It may have taken awhile, but it looks like the “Mo” is back in the “Town.”
“American Idol” showcased its Detroit auditions during Wednesday’s episode, its first visit to the Motor City since a 2002 casting call for Season 2. And unlike that previous stop, where then-judge Randy Jackson fretted he felt the “Mo” had left the “Town,” Wednesday’s episode was blossoming with talent, with 20 of the 40 singers who earned Golden Tickets to Hollywood hailing from Michigan.
The two-hour episode contained footage filmed at the Westin Book Cadillac in October, as well as from a general Season 13 casting call held at Ford Field in July. Judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and new kid on the block Harry Connick Jr. were filmed inside a conference room at the Book Cadillac, decked out with a video screen backdrop of the city skyline against the Detroit River. (To achieve the picturesque view seen behind the judges, the show would have had to have been filmed on the shores of Windsor.)
The show opened with a compilation of contestants saying they were “doing it for Detroit,” a feature unique to Detroit so far this season. (For example, singers in Boston didn’t say they were doing it for their city during last week’s premiere.) Urban, who wore a T-shirt with the words “Cass Corridor” across the front during the second half of the episode, was seen talking to Connick early on about Detroit’s rich musical history, as well as its current “incredible struggle.” He also quizzed a contestant about a “fragel,” a fried bagel, which he claimed was “a Detroit thing.” (Is it?)
After last year’s nightmare season, “Idol” has a decidedly more upbeat tone this year. Wednesday’s episode followed suit, focusing on Detroit’s upswing, and with host Ryan Seacrest saying at one point, “no city has a beat quite like the D.” In addition to Ford Field and the Detroit River, the show also included shots of Eastern Market, Campus Martius Park, Dutch Girl Donuts, Pete’s Barber Shop and signs for Eight Mile.
But the focus was on the contestants, and several looked very promising. Among them was Malaya Watson, a 15-year-old from Southfield who plays tuba in her high school band. Watson, who wowed the judges with her powerful version of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way,” is tipped on the “Idol” dirt sheets to make the show’s Top 30, and was the focus of a mini-feature during the episode. “I don’t need to hear anything else,” Lopez said when Watson was finished singing, and compared her to a young Michael Jackson.
Jena Asciutto, a 17-year-old from Farmington Hills, is also pegged by “Idol’s” online rumor mill to graduate through Hollywood Week into the show’s Top 30. Asciutto, who sang in a band for four years before recently quitting, is a belter who knocked Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” out of the park, without calling to mind Adele’s version of the song. “You have an interesting way of enunciating your words,” Urban told Asciutto, who described herself as part Italian, part French Canadian.
Others from Wednesday’s show who are rumored to be going far this season are Marrialle Sellars, a 17-year-old from Indianapolis whose audition footage was the first thing viewers saw on “Idol’s” season premiere this year; Brandy Neelly, an 18-year-old from Louisville who got Urban to clap for her version of Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted”; Ethan Harris, a 20-year-old from Garrattsville, N.Y., who asked for Urban’s autograph during his audition and also sang an Urban song; and Maurice Townsend, a 26-year-old father of four and a music minster at Living Word Christian Center in Grand Rapids. Townsend’s audition of John Legend’s “So High” impressed Connick to the point where he said Townsend is the “one who should have recorded” the song.
Other Metro Detroit and Michigan standouts from Wednesday’s episode included:
■Keri Lynn Roche, a 24-year-old coney waitress from Detroit, who earned three “absolute yeses” from the judges after singing Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”;
■ Julian Miller, an 18-year-old from Detroit whose pink pants stood out almost as much as his solid take on John Legend’s “Who Did That To You,” which caused Urban to tell him, “you look and feel and sound to me like an artist that’s going somewhere — you’re on the move”;
■ Olivia Diamond, a 22-year-old from Detroit whose version of the “Dreamgirls” standout “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” moved Connick to the point where he told her, “I think you’re one of the reasons that Detroit can start coming back, because (people will) think of people like you and associate you with this incredible American city”;
■ Pink-haired Paris Primeau, 16, of Macomb, who earned her Golden Ticket by singing the Animals’ “The House of the Rising Sun”;
■ Jade Lathan, a 20-year-old student from Monroe whose version of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good” prompted Lopez to say her “whole package was right”;
■ Sarah Scherb, a 19-year-old student from Birmingham who earned compliments from the judges for singing Ariana Grande’s “The Way” and whose father’s employment through Delta Air Lines led into a whole side discussion of who among the judges flies private and who flies commercial;
■ Leah Guerrero, a 21-year-old file clerk from Clinton Township who impressed the judges with her take on Rihanna’s “Stay”;
■ Ayla Stackhouse, a 17-year-old from Detroit who is currently living in Hollywood who all three judges said had big things ahead of her after she sang Little Mix’s “Wings”; and
■ Ryan Nisbett, a 24-year-old art student from Deckerville who was described by Lopez as “one of a kind” after his version of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” and who refused to shake Urban and Seacrest’s hands because he was sick and didn’t want to spread his germs.
This season has seen a serious cutback in “gag” contestants, and Wednesday’s episode featured only three, who were cut into a quick segment together and all quickly dismissed.
The 40 singers who were given Golden Tickets in Detroit join the 79 others who earned Golden Tickets on this season’s prior two episodes, bringing the season total to 119.
“Idol” continues Thursday with its auditions in Atlanta.