The "American Idol" audition tour made two stops and explored various modes of transportation Wednesday night. In San Antonio, singers chugged into an old train depot — Sunset Station — to perform for the judges, allowing Ryan Seacrest to intone about contestants going "off the rails." And in the two-hour show's second half, hopefuls in Long Beach tried to stay afloat aboard the Queen Mary, an Art Deco ocean liner turned hotel. Embracing the theme, one cute contestant cheekily even showed up in nautical attire.
So who sang?
Memorable talent making it through in Texas included gospel-voiced Mariah Carey fan Vincent Powell, who got as far as the end of Hollywood Week before being eliminated last season (he says he was unnerved by a big sip Randy Jackson took of his drink); young mom Savannah Votion, whose earthy voice helped her overcome her overly revealing outfit; 29-year-old worship leader and mother of three Cristabel Clack, who impressed the judges with her rendition of Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You." Mariah Carey called her a "real singer," who sang it as she felt it.
Also headed to Hollywood are husband-nominated former Miss University of Arkansas Ann Difani; local mariachi singer Victoria Acosta; self-dubbed "superquirky" person Papa Peachez, whose peculiar performance of his own self-written tune prompted Nicki Minaj to petition the others to let him through; talented Swahili-speaking teen Sanni M’Mairura, who made Minaj see "candy canes, strawberries, whipped cream, rainbows and sunny skies" and earned kudos from Keith Urban for his "balance of confidence and humility"; and, finally, 19-year-old R&B/soul/pop singer Adam Sanders, who got a standing ovation for his rendition of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind."
Successful singers in Long Beach included powerful-voiced 17-year-old Shubha Vedula, who advanced despite having sung for only Urban and Jackson (Carey and Minaj were both late); Matt Farmer, a 26-year-old military vet who brought his adorable young daughter with him and made it through with the first of two versions of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" we heard on Wednesday; Jesaiah Baer, she of the aforementioned nautical attire, who charmed the judges though her audition had been interrupted by an untimely fire alarm; and Micah Johnson, who has nerve damage and a speech impediment due to a botched tonsillectomy but nevertheless sang the bejeekers out of “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band. "As soon as you start singing, you transform into a beautiful voice," Minaj told him.
Also making it through were beatifically happy Rachel Hale, who impressed the judges with her bountiful bliss as much as with her voice (Jackson called her the "happiest contestant … ever"); Briana Oakley, a fresh-faced 16-year-old who was "severely" bullied by classmates after being featured on TV as one of America's most talented kids (things have gotten better, she reassures); and lastly, extremely short Matheus Ferndandes, who rose above with his version of "A Change Is Gonna Come."
There were also a few washout contestants — a couple of brothers who wouldn't (or couldn't) stop talking, a guy who was falsely led to believe he had talent by someone who heard him singing in a bathroom, a colorful young woman who screamed an Adele song and then repeatedly flipped everyone off — but I don't feel like dwelling on them.
After all, to borrow a phrase uttered with a bizarre lack of self-awareness by Randy "No, no, no … Never!" Jackson, "American Idol" can be crazy and harsh, but hey, we don't put up with any of that around here.