Much was said of Portland's natural beauty during this week's "American Idol," but it seemed as though there were more weeds than roses among this crop of contestants. Ryan cheerfully informed us that 45 golden tickets were handed out during the two-day visit, but we only saw five of them (way to pour salt in the wound, Seacrest!), with almost as much of the hour dedicated to the weird antics of the four rejects. By my count, there were also eight ad breaks in the hour -- no wonder I felt my soul shriveling away with every passing contestant.
We're certainly scraping the barrel to find five memorable auditions, but I'll try to work with what we were given ...
1. Jessica Phillips
"Idol" once again saved the best for last, and even though Jessica Phillips practically ran unopposed in terms of talent, I don't want to sell her short -- she still had both a soulful voice and a heartbreaking story to help her leave a lasting impression. Last year, her boyfriend of five years had a stroke, and since then, she has put her life on hold to care for him and help him with speech therapy. As much as we may detest the emotional manipulation these talent shows employ to help contestants stand out, it would take a hard heart to ignore this woman's courage and loyalty. I was as relieved as the judges were when it turned out that she had a strong voice to go along with her tragic experience, and her rendition of Faith Evans' "Again" showcased some nice runs and a solid range, even if her high notes went a little off-key when she tried to stretch herself. As brave as she seemed, I don't think her voice is going to take her to the finals, but here's hoping the golden ticket opens new doors for her and her boyfriend.
2. Britnee Kellogg
As a sassy single mom with a cheating ex, Britnee could've gone one of two ways -- Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," or the song she actually chose, Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good." You could tell she felt the song, growling it out with attitude and passion, with some deliciously raspy low notes and an impressive purity in her upper register that immediately got the judges on board. At one stage, Jennifer Lopez even began singing along with her. Randy Jackson praised her vibe, and the judges gave her an easy three yeses to send her through to Hollywood. After Britnee asked how a mother is supposed to succeed in the industry without abandoning her kids, Jennifer even gave her some parenting advice, revealing that she never leaves her children at home and always brings them (and her mom) to "Idol" with her. "You've got to be happy to make them happy," she told the ecstatic mother-of-two, who brought in her whole family for a not-entirely-impromptu celebration with the judges.
3. Brittany Zika
The aptly-named "Tripster Hipster" may have been clumsy, but her performance of Brandi Carlile's "The Story" was surprisingly sure-footed. The 21-year-old demonstrated great range and unique, confident phrasing as she flowed through the song, soaring on the high notes in a way that made Jennifer giddy. Randy Jackson made her take off her hipster glasses and hat before he could take her seriously, but all three judges liked her attitude and sense of humor as well as her voice, and quickly sent her through to Hollywood Week.
4. Romeo Diahn
A Liberian who was raised in a refugee camp from the age of five, Romeo certainly had a memorable story. Though it was obvious that he'd endured terrible hardship in his life -- having seen people die in front of him -- he obviously had natural talent. He took on Bob Marley's "Is This Love" with surprising competence, easily nailing the rhythm and rich tone that made the song popular, and seemed really connected to the music. Jennifer praised his vibe and his flavor, but rightly worried that he might not be able to compete in Hollywood, since she doubted his ability to be versatile and sing different genres of music. She gave him a small yes, while Steven Tyler and Randy were far more enthusiastic in their approval.
5. Jermaine Jones
In an effort to focus solely on the good tonight (since even the bad auditionees weren't really terrible enough to be entertaining) let's finish up with "gentle giant" Jermaine, standing at an imposing 6'7.5" but singing like a choirboy. Which would figure, since he comes from a musical family and has a church background. He tackled Luther Vandross' "Superstar," and his voice was certainly not just generic R&B, since he hit some impressive low notes. He had a penchant for tossing in unnecessary runs and didn't stay exactly on pitch, but he was unique enough to pique the judges' interest. Steven praised the spirituality in his voice, telling him he had a gift from God (I'm not sure it was that good) while Jennifer agreed that it was a sound you don't hear every day. He seems a little too gentle to make it through Hollywood week, but I'm intrigued to see what he does next.
Who was your favorite contestant from Portland? Weigh in below.
"American Idol" airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.