The San Francisco auditions feature colorful characters, many of whom are not freaks
Credit: Fox
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Wow. Last night, American Idol laid the sob stories on as thick as a Ukrainian accent on a pink-sweatsuited, surely battery-operated Mail-Order Bride Bratz Doll. (We were all thinking it!) From fire victims to an Adam Lambert impersonator with Tourette’s, Asperger’s, a dad who died of a drug overdose, and a baby who may or may not be wearing a diaper right now, the San Francisco auditions kept us on a pile of ashes and needles waiting for the next “most emotional moments of the season.” You could almost envision Nigel Lythgoe licking his chapped lips with delight after a pre-commercial teaser announced, “My life…took a turn for the worse.” PERFECT.

This was at least the second time Jennifer Lopez has cackled loudly upon exiting her stretch limo, by the way. Cacklin’ J. Lo: the cereal with real diamonds! A free picture of a designer shoe in every box.

The following young adults (finally) — plus Brittany Mazur, Doobie Brothers daughter Lara Johnston, Matthew Nuss, and three unidentified trying objects who shared the dreaded split-ends edit — earned golden tickets in San Francisco…

Stefano Langone is a 21-year-old molto Italianio cute stuffed animal from Kent, Washington who survived “an accident.” He rehabbed himself in less than four months and now he’s all sewn up. All better! Stable as a table. He can even lift weights in his garage like Lester Burnham. Stefano kept talking about hunger and the flame inside him, which was rather chilling in a warm way, and I realized I really liked him as a person. Dramatic scarring and a cool guy? What are the chances? (1 in 9,000.) Stefano sang a somewhat rushed version of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” complete with howling. The voice was good, but I marveled more at the way he was genuinely able to engage the judges with non-hokey smiles and eye contact. After Stefano finished, Randy appreciated the vocal and J. Lo raved about his “movie star good looks,” but Steven Tyler simply said “Nice character.” Yes! He nailed it again. I loved how Stefano good-naturedly mocked his mom for messing up the family’s attempt to yell “Going to Hollywood!” in unison. You can tell these Langones are a fun and loving species.

NEXT: I think we’ve got a quirky one here!

And here’s another: Clint Jun Gamboa, a 26-year-old dive-bar karaoke host from Long Beach who seems to have a significant support system in place. It’s refreshing to see adults with real jobs and striped sweaters and an established place in the world, even if they’re not quite thrilled with the niche they’ve managed to carve out. Some of his regulars kept telling Clint he should be doing something better, and as soon as he said that in an interview, I braced myself for a bait-and-switch disaster. This guy totally looked like a geek who would squeak. But no! Clint’s “Billionaire” intrigued the judges, especially his runs at the end. Randy told “Junebug” not to lose his background (he grew up singing in a lot of gospel churches), and Randy said Clint was one of the best he’d seen in San Francisco. It’s not like we’d have known any better!

The stock footage was out of control this week, particularly in the case of Julie Zorilla, whose family immigrated from Colombia when she was 8. You know I will have a hard time not calling this girl Julie Guerilla. You know that. Somebody please stop me. Anyway, I wasn’t loving all of Julie’s visual affectations — the hand gestures, the overwrought facial expressions, the DRAMA — during “Summertime,” but damn if my mouth didn’t hang open in a similarly overwrought gape once I realized she was changing the melody into something entirely different and it was actually working. As someone who used to regularly waste my life away in a basement piano bar where this type of thing would be considered sacrilege, I was shocked. I loved it. I wanted to hear the whole thing (while looking away from the screen; hey, I wonder what’s going on in the microwave?). Of course, J. Lo loved Julie’s performance quality and the confidence she showed by remaining planted to the ground. Uh, two words: Those heels. The judges each sent Julie off with a final few words that could only come from the three of them. S. Ty: “Unequivocally yes.” J. Lo: “Big sparkly shoe yes.” And Randy: “Two hundred bazillion percent yes!” Oh yay, my favorite number.

Meet Emily Anne Reed, otherwise known as The Girl Whose Roommate Played With Fire. (Maybe. We don’t know. I need to learn more about these fires!) She could be the Megan Joy Corkrey of the group or the Fiona Apple of the group — you decide, America. (And please enjoy the twisted concept of Fiona Apple setting foot anywhere near American Idol.) Emily’s high-pitched childlike drawl was pretty brutal to listen to when she was speaking. But as soon as she launched into “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” it was easy to like her Billie Holiday-esque tone. I can see myself listening to a whole album of whatever music by this girl; I like the voice that much. If she could write her own songs, all the better, but let’s cross that bridge when we trot up to it in our sparkly J. Lo shoes, or fly up to it like the flocks of birds above Emily Anne’s elbows. Steven initially said no, which seemed crazy because you’d think the judge who’s looking for the next Janis Joplin would be interested in someone with what Randy called “probably the most interesting voice in eight cities” and what J. Lo called a “singer-songwriter vibe.” But once she whipped out the secret weapon (guitar), he was sold. Okay honestly…this is kind of mean, but I think this girl’s voice might be cooler than she is.

NEXT: Can’t afford diapers? American Idol is the next best thingFinally, it was time for the green-shirted, black-vested tease we’d been waiting for the whole hour: 21-year-old James Durbin from Santa Cruz. I mentioned his various woes earlier, but he didn’t even need any of them to have left a lasting impression on viewers, many of whom may have had to turn down the volume due to his extreme Lambertion. First he wailed “You Shook Me,” then he launched right into a screechy yet in-tune version of the screechy yet in-tune part of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” When you sing a Steven Tyler song in front of Steven Tyler and Steven Tyler closes his eyes and bops along, you know you’re good. James may not have his father, who passed away when he was 9, to encourage his singing career, but he does have an angel, a poopy toddler, and a seemingly endless supply of inspirational yet annoyingly redundant Post-it notes in the apartment. If James doesn’t make it through Hollywood Week, the least Old Man Nigel could do is ship him and Heidi some nappies.

Once I’d finished convulsing from all the sobbing I’d been feigning, I realized something. For me (for you), the most lasting aural gem from the San Francisco auditions might just be the blonde girl at the very beginning of the show who was storming away from the building. “Just because someone farts?! Let ’em finish singing, okay?” This girl is my hero. “I thought I was gonna have it,” she lamented. “I thought I was gonna be famous.” Oh, honey. First of all, you still can have it! You can be on literally any other reality show, except this one and probably Dancing With the Stars. Secondly: you are famous. You’re on The internet could be your destiny. Take it from me: At the end of the day, you’re gonna wanna be in a place where it’s safe to pass some gas.

So don’t look back in anger;

I heard you fart.

As commenter AJ said after last week’s heinous Los Angeles episode, “I am so ready for Hollywood week it’s not even funny.” Bring it on. See you tomorrow.

Follow Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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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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