments, too, and it’s important to keep tabs on them now that he’s announced season 9 will be his last one at the Idol judges’ table. I experienced a pure surge of joy when the pull-no-punches Brit got confronted by an angry mother who demanded to know why he was so mean to her daughter (the one, incidentally, who screeched, ”He was wrong about Jennifer Hudson. He is wrong about me!”). After trying to convince the woman he’d done her daughter a favor, Simon finally cut to the chase and delivered a fact that left Mama Bear grinning against her will: ”You know you still like me,” Simon teased, eyes twinkling with mischief. To paraphrase the endearing Ms. Twain herself, Simon’s still the one, isn’t he?

What did you think of last night’s Chicago auditions? Are you with me in wanting to see Shania get a second tryout at a possibly permanent gig on the Idol panel (maybe in place of Kara or Randy)? Do you think any of the Golden Ticket getters has a chance at the season 9 crown? And would any of them qualify for our brand new countdown of the 15 Best Idol Auditions Ever? Holla back in the comments below, but first, watch our latest edition of Idolatry embedded below. Part 1 is a journey into ridiculous time-travel, parts 2-4 contain a discussion of the Boston and Atlanta rounds, and parts 5-7 hold an in-depth interview with Fantasia Barrino about some of her great music moments. Enjoy!

Episode Recaps

American Idol

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

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