Pop & Hiss

The L.A. Times music blog

« Previous Post | Pop & Hiss Home | Next Post »

American Idol: Contestants attempt to conjure the spirit and magic of New Orleans' music

January 21, 2011 |  8:28 am

Pop & Hiss lends an ear to the tunes that play out on "American Idol" this season.


Anyone with a keen ear to music knows it doesn’t take much to become enthralled by the breadth of musicianship that pours through New Orleans, where American Idol set up camp for last night's show. Whether it’s the sound of brass brands oozing from Congo Square or the gritty Southern rap cultivated in rough housing districts from Juvenile, Lil Wayne, Soulja Slim and Jay Electronica, the Big Easy provides ready-made inspiration for the crop of hopefuls trying to impress the judge’s panel.  

And that's to say nothing of the sounds of the more traditional jazz, folk, soul, funk and gospel that's ingrained in the city's identity, one where statesmen such as Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Aaron Neville and Harry Connick Jr. continue to be key fixtures. The music of the town even took the starring role in "The Wire" creator David Simon’s freshman series “Treme.”

Judging_NO_101018_0078 But with all this rich musical history, the judges –- and certainly viewers –- seemed perplexed by what the city had to offer for Idol.  

Host Ryan Seacrest hammed it up with the locals, which included musicians that looked fresh off the main line –- drums, saxophones and trumpets in hand -– ready to deliver a few punchy notes, and contestants dressed in regal pageantry (like the guy to the left; of course, the gimmick didn't work out for him).

The same didn’t hold true for the majority of the vocalists, though the few exceptions that reached into the pop and jazz songbook pulled out a few surprises.  

Jordan Dorsey, a 21-year-old piano teacher, dressed up “Over the Rainbow” as a loungey jazz-pop standard, while Bret Loewenstern pulled out an old "Idol" favorite, "Bohemian Rhapsody," to advance.

The judges liked 15-year-old JC Badeaux, whose performance confirmed that the youngins' are out for blood. Though his pre-performance montage seemed designed to advance an atrocious performance, Badeaux instead offered a soulful version of Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."  

The last time the competition held auditions in New Orleans was six years ago. This time around, with the city still living in the aftermath of Katrina and the BP oil spill, Idol hopefuls seemed to choose to go personal with their backstories (bullying and disabled children) rather than draw from the pain and unwavering hope of the city's circumstances, the kind of hope that rings out in the melodies and rhythms of New Orleans. Maybe had they dug a little deeper, the judges would have rewarded them in kind.

-- Gerrick D. Kennedy


Photos: (Top) Contestants check in at the New Orleans audition. Credit: Michael Becker / FX.

(Bottom) Johnny Louviere Jr. performs in front of the judges. Credit: Michael Becker / FX.