‘American Idol’ Auditions in Pittsburgh: Why Sing When You Can Plank?

Contestant Samantha Novacek and sister Patricia "The Planker" on American Idol (Michael Becker/FOX)

There were no lofty ambitions tonight on the part of “American Idol” producers. No further staking of the show’s claim in the current turf-war that is reality music competitions, no more convincing us of its own importance. Tonight, it was all about the auditions. And Steven Tyler’s weird red box.

The Highlights

Pittsburgh got some attention for the first time in “Idol’s” 11 years, and the city stepped up to the plate, mainly by drawing slews of New Yorkers for the journey westward. Notable among them was Flushing’s Heejun Han, a Korea-born hipster who has the adorable habit of shaking out his hands and giggling when nervous. The Michael Bolton soundalike got “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” stuck in my head for the foreseeable future, and earned him a trip to Hollywood.

Also representing Queens was Creighton Fraker, a 28-year-old “starving artist” who wrote a jazz number, “The Next American Idol,” on the bus ride over. Jennifer Lopez described Fraker’s delivery as a cross between Jamiroquai and Justin Timberlake. The judges were so into him, they nearly said he had the je ne sais quoi quality formerly known as the “x factor,” but stopped themselves a split second before they owed Pepsi a million dollars.

The Bronx standout was repeat contestant Travis Orlando, a 17-year-old who wins for saddest story of the night. After his appearance on “Idol” last year, his mom left the family to start a new one, his dad became ill, the family was evicted, they moved into a shelter, and he dropped out of high school. But on the bright side, Travis is now owner of a mustard-colored sheet of paper and a chance at stardom.

See Who Shocked The Judges:

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First runner up to Travis’s weeper was Hallie Day. The former girl group singer failed a suicide attempt only to go on and marry the sweetest schlub in Baltimore, rock an awesome Blondie look, and sing the heck out of what must be her maxim, “I Will Survive.”

Other standouts included Reed Grimm, a 26-year-old “Wiscaaansin”-based nanny who jammed on “As Days Go By” – you know, the theme song to ’90s TGIF show “Family Matters.” And Patricia Bell, who made it to Hollywood not based on her voice (she didn’t even sing), but on her planking abilities. She scored a golden ticket for simply holding a yoga pose on the floor while her little sister sang. If I knew it was that easy, I’d have been to Hollywood and back by now…

Weird Things Steven Tyler Said

“I got the secret weapon – my red box!” – About a little sound effects machine Steven used to interrupt contestants over both days of auditions.

“There was a young man from St. Paul’s…” –The start of a limerick he never finished.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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