The American South has produced most of the winners on "American Idol" to date (eight of eleven were born in southern states). Many of the runners-up have also been southerners. So viewers undoubtedly view auditions in southern cities as possibly more likely to generate the next Idol. After seeing a strong group come out of Charlotte, North Carolina, the "Idol" gang traveled to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for their next tryouts. Home to Judge Randy Jackson, it remained to be seen if a few Louisianans might do him proud. But, as it turned out, he had nothing to worry about.
Overall, the panel was a bit more subdued on Thursday evening's episode (Jan. 24) than they had been in Charlotte (and a good thing for Judge Keith Urban, considering he's been in the middle of Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey's verbal exchanges), but that didn't stop the women from making faces when the other was critiquing. Still, no screaming, ranting, and no dropping of numerous f-bombs, which can be considered progress.
But no matter what was going on with the judges panel, the auditions got off to a good start. Megan Miller, also known as Miss Greater Baton Rouge, hobbled out onto the stage on crutches. Broken leg and surgery scheduled (immediately following her audition), she belted out Etta James' "Something's Got A Hold On Me" like a pro. She even used her crutches as an impromptu microphone, getting a laugh from the judges. Impressed with her determination and her vocals, she got a full round of yeses and even invited Judge Keith to the hospital. Of course, he would have to check with his wife...
Besides Miller, there were several standouts at the Louisiana auditions. One was the powerful rendition of Queen's "Breakthrough" by perhaps one of the most socially awkward contestants that have tried out for "Idol" since Siobhan Magnus. Any yet, quirky Charlie Askew got through to the judges and got a gold ticket to Hollywood.
Baton Rouge's "secret" auditioner was Maddie Assel, who was nominated by her hard-partying grandmother. Judge Randy tracked the young contestant to the French Quarter in New Orleans to give her an audition ticket. She delivered a strong performance of the Beatles' "Oh Darling" to get her ticket, telling the panel her influences were Adele, Beyonce, and former "Idol" finalist Haley Reinhart. Judge Keith told her the magic was in the fact that she sounded like none of them. Outside, grandma, all decked out in Bourbon Street chic, was hitting on host Ryan Seacrest. Young Maddie told her she was "embarrassing," but that only prompted grandma to twirl her umbrella and adjust her mask (which still looked a bit askew).
Paul Jolley won a ticket in memory of his grandfather, who recently passed away. He performed Rascal Flatts' "I Won't Let Go." When he delivered the news outside the audition stage doors, his grandmother teared up with pride.
Then the stage was graced with "The Singing Doctor," one Dr. Calvin Peters, a third-year resident who looks like he just walked into a high school health class. But there's nothing even remotely immature about the good doctor's voice. He belts out Maxwell's "Whenever Wherever Whatever" and gets a gold prescription to the West Coast.
Professional fireman Dustin Watts then climbed up on stage and nailed Garth Brooks' "She's Every Woman." Judge Keith told him that he might should sing George Strait's "The Fireman," so editors obligingly put the country classic on as backdrop music as Watts was shown telling his fellow fireman that he was headed to Hollywood.
Were there bad auditions? But of course... But the best of the worst was performed by the very outgoing Chris Barthel, a talkative bundle of energy who had an alter ego in search of a nickname. Judge Nicki, not one to back down from a challenge (or with bestowing a nickname) promptly dubbed Chris "Mushroom." After "Mushroom" Barthel and the female judges exchanged astrological signs (and Judge Keith told Randy that his sign was "confused") and finished butchering Adam Lambert's "If I Had You," Nicki called him "Mush," but gave him a consolation prize of running her hand through his hair -- to bless him all his livelong days.
But of all the auditions in Cajun country, by far the best was that offered by Burnell Taylor. A very mellow and humble 19-year-old, Burnell simply owned "I'm Here" from "The Color Purple." Judge Mariah wiped away tears from her eyes and Keith lost himself in the song (in fact, his facial calisthenics during the performance indicated he was mesmerized by the performance and completely forgot he was on camera). Keith told the young man, "Good lord, you could turn an atheist." He also noted that there was a spotlight waiting for Burnell to walk into it. Nicki said that that was what they'd been "flying around the country" for, that he gave them "chills and goosebumps" and that he had "entertained" them.
In all, Baton Rouge added another 35 contestants to the Hollywood round.
Next, "American Idol" heads to San Antonio, Texas, and Long Beach, California. The show airs on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.
(photo credit: American Idol, Fremantle North America, Fox Television)