‘American Idol’ Auditions Wrap Up in St. Louis With Sad Stories and Hidden Gems

St. Louis contestant Lauren Gray performs on American Idol (FOX)

American Idol’s” season 11 auditions wrapped up tonight in St. Louis, and the last batch of contestants who were vying for a chance at Hollywood were as bland as a Midwestern casserole. The highlight of the city is, apparently, a curmudgeonly taxi driver who got a lot of airplay. Even Steven Tyler was short on words of wisdom tonight, opting for inspirational pep talks (“Just come out and go ‘boo-ya!”) over his signature inappropriate sexual jokes.

St. Louis is haunted by the memory of Carrie Underwood, that sweet Oklahoma girl who became a superstar after auditioning here eight years ago. She had to have gotten a hefty royalties check after this episode, which featured her or one of her songs about every 10 minutes.

Otherwise, the best part of the show was the silent film a la “The Artist,” called “The Contestant.” It did something my mute button has been doing for years by yanking the sound from one of the worst auditioner’s mouths. “Idol” could probably get a full-length feature out of material like this.

The Highlights

Only a handful of auditions stood out, but one was a long time coming. John Keyser, a 22-year-old Floridian, won us over in early promos that showed him singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” with all of the judges at one point or another telling him to “Keep singing!” As if we were all on the edges of our seats, now we know the result: he’s going to Hollywood. The very pretty Keyser has got a good voice, though he is only as convincing as a privileged white boy can be with a 1964 song that came to represent the Civil Rights Movement.

St. Louis brought us another divorcee (does this make three this season?) who also shared too much information about her failing marriage. The moral of the story: husbands take away your musical dreams. Like Britnee Kellogg in Portland, Rachelle Lamb also sings a sassy tune directed at her ex: “Find Somebody New.” She is also a mom of the adorable little Madison, who danced along in her cowboy boots during the audition. I think Rachelle sounded great, but honestly, I was too blinded by the three-foot-tall package of cuteness that is her daughter to notice.

The best singer in St. Louis, and maybe in the whole season so far, was Lauren Gray. The Arkansan is in a band with her dad, who looks exactly like Steven Tyler if Steven Tyler had aged properly. She delivers a powerful, raspy audition of Adele’s “One and Only” that sounds far older than her 22 years. The judges look awestruck and JLo even wipes away a tear, as the song seems to strike a chord with her current personal troubles.

Two male contestants struck a chord with Steven. Reis Kloeckener’s story was plucked right out of a “Glee” subplot: scrawny boy is bullied, joins choir, finds everlasting happiness. The 20-year-old had a sweetness about him as he sang “Lean on Me.” Steven said it make him cry and proceeded to rub his eyes, even though he clearly wasn’t crying. But it was still a nice moment.

The other Steven favorite was Ethan Jones, who was literally bleeding from the head during his audition. He dropped out of school to join a band with his dad, only for his dad to drop out of the band to go to rehab. He sang a serviceable “I’ll Be,” but Steven was overwhelmed by the backstory, spewing inspirational sentiments and saying he wants to meet the dad “when he gets out.” Where’s the pithy, dirty Steven we love? Oh wait, there he is, saying something nasty about an Astropop.

Burning Questions

Who knew Steven Tyler could look so much like Britney Spears? He definitely took a cue from the “…Baby One More Time” video, wearing a tight white button-down shirt and tie. The man can actually pull off the schoolgirl look. How’s that for versatility?

What happened to the New York/New Jersey auditions? Hollywood starts next week, and according to our deep-throat sources, aka the “American Idol” homepage, there were auditions held in East Rutherford, New Jersey, back in September. So where’s the footage? You can’t possibly tell me they didn’t source talent from New Jersey, home to such talents as Meryl Streep, Snooki and Antonella Barba.

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