idol-2

For the second round of auditions, the judges and Ryan headed to Chicago to meet with hopefuls from the midwest. The first contestant was Mackenzie Wasner, 17, from Tennessee, who has been singing with her musician father since she was just a tot. The pretty blonde teen sang a country song for her the judges, and Mariah said, “I just think there’s a star power there that can be honed.” Nicki said, “I think someone like you walks into a room once every few years. You just blew my mind.” Randy said, “I think you have a huge road ahead of you.” Keith said, “I could hear Lee Ann Womack in your voice.” She got very enthusiastic yeses from all four of them.

Next up was Kiara Lanier, 21, from Chicago, who recently sang for Barack Obama. She sang “The Prayer” by Celine Dion for the judges, and Nicki said, “You have so much control.” Randy said, “I was really impressed.” Mariah said, “I love the way you went in and out of loud and soft, and not in a typical way.” Keith said, “You had these nuances in your voice.” More very enthusiastic yeses, wows and more.

Stephanie Schimel, 21, from Wisconsin sang “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” and apologized to the judges for sounding shaky. Mariah said, “I thought you had a really nice tone.” Keith said, “Like a Carrie Underwood/Gwen Stefani blend. It was crazy. The mix was really beautiful.” However, Nicki said, “I wasn’t wowed. I think you’re pretty, but nothing jumped at me. I don’t think you feel like a star.” Randy said, “I think you’re really talented,” and everyone but Nicki said “yes,” so she got a ticket to Hollywood.

One girl, Melissa Bush, 21, from Michigan, showed up in a disco-like pink costume with jewels all over it. She arrived with a gift for Randy: A bright yellow t-shirt that read: “Get Down DAWG!” (I have no idea what that means.) She sang “Downtown,” and the judges had little to say but “okay…” and gave her very quick and simple nos.

Picked up on the Idol Bus Tour was Gabe Brown, 21, from Iowa, who brought in cookies for all of the judges and cracked jokes, before singing “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. Keith immediately whooped, but Mariah said, “Could you do something a little bit softer?” so he sang some Steel Dragon, which still turned a bit rocker-esque. Randy said, “I love the whole rock thing. I actually really like you man.” Nicki said, “When your doing your whole rock thing, I believe you. I feel like it’s truthful for you.” Keith said, “I always find those guys that have those big, belting voices have really big hearts as well.” They all gave him a “yes,” and he got a ticket.

Resident “ninja rapper” and martial artist Kevin Nabity, 25, from Iowa, sang the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week,” which is usually a bad sign…and it certainly was in this case. He was completely unintelligible (the producers even closed captioned it for us), and Randy laughed that he felt like he was at an auction. Nicki decided to egg him on, and told him to sing something else, and he chose to sing “Come Sail Away”… so yes, that was a disaster as well. Mariah simply said, “It’s not for you,” and Keith said, “I think maybe singing’s not your strong talent.” Nicki said she liked him, but added that it wasn’t his singing that she liked, so it was a unanimous no.

Isabelle Parell, 15, from Indiana, took a unique approach: She got Keith to sing the male part to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with her… or well, she tried to anyway, as he gave up pretty quickly. Keith said, “I like your voice. I think it was a good song choice.” Mariah said, “You have a really sweet quality about you.” Nicki said, “You came in here poised, and I love your tone. And I love your attitude. I feel like you have a thing about you that seems to me like a star.” She got yeses from everyone except Randy, who didn’t explain his vote at all.

Nicki enjoyed a whole array of eye candy, but none more so than Griffin Peterson, 22, from Wisconsin. He sang a song called “Washed By the Water” by NeedToBreathe, and he had a very Kris Allen feel about him, in voice and looks. Nicki said, “You look and feel to me like a star. You just have something that lights up.” Randy, however, said,” Dawg, I don’t get. The voice is just barely below average.” Nicki argued that he could go up against the Justin Biebers of the world, and Mariah said, “I see what the fuss is about because you have a very handsome face. There’s potential, you know?” Mariah and Nicki said yes, so Randy’s no was invalidated.

Kurtis Finch, Jr., 24, from Missouri, took the platform in front of the judges and sang “God is Able,” wowing so much that Sarah Silverman took to Twitter to declare “Holy F*** God is able.” Randy proclaimed, “Yo, crazy vocals!” Mariah just shook her head, and Nicki snapped her fingers and said, “Oh em gee. Let’s hear it for the boy!” They cut the bull, and all together said “Yes.” After he got his ticket, he ran out and got his friend, who’s lifelong dream was to meet Mariah.

Next up was another Mariah, last name Pulice, 19, from Illinois. Her hook was that she’s a recovering anorexic, and as per Idol tradition, they cut to pictures and dramatic shots of her crying and telling her story. And she credited her success to music, of course. She sang The Beatles’ “Let It Be” in a lovely, yet simple voice. I guess it touched the other Mariah though, who started tearing up during the song. Nicki said, “I really, really, REALLY felt that song coming from you. Your spirit is coming up in your music.” Randy said, “You sounded great. I love it.” Mariah said, “You touched me. I know what it’s like to have to sing through tears, and I’m proud of you for that.” Everyone voted yes, and her family came running in the room to congratulate her per Ryan’s request. Basically, it was a sob fest. I admit, it even got to me when she told the camera that “This feels beautiful.”

The second day in Chicago brought Brandy Neeley, 17, from Kentucky, who’s wanted to be on the show for many years. She sang Patsy Cline’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and Keith spoke first, saying “That was a great song choice. Just the way you did it, it’s great. You just took it and made it your own.” Nicki said, “I really enjoyed you. I think you’re super, super special. Love the voice, so much control and presence, and able to make eye contact.” Mariah said, “I love your voice, particularly in this genre.” Randy said, “I loved it from note one.” She got 1000% yeses from the whole panel, and a hug from Keith.

Josh Holiday, 24, from Texas, sang Brian McKnight’s “Back at One,” and somehow emulated the singers’ incredible range, which made Mariah clap excitedly. Randy said, “I think you definitely got something cool going on there, man. A lot of talent.” Nicki added, “And the tone is a tone that we haven’t heard yet. I don’t think anyone in the competition sounds like you.” He also got a ticket to Hollywood.

Courtney Williams, 19, from Minnesota, sang the Jackson Five’s “Who’s Loving You,” and got a “very nice” from Mariah. And Andrew Jones from Chicago sang “Knock on Wood,” and even added in some sound effects. Nicki said, “It was pretty incredible, you should be proud of yourself!”

The first time Clifton Duffin’s parents heard the 22-year-old from Illinois sing was at his audition, while the judges were hearing him. They stood outside with Ryan while he sang one of his mothers’ favorite songs: “Superstar” by the Carpenters. She started crying and came over and hugged him afterwards. Nicki said, “I thought you did a really great job.” Mariah said, “I really enjoyed your journey, because I can relate to it. It really hit my heart.” Keith said, “You’ve got a really diamond-in-the-rough voice.” Not surprisingly, everyone voted yes to send him on.

Ieisha Cotton, 19, from Chicago busted a move as soon as she hit the platform, but that’s not all that shook the judges. She sang “Thank You” by Ashanti, and the result was less than favorable. Randy called her “tone deaf,” and Mariah said, “”I was going to delicately suggest that you might want to stay more with the dancing thing.” Everyone gave her a no.

Last season’s Johnny Keyser, 23, from Florida, was another who sparked Nicki’s interest. He sang Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” and Mariah said, “You are a star, in my opinion. You have a gift.” Nicki and Mariah argued a bit more, and Johnny was given a ticket to Hollywood.

One of the strangest contestants of the night was Kez Ban, 27, from North Carolina, an “up and coming fire performer” who hits the streets with this and other talents. She took the stage with her guitar, but first sang a capella the song from Pinocchio “I’ve Got No Strings.” Randy approved, and had her sing and play her own original song, which was a bluesy, soulful melody. Mariah said, “You wrote that song, right? I can feel the realness in you, that you really are that person you’re singing about.” Nicki said, “You’re very captivating. I believe you, I wanna pay to come to the show.” It was a unanimous vote to send her on.

On a wackier note, Ashley Curry, 19, from Illinois is a musical theater student who chooses to sing a Jessie J song… and that’s not even the craziest part. She boasts that her voice is “like nothing [you’ve] ever heard before,” and while that may be true, it’s not a good thing in this case. She just riffed all over the place, and it sounded messy as hell. Randy joked, “You sing in the theater? Is the sound off?” Nicki was positive, saying, “If you have the right vocal coach, you could do a lot with your voice.” Ashley decided to interrupt the judges and try singing again “in the right key” (it sounded no different to me), and that was it, they lost it. The panel couldn’t stop laughing, and they told her she should stop singing, but told her to do a monologue. She didn’t take them seriously, and started singing AGAIN, and had to be escorted off the stage.

Finally, Lazaro Arbos is a Cuban-born immigrant who moved to Florida at the age of 10. Now he’s 21, such a cutie, and tells the story of growing up unable to make friends, and literally found his voice in music. If that’s not heartbreaking enough, he sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and I could hardly contain my tears, especially once the judges started talking and Lazaro let his flow freely. Nicki said, “Your story is very inspiring. I think you brought a great vibe into the room.” Keith said, “I love your tone. I love the way you sing. I love that you did that song…it elicits so much emotion.” They all said yes, and he continued to cry as he hugged Mariah.

Next week: More auditions!