The 11th season of American Idol is proving to be a kinder, gentler version of the singing competition, with less of a focus on awkward and embarrassingly bad singers, instead shining the spotlight on true talent.
Perhaps that has something to do with the premiere's 24 percent drop in the ratings from last year? Only time will tell if we see a return to 'Pants on the Ground' type performances.
This year so far, the shows has been on a roll finding inspirational performances and stories. Case in point: Flushing New York’s own Heejun Han. A slightly nervous Han surprised the judges during his audition in Pittsburgh, PA when he sang a powerful and controlled rendition of “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.”
After getting unanimous approval from the judges, Han politely bowed, exited the stage and shouted “Hollywood” while clutching his Golden Ticket.
“The way the Golden Tickets were flying out the door in Pittsburgh, made us wonder why we waited so long to come here,” noted host Ryan Seacrest.
Perhaps taking a cue from Season 10’s Casey Abrams, self-described “starving artist” Creighton Fraker embraced his inner-weirdness, singing a ode to the “American Idol” judges that he wrote on the nine-hour bus ride from New York to Pittsburgh.
Travis Orlando, who didn’t make the cut for “American Idol” during last season’s auditions, returned to redeem himself. “I’m worth something,” explained the high school dropout from the Bronx, NY. “I can do this. I’m not a good-for-nothing low-life.”
(Didn't Marlon Brando say that in 'On the Waterfront'?)
Anyway, the judges thought Orlando’s version of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” needed work. The the 17-year-old fought back tears as he plead his case. “I’m scared,” said Orlando, choking up. “But at the same time, I know this is what I want.”
“Scared makes you do things that you wouldn’t normally do,” said Lopez, who with the other judges, granted Orlando his Golden Ticket.
But 'Idol' had saved the best for last. The final singer to audition was Hallie Day, a 24-year old blonde Baltimorean.
Day, who survived an ugly suicide attempt, sang a stirring rendition of Gloria Gainer’s “I Will Survive.” The judges were suitably impressed. “She could win,” marveled Lopez.
With 38 Golden Tickets awarded in Pittsburgh, “American Idol” now heads to San Diego.
“I feel like we got one more today that was super, super special – the blonde girl – very exciting,” said an incognito Lopez of Day as she left the Pittsburgh auditions. “You know what? The plot thickens.”