American Idol recap: Sweet Hope in Chicago

The Windy City singers inspire, while Keith Urban wants to crawl in a hole and die
Ep. 02 | Aired Jan 17, 2013

A HERO COMES ALONG Mariah Carey superfan Lazaro Arbos bravely crossed the bridge over a troublesome stutter.


Clifton Duffin, 22, had never sung in front of his parents. Crazy! Well, not really -- I'm sure they might have seen him perform in ensembles and things like that, but he seemed like a relatively shy guy who's not the type to roam around the house showing off. His dad seemed the same way and I just found this three-person fam so compelling and sweet. I feel like I've met this family thousands of times. Suburban Chicago, man. Good people. Salt of the earth. For some reason I became obsessed with Randy's handshake with Clifton's dad -- the way he looked straight into dad's eyes and called him "sir." Any time there's solid (not played up for the cameras) human interaction between the plebes and the celebs, I just go bonkers. Always have. I'll study it -- like, in slo mo -- extensively. It's sort of sick. I'm not well. Sorry, this is boring. Who cares about my viewing habits?

ANYWAY, Clifton chose one of his mother's favorite songs to make the major TV moment even more profound. Clifton's strong, clear, controlled voice trilled out "Superstar," his parents gasping at their son's raw talent from the sidelines as their Precious Moments benefactor Ryan Seacrest videobombed them from behind.


"My work here is done."

UPDATE: OMG. Life is complete.


Hey, here's a familiar face. Johnny Keyser, 23 -- he of the chiseled jawline and two of the biggest, bluest peepers you could possibly imagine -- tried out a little tenderness on the judges. I liked him! I barely remember him from last year, but liked the way he kept this Otis Redding cover pleasantly upbeat with some ferocious, in-it-to-win-it snaps. Once the alien queen generously allowed beta diva "Carey" to speak, Johnny broke into tears as she called him "a star, in my opinion." He was probably just relieved to have the attention back on him. Nicki was aggressively awful here, telling Mariah "You're dismissed" (?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!) and focusing on her own bitchery against Mariah so hard that the best hackneyed critique she could offer Johnny is that he had a "twinkle in his eye." WEEEEEEEEEEEAK.

Okay, wow. Best audition of the night, the season, maybe even a couple seasons, maybe even ever: Kez Ban is a mighty weird lady, a true individual, a fire performer who writes her own songs. What's she doing here? (She barely knew the answer, either, which made all of this even better.) Kez Ban sang an original tune called "Wandering" and really came alive once she'd seamlessly picked up her guitar and started playing -- all, remarkably, within about five seconds during the song! The '90s teenager in me wants to call the folksy alto a hybrid of ani di franco and Aimee Mann. All I know is I want to listen to a whole album of hers, right now. She'll never fit into this show and I won't trick myself into believing that would ever work. But it'd be great if she could get signed via exposure on Idol, or at least develop a larger local following. Gah, imagine if every audition they decided to show was like this!

What the hizzell is with the judges asking whether people are in relationships? Nicki was doing it to all the hot guys and then Keith of all people grilled Kez Ban right away. Rude and weird and not the point. Stop that. Not a good look.

NEXT: Stammertime

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