North Carolina always seemed like such a nice state. It’s the home of congenial American Idol alums Clay Aiken, Anoop Desai, Kellie Pickler and season 10 winner Scotty McCreery.
Wednesday night’s show started pleasant enough, with host Ryan Seacrest driving a race car enjoying the soothing sounds of the "Pina Colada" song, but that’s where the calm ended.
Cut to TMZ, and the dramatic foreshadowing of the brawl heard around the world. But first, the cameras rolled back six hours earlier and the arrivals of our judges: Nicki Minaj in full cotton candy hair, Mariah Carey playing up to reporters, Keith Urban with his adorable charm and Randy Jackson just being himself.
McCreery brought much of his aw-shucks wholesomeness in a brief appearance kicking off on Wednesday night’s edition of auditions, hugging adoring fans and appearing from a scissor lift smiling for the cameras outside the Time Warner Cable Arena.
“Two years ago, I was standing in the stands like y’all,” he said, recalling how Seacrest said that the next American Idol could be in the room.
A little later during auditions at the Charlotte Raceway, a cute exchange between Urban and Carey revealed how the star got into writing songs. She was 6 years old and began by writing poems.
“That’s such a great way to start,” he said.
But things looked like it would get nasty right quick, as the show actually did go “there,” airing the much-ballyhooed brouhaha between Minaj and Carey. Just how bad was it, and did it deserve the extra security measures Carey said she had to take?
The incident, which has been boiling under since the airing of the New York auditions, began over conflicted vocalist Summer Cunningham, a 20-year-old student from Georgia, and her audition of Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me.”
Cunningham was pretty enough, with a strong vocal and style, but her comment that she “did the country thing” insulted Urban, kicking off an inquisition that grated on Minaj, who loved Cunningham’s voice, tone and look. Jackson argued that Cunningham’s voice lent itself to country with her yodel, and Carey questioned if she loved country music when she was growing up.
“Is it your passion?” she asked.
So far, so tame, until Minaj, clearly irritated and rolling her eyes in disgust, called out the panel for starting a “country music debate.”
“We are scaring her into lying,” Minaj argued.
This prompted the greatest Idol war in all judging history that we, the viewers, didn’t really get to watch. There was an argument, yes, and Minaj did flee the room with a hearty “shut the f--- up” after Jackson threw his 30 years of music industry experience in the “Pound the Alarm” singer’s face.
Still -- country music was the catalyst for the whole hype? Go figure.
Carey got the last word in the fight, deadpanning, “That was my move.”
“I was going to do that the next time she ragged on me,” she said.
And that. Was. It.
All that hype, all that build-up, and THAT was the cause of the fight that lead Minaj to call Carey “her f---ing highness” in multiple leaked reports? It could be argued that Minaj actually had a POINT. Why are the others grilling the poor girl about her musical heart? On the flip side, this is television, and there is pressure to make things happen for the cameras.
Unfortunately, the whole thing took away from Cunningham’s moment, but to her credit, Minaj continued to advocate for the girl, long after she left the room with her ticket.
Just when it seemed the show was in jeopardy following a dramatic lockdown of auditions, a doe-eyed contestant reminded the panel of the true meaning of Idol.
Brandy Hamilton, a 25-year-old North Carolina Navy Reservist, was a bundle of nerves before her audition, as the only thing the media was crowing about was the fight. As she entered the room, she charmed the panel by informing them she used to get in trouble for “singing too much."
Newly dubbed “honey pie,” Hamilton captivated with an Etta James song, “All I Could Do Was Cry,” and suddenly there was good will and peace in the room, as she was awarded with a ticket to Hollywood.
But as she walked to the door, Hamilton turned to the judges and put it all back into perspective.
“Please don’t fight,” she said in a moment reminiscent of Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol. “It makes us cry."
With that plea, harmony was restored in the Idol universe. God bless us, everyone.
Thankfully, the show didn’t harp on the fight as much as it could have and instead blessed the viewers with some truly amazing talent — perhaps even a winner. Also enjoyable: a string of some of the most creative contestant nicknames a la Minaj yet (this blogger especially enjoyed the monikers “Fishnet Lady,” “Gumby,” “Ladybug” and “Chicken Lady”), and the most important cannon fodder for the blooper reel. Here are the moments that stood out:
Naomi Morris, an aspiring fashion designer who Minaj said was “popping out' of her outfit. Minaj doled out career advice: Her new moniker should be “Omi,” and she needs eyelash help. She also needed vocal help, as her demolishing of “Respect” by Aretha Franklin was enough. “You shocked me today,” said Minaj, as she encouraged more torture. “Omi’s” “’Aint Too Proud Too Beg,” left the panel begging for her to leave, as Carey copped the Paula Abdul line that her outfit was beautiful, particularly the skirt. Perhaps “Omi” would be better served auditioning for Project Runway.
Joel Nemoyer bragged of his singing style: He can lie on the ground and sing. Apparently, he scientifically learned the move from watching season five’s Chris Daughtry demonstrate the technique after David Foster revealed that Andrea Bocelli recorded a song lying on the floor. “Your outfit is reminiscent of cotton candy,” he told, Minaj, who responded that her hair was “edible.” He then demonstrated some of his “popping” moves and earned another Minaj nickname, “Jo-mangi,” before he sprawled out on the floor and warbled “Feeling Good” by Michael Buble. Minaj was amused, cracking, “That's a first for us. So I feel like, if nothing else, you made history." Jackson was more direct with his vote: “Never.” Nemoyer left the room — on his feet.
Brian Rittenberry, a bookkeeper from Georgia, had a sad tale for the audience: His wife was diagnosed with appendix cancer in 2009, and her “head grew to the size of a basketball.” How could he explain to his 5-year-old son that his mom was going to go to heaven? She did recover, however, and was on hand for Rittenberry’s auditon, complete with a “hall pass” to hook up with Urban. Rittenberry said that when he sings, his wife tells him to “please go to the basement,” but she would clearly not give Urban that same directive. For his audition, Rittenberry belted The Beatles' “Let It Be.” It was a bit oversung, but the judges enjoyed it. “I didn’t expect that, and you took me by surprise,” said Carey. “You have a good light about you,” Urban said, adding that his voice was “husky and cool.” Minaj loved the commitment, and all four voted yes, and his wife got a hug from the genial Aussie to boot.
Matthew Mewes was excited to share his gift with Urban, which he said resembled the vocal stylings of Brad Paisley. He had a curious way of performing, crouching forward in a stiff stance. Minaj was amused and asked him to strut. “You could be a model,” she said. Carey dubbed him, “cool dude,” but the cowboy crooner was shown the door. “You’re nowhere near ready for this,” said Jackson.
Isabel Gonzales was nominated by her aunt in the Idol online search, so Jackson had to board a school bus and surprise the teen at Alpharetta High School with an audition number. Gonzales had more luck than Jessica Kartalis from the New York episode, as she performed with composure and confidence. “I’m absolutely head over heels in love with you,” said Minaj. “You’re a natural,” said Urban. “You are so adorable,” said Carey. “People are going to fall in love with you.” Carey even nailed Gonzales’ look as a “young Phoebe Cates.” She earned her golden ticket and a shower of silly string.
Taesha Bathea wants to be a rocker and fronts a band named Carson. Her audition song of “Fulsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash was a jazzy affair, but Jackson wasn’t sold, asking for another song. She rebounded with “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morrisette, but her performance split the panel. Carey thought she was interesting but couldn’t wrap her head around her personae. Urban wanted to hear her with her band. Minaj liked her vocals and style and again repeated her mantra that artists shouldn’t choose styles. Minaj and Urban said yes, with Jackson and Carey a firm no. It was a deadlock, but Urban got to be the deciding vote, and Bathea was off the Hollywood.
Aspiring talk show host Ashley Smith said she is a natural talker and just wants people to look at her. How could she miss with that bleached-blonde hair, pink lipstick and nose ring, earning the Minaj nickname “Blondie.” Her version of Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova,” was quite the surprise, considering her look and preview reel had “future reject” written all over it. She had a deep tone and a soulful delivery that thoroughly entertained the panel. “I couldn’t take my eyes off you,” said Urban. “You did that justice,” said Jackson. “I love Blondie,” said Minaj.
Janelle Arthur is a show business professional, having already portrayed a young Dolly Parton in a theme park production as a child. She even met Parton, a revelation that earned her instant country credibility. Her audition of Urban’s “Where the Black Top Ends” impressed the judge, who complemented her “gorgeous tone.” “I think you are special and you seem like a star,” said Minaj. “You did a good job without doing too much.” Carey was impressed as well. “[You have a] pretty demeanor. Really nice.” Arthur earned her ticket to stardom.
Rodney Barber, auditioning in front of a panel of three -- due to Urban having to leave for an award ceremony with wife, Nicole Kidman -- described himself as “The Voice of Charlotte.” He was homeless for a while and is committed to paying it forward by donating money he earns singing on the street to homeless charities. His take on “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain showcased a rich and supple tone. All four judges were inspired by his big vocals and story and gave him an easy “yes” to Hollywood.
Candace Glover was cut in Las Vegas last year but came raging back to North Carolina with a new vocal style -- that of season 11 third-place finalist Joshua Ledet. Like Johnny Keyser, Glover did some serious work on her vocals, earning a Ledet-like standing ovation from Carey and Jackson (take THAT, Steven Tyler). “Where have you been?” asked Minaj, who claimed obsession with the vocalist and the strangest critique of the night. “I want to skin you and wear you. I’m not even worthy to critique you.” “This was the absolute best singing we have heard so far,” said Carey. “I wish you had something out that I could listen to." It will be an interesting ride if Glover makes it through Hollywood this time. Could she make it to the finals?
Ja' Braia Barber has an odd hobby: She hunts frogs. This admission earned the Minaj nickname of the night: The Frog Killer. Barber apparently captures Kermit in his swamp, cuts off his legs and then tosses away the rest of the body. Her audition of “Pride and Joy” (the Bonnie Raitt version) is one of Carey’s favorite songs, and she told her, ”I’m going to give you a pass on the frog thing." Jackson, who joked that “frogs don’t taste like chicken,” liked that she was not scared. Minaj said if she goes to Hollywood, she needs to stop killing frogs. Let’s see if Barber keeps her word.
Brad Harris said he enjoys banging his head into locker doors and doesn’t believe he has brain damage. He clearly does if he believed his “Whole New World” audition was Disney-worthy. He was not only denied a golden ticket, but a handshake from the judges as well.
The final audition of the night, in true Idol fashion, was a tear-jerker. Seretha Guinn, who brought her adorable daughter, London Marie, to the audition, had a recent tragedy: Her boyfriend was in a car accident and, after being in a coma for two days, underwent eight surgeries. Her first song choice, “How Do I Live,” by LeAnn Rimes tugged at the heartstrings, but she REALLY shined with her take on the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the Will Smith sitcom. It’s awesome when people audition with television theme songs (remember last season when Reed Grimm auditioned with the theme from Family Matters?). Her audition caused Minaj to tear up, and the judges put her through to the Hollywood rounds.
So what do you think, Worshippers? Did the Charlotte auditions live up to the hype? Whom do you side with? And who is your favorite contestant this round? Let us know in the comments below!