As 53 hopefuls make the cut, 26-year-old Chris Medina and his brain injury-addled fiancée make us cry

By Annie Barrett
January 27, 2011 at 07:05 AM EST
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Wednesday’s auditions episode of American Idol took place in Milwaukee — home of Danny Gokey, who now stands on the other side of the line of thousands of people and keeps the arena crowds alive with his comedy. As soon as I finish weeping about Chris Medina‘s brain injury-addled fiancée and questioning what it all means and why I can’t ever appreciate anything I have, such as the abilities to type and snack…. I will move on.

[An hour passes.]

Yeah, I’m still not over it. We’ve seen a lot of great singers at this point, but the high point of the first three episodes by far belongs to wise old loon Steven Tyler, who crouched over a young woman’s wheelchair, kissed her repeatedly in a compassionate dad way, got right up into her impenetrable personal space and made sure she knew: “He sings so well because he sings for you.” Chris’ audition will probably be something Idol fans always remember. Check it out, here’s a song Chris wrote for Juliana on what would have been their wedding day. I can’t stop looking at the Facebook page her friends created for her. It all feels so invasive — what I’m doing now, what they did on the show — but I guess this is just what happens on reality TV (and the next day on the internet). Every viewer knows the feeling. I’m so uncomfortable but I just can’t stop!

Not even gonna bother with the fame-mongering losers this time, dawgs. S—‘s bleak. But beautiful. The following smokin’ hot children — plus 31 others we didn’t get to meet — got golden tickets in Milwaukee.

Scotty McCreery from Garner, NC, is very talented and might not even need the Idol machine in order to be successful. According to me, this deep-voiced country singer is at least 30, but according to him, he’s 16. Who to trust? It’s a tough call. Let’s check in with the judges. “You make me smile,” said Jennifer Lopez. “S— fire, save matches. F— a duck and see what hatches,” said Steven Tyler. “Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,” said Randy Jackson. Done. Randy Travis Jr. is through to Hollywood. And Vasco de Gama Jr. is soooo proud. “With the right songs — we discovered him,” said the panel’s most esteemed explorer (J. Lo, obviously). Sure you did.

NEXT: Attack of the 15-year-old women!

Emma Henry, 15, did have a special quality to her voice — maybe even more than one special quality, if “gravelly smoker-chicness” counts as a quality. It was only after her audition, Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” that we learned from her mom that she was actually sick that day. (Some people try to sound like that, you know? It’s like they’re controlling their voice with the audio equivalent of the opacity tool in Photoshop. They’re such opacity tools!) Anyway, this fragile adolescent Emma cried and cried her way through the critique and was such a mess that eventually they just agreed to let her take a trip to California. She shall be devoured at once.

Naima Adedapo, 25, works in grounds cleanup and spends her time “looking at the stage like that should be me.” She picked an interesting song (Donny Hathaway’s “For All We Know”) and sang it beautifully — as Steven Tyler would not say — but her appeal is definitely of the “total package” variety. Young mother, funky personal style, gorgeous, etc. Does anyone else immediately think of Cycle 4 of America’s Next Top Model upon hearing the name “Naima”? Trumping another reality contestant’s name-association could be this Naima’s ultimate feat.

Giant toothbrush guy! No.

Jerome Bell, 27, sings at bar mitzvahs and weddings. He announced this to the judges and J. Lo giggled right in his face. Oh, Lo. Pipe down. Someone’s gotta be the one to do that s—. Remember when you played a lowly commoner in Maid in Manhattan? We all saw how you committed to that role. Show some compassion. Throughout Jerome’s rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,” I kept feeling like he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be strong or soft, or which key was best for him. But that’s exactly what the judges liked about it. “Hot, crazy vocals,” raved Randy. “No complaining!” God, Randy, reach much? You don’t need to invent such crazy non-compliments. Just tell it like it is. Jerome Bell is sexy.

Thia Megia (pictured) could go very far. She’s 15 and extremely cute, but not in a jail-baity way. I don’t think. I feel really creepy right now (AGAIN) because I’ve spent the better part of a minute debating whether a 15-year-old girl seemed jail-baity or not. On one hand, a minute is not a very long time; on the other, should this really be happening? Don’t question it! Just go with it. I loved Thia’s confident alto on Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” — a great song choice for her. She did seem very comfortable and natural in the spotlight. I don’t believe for a single second that every 15-year-old the judges saw in Milwaukee was worthy of a golden ticket, but we’ll just have to wait to find out. It was much more important for us to sit through riveting events such as a half-baked Civil War reenactment by the least well-adjusted teenager in the world than it would have been to hear from each of the chosen kids.

NEXT: Don’t call her Monica Lewinsky

This next one has it all, America. Harvard graduate, White House intern, blonde, model-esque, and “in love with this president.” Not like that, gross! Meet Molly DeWolf Swensen, 22. Her first few deep notes of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” were startling in a very cool way, and then I was pretty much transfixed until she finished. It was all so perfect. Obama! Harvard! Randy Jackson accidentally punched her in the face! I wonder if people will eventually end up hating her because she has two last names and is so darn beautiful. As of now, she’s one of my favorites. And if “the business” gently forces her to get a nose job even though she is already so pretty, I will cry.

Haley Reinhart, 18. Nah. I wasn’t too impressed. Sometimes people get screen time because they’ve bothered to return for 38,294 more hours of waiting around and it’s the least the producers can do. “Come back next year,” the judges always used to say. (Now they just wave all the shady characters through, assuming they can just have more breakdowns in Hollywood and everyone will be….happy? No. Wait.) But had they really meant it? And will Haley Reinhart, who sang a “da-ding”-infused version of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” ever be able to manage her runs? Manage your runs, girl! “You gotta be able to sing ’em and close ’em,” said Randy. In other words, your hair and youth and maybe your determination got you through this round. Congrats.

One of the oddest golden ticket auditions of the night for me (for you) was Tiwan Strong‘s. After the 29-year-old finished his energetic, slightly crazy-eyed rendition of Sam Cooke’s “Twistin’ the Night Away,” all three judges were just silent. For a while! You could tell none of them had been truly wowed. So why put him through? Even their “rave” critiques were tepid and interchangeable: “I liked your voice.” “You did great.” “It got me thinking.” Who said which vague thing? You can’t even tell. Perhaps Tiwan was put through because Steven Tyler’s patented brand of wizardry allowed him to see a few seconds into the future, at which point Tiwan’s mom would become an American Idol hero for the ages. “We got a Charley Horse here!” cried local medic Ryan Seacrest. It was a non sequitur miracle: a woman in pain announcing her Charley Horse, Seacrest totally not helping by asking if she was cramping, and a man-child dressed in all white struggling to retain his moment of glory (“I’m excited! I’m excited!”) Way to harsh his buzz, female relative.

NEXT: He’s an accountant — get him out of here! Steve Beghun, 27, is an accountant, so naturally they played “Working in the Coal Mine” over footage of him answering the phone and announcing that since he audits people for a living, he has few friends. Was anyone else shocked and relieved when this gentle giant burst through the doors with his golden ticket and there were actual humans on the other side? Adorable, normal, supportive humans, no less. Strangely, I was happier about Steve having people in his life than I was about his advancement to Hollywood. I loved how he completely shocked the judges by nearly taking down the entire art museum with his resonating note in the Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved.” (Later, 26-year-old Chris Medina also sang a Script song, “Breakeven.”) “What the!” exclaimed J. Lo in the words of her mouthy 2-year-old. “I wonder if he’s single,” said my very tall sister in an email. OMG, email my little sis, you self-proclaimed “big goon.”

Scott Dangerfield, 22, had borrowed another little bit of Steven Tyler’s lipstick for his audition, but Steven let him know with one of his signature wails that this was okay. The student teacher from Milwaukee sang Amos Lee’s soulful “Dreamin’,” an excellent song choice for the brainy-looking “cool nerd” type. J. Lo said he might be her favorite of all the contestants so far and bounced up and down in her chair, impatient to vote. (The former piano student in me found this visual effect particularly jarring because treble clefs are supposed to stay perfectly still.) Scott seems like a genuine person. I hope they don’t treat him like a doll and fit different glasses onto his noggin each week.

Alyson Jados, 26, was the first real “rocker chick” to be featured so far, so the novelty of that plus the fact that she was obsessed with Steven Tyler and wants to have like 10,000 of his babies might have swayed his decision to let her move on despite a passable-at-best shot at “Come Together.” Watching Alyson’s excitement and disbelief as she dueted with Tyler on “Dream On” would have been a great Idol mini arc in itself — I’m not sure she’ll survive in Hollywood. Maybe she’ll toughen up in the new setting and surprise us. I like her a lot; it’s just hard to be that excited about the people who basically have to beg their way in.

Have the other contestants distracted you enough, or are you still a little teary-eyed about Chris Medina? Who was your favorite golden ticket winner? Are you surprised I didn’t devote an entire paragraph to the awesomeness of my new hero Randy Jackson’s straight-faced rhetorical question to the DJ dude, “Wow, are those Tevas?” So am I, friends. So am I.

Read more:

Gallery: 15 Wacky Steven Tyler Faces

All ‘American Idol’ recaps

EW.com’s ‘American Idol’ Central

Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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