January 28, 2013 - 9:33pm
BY GIBSON JOHNS
Last week marked the return of the one that started it all, “American Idol.” Coming into its twelfth season premiere, “Idol” gained some extra attention for the newest changes to its judging panel: J.Lo and Steven Tyler’s two-season stints were over and Keith Urban, Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey were announced to be joining original “Idol” judge Randy Jackson as their replacements.
Many – including me – saw these choices simply as “Idol” ‘s effort to keep up with the current trend in the other major competition shows – mainly NBC’s “The Voice” and FOX’s “The X Factor” – of hiring celebrity talents as judges. But with its first two weeks back, these new judges have proven to be worthy additions to the “Idol” family. Sure, Minaj can become grating with her eccentric personality and clear intimidation from Carey, but there is an intriguing dynamic amongst these four that is difficult to achieve on shows like this (see “The X Factor” for an example of how not to do it).
But enough about the judges. The reason I believe that “Idol” has been able to stay the top show on television for all these years is that, regardless of who the judges are, the focus has always remained on the contestants, and that’s how it should be.
Here are some of the highlights from the first two weeks of auditions:
"Christina “Isabelle” – Christina sang “Summertime” and showed off her extraordinary range and control. Like Randy said, she needs to work on her confidence but, like, that shouldn’t be that hard with a voice like hers. It also came as no surprise when she said she listened to Mariah when she was growing up. By the way, can we just take a moment to LOL at Mariah’s response to Nicki calling her Regina George? “What are you saying about?” Unreal.
Lazaro Arbos – With perhaps the biggest tear-jerking audition yet, Lazaro is plagued by a nagging stutter when he speaks. Watching his parents talk in Spanish about his struggles as a child was heartbreaking, but Lazaro’s ability to completely get away from his stutter while singing is incredible. His version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” wasn’t a complete knockout, but he could’ve made it through on his story alone.
Kez Ban – I’m not sure what an “up and coming fire dancer” is exactly, but that’s what Kez Ban is (she’s from planet Earth and can do balloon animals, too). Her entire introduction and appearance set Kez Ban up for being a complete joke of an audition but her original song was authentic and cool, even if she is totally weird and had caution tape wrapped around one of her boots. She might freak me out a little, but Kez Ban kind of rocks.
Seretha Guinn – Seretha kept her audition from her boyfriend because she wanted to give him an uplifting surprise following his near-fatal accident a few months ago. Seretha’s version of “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” was quirky, risky and original and “How Do I Live” brought tears to Nicki’s eyes. She kind of has a little bit of everything and, on top of her talent, you can’t help but to root for her (and her adorable daughter London).
Burnell Taylor – Burnell realized his talent following his family’s displacement from Katrina and has a lighthearted way about him that just makes you laugh. His version of “I’m Here,” a powerful song from “The Color Purple,” brought the judges to their feet and helped him show off his incredible emotion. He’s one to watch, for sure.
Ashley Smith – “Oh my god. MMM. This sandwich is amazing.” Similarly to Kez Ban, Ashley made the first impression of being another stunt audition but she proved that you can have a crazy personality and still have a smooth, versatile voice. Blondie unexpectedly sang Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova” and caught the judges off guard with the tone of her singing voice. Their faces when they realized that she was actually talented were priceless, you guys.
Charlie Askew – Admittedly socially awkward, Charlie is completely endearing and aloof and is only really able to express himself through his music. The judges all loved him and he's basically a more awkward and less boring version of John Stevens from season three. He has a classic, jazzy voice and with a little bit of a makeover Charlie could be a dark horse this year.
Candice Glover – Candice auditioned last year and got cut in the Vegas rounds right before the live shows. I love it when people come back a year after being burned and prove that they’ve matured and gotten even better. The judges all agreed that she is the best contestant to come through “Idol” this year so if you’re smart, you’ll keep an eye on this girl. She’s got it, y’all!