"American Idol" touched down in Texas with all the subtlety of a shuttle launch. But for such a massive state, the talent seemed to be in short supply. Though the judges were set up in Galveston, the "Idol" circus was still calling Houston its hub, which seemed like an unnecessary clarification.
Between "Houston" and Aspen, the last two audition episodes have been far more reminiscent of the Idol of old -- a dearth of talent and far too many joke contestants taking up precious airtime. Perhaps Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler are partly to blame; from what we saw in Texas, the two male judges were sending home most of the accomplished singers in favor of the screechers and sob stories, who wound up through to Hollywood. And, unlike Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid during "The X Factor" auditions, Steven and Randy actually seemed to be biased against the pretty girls. Are they only picking contestants with a compelling story, and sending those from stable backgrounds home?
1. Cheyenne James/Linda Williams
Cheyenne James and Linda Williams best demonstrated the backwards bias of the two male judges. Cheyenne, a 17-year-old rock chick with a pair of lungs that could put many an "Idol" contender to shame, failed to impress Randy or Steven with her version of Pink's "Misery" (a song which, perhaps tellingly, features Steven Tyler). But Jennifer was practically vibrating with glee after her performance. "I don't think you've got it for this year's 'Idol,'" Steven told Cheyenne, prompting Jennifer's incredulous, "You're kidding, right? ... I thought you were amazing -- soulful, rich, I just loved it," she told the teen. Randy agreed that she didn't sound quite ready yet, which Jennifer thought was crazy, and she got somewhat emotional about having to send the poor girl home empty-handed. "Some of the people you've put through today, against her?" she scoffed.
Then came Linda Williams, the straw that broke Jenny from the Block's back. The 24-year-old bartender was obviously one of those kids who had been told over and over again that she was the next Mariah until she started believing her own hype. She was pitchy and self-indulgent, tossing in meaningless runs just to show that she could. The banshee impersonation didn't win her any points with Jennifer, who declared it "awful" as soon as she left the room, wondering out loud whether she was in the Twilight Zone as Steven insisted it was "beautiful." She won't make it past Hollywood, but Cheyenne probably could've gone further, which was as infuriating to me as it was to Jennifer.
2. Kristine Osorio
While it's probably inadvisable for people to spend their loans on plane tickets for the "Idol" auditions instead of necessary legal fees, I hope the gamble pays off for Kristine, a 28-year-old single mother of three. Since she's at the top end of the age limit (There's always "The X Factor" or "The Voice," Kristine!) this is her last chance at the big time, and she was determined to make it count. Her take on Adele's "One and Only" was raw, raspy and packed a powerful punch, something that was sorely needed in this lackluster batch of contestants. Thankfully, the judges were unanimous in their praise, with Steven lauding her "high warble" and the tenderness in her voice. I hope she's got a babysitter lined up for her kids, since she's on the way to Hollywood.
3. Ramiro Garcia
This medical miracle certainly gave us a memorable audition. Ramiro was born without ears, prompting doctors to predict that he would never be able to hear or speak. Thankfully, he's able to do both, as well as sing, although his voice wasn't nearly strong enough to carry him through to the finals. It's possible that the judges will give him a pass to the live show because of his story, but I think he'll quickly be culled in Hollywood week, since his raspy, heartfelt version of "Amazing Grace" didn't quite measure up to some of the voices we've heard so far. Still, it was pleasant to listen to and his story is inspirational. Compared to some of the duds we've been subjected to this week, he could be a Grammy winner.
4. Baylie Brown
After auditioning (and getting through to Hollywood) back in Season 6, Baylie is back and better than ever. Now 21, her voice has matured and her control was impeccable as she warbled through Bon Jovi's "Bed of Roses." Her voice has an intriguing country twang and Randy still remembered her, which probably worked in her favor. She got an easy three yeses as Randy declared her voice "significantly better" before sending her on her way with a golden ticket.
5. Skylar Laine
Since I'm bored of "Idol's" propensity for digging out the freaks in the crowd and mocking their weirdness (Aren't you grateful for your five minutes of fame, Phong Vu and Alejandro Cazares?), let's spotlight another talented singer. Skylar turned out to be a trigger-happy 17-year-old who shot a deer and had it mounted on her wall when she was 15, which is ... lovely, I guess? Aside from that dubious claim to fame, she was also a fairly passable singer, too, with a pleasant country tone and a range that's not quite Carrie Underwood, but has the potential to get there with some training. She mostly sounded like every other white female country singer we've ever heard, but it's been proven that such a skillset sells records, so her chances are probably good. "Hell on Heels" by Pistol Annies was perfectly suited to her voice, and the judges wasted no time in putting her through.
Who was your favorite contestant in Texas? Were you as underwhelmed by the talent as I was?
"American Idol" airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.