American Idol 9 Hollywood Week Auditions, Round 1, February 9, 2010

Which Contestants Helped Their Cause to Become the Next Idol Champion?

American Idol 9 aired the first round of its Hollywood auditions on February 9, 2010. All Idol contestants sang individually but could also play an instrument. In fact, many of the featured contestants played the guitar. Unlike past seasons, many girls are pulling out the guitar and doing a nice job with it. What follows is a brief overview of highlights and who likely became one of the favorites after tonight's airing of the Hollywood auditions.

Contestants Who Showed Improvement or Consistency and Likely Helped Their Chances

As always, Idol producers edit the Hollywood rounds to fit their own purposes. Hollywood Week is full of drama and pimping of the producers' favorite contestants. But there is still also a mix of triumphs and disappointments. Tonight was certainly no different in that respect.

The contestants who just got a BIG leg up are Andrew Garcia, Janell Wheeler, Lilly Scott, Casey James, Didi Benami, and Crystal Bowersox. The performances of Michael Lynche, Katie Stevens and Haeley Vaughn also likely helped their chances in the competition.

Andrew Garcia made a bold move and sang Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" while playing the guitar. This was a fantastic rendition. Andrew has great vocal control, a nice tone, and creativity as a singer. Garcia is likely now a lock for at least the top 6. There is almost no way he won't go deep now unless he has a total meltdown. In a year where the girls are being pimped more than the guys, Andrew is one of those guys that now seems destined to go deep this season on Idol.

Didi Benami helped her cause even more despite picking "Terrified," a Kara DioGuardi song. This seems like and may have been sucking up to Kara, but it was a fantastic performance. Didi even pulled out the guitar for this one, which I did not expect. Didi has a great vocal tone, control, and range. All the elements are there to make a run for the championship. More importantly, Didi was not nervous like she was in her initial city audition. Look for Didi Benami to be around a long time. Depending on several factors, Didi could even win this season. I had compared Didi to Megan Joy from last season. Scratch that now. She is in a different world vocally and actually has a shot, which Megan never did.

Lilly Scott was featured for the first time this season. Thus, any appearance is obviously going to be a big leg up for her. However, she was excellent, as well. Lilly has a jazz style and showed it well in an Ella Fitzgerald number. It is hard to say much about her yet because she won't do well if she comes out and shows that style every time. Nonetheless, this is a good start for Lilly.

Janell Wheeler was finally featured more prominently, and she did not disappoint. She has some uniqueness about her. There is a mix of country and pop to her voice, and her overall vocal tone has a piercing quality. Janell may be TOO beautiful for this contest (the really beautiful ones almost never win), but the talent is there to make a run. Look for Janell to make the Top 12 after this great performance and two appearances now on Idol.

Casey James did a complete turnaround and showed his real talent tonight. He looks like a rocker, but we now know that Casey is more of a blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. Casey will have trouble winning unless he shows more consistency, but his great blues number tonight should greatly improve his chances. Casey may also be dogged by a criminal past. He was convicted for drunk driving and other traffic offenses. Although that was many years ago, it certainly could hurt him with some voters.

Crystal Bowersox was surprisingly fantastic on "Natural Woman." I thought she was probably the best singer of the night to be honest. She also played the guitar. There are some potential image problems for Crystal. Her pimp story was being a single mom and getting a tattoo of her son's name on her. Very odd pimpage, but she proved that it's about the talent. Crystal seems to have just about everything to win vocally but nothing in terms of image. It will be interesting to see if she chooses to stay the same or does some kind of extreme makeover for the later rounds. It may actually take away from her raw, natural look and stage presence. Anyway, Crystal has the talent to be one of the best or possibly the best this season.

Michael Lynche, Katie Stevens, and Haeley Vaughn helped their chances tonight to some degree. The producers featured them heavily, but their performances did not seem to be all that great. Katie sounds awesome on YouTube but seems to have vocal control problems on stage. Her choice of a very low register did not help her much, either. Haeley's voice cracks quite a bit, and she showed nothing new this time other than playing the guitar.

The producers seemed to stage some story where Michael's wife called and said she was in labor. The airtime and pimpage will certainly get him more fans, but I sense that Michael is a bit overrated. He also sounded great on YouTube but goes a bit shrill on the high notes. American Idol fans don't take too kindly to those kinds of sounds. They tend to get their idea of a good singer from the radio, and those sounds are usually edited out of commercial songs. It's not that he is not good, but don't expect Michael to make it too far unless he makes some changes to those high notes.

Contestants Cut Even Though They Seemed to Perform Well

This also happens every year. Idol will show performances that seem to be quite good. The next thing you see, that contestant gets bad or lukewarm comments from the judges and gets eliminated.

The small clips of Justin Williams and Maegan Wright sure seemed good enough to get to the next round. But they were cut after their performances. This could be due to the fact that we don't see the entire performance. But it seems more likely that decent singers are being cut to make way for the producers' pre-conceived cast of Top 24 contestants. It's all part of the Idol game. In fact, the opposite is often true. We can see favorites performing badly and the judges giving them a pass because the producers decided they want them in the voting rounds.

Ashley Rodriguez Update

One small surprise is that Ashley Mikailah Rodriguez was not featured heavily in the first round. It showed her calling on the phone and celebrating, but not one second of her audition was shown. This is surprising because many online fans have considered Ashley to be the TCO (The Chosen One). The TCO is the one chosen by producers to be the favorite and receive the kind of editing and treatment to get them to the top (although it backfires at times). I have felt from the beginning that Ashley was very overrated. It could be that she did not perform so well. Ashley is still definitely one of the favorites, but we may see some "depimping" going on here. It is certainly possible that Ashley wasn't that good in the first round. But it is also possible that they are just waiting for the later rounds to pimp her as a favorite.

Upcoming Group Rounds

The group rounds are always more about drama than anything else. Maybe three or four contestants or groups will be shown actually doing well. But this round usually devolves into clips of people arguing, acting like a fool, and forgetting their lyrics. It's a bit of a joke as far as the contest goes and says little to nothing about the contestants unless they are creative and can come up with a unique and fun arrangement. Even then, no one usually knows who should get the credit in that group for the arrangement. Look for the group rounds of American Idol 9 on Wednesday, February 10, 2010.

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