Michael Slezak
February 07, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

”American Idol”: The final auditions!

Three cheers for the woman who made funny faces while singing on Idol tonight!

For the record, the woman in question is Ashlyn Carr, a sweet, polite 18-year-old from Texas whose pleasant, if slightly peculiar, rendition of Michael Bublé’s ”Feeling Good” was the highlight of the final audition episode of Idol‘s sixth season — this one from San Antonio, Texas.

Is Ashlyn the next American Idol? I’d bet all the money in my checking account that the answer is no. And yet in a lot of ways, she personifies what’s truly beautiful about the competition — the way it puts a spotlight on genuinely talented singers who probably aren’t thin enough or traditionally attractive enough or well-dressed enough or at the very least shameless enough (in that horrific Paris Hilton kind of way) to get the attention of cynical record execs who always seem to choose the pretty face over the pretty voice these days.

No doubt about it: Pretty faces had nothing to do with Ashlyn’s success tonight. Quite the opposite, actually, as Paula and Randy both initially rejected Ashlyn because of the way she scrunched her eyes and bared her teeth during her performance — as if she were a gassy baby straining for sweet relief. Thankfully, however, Simon tossed off a casual ”I would’ve said yes” right as the audition came crashing down around Ashlyn, leaving impressionable Randy scrambling to concoct a second opinion, and the show’s producers scrambling to catch up with the tearful, fleeing contestant and bring her back in front of the judges.

I actually thought Ashlyn’s second take, a somewhat mumbled rendition of Natalie Cole’s ”Inseparable,” was the lesser of her two numbers, but as Simon noted, her languid, jazzy voice harks back to the Dionne Warwick era, and couldn’t we all use a little more of that sound in our lives? On top of all that, Ashlyn’s killer backstory (which is not to be confused with a too-much-information sob story) about the high-school rival who once beat her unconscious and left her with a concussion made her the geek-girl heroine of the evening, especially with the way she strutted like a Top Model hopeful after scoring her golden ticket.

On the flip side of the coin, I was initially a little suspect of 16-year-old Baylie Brown. My misgivings, right or wrong, were caused partially by her striking resemblance to Denise Richards, and partially by my envy that she gets to spend her day surrounded by ponies. What a pleasant surprise, then, to discover that Baylie is funny, articulate, and quite possibly capable of outsinging Faith Hill on her own hit, ”Stronger.” As Simon said, the girl is ”commercial with a capital C,” and if she’s able to do what previous Idol youngsters like Diana DeGarmo and Paris Bennett couldn’t quite — and prove she’s got the emotional maturity to connect with her material over the long four months ahead — then everyone from your most clueless coworker to your Aunt Frida could very well know the name Baylie Brown by May.

Whether or not the other three successful auditioners shown tonight will be able to keep pace with Baylie is questionable, but that’s not to say I can’t see myself potentially rooting for the affable Jimmy McNeal, whose ”Cupid” was appropriately big and bombastic, if not particularly original. Likewise, Akron Watson was completely charming doing a backstage comedy bit with cousin William Green (whose exaggerated, tongue-in-cheek ”I wanted to slap Randy!” was the night’s funniest moment), but Akron’s personality seemed to evaporate during his ”Change Is Gonna Come”/”Let’s Get It On” doubleheader. Let’s hope William lends him some mojo for Hollywood week, since Akron is unlikely to work a sexy black pantsuit with a plunging back quite as effectively as wedding singer Haley Scarnato, who can’t really be blamed for trying to distract the judges from an in-tune yet ho-hum version of Bonnie Raitt’s ”I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

I will, however, point an accusatory finger in the direction of the Idol cameraman who strained mightily over that sign-in table to capture a glimpse of the too-tight crotch of Jasmine Holland’s alarming red pants. Not even her horrifyingly flat version of Deborah Cox’s ”Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” (at least I think that’s what Jasmine was trying to sing) could make me forget that nobody’s supposed to look there. Gah!

Fortunately, that was the episode’s only below-the-belt moment (literally and figuratively). Simon’s note to the rather intense Jacob Tutor that ”you need to be in a dark bedroom when you sing that song” was pure, guilt-free comedy, and even though I’ll cop to feeling just a twinge of remorse for laughing at Sandie Chavez’s otherworldly ”Black Velvet” after she burst into tears in front of the judges, at least she had the good sense to apologize for her performance. Now wouldn’t that be a nice trend for season 7?

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Were you happy seeing Ashlyn get a second chance? And will any of tonight’s performers make it past the Hollywood round?

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