American Idol winner Scotty McCreery greets the crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina. He reminds the would-be Idol winners that he was once like them, just a face in the crowd inside Charlotte International Speedway. But move over Scotty, no one's here to see you. Not today, not when we are in Charlotte and everyone knows that Charlotte is where the tension between Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey erupts into a volcano of sparks. In other words: Fight! Fight! Fight!
But first a few Idol hopefuls have to sing for their shot at the stars: Nicki, who appears to be wearing some poor child's cotton candy on her head, instantly dubs Naomi Morris "owe me" because if she gets through to Hollywood, you owe me. But Nicki wants to take it back once she hears Naomi butcher Aretha Franklin's "Respect" like it's a hog and she's an artisanal butcher on her way to a farmer's market. Nicki tells her to stick to fashion design and then asks her if she can have her studded bra, but Mariah insists it's too small for Nicki. Nicki rolls her eyes hard, even though Mariah was right.
Joel Nemoyer may look like your average just-out-of-adolescence schlub, but what makes Joel different is that he likes to perform while lying down, a trick he picked up from an Idol episode featuring Andrea Bocelli. So you only have yourself to blame, Idol, when Nemoyer walks into the auditions and sings Michael Bublé while lying on the floor. Keith Urban just puts his head on the desk and laughs and laughs. Some of us recappers wish we could do that too, but we are professionals.
Brian Rittenberry is a 27-year-old whose wife has a "hall pass" for Keith Urban if you know what I mean. (Nudge nudge, wink wink.) It's okay, though, because she had cancer and Brian is so happy that she's alive and can mother their son. Once Brian wows the judges and goes through to Hollywood, his wife gets to hump Keith Urban. Or, you know, be in the same room as him and some armed security personnel. Jimmy Smith from Waynesboro, Tennessee, does a Rascal Flatts song, which makes Keith Urban lean forward and stroke his chin sagely, fully aware of his role as Idol's great country hope. When Keith closes his eyes and nods his head, you know Jimmy's in. This does not mean Nicki won't offer her opinion that he's "poppin', poppin', you poppin'" and about 20 more adjectives that don't matter because Keith likes him.
Then we get a series of quickies who are headed to Hollywood from Sarina-Joi Crowe, 17; teeny tiny Haley Davis, who delivered a classy version of "Blue Bayou"; and Na'chelle Fullins-Lovell, who could give Mariah a run for her money. The next contestant to get the full Idol treatment is Isabel Gonzalez, who was picked up by the Idol bus tour in Alpharetta, Georgia, after her aunt nominated her. Randy Jackson forced his way into an SAT assembly to present her with a number to come and perform for the judges. "Nothing Can Ever Change This Love" by Sam Cooke isn't the most obvious choice for the diminutive high school student, but once you hear her scratchy, Amy Winehouse-ish voice it makes perfect sense. Nicki's in love, Keith thinks she's a natural, Mariah sings "Hollywood!" (that two-second ditty will probably go platinum). Isabel gets silly stringed by her young family members on her way to Hollywood.
Taisha Bethea from Concord, North Carolina, is in an alt-rock band, but opts to sing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." The judges don't respond to it especially well, so she jumps into Alanis Morrissette's "You Oughta Know," which the judges like better. Mariah's not sure she can wrap her head around her as a rock girl. Nicki, however, loves that she's a "black girl who's not doing the typical R& B runs," causing Randy to blurt, "Black girls can rock!" That doesn't mean he's voting for her though. It comes down to a split decision with Nicki and Keith voting yes and Randy and Mariah saying no. Keith gets to decide because they are in Charlotte and he's the country guy and he holds the magical Tie-Breaking Wand today, so he says yes. Mariah has some time to wrap her head around Taisha's act because she's going to Hollywood. Then Ryan's voiceover suggests that everyone should run to the restroom, stock up on snacks, crank up the volume and sit up a little straighter, because it's about to go down.
Summer Cunningham is the unlucky 20-year-old who gets caught in the crossfire among the judges. Nicki liked her rendition of "Lean on Me." Mariah and Keith want to know about her love of country music in detail, which seems to bore the wig off of Nicki. Randy, Keith and Mariah all vote yes. Nicki sighs that the camera was off her for 30 seconds while a country debate went on, adding that Randy and Mariah shouldn't try to "scare" contestants into "lying" about what they want to do with their careers. Then they all start talking over each other, getting louder and louder until Keith finally yells to poor Summer, "You're going to Hollywood! Grab your golden ticket and run for you life!" She hightails it out of there and is robbed of the obligatory family celebration shot, because: Fight!
Nicki had a fair point, but when no one bothers to listen, she announces, "Oh, you're right. I'm sorry. I can't help her. Maybe I should just get off the fucking panel." Then she stands up and leaves. Randy tattles to someone, "Nicki's mad! She's walking out!" while Mariah pouts, "That was going to be my move the next time she ragged on me." Way to model professional adult behavior, people! Then Idol cuts to a montage of news, or whatever you would call a clip from the TMZ television show, plus The View and national gossip shows, before the judges return for Day Two. But nothing happens except that people were talking about Idol for once.
Brandy Hamilton is the first contestant on Day Two. She's an adorable Navy reservist who got in trouble for singing on the job. She's singing "All I Can Do Is Cry" by Etta James, which is ambitious but apt. Before she is quickly ushered to Hollywood, she begs of the judges, "Please don't fight, it makes me sad." That touches Nicki's heart. Ashley Smith is a five-foot-tall black woman with platinum-blonde hair and a nose ring, giant platform heels and white lipstick. She explains that she likes people to look at her, so yeah: mission accomplished. She busts into a bluesy rendition of Carrie Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" that shocked the judges because it was so good. She gets a unanimous and enthusiastic "YES!"
Janelle Arthur does that thing where you sing a Keith Urban song back to Keith Urban. We've all been there, right? Luckily, girl can sing and doesn't make it extremely awkward for everyone and they can send her straight to Hollywood with just a hug from Keith. The montage of terrible singers is broken by Rodney Barber, a formerly homeless street performer with a very big voice and an inspirational story. The judges send him to Hollywood. Then Keith has to leave in order to go hold "his wife's" hand at an award show. (Nicole Kidman is apparently She Who Shall Not Be Named.) This means Randy is once again left alone with Nicki and Mariah. Luckily, former Hollywood Round contestant Candice Glover is the great unifier. She has spent her off-Idol time improving, resulting a performance that is so great that Mariah actually stands up to applaud her. Randy, too, but can you imagine Mariah Carey giving you a standing ovation? Even more impressive? Nicki said she wasn't worthy to judge her. I mean, what?
And then we get to go frog-gigging with Ja'Bria Barber of Clover, South Carolina, which horrifies the judges. All is forgiven when she comes out with a soulful performance of Bonnie Raitt's "Pride and Joy." She goes to Hollywood. The artist formerly known as B-Akon delivers a tortured and mediocre version of "A Whole New World" and they won't even give him a handshake, which seems harsh.
The final contestant is Seretha Guinn, a.k.a. the Fresh Princess of Charlotte, whose boyfriend is recovering from a near-fatal car accident, and she has her adorable three-year-old daughter in tow. Seretha makes the surprising choice to sing the theme from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a strange choice, but she pulls it off and makes Nicki start crying. No, Nicki! Your mascara is too expensive! They give her a unanimous vote to Hollywood. All told, 37 Idol hopefuls went through to Hollywoo, Ryan got to drive a car around the racetrack and the judges created some headlines. All in all, a good day for Idol.
Come back tonight when Idol heads to Randy Jackson's hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Previously: Keith Urban Flees Chicago