'American Idol' Recap: Meet Me in St. Louis

J. Lo shocked and awed by Southern rocker

american idol st louis
Michael Becker / FOX
St. Louis contestant Ethan Jones performs in front of the judges on 'American Idol.'
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For the last round of auditions before we head to Hollywood, American Idol heads to St. Louis, which apparently has an arch. I don't know, maybe they could show it a few more times so we could be sure. St. Louis is known for things besides architectural anomalies. It is also where we first met the Idol winner now known around the world as Carrie Underwood. She is so famous now that she gets her diet written about in US Weekly. If only we could all be so lucky. Will we meet the next Carrie Underwood here? We will never know if Steven Tyler can't make it past his fan club of underage girls and their grandmas.

The first contestant is Johnny Keyser, whose tragic backstory is that he is the child of divorce raised by a kind and loving father in Pompano Beach, Fla. So amazing to see people overcome tragedy. He sings "A Change is Gonna Come" and he is as good as a white kid singing a soul classic can be, and Steven has instant happy face. The judges keep interrupting him to comment about how amazing he is and then making him sing more. Golden ticket in hand, Johnny runs to hug his dad, who looks like he dresses out of Sam Axe's wardrobe.

As per usual with these audition rounds, a good contestant requires a bad, this time presented as a silent film of the worst singers set in the style of Best Picture contender The Artist. You read that right. There's even a fake Uggie! That was too quirky to last, so we cut to the parking lot, where 10,000 wannabes are making new best friends and swapping friendship bracelets and building lasting relationships with all the other Idol contenders who we will never see again.

Finally we get to meet Rachelle Lamb. Remember everything I said yesterday about Britnee Kellogg? Just go re-read it, because they have identical stories and, of course, identical dreams to be the next American Idol. Rachelle sings "Find Somebody New" by Faith Hill while her daughter dances alongside her. Steven likes her moxie and she is through to Hollywood to battle it out with Britnee, Thunderdome-style, because the Idol universe cannot abide two singers with the same backstory.

All together now, what comes after a good singer? A bad singer! Or seven: Oliver McCrary does more damage to Seal than Heidi Klum's divorce. There's an Elvis impersonator so miserable that Steven can only rap a response, which actually seems reasonable.

There are so many bad singers in this round that as a producer brings Steven his nose spray, Jennifer Lopez makes them hold hands and activate their Wonder Twin . . . er, Triplet powers to bring a decent singer. The next kid had a rough experience in high school: the bigger kids were mean to him! Luckily he found friends in the choir and now Reis Kloeckner never gets Slushies thrown at him anymore. He sings a lovely rendition of "Lean on Me" that makes Steven cry. Steven wanders outside to inspire better talent by giving the contestants a pep talk.

Steven's words hit home for Ethan Jones, whose dad was in one of the biggest bands in the St. Louis area. Being the biggest band in the St. Louis area involved a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol abuse, which led to rehab, which of course, in Idol world, means tears and a few lines from Coldplay's "Fix You." Ethan sings Edwin McCain's "I'll Be," and the judges love him. When he gets his golden ticket, he calls his dad in the rehab facility, and a tear rolls down his cheek as father and son swap "I'm so proud of yous."

On Day Two, we meet Mark Ingram, who works in the hotel as an auditor, which does not mean what you think it means. We get our second black and white montage of the night as Ryan and Mark collect other employees and crowd them into the room to witness his inevitable downfall. Mark can sing . . . mostly. He bellows a lot, and his voice cracks, and he is a little pitchy. Steven loves everything but the melody. Mark sings another song but cracks just as much. Randy Jackson gives a shout-out to the hotel staff, but Mark is not going anywhere near Hollywood on Fox's dime. However, Mark offers to sing any one of us a song if we swing by the hotel. He is taking his defeat graciously, which is more than we can say for Idol, which decides to make a mean-spirited montage of people in hotel rooms listening to his pitchy voice wafting through the walls.

Lauren Gray of Hardy, Arkansas, is in a Southern rock band with her dad, so at least people besides her coworkers have heard her sing. She opts for Adele's "One and Only," and she gets half a verse in and the judges exchange glances. J. Lo's mouth is wide open in shock, awe, and probably a little jealousy, because J. Lo couldn't sing like that if she stole an intern's youth and vitality and put it in a kale smoothie. J. Lo tells her wholeheartedly, "You are one of the best female voices we've heard. You're incredible!" Obviously she's going to Hollywood. Lauren Jennifer promises that this will not be the biggest thing that's ever happened to her.

The most successful road auditions they've ever had, which means, of course, that Hollywood is going to be brutal. Come watch next week when the massacre begins!

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