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

American Idol 11, Jan. 19 – “We Need to Be Entertained”

Eben Franckewitz, 15, of Milford, OH, is packing up the car getting ready for his trip to the auditions. He’s been preparing for this for weeks on end, but feels it’s worth it. He appreciates the support of his parents, and as he says this his mom tells him to let everyone else do their thing, and he just needs to do Eben’s thing. One in Pittsburgh, he tells Ryan it’s a privilege, and he hopes he can get that Golden Ticket. He tells the judges he knows he looks like Justin Bieber, and Jennifer calls him cute, while Randy tells him not to let it go to his head.

Eben sings Ain’t No Sunshine, and he has a beautiful voice, and hits all the right inflections with the song. Jennifer says some people have it and are born to do it, and she thinks he’s one of those people. Steven agrees; he thinks Eben’s got it, and it’s only going to get better. Randy agrees he has a natural God-given gift that is natural and spot-on. He gets three yeses, and he thanks them profusely.

Travis Orlando, 17, of Bronx, NY, auditioned last year and is looking for a second chance. He sings Isn’t She Lovely, and sounds good. Jennifer feels his voice has gotten stronger since last year, although there is still a part of it that isn’t all the way out. She really wants him to do that. Steven agrees, saying he’s singing with a passion, but isn’t showing it. Travis admits he dropped out of high school, and says it’s an all or nothing thing. He starts to tear up and says it means a lot to him. After Idol aired last year, his mom walked out on the family, and it really hurt him. They got evicted from their apartment, and he moved into a shelter with his dad and twin brother. His dad was just getting sicker and sicker. HIs dad says now the bottom line is that’s all they have, each other.

Travis wants to do this to show his mom he is worth something and isn’t a good for nothing lowlife. He can do something with his life. His dad is in dialysis this day, and his brother is in college, but his best friend is here with him. He’s scared, but at the same time he knows this is what he wants. Jennifer notes being scared makes you do things you normally wouldn’t do. Randy votes yes, even though he thinks Travis has a way to grow. Jennifer knows he’s only 17, but from what he’s shown them, he’s going to keep growing. She says yes too. Steven thinks he has something, but wants him to come out of his shell. Nevertheless, he’s sending him to Hollywood. He calls his dad, who says everything they prayed for is that much closer.

On day two, Jennifer is running late, so Steven and Randy put on a two-man show. Randy plays guitar while Steven sings. They’re a great combo. Jennifer gets there finally and it’s time to start.

Erika Van Pelt, 25, of South KIngstown, RI, is a mobile DJ and wedding singer. She knows for a lot of people when they hear “wedding singer,” they think of Adam Sandler and mullets, but for her it’s another outlet to share her love of music and singing with other people. She sings Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Steven’s favorite. She’s good. Steven is definitely enjoying it, as is Randy. Randy loves the low alto and the turns and phrases, Steven lists “turns sexy, very sure of yourself.” Jennifer thought the voice matched her. Three quick yeses and she’s in.

Shane Bruce, 19, of Moundsville, WV, graduated from high school about a year ago and decided to follow the family trades of working in the coal mines. He figures if his entire family does it, it must be something they’re good at. If he had to choose something to be for the rest of his life, it has to be a singer. It’s his life. He tells the judges he wants the stability his dad has, but nothing is going to stop him from chasing his dream. He doesn’t seem real knowledgeable about music, though, as he explains to the judges the song he’s singing is the Hallelujah one that plays through the movie Shrek. He has a nice voice, but his phrasing is a little odd.

Jennifer tells Shane he looks disappointed, and he says he is, as he usually hits it better. Yet, he tells them he gave them all he had. Steven says it’s all you can do. It’s not all about singing a song. It’s a dream, and was certainly his, but if he sings to the guys in the coal mine, maybe that’s his forte. Randy tells him he has a great start, although it wasn’t the best he’s seen. He clearly needs a lot of work, but he’s impressed he knew that. Steven points out he’s young. Steven votes not yet, but doesn’t think he should stop. Jennifer thinks he has a pretty voice, but he should maybe come back next year. Randy agrees. Shane is very disappointed in himself afterwards, and that’s sad.

The last Pittsburgh contestant, Hallie Day, 24, a waitress, from Baltimore MD, just got married six months ago. She claims music and her husband saved her life. At 15 she dropped out of high school and moved to New York and joined a girl group, called Plum Crazy, determined to be a superstar. She became lonely, felt disconnected, couldn’t pay her rent, and was an addict. She left New York, but moving back home was rough. She went to the bathroom and shut the door and drank a bottle of pills and laid down on the floor to drift off. She ended up in the ER, and came up a little bit. She met a man who became her husband. Jennifer tells her no matter what happens, she should never stop believing in herself.

Hallie sings I Will Survive and sings it with such a new voice. Perhaps it’s because she means every single word in the lyrics. Wow, is all I can say. Steven asks for another song, and the others can’t believe he hasn’t made up his mind yet. He has, but says he likes watching her when she sings. Jennifer can already see Hallie on the show and see her on an album cover. Randy asks Steven if he knows what’s wrong with this girl, and he replies, “Absolutely nothing.” She’s going to Hollywood, and never does sing a second time.

The best news after we close in Pittsburgh is that we don’t have to wait until next Wednesday. The San Diego auditions are airing Sunday night, right after the game. I just have to throw it in there … The Green Bay Packers will be watching on their TVs. Yeah, I know, so will the Chicago Bears, but it was still really fun to say.

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