There's No Place Like Kansas City

The "American Idol" Aspirational Auditions Tour moves to Kansas City. Eleven thousand wannabe Idolettes turn out to audition, including -- just when you thought it was safe -- seventh season finalist Jason Castro, who is accompanying his younger brother, Michael, who's decided to audition this time around.

Courtesy of Fox

But first, Choir Girl Chelsea makes sounds like that of a cat that has gone out for a late night prowl and inadvertently jumped from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. (Which, in one of those incredible coincidences that make covering the TV industry so rich and rewarding, is pretty much how judge Simon Cowell feels about it too.)

Judge Paula Abdul, America's Sweetheart, tells Chelsea to take whatever positive thing she can from the critiques and "do this" to Simon, as she brushes dandruff off her own shoulder.

Simon notes, correctly, that nothing positive has yet been said of Chelsea, so New Judge Kara DioGuardio volunteers that Chelsea is a pretty girl, though not a good singer. That'll have to do.

Ashley Anderson gets sent through to Hollywood after shrewdly picking a Simon Cowell song about footprints in the sand, which sounds like something Simon would mock.

"He said it was a great song -- of course!" Ashley tells show host Ryan Seacrest after it's over.

Casey Carlson gives a nice performance, leading Simon to say he likes her, which Paula seconds. Kara says she sees "a package here" which has already become her trademark cliché just minutes into her second appearance on "Idol." Idol's remaining judge, Randy Jackson, barely has anything to say, though his forehead continues to be flawless.

Big-Hearted Brian says his voice has been operatically trained but he gave it all up two years ago and now wants back in, only as a pop singer. He sounds like an operatically trained Elvis impersonator and a bad one at that, completing the effect with a low-cut T shirt that highlights his chest hair. He's savaged by the male judges and, as he leaves the room, the producers play a bit of Mozart's "Requiem." "Idol" producers are clearly trying to class up the joint a bit this season.

And then: The leap from "Requiem" to some guy sobbing into the camera that he recounts a time when the doctors told him there was nothing they could do for him was, for the "Idol" producers, the work of a moment.

Seacrest promises we'll hear more about Sob-Story Guy throughout the two-hour broadcast.

Seacrest "runs into" last year's "Idol winner David Cook's parents, which drives up the median age of the episode by at least a full year.

A few more lousy singers later, we meet Von Smith, who assures us he attempts to sing things most guys don't, which is never a good sign. He tells the judges he will sing "Over the Rainbow" -- also not good. The judges urge him to reconsider, but he refuses. His performance is total drama, but he actually has a voice. This causes the judges to mull him in slow motion and the producers cut to commercial, but not before Sob-Story Guy returns and Seacrest promises us his is one of "the most heartfelt stories" in "Idol" history.

Back from the commercial break, the judges are still mulling Von Smith. Randy announces the vocals were pretty good. Simon guesses Smith's family loves his over-the-top performances, while Kara wants to talk about his "big instrument," which 18 viewers misinterpret, leading them to start crafting letters of complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. Miraculously, Smith gets sent to Hollywood.

It's time for Michael Castro, who, it turns out, is the more laid back of the Castro brothers. Michael explains it's because Jason is "like girlie and I'm more, like, not-girlie." Michael tells the judges he started singing just 20 days ago, figuring if Jason can sing, he can too. "I'm pretty sure I can," he says in conclusion. He can, kind of, but mostly you want him to advance in the competition to see what the American Idol Makeover Artists do with his pink fauxhawk and pinking-sheared sideburns.The judges feel the same way and send him to Hollywood.

Back to Sob-Story Guy, who moans "We never got to say goodbye."

Vaughn English looks like a banana and is singing an ode to bananas while waving a banana about. "Idol" doesn't need a banana pitchman, Chiquita not being one of the corporate sponsors, so the judges nix him.

Bar singer turned welder Matt Breitzke, on the other hand, does collect a golden ticket to Hollywood. After which a girl calling herself "Jazz," with red and blue hair, demonstrates the judges' point about "Over the Rainbow."

Jessica Furney lives with her crazy, pill-popping grandmother, only not anymore because now she's bound for Hollywood. Ditto the Hollywood thing for India Morrison, though her sister, Asia, is not so lucky.

Jamar the Bartender is "California Dreamin,'" which, despite being "corny," in Simon's words, merits putting him through.

Jamar's best friend is Sob-Story Guy, whose name is Danny Gokey. Danny tells us he was "so close" to not auditioning for "Idol" because of his intense grief. The 28-year-old music teacher can't stop talking about how much he hates talking about his "deep wound." Seems four weeks before the Kansas City auditions his wife died of a heart condition she'd had since birth. She had multiple surgeries, the last of which being when the doctors pulled him in the room and said there was nothing else they could do for him.

"She was my best friend," he says, noting "we never got to say goodbye."

Danny's performance is well received by the judges, who claim he has lots of heart.

"Sophia, this one is for you," Danny tells the camera, speaking to his dead wife. It's already gotten old.

Sensing the episode is lurching toward the morbid, the producers introduce us to Anoop Desai -- Anoop Dawg to Randy -- who appears to be something of a brainiac, though he also appears to have gotten a degree in something related to barbeque. His singing is much better than the judges expect and Anoop Dawg is Hollywood-bound, though Simon complains he looks like he's just come from a meeting with Bill Gates.

Then the entire population of Kansas City breaks out in the song "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours." Including Banana Man.

Andrew Lang makes a bad impression when he sends two faux cheerleaders to warm up the judges. And, though he sings "My Girl," which inspires Paula and Kara to start drawing air-hearts with their fingers, even they vote not to send him through to the next round of competition.

Band director and father of an impossibly cute little girl, Asa Barnes braves a Michael Jackson tune and wins over the judges, because, Kara notes, he has the "whole vibe," which is different than the "whole package."

Michael Nicewonder wants the judges to hear the two songs he's written to his mother and grandmother, which totally creeps out the judges.

Though bubbly Dennis Brigham dupes Randy, Kara and Paula into giving him a thumbs-up, sleepy Mia Conley fails to make the cut, promising the judges "God's going to make you pay for it."

And, because this is the Aspirational Auditions Tour, the Kansas City stop ends with 23-year-old Lil Rounds trying out, in hopes "Idol" can help her, her husband and her three little children recover financially from a tornado touchdown in their town. The judges rave. That includes even Simon, who gushes about how 'retro" and "classy" she is, while Randy plays the You're Like" game, as in "You're like a mixture of Fantasia and Mary J. Blige."

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 15, 2009; 6:07 AM ET "American Idol"
Previous: "Idol" Takes Tumble Despite Addition of Aspirational Bikinis | Next: Izzie Necrophilia: It's Complicated


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Despite my comment yesterday, I got sucked in last night watching the AI auditions. I have to say I enjoyed most of the show. Lisa - I love your column! Makes me giggle. Another reason to be glad AI is back!

Posted by: MILW | January 15, 2009 8:44 AM

"Vaughn English looks like a banana and is singing an ode to bananas while waving a banana about."

Did Chiquita Bananny give her approval? Did he go through the legal dept. to make sure there was no copyright infringement of Bananny?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | January 15, 2009 9:03 AM

Ouch, Lisa, do you think you could have been harder on "Sob-Story Guy" Danny Gokey? I mean, there may still be a person or two reading this who thinks you have a heart.

My wife and I, both pretty cynical watching the show and laughing at many of the contestants, felt only sympathy for Danny. It's true that AI used his plight to goose their ratings (they hope), but that's not Danny's fault. The guy lost his WIFE four weeks earlier, for Pete's sake.

Posted by: rlalumiere | January 15, 2009 9:26 AM


Posted by: igetdeadbeats | January 15, 2009 10:14 AM

Von Smith is already something of a YouTube superstar. I recognized him immediately from The Soup - they showed a clip once of him singing "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" from Dreamgirls on the View, and it was one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I guess he's a good singer, but he's so overdramatic that it's hard to tell. Search for him on YouTube - you'll be glad you did.

Posted by: anne_t | January 15, 2009 10:53 AM

How many times can Kara say "chops" in a show? May have to use it for a drinking game.

Posted by: AmyH3 | January 15, 2009 11:41 AM

I love the auditions. Brings all the crazies out. But what never ceases to amaze me, is all of the seemingly cognitively intact people out there who have no idea they can't sing. Wonder if there has ever been a study on the incidence of tone-deafness.

My favs were Tornado girl and Anoop Dawg. Let's see if the Anoop doesn't get eaten alive in Hollywood.

Posted by: hodie | January 15, 2009 11:52 AM

Lisa, it's great to be back in Idol season and see you're still in great form -- especially loved your comment on the "big instrument" moment. At least she didn't say he had a "big package." But I second AmyH3 -- at our house we also noticed that Kara's cliche of choice was "chops." Maybe she can get some barbecue recipes from Anoop.

Welcome back Idol commenters, too -- I work at home so y'all are my virtual water cooler...

Posted by: helennio | January 15, 2009 12:42 PM

I'm beginning to feel like the star of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Maybe I need glasses, but the bikini chick just wasn't that hot to my usually forgiving eyes. Von Smith channeling his inner Ethel Merman didn't do it for me, either. My screen was threatening to crack. I honestly don't know how good he can be; maybe the judges should ask him to do "Rainbow" either a few decibels lower or at Reagan Airport.

Michael being the most laid back Castro brother is like Chico being the ugliest Marx brother.

Kara's use of "chops" is no worse than Randy's "dawg" or Simon's "aww-ful."

Posted by: jd121 | January 15, 2009 1:53 PM

"Seacrest "runs into" last year's "Idol winner David Cook's parents, which drives up the median age of the episode by at least a full year."

Unless he has more parents than you can shake a stick at, you have forgotten the difference between mean and median. In the following group:

15 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 15 150

the mean is 28, but the median is 15. Mode is also 15.

Posted by: smugexpat | January 15, 2009 4:05 PM

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