Contestants in the Midwest prove they have the chops to get to Hollywood
Credit: Michael becker/FOX

The second week of American Idol auditions started in Milwaukee, Wisc., home of season 8’s Danny Gokey. Although Steven Tyler described one drawn-out vocal as squeezing “vanilla fudge in ‘Eleanor Rigby’ ” – huh? – the talent that came through was quite good. Quite young, too.

With the entry age now lowered to 15 – a way to keep young viewers hooked and maybe even discover the next Justin Bieber – the season so far has been marked by singers who can say without a hint of sarcasm that being on Idol has been their lifelong dream. And many of them on Wednesday night were talented enough to go on to Hollywood.

Thia Megia, 15, sang Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” with a strong voice that Steven described as full of “smoke and heat.” And Emma Henry, 15, sang “True Colors” in a voice that struck the judges as intriguing: It was slightly husky and very fragile. She wept up such a storm at the thought of being sent home, the judges gave her a golden ticket, but Jennifer Lopez predicted the competition would crush her. Probably. And yet it’s exactly her sort of unusualness that seldom goes beyond auditions, and deserves a chance.

The show started with Scotty McCreery, a 16-year-old whose voice had genuine old-school country twang. Actually, he’s one of the best voices I’ve ever heard in these long audition rounds. He sang Josh Turner’s “Your Man.” Steven praised him with a sentence that rhymed “duck” with a bleeped obscenity.

Among other promising singers sent on to Hollywood:

  • Molly DeWolf Swenson was interesting for three reasons:
  • 1. She’s a White House intern. 2. She sang a nice, slow, sultry “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.
  • 3. She was accidentally punched in the mouth by Randy Jackson while he was high-fiving his way through the crowd of auditioners. A life crowded with incident!

• Naima Adedapo, a striking-looking woman who works doing cleanup at the big Summerfest stage, was “one of the best we’ve seen,” said J.Lo.

• Bar mitzvah singer Jerome Bell, singled out by Randy for his “hot, crazy vocals.”

• Steve Beghun, a 27-year-old CPA who looked like Will Ferrell playing a character, had a clear, piercing voice. Steven called him “disturbingly great.”

• Jennifer’s favorite: Scott Dangerfield, a smooooooth-voiced student teacher who came in dressed as if he were dropping a Netflix envelope off in the mail. As Randy said, “This is the unassuming season.”

• Chris Medina, who also happened to be the night’s saddest story. His fiancée suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in 2009, and was brought on in her wheelchair to meet the judges.

The evening’s spotlighted oddballs also included Nathaniel Jones, a Civil War re-enactor in Union uniform (“Oh, no,” Jennifer muttered), and some guy with a giant toothbrush.