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Simon Who? How Did 'American Idol' Ever Exist Before Steven Tyler?

It's not just all the love children ... he sings, on tune, and is headin' for a smackdown with Randy

When “Idol” announced that it was visiting Nashville again for auditions, you had to wonder: Isn’t Music City just a little too professional for America’s favorite amateur hour?  

Stop making your protest signs. While the home of country music definitely provided some talent, auditions weren’t quite on par with the talent “situation” in Jersey, not to mention New Orleans. Although 17,000 hopefuls showed up, it looks like most of the city’s true musicians were too busy waiting tables.

Case in point: Former Miss Teen USA Stormi Henley (not a porn star) auditioned because she really wanted to see how far she could make it on her talent alone.  While she was gorgeous and pageant-pleasant, her voice left much to be desired.  Ironically, it was Miss Image Conscious herself, J. Lo, who gave her a “no.” Calling to mind Season 8’s “Bikini Girl,” Steven and Randy put the 19-year-old through to Hollywood, causing Lopez to scold them: “That might be the smallest voice we’ve ever heard!”

Not to be outdone, Kameela Merricks, 28, lauded herself as having “a huge voice” and bragged that she had served as “junior regional soloist” for her hometown, whatever that means. As a woman in the military, perhaps she should abdicate her hometown title and offer her voice up as a weapon of mass destruction instead. (It was bad. Really bad.)

What was most interesting about Merricks’ audition, though, was how the judges reacted. In a pattern that seems to be emerging this season, Steven once again offered hope to the hopeless, telling her to “go back home and practice and get good.” It’s understandable that an artist doesn’t want to be a dreamkiller, but let’s face it: some dreams need to be squelched before they get any bigger.   

Randy, who’s clearly been around the “Idol” block a few times, was a bit harsher with his critique, prompting Tyler to chide him sotto voce with a “Don’t tell people they’re not good!”  I foresee (hope for) a truth vs. tact smackdown between these two in the future.

Of course, amid all the “Younique” Moores and men clad in full bodysuits made out of blue Spanx were some candidates who really had a voice. Bar manager Jackie Wilson’s audition culminated in a round of applause from the judges. That was before she rushed out to her parents and kissed her dad squarely on the mouth. Oh, wait. That was her much older boyfriend.  

Awwwkward.

Farm bred Adrienne Beasley, 22, of Kentucky sang a radio-ready rendition of “American Honey,” giving her that small town appeal. It doesn’t hurt, either, that she is a rarity - an African American who sings country music. Though this gimmick didn’t help trainwreck contestant Haeley Vaughn last season, it has certainly done wonders for Darius Rucker, aka “Hootie.”

While their story may not pack the drama of a brain damaged fiancee, exes Chelsee Oaks and Rob Bolin provided one of the episode’s best human interest segments.  Though their relationship status warrants an “It’s Complicated” on Facebook, they put their issues aside and auditioned as a pair with harmonies that would make Boyz II Men blush.

This isn’t surprising once you learn that they competed together on CMT’s “Can You Duet” in 2009, though they were the first pair eliminated. Jennifer Lopez, clearly influenced by her romantic comedy background, played the meddling matchmaker and encouraged the duo to get back together (though she’s probably the last person who should be giving love advice).

Once again, “Idol” saved one of the most memorable auditions for last. Fittingly, it was yet another 15-year-old, Lauren Alaina, whom the judges deemed the “best we’ve seen today.”  Her performance of Faith Hill’s “Like We Never Loved At All” may have been a little mature for a teen, but her confidence and control harkened back to Carrie Underwood’s audition, when you knew that you were witnessing the making of a star.

Though her “my cousin has a brain tumor” story was sad, it was what happened when she brought her family in that really got me misty. Citing “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” as her parents’ special song, she sang it for Tyler himself before cuing him in to help. For the second night in a row, he participated in an impromptu duet -- no AutoTune, no hesitation.

How did “Idol” ever exist without him?

Though Nashville may have been disappointing overall, the next American Idol could be among the few who impressed.   Thank goodness people like Jackie Wilson and Rob Bolin got their restaurant shifts covered for the big audition.  As for Lauren Alaina?  She’s too young to wait tables anyway. Fortunately, after that stellar audition, she’ll probably never have to learn.