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'American Idol': First impressions are everything

February 10, 2011 | 11:49 am

AI10_JudgingSF_101109_0519 As the old adage goes, first impressions are everything, a lesson “American Idol” chose to teach on the final round of auditions, which ventured to San Francisco for Wednesday night's telecast. 

In music, generating positive reflex responses are critical for a new artist trying to break. These days, artists aren’t getting  much more than one chance, maybe just a single or two -- at best -- to prove their weight in today’s revolving-door pop scene. 

After tryng their luck in Hollywood, the "Idol" judges headed north to San Francisco as Cee Lo Green’s “Bright Lights, Bigger City” poured out over a montage -- a song that’s all about going somewhere “where everyone knows your name.” 

That innate thirst for fame rang louder for the hopefuls in the Bay Area than in Hollywood the week before (as most of the contestants featured on that episode road-tripped it from L.A. and neighboring Southland cities).

The last big voice “Idol” found in the City by the Bay was Adam Lambert two seasons ago, and although the glam rocker came in second, he has proved weightier than season winner Kris Allen. 

Lambert’s audition -- he sang both Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and “Idol” favorite “Bohemian Rhapsody” -- showed, as with plenty of finalists before him, how vital first impressions are. Former judge Simon Cowell didn’t see “Idol” potential in Lambert, because of his more Broadway-bound voice, prompting Lambert to ask whether there was anything he could do to convince the judges. Thankfully, he spoke up.

But not every hopeful could convince the panel of his or her star quality.

“I just thought I had it… I thought I was gonna be famous,” one woman cried in the opening reel of the auditions.

The city's hopefuls were ready to do anything to get famous. 

Inessa Lee attempted Britney Spears' “Womanizer” and promised she was a surefire “blend of Shakira, Madonna and Kylie Minogue” -- and, in terms of appearance, Katy Perry -- but admitted she’d be “anybody that you wanted” if that would help her cause to be the next “Idol” (it didn’t). As for Dave Combs, the second he  finished his take on the Beatles' “Oh! Darling,” judge Steven Tyler (who was sporting a Fab Four T-shirt) informed the singer he had been let down. “You were so off the melody,” he said --  prompting the contestant to beg for another shot with another song, which Tyler rejected.

In the world of “Idol,” potentials have a one-minute audition to wow the judges. Viewers at home don’t get to hear more vocally from contestants until the live shows kick in -- and even then it isn’t that much longer. And by then,  many voters may have already made up their mind about a contestant. 

But there were first impressions that weren’t as sour. Clint Jun Gamboa wowed the judges with a rendition of Travie McCoy's “Billionaire,” and Julie Zorrilla was praised for her “range and star quality” after belting “Summertime.”

"Idol" judge Jennifer Lopez mentioned that she was often swayed by the first impressions of the hopefuls, and said she found Zorrilla more grounded in her performance than others and even pegged her as one to beat, all from a single, brief performance.

James Durbin won over the judges with a “wow”-inducing first impression as well  -- and saved the backstory for viewers, one that Ryan Seacrest promised would “move you to tears.” The 21-year-old from Santa Cruz, Calif.,  is not only an unemployed father with a young child, but he also has been diagnosed with Tourette's and Asperger's syndromes. He took on Muddy Waters' '60s blues cut "You Shook Me" before asking Tyler's permission to tackle "Dream On," where he was lauded for his "over-the-top" vocals -- though he wasn’t deemed theatrical like Lambert before him.

And with that, they are off to Hollywood, where second, third, and fourth impressions will serve to remind the judges why potential Idols are awarded a golden ticket in the first place.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photo: James Durbin, 21, from Santa Cruz, Calif., performs in front of the judges on Wednesday. Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.