Mellow Start to ‘American Idol’ Season in Savannah

The first show of “American Idol,” Season 11, began with an opening montage of youngsters, now old enough to compete, who had watched since the first season and were inspired by Kelly Clarkson. This year, the competitors will be shooting home video of their journeys, and some homemade videos of trips to the auditions kicked off the show.

The auditions began in Savannah, Georgia, which host Ryan Seacrest described as a low-key city.

1) David Leathers Jr., 17, Fayetteville, N.C. (who looked about 13), sang “Remember the Rain” by Century 21. This kid thinks he’s a ladies’ man, and we saw video of him hitting on older girls in the waiting room, wearing a white button-down shirt and a blue striped men’s tie. He bragged that he’d competed in a local contest against season 10 winner Scotty McCreery. Judge Jennifer Lopez asked him to sing some Michael Jackson, and on the spot he complied with “Never Can Say Good-Bye.” He’s got a nice tone and was very comfortable. Three yeses.

Then we saw a montage of scenes from the auditions, starting happy and ending with a guy screaming.

2) Gabi Carruba, 16, North Haven, Connecticut. Sang “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5. A young girl with brunette curls, wearing a little black dress, she’s also a tap dancer who’s been dancing since she was 1. Upon entering, she asks for a hug from producer Nigel Lythgoe, who’s a judge on one of her favorite shows, “So You Think you Can Dance.” When she sang, judge Steven Tyler made the “listening face,” and he told her, “It may be your magic moment.” She has a sweet voice. Three yeses.

Next was a montage of good auditions, including Brianna Faulk, Neco Starr, 20, Atlanta, Georgia. I wasn’t as impressed with Molly Hunt, 15, a bleached blonde, but I liked Elise Testone, 28, who did a Janis Joplin song.

The judges said that so far, it’s one of their best runs. They were giving out a lot of golden tickets.

3) Jessica Whitely, 19, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, sang “In This Song” by Charice. She sounded promising, having sung the national anthem at basketball games and performed in talent shows. But her vocals were very uneven, getting shouty at points. My toddler even shouted at her to stop! Afterward, the pained faces said it all. Judge Randy Jackson said, “I don’t know if I would call that singing.” Steven tolder her she’d got the ball, got the shot, going to shoot, not quite going in the net.” She claimed she was just a bit dehydrated and walked off promising (threatening?), “See you in Texas, then.” Jennifer was surprised to hear that. Randy asked if they should just tell her not to make the trip.

4) Shaun Kraisman, 26, Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, sang “Oh Girl” by the Chi Lites.” He’s an example of someone who showed up just for his 15 minutes. Although he bears a passing resemblance to Ryan Seacrest, he has his voice down 100 percent. Wearing a suit, he worked the halls doing his best Ryan imitation. The judges even asked Ryan to come stand next to him so they could compare. Randy asked him, “Would you work for half of Ryan’s pay?” He actually didn’t suck, but he wasn’t strong enough to continue. The judges said “yes to Ryan” but no to the singing.

5) Shannon Magrane, 15, Tampa, Florida, sang “Something Got a Hold On Me” by Etta James. A tall volleyball player with long, golden blonde hair, she told them her father had played for the Cardinals. They invited her to bring him and the rest of her family to meet them . When the dad asked Steven what he thought of the Boston weather, he said, “Hot, humid and happening, just like your daughter.” Um… what? One of her sustained notes got kind of shouty, but in the more mellow sections, she showed potential. Three yeses.

Then came a montage of terrible singers.

6) Amy Brumfield, 24, Gaitlinburg, Tennessee, sang “Super Woman” by Alicia Keys. She was the first interesting/sob story of the night, reduced to living in a tent in the woods with her boyfriend due to financial circumstances. Her boyfiend’s mother put together her outfit: a black dress embellished with sequins, paired with a silver chandelier necklace and earrings. Her vocals were kind of earthy, showing raw talent. Randy liked the hoarseness, the roughness. Steven imagined that “the children of the woods snuck into you.” Jennifer told her, “You’re a hipsy,” blending the terms “hippie” and “Gypsy.” Three yeses.

7) Joshua Chavis, 23, Camden, South Carolina, sang “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. His biggest dream: to sing the national anthem at a NASCAR race. Wearing a green striped shirt, glasses, a baseball hat, and tan cargo shorts, he looked like a typical good old boy except that he mentioned his boyfriend. “I am going to blow this audition out the water!” he said, and he told the judges he’s been compared to prior finalist Chris Daltry. He wasn’t bad, but he was just ordinary, and his phrasing was rough. Randy did a fake smile throughout. Steven told him, “The voice just ain’t there.” Joshua started singing again, and Randy cut him off, telling him he had a good voice for singing “at birthday parties, weddings, friends.” Joshua cried as he walked away and yelled at the camera, “Will you stop following me?”

8) Stephanie Renae, 15, Orange Park, Florida, sang “Inside Your Heaven” by Carrie Underwood. A nervous teenager in a light pink top with sequins and split sleeves, tight jeans, and too much product in her pretty blonde hair, she said she’s been a fan of “Idol” from early days and loved Carrie Underwood. She showed off a nice voice with some power and control. Jennifer praised her “natural, beautiful vibrato” but thought she sang a little bit nasally. She told her to open her mouth while she’s singing. Steven advised her to “lay down some words that mean something to you so you get the inflections out.” Both Steven and J. Lo gave her a yes, but Randy said no, not yet.

9) Schyler Dixon, 16, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, sang “Break Even” by The Script; Colton Dixon, 19, sang “Permanent” by David Cook. The brother-sister paid auditioned together last year, when she was cut in Hollywood and he was cut from the Top 40. Schyler’s wore feathers in her reddish hair along a pink and black blousy top and skinny jeans. In what might have been a set up, the judges insisted that she bring Colton in to audition, as well. Her voice was pretty, though a little breathy. Colton’s performance showed a lot of personality and style. Jennifer thought they’ve both grown. It was yes to both of them.

10) Lauren Mink, 25, Winchester, Kentucky, sang “Country Strong” by Gwyneth Paltrow. She is the director for a program for adults with disabilities, and we saw video of her at work. She has adorable freckles with long blonde hair and wore a pink, red and brown patterned minidress with a big brown belt. Her singing had a definite southern/country flavor, although I didn’t love the song. Jennifer said it gave her goosebumps. Steven complimented her for the passion. Three yeses.

11) Mawuena Kodjo, 25, West Africa/Nashville, sang “I Won’t Let You Go” by Rascal Flatts. A skinny, dark-complected guy with a severe accent, Mawuena thinks he has a lot of range and likes country music, but it was a typical case of overconfidence. He was very flat, and his accent made the words an unintelligible mish-mash. Steven tried to be nice: “You’ve got the confidence, but you don’t have the song.” Jennifer said it was all over the place. Randy pulled no punches: “Dude, it was really terrible.” He said he could prove them wrong, so Randy suggested he try to go out and grab some people who think he’s a good singer. Ryan went with him, and he performed for people on the street and actually managed to come back in with some little girls and an old man to vouch for him. Randy delivered the harsh news: “It’s still a no.” Done having your fun with him, producers?

12) Ashlee Altise, 28, Kinston, North Carolina, sang “Come Together” by the Beatles. She had all the signs of being totally deluded: long braids in multiple colors (a wig?), skinny camo pants, and bragging about a funky dance move she’d invented, the “Joy Hop.” Despite all the signs, her version of “Come Together” wasn’t bad, and the judges put her through to Hollywood.

13) W.T. Thompson, 25, Appomattox, Virginia, sang “Boondocks” by Little Big Town.” His pregnant wife supported him in his decision to quit his job in a federal prison to audition when he couldn’t get the time off. I guess they were pretty confident! He’s got a decent voice, though not outstanding. Steven says he’s not ready, but Jennifer wants to take a chance on him. Randy tells him that he’ll get eaten alive, but he still says yes. W.T. does the first fake-out of the season, making his family believe it was bad news and then pulling out the golden ticket.

14) Erica Nowak, 28, Buffalo, New York, sang “Super Duper Love” by Joss Stone. A tall woman with long brunette hair and lots of personality, she seemed to be there mainly for the opportunity to meet Steven. Upon learning she was a fan, Randy urged Steven to give her a hug, and she seized the opportunity to grab some tushie! Her phrasing was strange, although her tone was kind of interesting. Steven told her the best moment was “when you grabbed my ass.” Not to be left out, Randy then had to ask for a hug, and she grabbed his tush, too. “I didn’t get a golden ticket, but I got some of Steven Tyler’s ass in these hands,” she bragged.

15) Brittany Kerr, 24, Charlotte, North Carolina, sang “Spoiled” by Joss Stone. She’s a NBA dancer and definitely has the look: tall, blonde and leggy, wearing tight white distressed jeans. As soon as he saw her, Steven said, “Yes.” Brittany’s vocals were decent, though there were no fireworks for me. Jennifer called her “adorable” but gave her a no. Steven liked the melody and told her she’s “Just got to push it out more.” The guys said yes, J. Lo no.

16) Phillip Phillips, 20, Leesburg, Georgia, sang “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder and “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. An unassuming guy who works in his dad’s pawn shop, he showed up at the audition wearing a red plaid shirt and jeans and carrying his guitar. He did a bluesy version of “Superstition,” a capella, and then at the judges’ urging, performed a second tune on guitar, his version of “Thriller.” He’s like a Lee Dewyze who can sing! He could be a real contender. Jennifer told him, “It’s like you have electricity going through your body.” Randy called him a true artist. Three yeses.

Forty-two singers made it through to Hollywood from Savannah.

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