Season 11, Season 11 auditions

Idol Season 11: The auditions begin in Savannah, Ga.

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Idol Season 11 kicks off in just a few minutes.

Which means we’re about 40 episodes, about a dozen Ford videos and about a million commercials away from crowning a successor to Scotty McCreery.  (Oh, how I envy those of you who can DVR the show and watch it in half the time because you’re not live blogging.)

Anyway, if Season 11 is anything like Season 10, we’re in for plenty of musical treats along the way.

And if I could be granted five wishes for the Idol season about to begin, they’d be as follows:

1. No crazy auditions. Fat chance, right? That hope will likely be shattered in the first half-hour tonight.

2. More emphasis on talent than backstory. The X Factor just got done demonstrating the folly of the opposite approach.

3. Less of a youth push than a year ago, when it seemed like Idol was hoping every 15-year-old who auditioned would magically become the next Justin Bieber.

4. Equal exposure for all of the contestants we’ll eventually be voting for.  I absolutely hate it when someone shows up in the semifinals whom we’re barely heard from to that point.

5. A cast as diverse as last year’s for the finals. On that point, I’m actually hopeful because it worked so well for Idol last season.

Anyway, here we go with live blogging for episode one. If you’ve been away for a while, you might want to check out my look back at 2011 in the world of Idol.  I also posted “catching up” blogs on Season 10 contestants Tim Halperin and Chris Medina earlier this week. There will be more of those to come.

Word has it, some of last year’s auditioners will be back for another one, and I already noticed one in this intro — DeAndre Brandensick, who plays ukelele and sings traditional Hawaian music.

We start off in Savannah, where a crowd of 10,000 turned out. And Steven Tyler is already cracking jokes.

First up: David Leathers Jr., who beat Scotty McCreery in a RIP the Hallways competition among best young vocalists in North Carolina a couple of years back. He’s 17 and he’s a pretty good singer, but he doesn’t have as distinctive a voice as Scotty. Still, I’d say watch out for this kid, nicknamed “Mr. Steal the Girl.”

Second up: Gabrielle “Gabi” Nicole Carrubba, a 16-year-old from North Haven, Conn., who will sing “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5. Wow, what a smile that girl has. To match a very nice voice. She’s apparently been performing forever, and it showed in the control she demonstrated in that performance.

Jesccia Whitely, 19, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio: She’s singing “In the Song.” No doubt, she’s got a big voice. But she’s turning out to be the show’s first dud we’ve seen. She could use a little of the control Gabi demonstrated. Apparently, she’s not the type to give up, because she’s planning to audition in Texas, too.

Shaun Kraisman, 26, Mount Pleasant, S.C., sales consultant: The first older singer showcased is a Ryan Seacrest look-alike who sings an old song, “Oh, Girl.” Turns out he’s a better Ryan Seacrest imitator than a singer. But, hey, he offered to work for free if Ryan leaves the show.

Shannon Magrane, 15, Tampa, Fla., student: Next up is a 6-foot-tall teen volleyball player who sings “Somethings Got a Hold on Me” and is a pretty fine singer. She winds up auditioning with her entire family on stage with her, including her dad, a former Major League pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Amy Brumfield, 24, Gatlinburg, Tenn., unemployed: Idol’s first back-story of Season 11 is a gal who lives in the woods with her boyfriend and pet dog because she can’t afford anything better. But she wows the judges with Alicia Keys’ “Superwoman” and gets my early vote as a contestant we’ll have to root for.

Joshua Chavez, 23, Camden, S.C., unemployed: This guy sure doesn’t lack for charisma or confidence, comparing his voice to Chris Daughtry and Brad Paisley, and says he won’t leave the stage without a ticket. He auditions with “I’m Yours” and Randy calls it “terrible.”

Stephanie Renae, 15, Orange Park, Fla., student: She’s been wanting to perform on Idol forever and idolizes Carrie Underwood. So it’s no surprised that she auditions with “Inside Your Heaven.” She gets a yes from Steven, a no from Randy and a yes from Jennifer. I’m with Randy, I don’t think she’s ready.

Schyler Dixon, 16, Murfreesboro, Tenn., student/face painter: She auditioned last year and made it to Hollywood.  She’ll audition with “Break Even.” She’s a very good singer. But her brother went farther last year and he’s coerced into auditioning too.

Colton Dixon, 19, Murfreesboro, Tenn., musician / face painter: He auditions with “Permanent” by David Cook. He’s sure to go through. Last year, he was one of the last people eliminated in the Golden Mile episode. But I do not like his version of the David Cook song at all. And so Idol has a brother-sister pair advancing.

Lauren Mink, 25, Winchester, Ky., program director: She auditions with “Country Strong” and has a fine country voice that gives Jennifer Lopez goosebumps.  Steven calls it beautiful.  Randy says she reminds him of Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. And she, too, is Hollywood bound.

Mawuena Kodjo, 25, West Africa, team leader at food company: I hope Mawuena wasn’t serious about this audition, because he’s singing a Rascal Flatts song and has no business singing country music. Or getting embarrassed on American Idol. Now he’s off in search of someone who thinks he can sing well. And he returns with fans. Regardless, he isn’t Hollywood bound. Though he’s determined to become the first African country music star and return next year to prove the judges wrong.

Ashlee Altise, 28, Kinston, N.C., sales associate: OK, now things are getting silly on Idol. Ashlee invented something called the joy-hop and looks like Naima Adedapo minus lots of the talent.  But she’s heading to Hollywood nevertheless. She auditions with a dance-heavy rendition of “Come Together.” Randy says she has the right kind of crazy.  Thing is, I’m not sure she has the right kind of voice.

W.T. Thompson, 25, Appomattox, Va., unemployed: He quit his job with the federal government to audition for Idol, despite the fact that his wife is pregnant. He auditions with “Midnight Train.” And Ryan fakes out his family and surprises them with his golden ticket. He needed to try out now because it’s not something you can;’t do once you have children, his wife says.

Erica Nowak, 28, Buffalo, N.Y, bartender: She sings “Super Dooper Love” after hugging Steven Tyler and squeezing his behind. Steven indicates that the squeeze was the only thing she did right. She isn’t bound for Hollywood, but apparently goes home happy having made a fool of herself on national TV.

Britanny Kerr, 24, Charlotte, N.C., NBA dancer: OK, she’s one of the prettiest contestants we’ve had audition for Idol. She’s singing “Spoiled” by Josh Stone, and the cameraman is having trouble focusing on her face. Steven votes “yes” as soon as she enters the room. Randy votes yes. Jennifer votes no, and predicts she won’t last a week in Hollywood.

Phillip Phillips, 20, Leesburg, Ga., pawn shop employee: The guy works in his dad’s pawn shop and performs “Superstition” for the judges. It’s way over the top, too much for my taste. But now he picks up the guitar to sing “Thriller” and it’s much better. Jennifer calls him “super special.” Randy calls him “amazing” and a “true artist.” We might have just met a frontrunner. And he’s bound for Hollywood.

All told, 42 from Savannah head to Hollywood. I’m follow up soon with blogs on some of the singers we met tonight.

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