‘American Idol’ comes to Louisville

The American Idol judges at Churchill Downs in September: Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell. Photo by Michael Becker | Fox.

The American Idol judges at Churchill Downs in September: Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell. Photos by Michael Becker | Fox.

So, American Idol came to Kentucky last summer and took back singers from Philadelphia; Blanchester, Ohio; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn.; Conway, Ark.; Virginia Beach, Va. (my hometown — shaka!); and a pair from Cincinnati.

It was kind of like watching a horse from out of state win the Derby.

Louisville's Aaron Williamson had a little fun with the judges, but ultimately, his energy got the best of him.

Aaron Williamson of Louisville had a few fun moments with the judges, but ultimately, his energy got the best of him.

Right now, Kentucky, your American Idol hopes appear to lie with Shera Lawrence, a 23-year-old orthopedic office assistant from Bowling Green, the only Bluegrass State candidate we saw advance out of Louisville, and Deanna Brown of Louisville, who actually advanced to Hollywood out of the Phoenix audition that aired last week.

Prior to the start of the season, both AI judge Simon Cowell and producer Ken Warwick said Louisville was one of the standout audition cities this year. It’s hard to see that from last night’s episode, which tied together the July auditions at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds and the callbacks in front of Randy Jackson, Kara DioGuardi, Paula Abdul and Simon at Churchill Downs — Churchill was the only venue mentioned on air.

In all, the judges awarded 19 gold tickets to Hollywood out of the 11,000 hopefuls that started the contest in July.

Trainwrecks: As always, Kentucky gets a little nervous about how it’s portrayed in national media. Cue the banjos, Ryan Seacrest.

Probably the biggest victim of an attempt at stereotyping was Mark Mudd of Coxs Creek, who sang George Jones‘ White Lighting, and made us wonder if Simon’s ever heard of George Jones. First, Simon asked if Mudd’s UK cell phone holster was a gun. Then, after being dismissed, he said, “be careful,” and Simon and Paula acted like he threatened them. Did producers decide this was a guy to turn into a Deliverance caricature? “Be careful” isn’t a typical farewell, but Mudd’s phrasing was far from menacing.

The other rejection with significant screen time was Ross Plavsic of Crestview Hills, a physics major in a suit and tie who sang ’50s pop songs like they were opera — or someone’s concept of opera.

Rebecca Garcia of Nashville fell victim to Kara’s mean-spirited attempt at humor when the new judge suggested her version of Before He Cheats was a joke. Painful.

Winners: Alexis Grace of Memphis, who was featured in our Idol video in July, got her ticket with a belty, soulful rendition of Aretha Franklin’s Dr. Feelgood. And Leneshe Young of Cincinnati scored with an original tune and loads of cheer and self-confidence that belied her impoverished upbringing. If there are Louisville auditioners we will still be talking about in May, these two seem to be the most likely to succeed, though dueling pianist Matt Giraud of Kalamazoo and Brent Keith Smith of Blanchester — the recipient of Kara’s ecstatic “yes!” we’ve been seeing in commercials — could get it together and go.

Then again, there were 10 gold ticket winners we haven’t heard, so maybe there’s a Top 12 finalist in there. Maybe there’s even a Kentuckian.

Further reading: Make sure to catch former Idol contestant Phil Stacey’s blog for LexGo.

More on Mudd: Across the blogosphere, people seem to think the judges went way overboard in acting like Mark Mudd was threatening them with his “be careful” line:

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