'American Idol' Omaha auditions

Samanthasidley_americanidolSomehow I can't shake the feeling that the best moment from Tuesday (Jan. 29) night's American Idol auditions from Omaha came when one contestant, having made it through to Hollywood despite a "No" vote from Simon, stared into the camera and declared, "I can't wait to prove Simon wrong, that I am America's Next Top Model."

Excellent.

Having decided to make a rare audition visit to the heartland, Idol producers managed to learn exactly one thing about Nebraska: They have lots and lots of corn, but precious little home-grown talent (or home-grown talent with any interest in Idol, I should say).

After all, the highlight of the delightfully swift (but still montage-padded) hour-long episode was a Los Angeles native with a degree from the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

That would be Samantha Sidley, whose rendition of "Don't Know Why" was pleasant but slightly over-studied, a performance out of proportion with the attention it received. Samantha was the beneficiary of an odd bit of implausibly staged theater wherein Ryan Seacrest decided to kick up a fuss about the judges' lack of constructive criticism for one contestant and was invited by Simon to replace Paula for one audition. Ryan enthusiastically endorsed Samantha, making her the rare singer to get four "Yes" votes (that girl with the over-enthusiastic sister who sat on Simon's lap also got four).

That drawn-out introduction got me wondering about Samantha, as did the fact that after five audition cities, Samantha's the first contestant featured in pictures on FOX's press site to also make it to Hollywood (they prefer the losers in the early rounds).

Two seconds of research yielded these kind words from Stephen Holden's New York Times review: "The optimism and ingenuousness of youth skipped into the staid Oak Room of the Algonquin Hotel on Tuesday evening with the debut of Samantha Sidley, a 20-year-old jazz singer..."

I also liked a quote Samantha gave the Boston Globe when asked two years ago about her American Idol hopes: "No. I'm not a pop singer. I'm a jazz singer. But my friend Katharine McPhee is one of the finalists, so I'm happy for her."

Nothing like unassuming local talent from Nebraska, eh? Then again, by this season's professional-laden standards, even a ringer like Samantha can seem under-polished.

Mixing things up a bit, let's take a quick glance at some of the episode's hits and misses.

Some of Those Headed On to Hollywood:

  • David Cook. A Tulsa native with a solid voice a barrel-full of affectations. Between his soul-patch, dyed red faux-hawk, preppy argyle sweater, vocal coaching hand gestures and Daughtry-lite bellowing of "Living on a Prayer," I was much less enamored than the judges. I preferred...
  • Leo Marlowe. A self-described homecoming queen, Leo's rendition of "A Song For You" produced Paula's crazed shriek of "Touchdown!" Anybody who makes Paula do wacky things is aces with me.
  • Rachael Wicker. The latest addition to the season's Generic Blonde Rogue Gallery, though Rachael's identifying hook was better than most, as she arm-wrestled Ryan and Paula and challenged a less-than-amused Simon. Her Jewel-esque half-yodel wasn't memorable, but I guess blondes are making it through this season regardless of talent. Thanks, Carrie Underwood. I also didn't get the inclusion of...
  • Jason Rich. I'm still smarting about the Air Force cutie who didn't get through last week seemingly because Paula detected a bit of nervousness in her performance. Meanwhile, it felt like it took 10 shots for Jason to get past the second line of his audition song. It's not that he wasn't good, but if a performer is nervous and forgets his lyrics in the audition, they're going to get nervous and forget their lyrics in Hollywood. That's a waste of a Golden Ticket.

    Some Notable Freaks and Geeks:

  • Chrisbernheisel_americanido_2Chris Bernheisel. Do we think that Fox 42 will come through and send Chris to cover the finale? I liked the guy and not just for his excited ejaculation, "I feel like I could explode and happiness is going to go flying everywhere." And not just because he carried around a scrapbook of pictures of him and Kelly Clarkson. And not just because he found a way to fit a handstand into his cover of "Since You've Been Gone." No, I liked him because he gave the judges gifts, including a stuffed cat for Paula Abdul. Anybody who can pay tribute to MC Skat Kat has my support.
  • Sarah Whitaker. I wish she'd just showed up in full Lady Morgue character, never dropping the fake British accent. Still, she stage-slapped Ryan, which was awesome.
  • Johnny Escamilla. Talentless camera-hog in a sparkly gold jacket? Not funny. Paula Abdul's violent hiccups (and Simon's response, "You disgusting little pig")? Priceless.

    Who were your favorite winners and losers from Omaha? And check out our full coverage at Zap2it's Guide to American Idol....

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