'American Idol' recap: New York auditions with Adam Lambert and talent overflowing


Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

By RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com filed January 15, 2015

Yowza! This was one of the best nights in recent memory for "American Idol" auditions, courtesy of New York.

Talent was overflowing. There were several folks I could see going into the top 10. If there was an episode to give die-hard "American Idol" fans still following the show hope a star could be born this year, tonight was the night.

Jax, Najah, Quaasim, Adam, Travis and "Hollywood" are all very strong candidates right off the bat to make it to the top 24. I'm excited to see them all again in a couple of weeks.

Interestingly, the bus tour audition out of Kansas City that aired yesterday generated very little in comparison.

And it was great to see Adam Lambert as a guest judge, subbing in for Keith Urban, who had to take a short leave to deal with his wife Nicole Kidman's father dying. Lambert was solid and helpful though he clearly laid back a bit out of respect for the two regular judges. HCJ was both goofy and astute as usual and J Lo has proven to be the best female judge ever on the show by a long shot.

First up is Sal Valentinetti. This inveterate N'Yawker knows the actual name of "Fly Me To The Moon" and pockets $100 from Harry "Trivia Master" Connick Jr. Sal does a fine Sinatra imitation. "You're a talented guy but not what we're looking forward for 'Idol,' " HCJ says. He doesn't think he has a point of view. Adam thinks viewers would love him. Sal: "You do the same kind of thing. Your albums sell!" J Lo and Adam say yes so he's through.

Jay None with Mr. Crispy the Bear. Sure, he has the gimmick but he's pretty good channeling Bobby Brown, even with the acid-wash jeans. "I'm not really into bears," Adam said. But he liked Jay None. And so did the other judges.

Jax was one of the best singers of the night with her "I Wanna Hold Your Hand." CREDIT: Fox

Credit: Rodney Ho

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Credit: Rodney Ho

Jax has a retired NYC firefighter as a dad who was part of 9/11. I like her voice. It's textured and different as she gives the Beatles a very cool singer-songwriter spin via "I Wanna Hold  Your Hand." "I grew up on the show," she said. "I voted for you [she said to Adam.]" "Really strong," HCJ said. "You're shy and confident at the same time. It's an attractive quality," J Lo said. "I think you have the it thing," Adam said. Easy in.

Johnny Arco is a violinist who has been arrested for 20 days in the subway. Irritating laugh. Huh huh huh. Buggy eyes. Tiny Tim violin. "Why should I stay here?" he croons. A little too weird for my taste. "I like you a lot. You're really intense, entertaining," HCJ said. "Not 'American Idol.' "

Najah Lewis, another subway performer, is far better than Arco. Very soulful cover of Maroon 5.  Mesmerizing. "You didn't move and I was captivated. It's a rare gift," HCJ said. "You did some things very inventive musically," Adam said.  I am hopeful she can make it to the top 24. Go Najah!

J Lo lovers get some love. Tion Phipps from Madisonville KY does a fine Bruno Mars. I'm a fan. And he gives J. Lo a rose. James Killian Dunnis is okay but he is lacking charm.

A very nervous Shi Scott seems to imitate Amy Winehouse. "It sounded like an Amy Winehouse impression," HCJ said. "There's an incredible talent and personality in there." Adam isn't sure if she's ready. Is there a person in there beyond an imitator? But JLo and HCJ are taken. So she's through.

Adam is being shown being tough on people. He calls the country singer is "a dime a dozen." Another person is called "cookie cutter." Another: "I don't see you as an artist."

Eric Lopez, a dorky Puerto Rican who doesn't look Puerto Rican. He channels Queen, Adam's specialist. He is lousy. Adam said he was spot on occasionally but "it was disjointed." HCJ likes this guy though he isn't sure he'd make it through. JLo isn't sure he is pop worthy and says no. Adam says he's too raw but Eric convinces him to put him through. He won't last.

Maddie Walker, Jackie Nese and Courtney Zahn are young blondes who can sing well. Adam calls Courtney "polished" and that was not an insult. HCJ wonders who Jackie is "born" there in terms of "Born This Way." "What are you singing about?" But she made it through, along with the others.

Qaasim Middleton. This guy has the potential to be a star. Top 24? Sure. I thought his "Sir Duke" showed all sorts of interesting elements, from dance to singing to scatting and beat boxing. He missed a few notes but otherwise, it was fun. "I have a feeling when you get into your world, you can really stretch out," HCJ said. And he likes that Qaasim is going to school to work on his craft.

Bridgette Guerrette tried Alanis Morrisette but fails. I think they would not have bothered to show her but this leads to HCJ requesting Adam re-create his audition from 2008.

In this teaser, HCJ convinces Adam to recreate his original audition from 2008 singing "Bohemian Rhapsody."

And here's his original audition seven years ago:

Adam Ezegelian looks like Chris Sligh's schlubbier brother but sings more like Caleb Johnson. He growled through "Born to Be Wild," then did a surprisingly cool Jason Mraz. HCJ is looking forward to hearing him do something tender. Adam said his musicianship came out more with Mraz and he came across more authentic.

AMERICAN IDOL XIV: Adam Ezegelian performs in front of the judges on AMERICAN IDOL XIV airing Thursday, Jan. 15 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. © 2014 FOX Broadcasting Co.

Credit: Rodney Ho

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Credit: Rodney Ho

Katherine Winston sounds soulful and sad in a good way. They use her for a montage of those who didn't make the cut.

Travis Finley, songwriter/producer, blows the room out with his Riahnna "Stay." He is hot and commercial. The runs are a little overblown but I couldn't take my eyes off of him. "You're a star. You shine," J Lo said. "You have something real." He is about as sure a top 24 as I've seen.

Yanni G does the "Cups" song. It's sweet but nothing special. Her boyfriend Nick Fradiani then comes on doing "In  Your Eyes" and he's much better - or at least, he picks a better song. HCJ: "My favorite part was Yanni watching you. Your genre is extremely competitive this year." But he gets through and she doesn't.

Fina singer: "Hollywood" Anderson. Clearly aspirational with his nickname. He sings an original song "My Best Friend." Brilliant audition. "I felt it!" J Lo said. "I want that song!" "From the first note!" Adam said. "There were so many dimensions to what you did." "Best audition today," HCJ said. "Possibly of the last four cities."

"Idol" ratings fell a bit last week's debut, from 11.2 million to about 10.9 million. This 300,000 viewer drop is relatively modest compared to last year week over week when nearly 2 million fewer people watched week over week. Execs can take solace in that. The 18-49 audience clicked down to a 3 rating from 3.2 a week earlier. (Then again, they're probably more excited that possible 9 p.m. hit "Empire" grew week over week.)

Last Thurday's overnight ratings for "Idol" were the same as the opener: 11. 2 million, a gap of 2.4 million from the comparable episode in 2013. Last night, despite the best talent "Idol" has shown this year, saw a dropoff to about 10.6 million. On the bright side, the differential from the fourth episode of season 13 is only 1.7 million.

Fox will certainly take start parsing out DVR and on demand viewing (Fox is making the show available online for the first time the next day) to try to come up with the most favorite comparisons as possible.

In other "Idol"-related news, ABC officially acknowledged that its summer music show 'Rising Star" has been cancelled and they have no plans to pursue music competition shows any time soon. The 2012 ABC effort "Duets" featuring Kelly Clarkson only lasted one year as well.