American Idol (2011): Austin, TX

“This is not going the way I’m sure you were thinking. This is not good.”

You said it, Randy. Of the 7500 American Idol hopefuls, optimistics, delusionals — whatever you want to call them – Austin, TX, was the next pit stop for people to ready their shine for the judges.

This episode we are reminded that if there was a subtext to American Idol it would be The Worst We Can Say is ‘No’. And for the colorful ways to say “you’re a horrible singer; you have no talent” we all know that’s not true. Based on one particular audition, though, we think the subtext has gone through a slight change – particularly, We’re Getting Softer in Our Old Age. (And by old I am referring to the duration of the show. Ten seasons, remember?) I apologize in advance for focusing largely on her, although she looks to be a total sweetheart, it really has nothing to do with her and everything to do with the judges.

It wasn’t that 17-year-old Hollie Cavanaugh wasn’t completely unimpressive with her version of Etta James’ “At Last“. As strange as it sounds, it would have been beautiful if she was at all on-key. But this is a perfect example at how one’s choice in audition song makes the difference. “At Last” is a tough song and while many have done it, few do it well. Frankly, it’s one of those songs you shouldn’t try unless your whole neighborhood tells you that you nailed it and other songs like it. With an OK from the judges Hollie and her tear-stained self pulled it together for another go, this time with Miley Cyrus’ “The Climb“. Here’s my take — she has an undeniably rich quality to her voice and a decent sense of time. Is that enough for American Idol? Is it up to me? Sadly, no. The hope and tears in her eyes were enough to J.Lo and Steven, and even The Dawg was suckered in after he initially said ‘no’.

The judges deserve props for not saying yes to everyone who has broken down to the – let’s face it – overwhelming experience of laying your dream on the line. But for even those few ushered on through, I just have this to say:

Everyone has dreams. Everyone cries when they don’t get what they want. But does everyone get a Get Out of Jail Free pass? No. Simon Cowell would never have allowed Hollie Cavanaugh or anyone else who has so far cried their eyes out through. Likely, this is the explanation he’d give (with more colorful language, I’m sure): American Idol is handing out an opportunity. This opportunity is for the cream of the crop, for those who are exceptional, not just plain OK. The chance is open to everyone, sure, but the opportunity? If you’re going for it, be as sure of it as you can, and if you don’t make the cut, take it as constructive criticism. Next time, do better.

Now the task of finding potentials is a lot, I’m sure, and it’s tough telling someone such things, especially when there’s just all that darn hope in their eyes. But while Simon was a bit harsh and wrong in approach, he was honest and didn’t waste time. A couple of weeks ago, letting someone through to the next level was considered somewhat endearing, maybe. This week, however? Cue the eye roll. It’s almost like a mommy-daddy dynamic – the new judges vs. Simon: break something of Mom’s and give a good cry and she’ll give you a sweet and a hug or something. Break something of Dad’s and he’ll send you to your room for an hour. Or vice versa. No?

No matter. As 17-year-old Rodolfo Ochoa was faced with the same issue during his audition song, “Circle of Life” – a seriously rich, resounding quality, but completely off-key – and therefore a no. We admire him for not crying, at least in front of the cameras.

Let’s just go to our and everyone else’s favorite audition: 19-year-old Casey Abrams, the unexpected highlight of the evening. While being the last audition has its pressures, his personality and confidence proved personable and fun. Singing “I Don’t Need No Doctor” by Ray Charles with all the soul and blues a guy could muster, and really getting into the song, the judges could have just had his audition and called it a day. He has more than just potential and we hope to root him on into the finals. Casey, America was captivated, and personally your audition made the resulting strain in our sockets from rolling our eyes worth it.

And so ends another two-day stay-and-slay. Here’s the hope that the judges let less of the tearful types through and more of the Casey Abrams type during their final stop in Los Angeles, since Hollywood is only fifteen minutes away.

See you tomorrow!