Queen of Soul performs in Detroit for 'Idol' hopefuls

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Detroit — "American Idol," meet American icon.

Wednesday's "Idol" taping at the Fillmore Detroit opened with Aretha Franklin, who took the stage to perform a brief rendition of Gloria Gaynor's classic "I Will Survive." Host Ryan Seacrest greeted Franklin on stage at the close of the song and let the Queen of Soul introduce the show with his signature line: "THIS... is 'American Idol.'"

The episode, which airs Wednesday night, was part of "Idol's" two-week road trip to the Motor City. Last week's shows, which taped Feb. 19, saw the season's Top 24 — 12 guys and 12 girls — hit the Fillmore stage, and only eight from each group will survive this week's cuts, which are based on viewer votes. The Top 12 perform next week when "Idol" begins its live rounds from the show's home in Los Angeles.

Franklin was on hand to mentor the contestants and coach them through this week's Motown-based theme. Franklin, an avid "Idol" fan for many years, said the contestants were open to coaching and eager to learn.

During a half-hour sit down with the group on Tuesday, Franklin took them through a brief history of Detroit and its French origins, and she gave them a bit of a music industry schooling, telling them to be responsible and to honor their commitments.

"She really focused on talking to us about being professional, and using the people that are around you and are influential in the right way," said Mark Andrew, one of the season's male finalists. "And she told us to watch our money. That's what she said, 'Watch your money.' It was pretty funny. You've got to be careful with who you surround yourself with, and I think that's what she was trying to convey. Have the right people around you so you can thrive as an artist in this industry. And she's been through it all, so she's the one to tell us that."

Another one of Aretha's lessons: Have common sense.

"You listen to everyone who thinks they know what you want, and you go toward it because you don't know any better," said Quentin Alexander, another of the season's male finalists. "But she just said have common sense, and you'll be fine."

The finalists spoke with the media following the taping of the episode. The fresh-faced group was gathered in the Fillmore lobby, and they shook hands, posed for pictures and took selfies with fans who were filing out of the venue at the same time.

"I'm really just taking it in second-by-second right now," said Daniel Seavey, the 15-year-old whose performance of Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" was the first of the show. "Everything going on is crazy, people are taking pictures of me and they're not even in the picture. It's crazy! I'm just taking it in."

Keith Urban, one of the show's judges, said he thinks the show has a strong group of contestants this year.

"It's gotta be about a fully realized artist in all facets that has longevity, that's what I hope we find," he said. "And I think we've got that in this group, more so than in previous years."

Franklin was participating in a show that she's used to watching at home — she said she usually watches the show from home and settles in with a snack, be it popcorn, carrot sticks, maybe celery — but she was thrilled to be involved. She said her favorite all-time "Idol" contestants are Fantasia Barrino and Jennifer Hudson.

Several years ago, she threw her name in the ring to be a judge on the show, but said she's no longer interested in the job.

"At this point, I wouldn't even have time," she said, citing her commitments mentoring her grandchildren, Jordan and Victory.

She's so busy with them she hasn't had an opportunity to keep up with her TV shows.

"I'm watching 'The Haves and the Have Nots,' and I'm waiting for 'If Loving You is Wrong' to come back on," she said. "I'm trying to see 'Empire,' but I keep missing it!"

(Fox, can you please send the Queen of Soul some DVDs?)

Wednesday's taping found the contestants taking turns on Motown classics. The show's judges weighed in with their critiques after each performance, and the 300 or so fans in attendance — which included former Detroit Piston James Edwards — cheered their approval, and said goodbye to the departing contestants.

On Thursday, "Idol" tapes its final Detroit episode, with the girls performing Motown standards. The episode airs Thursday night on Fox.