American Idol (2011): San Francisco, CA

This week’s Idol auditions took place in San Francisco and quite frankly they include some of the most memorable, colorful characters of the season. We figured we’d give you a break this week and focus majorly on the good-sounding ones, but first, a little mediocre to earn your possession of the greats:

Poor Inessa Lee. The 22-year-old is mad adorable. Based on looks, she could actually make for a great Ukranian Avril Lavigne. Musically, she states that her talent is comprised of a lot of styles – Katy Perry, Madonna, Shakira, etc. – then says she’s unique before they throw it around like that. It’s not a toy. Sorry Inessa, but if the judges won’t feed your disillusionment, autotune will. Just ask Heidi Montag.

That’s all we could stand as far as the bad was concerned. What we found interesting was the way they segued from this adorable little crazy to the more promising talent – did they really have to focus on bird stuff? White pelting on umbrellas and stuff? Really, there was nothing else to talk about that day? Nothing more exciting than seagulls defecating on people?

The rest of the episode continued along like a motivational piece – which, considering it was the middle of the week and that’s usually when the “play hooky tomorrow” and/or “I hate my job” bug starts crawling, is never a bad thing to have pounce on you unexpectedly. 21-year-old Stefano Langone from Kent, Wa., had a moving story which could have doubled as a movie trailer about a guy who overcomes a life-changing accident. Thank goodness for producers, because as heart-rending as the story was, the swelling music and close-ups of his scarred forearms lifting weights had us really rooting for the guy. Please don’t suck! Please don’t suck! And he didn’t! Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine” filled and moved through him; it was so, so much fun to watch. Future hopefuls, take note – that is talent.

And now we move along to Emily Anne Reed, whose house burned down the week prior. Yeah. Yet another reason to hope she had a decent voice, since apparently the whole ordeal broke her heart, and really, there’d be no telling what a “no” to Hollywood would have done to her. To our ears, her mild retro vocals were charming in their difference from the typical, mainstream, but still good in the way of crooning. Randy was all for her; however, Steven and Jennifer questioned her ability. On the one hand, Steven was concerned with tone, while J.Lo was concerned with the singer-songwriter vibe. And this is where we step in:

Sure, such a vibe might not be completely “edgy” in the glittering, sharp-edged haircut sort of way. However, music is going way too digital and electric these days that it’s not new and exciting anymore. (Did anyone not watch the Black Eyed Peas perform at the Super Bowl Half-Time show this past Sunday?) We’re of the belief that perhaps a more subdued sound, but just as edgy and clever, should be given the chance to show off its charms. Heard of Lykke Li, anyone? The Pierces? There are a many others like them, touted for their brilliance and style. That said, thankfully Miss Reed was sent through, otherwise we’d have to cry “hypocrite” and other more colorful words at J.Lo and maybe Steven. But we really like Steven, so…

Onward to 26-year-old Clint Jun Gamboa from Long Beach, Calif., who actually did a really decent rendition of the Bruno Mars portion of Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire“, but here’s a question…do the producers just know that these folks are going to make it through to Hollywood? How else were they going to invest in the time to follow the kid to Long Beach and film him on the job as a karaoke DJ? Of course he was going to get in. This reality show component of Idol we can go without because it’s just way too obvious. This, along with the long stretch of suspense that ends up being cut in to by a commercial break.

Our favorite of the night, 21-year-old James Durbin, actually had us saying, “Oh my God!” a few measures into his audition song. Yes,with exclamation mark. He has one awesome rock voice, one that will likely lead the pack in this competition (this we decided before the judges even said a word). And when he asked to sing “Dream On” — there were no words. Adorable, personable, real life pipes that want to blow. James won himself a for-sure ticket to Hollywood, which is where we will see countless others tonight.

Don’t miss American Idol tonight on FOX as Hollywood Week finally begins. Prediction: lots and lots of tears.

See you tomorrow!