Contestant Kayden Stephenson auditions in Oklahoma City on "American… (Michael Becker / Fox )
Apart from Steven Tyler, dressed in drag and calling himself "Pepper," stopping by to spice things up -- he got in a bleeped-out word, a head-scratching farm-animal reference and a moon in record time – things were relatively tame at "American Idol's" Oklahoma City auditions. The judges seem to have settled into their groove, with an apparent absence of friction between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. Keith "Mr. Easygoing" Urban, though prone to catching the giggles, kept things moving along.
Actually "tame" may refer only to the judges. Some of the contestants who rolled across the "Idol" stage Thursday night were actually kind of wild:
For instance, Karl Skinner, a quirky redhead picked up when the "Idol Bus" rolled through his hometown of Joplin, Miss., said he aimed to "prove gingers have soul." At the very least, he proved that he had enough charm to get the nod from the judges.
Nate Tao, an American Sign Language teacher from Reston, Va., was hoping to get the "Idol" stamp of approval in order to prove to his parents, both of whom are deaf, that he actually can sing. His sartorial style (he wore a tie) prompted Randy Jackson to say he looked ready to tackle his taxes. But Tao's lovely take on Stevie Wonder's "Once in My Life" moved Urban to use words like "easy" and "effortless."
A beautiful cowboy sweetheart who can sing is impressive enough – but one who can also yodel without moving her lips? That's something else again entirely. When Halie Hilburn, who got her start as a ventriloquist at age 9, showed up with her puppet, Oscar, the judges were initially unimpressed. But after they made her ditch the dummy, who lay in a sad little heap at the side of the stage, they were kinder, at least to Hilburn. "I think Oscar's holding you back," Urban whispered. Poor Oscar. I do hope Hilburn sticks with her old friend, though perhaps not while she pursues singing, despite what those mean, mean judges said about him.
Zoanette Johnson, 19, wore a jacket the color of a golden ticket to Hollywood, sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" (inspired by Obama's re-election, or maybe because she'd lost a bet) "with the flavor," and thoroughly amused the judges with her sassy freshness and fresh sassiness. Urban was knocked clean off his chair and Minaj was moved to declare, "I am obsessed with you!" "Me, too," said Johnson. They put her through (hopefully before she missed her lunch date) it seemed for her chutzpah alone. (Could they really have been impressed by her overworked anthem? She even forgot the words!) Now she just needs the White House to call and extend an invitation for all her dreams to come true.
Anastacia Freeman's toneless (and shoeless) take on Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart" made the judges laugh, hard, though they denied it when she stopped mid-song to ask them "Are y'all laughing at me?" Then she left them dumbfounded by saying she believed God had told her to audition. It's not entirely clear if she was kidding or serious, but God is advising me not to dwell on it. And no, she didn't make it through.
Kayden Stephenson, a very young-looking 16-year-old, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was only 18 months old and does not expect to live past the age of 35. As a result, he wants to make sure he takes advantage of each and every day. That's why, as soon as he was old enough to audition for "Idol," he made sure to do it. In truth, his rendition of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" (yes, the show packed a double-shot of Stevie) wasn't great, but his story and his sweetness won the judges over. And when he told Ryan Seacrest he was "lucky" to have been born with his innate confidence, well, who wasn't won over by that?
What did you think of the Oklahoma City auditions? And did Tyler's reappearance make you miss him?