We're in Charlotte, and if you weren't a country music fan before tonight, chances are you just might be buying your first country CD in the morning.
Recapping tonight's show was a bit challenging. We may have heard all of 10 auditions that really had talent and watched a lot of folks who had to know they didn't have a snowball's chance down under to get a golden ticket to Hollywood.
And yes, we got tons of Nicki and Mariah going at each other. It seems that's what America is tuning in for. and "Idol" refuses to disappoint us.
The show started with a visit from 10th season winner Scott McCreery. It was nice to see Scott's sweet little American boy face and watch him return as a star who had been thru the stress-filled process these new hopefuls are up against.
In true "American Idol" fashion, the very first person we meet tonight on the road to stardom is Naomi Morris, or "Omi" as Nicki Minaj renamed her. Omi enters and proclaims "I am the next American Idol" -- with conviction I might add.
Adorned in a Madonna-esque gold-studded pointy bra that the budding fashion designer created herself, Omi belts Aretha Franklin's "Respect." We all were certain that if Ree-Ree heard this rendition, heads would roll.
Asked to try another song, because clearly Omi was nervous and needed to warm up a bit, take two: "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." Well, Omi should have been too proud to come on national TV and perhaps "Idol" should have been to proud to subject us to Ms. Omi. The singing was bad, however Nicki thought that Omi's "shoes were poppin'" and her "clothes were dope." Thanks, Nicki.
Checking his watch, approaching the stage we get a hearty "Good morning" from Joel, the 20-year old that opted to sing his audition while laying flat on his back. Get up, Joel and leave. Have a great rest of your day, there'll be no golden ticket for you. Joel will forever be affectionately known as "Jumanji" -- another Nicki Minaj nickname of the night.
First sob story of the night: Bryan, 27 who's wife was diagnosed with appendix cancer. Bryan told the story of how he was trying to figure out a way to tell his son that "mommy was going to heaven" and just as our tears start to roll, we learn that his wife is a survivor. Not just a survivor, but a survivor who got her nails and hair done just in case she got the chance to meet her idol Mr. Keith Urban. Bryan sang a beautiful "Let It Be," got a golden ticket, and his wifey got to plant a big kiss on Keith Urban's cheek. Off to Hollywood, big guy!
Trail Mix lunch break for Keith and Nicki.
Then there's Jimmy Smith, a Keith Urban-inspired country singer who did "God Bless the Broken Road" and set the tone for our very country night. Nicki thought his performance was "poppin" and "mad fly."
I never heard Simon use these descriptions, and kinda missed Simon tonight. It's Hollywood for Jimmy.
Next, the self proclaimed "Karaoke King" Matthew, with his Billy Ray Cyrus Circa "Boot Scoot" dance moves. He had more scoot than he had talent so we said goodbye to the Karaoke King. No ticket.
Nominated by her aunt, 16-year old Isabelle Gonzales felt "super duper important" when Randy showed up at Alpharella Senior High School to surprise her with a personal invite to audition.
I am certain that all of us who were tuned in saw the beginning of a very long and successful career for this young super star, listening to Isabelle sing a Sam Cooke classic made me smile. In the words of Randy Jackson, I think Isabelle just may be "in it to win it." You heard it here first, folks. Off to Hollywood with a well-deserved golden ticket for little Isabelle Gonzales.
What a pleasant surprise we got from Taisha, the African-American alternative rock chick that belted out Alanis Morrisette's "You Remind Me" after first singing and adding her own little twist to a Johnny Cash favorite.
With two yes votes and two no votes. Keith Urban held the tie-breaking vote and pushed Taisha thru to Hollywood. She'll last a little while. In my opinion she may only be a good garage band front runner and not a solo artist. This one will be interesting to watch unfold.
We sit patiently after the first split decision, but clearly not the last. In what felt like hours, the judges disagree over dozens of artists.
After a very long day for the judges, we were pleasantly introduced to Summer. Simon Cowell would have loved this beautiful blonde haired, blue eyed, song bird. She clearly offended Keith Urban when she said "I tried the whole country thing before." Clearly she wanted to be known for what she thought was her "soulful" abilities.
But Keith, Randy and Mariah had different plans for Summer, as they pretty much demanded that she call herself a country singer. This ignited a fire in Nicki Minaj that wasn't extinguished until Nicki erupted from behind the desk with "maybe I should just get the $%# off of the panel" and stormed off after Randy said "I was only trying to help Summer, with my 30-years of industry experience." (Sorta kinda minimizing Nicki's ability to judge?)
We then watched a very uncomfortable Summer leave the stage with her golden ticket, only after having to watch and listen to the judges fight. Again.
Brandy sang an Etta James song, got her golden ticket and before leaving said to the judges "Please don't fight, it makes me sad." By the expressions on Nicki and Mariah's faces it looked as if they felt it, but would they actually stop fighting because it made Brandy sad? The night's still young.
Standing at just five feet tall, clad in a platinum blonde wig, the biggest surprise of the night had to be Ashley Smith. Ashley had all of the makings to be one of the night's biggest spoofs. She pranced around the audition holding room, welcoming everyone to the Ashley show, the wig, the glow in the dark lipstick and even the outfit, surely this will be one for the worst of the worst footage by the end of the season, right? Wrong! Boy could Ashley sing. Ashley got a golden ticket and a Nicki Minaj nickname -- welcome to the "Blondie" show, folks -- and Ashley, welcome to Hollywood.
The show took us on a Nicki nicknaming trip and showed us footage of Nicki giving everyone names she could remember.
Next up we met Janelle, yet another awesome country singer. Keith Urban could barely contain himself. Off to Hollywood Janelle, you were no surprise. Keith Urban kinda gave it away, with the big cheesy grin on his face the entire time she was singing.
Alas, our first formerly homeless story angle of the night. Rodney Barber, "The Voice Of Charlotte." Rodney is a street singer, who performs for tips and splits his profits with the homeless people still left without shelter on the streets of Charlotte.
Rodney gives the homeless money because he knows how tough it is on the streets because just four years ago, he too was homeless. Rodney sang, blew us all away, brought tears to our eyes and received his golden ticket to Hollywood. Yay, Rodney!
Keith leaves to hold Nicole Kidman's hand as she receives a New York Film Festival award and the three judges left behind are given the opportunity to see and hear Candice return after being cut in the Vegas round during last season.
Unanimously the best audition heard all season by each of the judges, Keith you missed a good one. Candice is off to Hollywood for a second time. Chances are we'll see Candice right up to the very end this year. That's if Nicki doesn't get her hands on her and "skin her" -- yeah, that's how much Nicki liked Candice. "I wanna skin you and wear you," Minaj said. Kinda creepy, Nicki, but we think we know what you mean. Run Candice, run.
We met frog leg-eating Jabria and Brad Harris, whose rap name is "Bakon" -- I don't make this stuff up.
Finally, we're introduced to Seretha Guinn. First, I have to thank Rena, Ebony and Alicia. I was so captivated by Seretha's story and singing chops, I had actually missed her name. I sent out a social media APB and these three gave me Seretha's name. Big thanks to other faithful Idol fans and social media junkies.
OL, back to Seretha and the final sob story of the night. Boyfriend in a nearly fatal accident, lost a finger, metal plates in his hands, eight surgeries and two to go and they have the cutest 3-year-old in the world and we haven't even heard her sing yet.
What will she sing? Unbelievable: Seretha did the theme song from "The Fresh Prince of Belair" and made it the most beautiful ballad most of us have ever heard in our lives. "The Fresh Prince of Belair?" Yes.
She was asked to sing another song and did, this time getting compared to the late great Whitney Houston. That doesn't happen often. Seretha didn't tell her boyfriend that she was going to audition for the show -- she wanted it to be a surprise. I'd say a golden ticket to Hollywood is sure to lift his spirits.
Seretha ended the show on a great note, literally, and she'll join 36 others that also got their golden tickets in Charlotte.
Tomorrow night, we're headed to Randy Jackson's hometown of Baton Rouge. Let's bring it, Louisiana, (and the Ravens are going to bring it in Louisiana too -- SUPER BOWL, I'm sorry, excuse me, sometimes I can't help myself).
It's "Idol," baby!