While the majority of singers who entered the Boston and Austin audition rooms on Wednesday's "American Idol" Season 13 premiere seemed starstruck by glamazonian returning judge Jennifer Lopez — leaving poor newbie panelist Harry Connick Jr. to whine about his relative anonymity as clueless contestants confused him with "Robert Downey Jr., or someone like that" — there was one hopeful, Pakistan-born jazzbo Munfarid Zaidi, who was just wild about Harry.
"I read your Wikipedia page every day before going to sleep," the 19-year-old Connick fanboy gushed. (To which Harry's co-star and budding bromance partner, Keith Urban, quipped, "Oh, so he's the one who's been reading it!" Zing!) Harry, delighted to finally get some love, promised to rock Munfarid in his arms like a baby if he liked Munfarid's audition…and honestly, Munfarid seemed more excited about that prospect than about receiving an actual golden ticket.
Luckily, Munfarid's performance of Adele's "Crazy For You" was one of the best auditions of the entire episode — jazzy, scatty, and just plain cool — prompting J.Lo to remark, "I see a cradle coming on!" And sure enough, the brawny Harry swept up the elfin auditioner in his welcoming arms and carried him out of the room, An Officer and a Gentleman-style, as Munfarid (with golden ticket in hand, of course) crooned Alicia Keys's "No One" with his head on Harry's shoulder. Aw.
Clearly, Munfarid realized that Harry is the real star of "Idol" Season 13. And soon, all of America will realize this too, if Harry's stellar Wednesday debut was anything to go by. While Jennifer was surprisingly astute, and Keith was his usual pleasant self, it was Harry who brought the comedy, who brought the necessary tough love ("To send someone out of the room crying is a terrible feeling, but if it's the right thing to say, I think you have to say it," he explained), and who brought the knowledge, teaching all the laypeople out there about pentatonics and minor scales. "What's wrong with challenging America?" he said.
Yes, yes, yasssss. Great attitude! "American Idol" NEEDS a judge like Harry Connick Jr. He won't be the "least famous 'Idol' judge" for long.
But as awesome as all three judges were on Wednesday, sharing an easy-breezy chemistry that was glaringly missing from last season's disastrous panel, Wednesday's episode really was all about the contestants. An impressive 45 singers made it through to Hollywood; only three William Hung-esque rejects' auditions were shown in full; and the competition was stiff, as several hopefuls who probably would've advanced in previous seasons instead went home golden-ticketless. (Unsurprisingly, Harry was the dissenting judge most likely to say no. That'll make things interesting in Hollywood Week, when a new first-day twist will require all contestants who didn't get three yesses at their first audition to sing in a sudden-death round.)
Munfarid was a definite standout Wednesday, but he was just one of many promising contenders. Here's a rundown of the others — the good, the not-bad, and the funky:
Marielle Sellers, 17 – Marielle was the one contestant shown Wednesday who didn't try out in Boston or Austin; she was a teaser from the Detroit auditions. But "Idol" producers clearly already have her pegged as a frontrunner, since they featured her in the cold open, then had her stare down the camera and declare herself the Next American Idol. I can see why this girl got such a coveted chunk of prime time. She was off-the-charts charismatic and absolutely adorakble, a sort of Rihanna-meets-India.Arie type, and her guitar-strummy cover of Bruno Mars's "Grenade" really set the tone for an exciting episode. "You are going to be a nightmare for the other competitors," Harry predicted. I'm already predicting she will at least make the top 20.
Troy Durden, 28 – At first this guy seemed like one of those joke contestants. He asked former Fly Girl J.Lo to twerk with him, and after she politely declined, he tried to do his best twerky Miley impression. He wasn't as good as Miley, and Jennifer admitted she could've done it better herself. But then Troy crooned "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and he actually could sing. Three yesses followed. I don't really know how far Troy can get on this show (J.Lo warned him that he'll be hard to take seriously), but it'll be fun to watch him try. And, to quote the "Idol" judges, it just might twerk.
Sam Woolf, 17 – I almost want to predict right here and now that Sam Woolf will win Season 13. He's adorable, he's sweet and self-effacing, he plays guitar, and he lives with his loving, doting Florida grandparents, taking care of them while his proud grandpa acts as his "agent" and unofficial fanclub president. Little girls, their mothers, and their grandmothers will fall in love with this kid. ("My daughters are going to go absolutely crazy for him," Harry admitted.) The fact that Sam's sped-up cover of Ed Sheeran's "Lego House" showcased his creativity and what Keith called "incredible pitch" sealed the deal. Just give him the record contract now.
Ethan Thompson, 23 – Actually, maybe Ethan will win. When he walked into the audition room, I nearly thought I was watching a surprise cameo by Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips; the resemblance was uncanny, right down to the floppy haircut and plaid shirt. In what is looking to be the most guitar-centric season of "Idol" ever (for the first time, singers can try out with their six-strings), Ethan is definitely one to watch.
Lindsey Pedicone, 18 – Lindsey is a marketing genius. She wore a cat T-shirt to her audition, and anyone who's ever watched Miley Cyrus's American Music Awards performance or hit "Like" on one of Grumpy Cat's Instagram photos can tell you that FELINES RULE THE INTERNET. Luckily, Lindsey had a lovely purry, kittenish voice to match her shirt. She even made "Hatchet Harry" smile, so that's promising.
Jillian Jensen, 21 – Jillian may look familiar to regular reality-watchers: About a year and a half ago, she was all over Fox's other singing competition, "The X Factor," sobbing on coach Demi Lovato's shoulder about her bullied past, then sobbing again when she got cut right before the live shows. Of course, "Idol" producers made no mention of all that, but at least there was no rehash of her sobby backstory, either. Instead, we just saw a side of Jillian that we didn't see on "The X Factor," as she sweetly strummed a guitar while warbling Gavin DeGraw's "Not Over You." It seemed like she'd grown up a little. If Jillian's diehard fanbase (nearly 160,000 followers on Twitter) has grown up with her and followed her to "Idol," she could have a strong advantage in the voting rounds.
Stephanie Hanvey, 16 – This Jersey girl was one of the day's J.Lo superfans; she was practically in tears while still waiting in the "Idol" holding pen, just knowing that her own idol was sitting on the other side of the door. She pulled it together to sing Jessie J's "Price Tag," and while her audition showed raw promise, she didn't seem quite ready for Hollywood. Even J.Lo called Stephanie "emotionally lacking" and "inconsistent." Eventually the judges all said yes (even the hard-to-please Harry), and Stephanie dropped to her knees, sobbing gratefully. I'm afraid, though, that she'll end up sobbing again during Hollywood Week — when she gets cut early on. I think she'll get eaten alive in Hollywood.
Morgan Deplitch, 15 – This J.Lo stan was even younger than Stephanie, but she exhibited an incredibly womanly confidence. She was a little too womanly, almost: Concerned dad Harry, who has daughters around Morgan's age, sternly disapproved of Morgan's sexy song choice, Grace Potter's "Ooh La La," which he said "creeped him out." (When Morgan repeatedly told Harry, "My mother loves you" while she fawned over Jennifer, it didn't seem to help matters.) But Harry was willing to overlook the creepy song selection because there was no denying her preternatural pipes. Let's hope Morgan chooses her tunes wisely in Hollywood.
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