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Freelance entertainment writer, martial arts instructor, and mother of two.

American Idol 11, Jan. 18 – “One of the Best Starts We’ve Had”

I am absolutely giddy with excitement tonight! It’s season 11 of American Idol. I was unsure how last season would be without Simon Cowell, but it turned out to be okay. Then again, I don’t remember any time that I haven’t enjoyed a season of American Idol, although I have definitely had a few seasons that weren’t my favorite. Will season 11 end up being a favorite?

The season opens up with them showing us a group of auditioners who have grown up with the show. For many of them their enjoyment of singing coincided with the first season of American Idol and seeing Kelly Clarkson win. For us older folks, we remember singing being a profession without the promise of American Idol someday. For these kids, it’s an automatic response. If you want a singing career, you wait until you are 15 or 16 to audition for this show. It’s their first stop.

The judging panel stands the same as last year. It’s original judge Randy Jackson, along with singing stars Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Jennifer is glad to be back with the guys, saying, “They’re like my family now.” And of course, Ryan Seacrest is back again as host. Tonight, they’re heading for the first time to Savannah, Georgia, for the auditions. When Steven is asked how Savannah is treating him, he cracks, “Savannah’s treating me great, but I didn’t know you knew her.”

David Leathers Jr., 17, of Fayetteville, NC, admits that his friends call him, “Mister Steal Your Girl.” People say he’s somewhat of a ladies man because he’s always talking to the girls, and they love him. He tries hitting on someone obviously older than him in the auditions and tells the camera he doesn’t have an exclusive girl right now. He was in a local contest with Scotty McCreery a few years ago, and he won, while Scotty placed second. Meeting the judges, J-Lo tells Steven he must identify with David stealing girls when he sings.

This lady killer sings Remember the Rain, and I can see how he beat Scotty. The judges seem just as impressed. Steven tells him it was beautiful. Jennifer makes a request to hear some Michael Jackson, and David launches into Never Can Say Goodbye, and it’s equally impressive. Randy asks if they should make it really simple and easy, and on the count of three, they all say yes. David is going to Hollywood, the same place that saw Scotty McCreery win.

Gabi Carrubba, 16, of North Haven, CT, has shaky hands, but can’t say the same about her feet. She’s a champion tap dancer. She’s always had a lot of energy and has been dancing since she was 1. Yet, she’s been waiting to audition for American Idol her whole life. She wants to meet Ryan, and when she does, he asks about her meeting the judges. She brings up Steven, saying he does this face thing when he hears someone he likes. Yet, when she walks in for her audition, she runs over and hugs Nigel Lythgoe. Perhaps she wants to audition for So You Think You Can Dance when she’s 18.

Singing Sunday Morning, Gabi is quite pleasant to listen to, and Stven does the face she was waiting to see. Steven calls it wonderful, and J-Lo beautiful. She loved the choices that she made. Randy calls it “very very nice.” Steven adds that she “nailed it,” and “it was like thank you God.” He believes it could be her magic moment. She gets three yeses, with Randy adding in she was born to do this. After she leaves, Jennifer keeps going, saying she had one of those natural voices like Luther Vandross, and Randy mentions how she took her time and wonders where she’s been hiding.

Adding to the good auditions are Brianna Faulk, 15, of Monroe, GA, singing I Wanna Dance With Somebody, Neco Starr, 20, of Atlanta, singing Grenade, Molly Hunt, 15, of Franklin, TN, singing You’re No Good, Elise Testone, 28, a musician/vocal coach from Charleston, SC. Every single person so far has gotten a ticket to Hollywood. Ryan thinks it’s one of the best starts they’ve ever had.

Jessica Whitely, 19, of Cuyahoga Falls, OH, started singing around 10 years old, singing the national anthem at basketball and footballs games, and has done a lot of talent shows. Singing is everything she wants and all she thinks about, but not entirely, as she loves Steven’s hat. Jessica sings In This Song, and it’s just not a good audition. Maybe her voice didn’t grow with her when she got older or something. She gets blank stares after, and that’s never good. The only things missing are the crickets.

Randy finally says it was awful and that all Jessica did was shout. He wouldn’t even call it singing. “Baby this is not your vibe; this is not your groove.” Steven analyzes that she’s got the ball and got the shot; it’s just not going through the net. She asks to sing another song, but Steven laughs and pleads no. She thinks she’s just tired, and promises to see them in Texas. Randy asks if they can tell her not to come to Texas.

After a montage of people, mostly little boys, uttering Ryan’s favorite line, “This is American Idol,” there’s a guy who shows up in a suit looking a lot like Ryan. People tell Shaun Kraisman, 26, a sales consultant from Mount Pleasant, SC, all the time he looks like Ryan Seacrest. They ask if he tries to look like him, but he doesn’t. He does his hair like this every day. The judges get a big kick out of him. Ryan comes in and they do a side-by-side. He even does the dim the lights line for them.

Shaun sings Oh Girl, and sings almost as good as he impersonates Ryan. Randy, though, thinks he would have liked it better if he sung it like Ryan Seacrest. Steven tells him “as a singer, no, but your personality, man, is over the top.” He doesn’t make it through, telling his family and the real Ryan, that they said yes to Ryan and no to singing.

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