"American Idol": Auditions head to St. Louis

AMERICAN IDOL: St. Louis contestant Johnny Keyser performs in front of the judges on AMERICAN IDOL airing Thursday, Feb. 2 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.
St. Louis contestant Johnny Keyser performs in front of the judges on "American Idol," airing Feb. 2, 2012.

(CBS) The "American Idol" audition series is similar to the journey of a band on tour. Some cities the band can't wait to see. Others the band can't wait to leave.

Two nights ago, Steven Tyler felt sure he had a couple of old girlfriends in Portland. Last night, he and his fellow judges had to subject their spirit to St. Louis, for the last of the auditions. St. Louis is the city where Carrie Underwood, a young girl from Oklahoma, had first auditioned back in 2004.

Special section: "American Idol"

Tyler paid homage to this information. "Where the hell are we?" were his first words as he slopped out of his limousine. The next were a response to what he remembers of St. Louis: "Um, a couple of girlfriends from here."

Tyler's neat ability to be an utter caricature seems to symbolize what may be happening to "American Idol." It is a show in danger of boring itself, of having had to look itself in the mirror for one too many years. Still, it tries to hang on to the bungee cords of its stories and the futures they might foretell.

John Keyser is a server in an Italian restaurant in Florida and looks like a blonde lifeguard who was too beautiful for "Baywatch." But when he sings, he discovers a sudden soul that enters the ears and wanders down below. His first 20 seconds were enough for Tyler to wish him through.

"You know you're going to be a star, right?" said a mesmerized Lopez.

As Keyser looked on, slightly bemused, she added, "Thank you, God."

The band of judges was leaning toward liking St. Louis. Suddenly, though, there were words that offered more perspective than any singing, any judging, any Steven Tyler leering could match: "My parents auditioned for 'American Idol' during Season Four."

They were uttered by a sweet dark-haired girl, whose parents flanked her sides. Has this show really been around so long that the audition experience is being handed over from generation to generation? In 40 years' time, will there be a veterans' reunion of aspirant Underwoods in their sixties? Will there be a "Senior Idol"?

The concept made the mind tremble as our attention was turned to a now familiar story: that of a woman who said her husband (soon to be ex) had held her back from following her dreams.

"We do things for love," uttered a rueful Lopez, as Rachelle Lamb launched into Faith Hill's "Find Somebody New." She was accompanied by her little daughter, fitted out in black cowboy boots and ready to hoe down. Lamb wasn't accompanied in the singing department - she didn't need that - merely in the dancing.

Lamb offered an effortless, nerveless country power, which made Tyler declare: "I love your moxie."

Reis Klockener told of being bullied, of moving from a small Lutheran school to a large public high school. He sang of everyone needing someone to lean on.

With his innocent, but experienced face and sure, high voice, he moved Tyler to - well, listen to the great man's words: "That was so good, it made me cry."

The producers were very, very keen on not making us weep with frustration. They were showing only the best of the auditions. Ethan Jones, 22, who used to be in a band with his father - until his father had to go to alcohol rehab - breezed through.

And then we had a nice man who actually worked in the hotel in which the auditions were being held. It was a Hilton. You could tell, because one of his supporting crew of cleaners, cooks, bellboys and barmen, had "Hilton" written on his waistcoat.

The crew all stood behind him in the audition room. Mark Ingram, the hotel auditor, struggled to hit the notes that Stevie Wonder actually conceived. Tyler was honest enough to tell Ingram that he wasn't a wonder. Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez merely grimaced. One could only hope they would still get room service.

Lauren Gray from Arkansas works in her family's one-stop bridal shop. She also sings in a band with her dad. In some bars in Arkansas, they've clearly been having a secret treat. For Gray managed to deliver Adele's "The One and Only" with verve.

"At least you're fearless about it," said Jackson.

"You're one of the best female voices we've heard," said Lopez.

"It's the biggest thing that's ever happened in my life," replied Gray.

The judges were still musing on Gray's talent when it was all over.

"You can't be taught to sing that way," declared Tyler. It was, he insisted, something passed on through generations.

Where would we all now be if her parents had auditioned for "American Idol, Season 4"?

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

    He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.