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‘American Idol’ Recap: Hello, Chicago!

American Idol
Imeh Akpanudosen, Getty Images

In the second night of ‘American Idol‘ audition episodes, the panel took their talents — and their talent — to the Windy City.

Much like the New York City premiere, Chicago’s ‘Idol’ auditions were chock full of sob stories, diva drama between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj, painful auditions and jaw dropping vocal talent. How did the ladies, Keith Urban and Randy Jackson make out in Chi-Town?

Not too shabby!

Mackenzie Wasner: A cute country blonde, she knocked the socks off of the panel, especially the female judges. “You have star power that can be honed,” Carey said. Minaj gushed,”Someone like you walks into a room once every few years. You just blew my mind. you are a star.”

Kiara Lanier: Lanier and her awesome hair got to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to none other than Barack Obama! The charmer asked Minaj questions, which simultaneously delighted and offput the rapper-judge, and thanked Carey for opportunity to sing. She busted out ‘The Prayer’ by Celine Dion and Minaj’s face lit up. ”That was pretty freakin’ pretty,” Minaj exclaimed. “So much control!” Carey concurred, ”I love the way you went in and out of loud, soft, and you didn’t do it in a typical way.”

Stephanie Schimel: The blonde sang ‘Dream a Little Dream,’ and her performance was a catalyst for quite a bit of drama on the panel. ”I liked it, I like the choice of song, and I thought your voice was really pretty, I liked your tone,” Carey said. Urban called her a combination of Gwen Stefani and Carrie Underwood. Minaj, however? Not impressed. ”We’ve seen such magnetic things today, I don’t think you feel like a star. I don’t feel it. It didn’t jump out at me,” she said in the sole dissenting opinion. “I don’t like you any less,” Schimel replied. Minaj pointed out that they were wearing matching sparkly pink eye shadow, but before she could get further, Carey made a few remarks and started a heated argument between herself and Minaj. “I feel like a scratching post,” Urban said. The exchange set the tone for the rest of the night and opened a montage of catfighting on the panel.

Melissa Bush: Her rendition of ‘Downtown’ went downhill. Fast.

Gabe Brown: Hailing from Marion, Iowa, Brown brownnosed the panel with cupcakes — and it wound up being unnecessary. His rendition of ‘Gimme Shelter’ blew them away. “I like you, curly,” Minaj smiled. “I think when you’re doing your rock thing, I believe you. I don’t think a person needs to be into rock to understand … I liked it.” Urban added, “I always find the guys who have those big massive voices have big hearts as well.”

Kevin Nabity: In a word? Awkward. While we commend his amazing taste in pop culture heroes — he loves ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,’ which inspired him to do the ‘Ninja Rap,’ martial arts and dance — his cover of ’One Week’ by the Barenaked Ladies was unintelligible. In fairness, the song is a tongue twister, but this went beyond and baffled the judges. “Singing’s not your thing,” Urban said. “Dancing maybe.” ”I like you, Kevin,” Minaj said. Jackson looked shocked: “You liked his singing?!” Minaj, alarmed, retorted, “No. No. No!”

Isabelle Parnell: The 15-year-old with a smoky voice reminiscent of Norah Jones took a brave and new turn, making her audition a duet of ’Baby It’s Cold Outside’ with Urban. ”I like your voice. I think that was a good song choice,” he told her. Carey agreed. ”I was very happy to hear a Christmas song because I love Christmas and I love Christas music, and not just because you’re 15, but there’s a very humble, adorable quality about you.” Minaj loved her too. ”You’re poised; I love your tone and your attitude. You have a thing about you that seems to me like a star. Yes, I absolutely love you darling!” Randy gave her a no, but admitted it meant absolutely nothing. ”She reminds me of Taylor,” Minaj added.

Griffin Peterson: The Adonis that inspired a montage of Minaj flirting with hopefuls, Peterson’s piercing blue eyes and chiseled jaw could have inspired any number of love songs. ”Do you have a girlfriend?!” Minaj asked fiendishly, batting her eyes. Once he actually sang, she loved him even more. ”Let me tell you something about you. You look and feel to me like a star. You just have something that lights up.” Jackson wasn’t too enthusiastic, but Minaj was adamant. ”Put him near any teen heartthrob right now, girls are coming to his concert,” she urged. Carey agreed with her frenemy, saying, ”I do think there’s potential… you have a very handsome face.” Jackson came around, calling him ”the new Bieber,” to which the Canuck’s ‘Beauty and a Beat’ partner snapped, ”Bieber don’t do that to me!”

Curtis Finch Jr.: Minaj affectionately dubbed him “Finchy.” During his gospel-infused performance, the entire panel was moved. Minaj closed her eyes, Carey raised her hand; there was resounding applause. ”Let’s hear it for the boy, boy, boy!” Minaj said. “I really believe God wanted you to sing this here today.”

Mariah Pulice: The night’s first sob story, Pulice is recovering from anorexia. She bonded with Carey over their shared name and sang ’Let It Be.’ ”I really, really felt that song coming from you,” Minaj said. “I’m really happy that you did that. It’s your spirit coming out through your music. As a musician, as an artist, you want to tell a story through your trials and tribulations. And you have a great voice.” ”I’ve had to sing through tears before, too,” Carey, who’s a Jenny Craig brand spokeswoman, said. “I’m proud of you for that. I can’t even imagine how many people out there share the same story.” Pulice was overjoyed at her Golden Ticket, crying, ”I feel beautiful.”

Brandy Neelly: The second sob story of the night, Neelly was adopted. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, she sang ’Your Cheatin’ Heart.’ ”Great song choice — you took it and made it your own,” Urban enthused. “Terrific. I loved it.” ”I really enjoyed you,” Minaj said. “You’re super super special. So much control and you were able to make eye contact … very impressive.” Carey gushed, “I thought it was a great song choice, too. It’s nice to hear such a great song with such a beautiful and talented singer.”

Josh Holiday: Singing ‘Back at One’ by Brian McKnight, he had the ladies swooning. Minaj smiled at him as Carey clapped and grinned joyously. “You have something cool going on,” Jackson said. Minaj added, “You have an exciting sound. No one else in the competition sounds like you.”

Courtney Williams: Aside from her way-adorable cat eyes, she was good, but not a standout. “Yes, very nice!” Carey said, encompassing the bland approval of the panel.

Clifton Duffin: Believe it or not, his ‘Idol’ audition was the first time his own parents ever heard him sing. ”I didn’t feel as confident,” he said. He chose ’Superstar’ by Luther Vandross because it was one of his mom’s favorite songs. (Aw!) Naturally, his mom cried. ”I would have assumed that you’ve been singing in front of everybody,” Minaj said. “I could relate to it, because when I was little, I would sing by myself to get away from whatever,” Carey said. Urban was moved by the performance and the parental reaction was well, telling Duffin’s parents, “He’s a diamond in the rough … he has a raw talent.”

Ieisha Cotton: This professional dancer had great moves, but no musical talent.

Johnny Keyser: Another one of Minaj’s crushes! Singing Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness,’ he won over the Harajuku Barbie in a heartbeat. “Do you have a girlfriend? No? Really?” Urban was clearly into it, dancing in his seat. “I thought it was great. I like your voice, I like your style,” he said. “I like when people come back and they show they really want this,” Jackson said. Carey interrupted Minaj again, starting to argue again. “You are a star. You killed the song — I love that song. You have star quality,” Carey said. Once Minaj finally spoke, she told the returning runner up, “You’re handsome, I did like your voice. I like — there’s a twinkle in your eye.”

Kez Ban: The street performer specializing in fire, balloon animals and apparently looking like Charlie Chaplin at a drag show, she performed ’Got No Strings’ from ‘Pinocchio’ and nailed it. Jackson had her pick up guitar to perform an original song, and the judges ate it up. ”Loved the song, I loved hearing you play — I could feel the realness in you, that you really are that person you’re singing about,” Mimi said. ”You’re very captivating,” Minaj told her. ”you told your story so beautifully. I want to pay to come to your show.”

Next? A sepia montage of painful auditions.

Ashley Curry: She’s somehow a musical theater major, but how good could her grades be? Despite literally sending Carey to run for cover, Minaj enthused, “If you had the right vocal coach, you could do a lot with your voice.” Still, she didn’t make it Hollywood, and her rendition of ‘Mama Knows Best’ by Jessie J was one of the worst of the night.

Lazaro Arbos: If his story didn’t make you cry, check your pulse. The 21-year-old ice cream scooper from Naples, Fla. has a debilitating stutter. He described his lingual struggles as being “like a rollercoaster.” Rocking an adorable bow tie, his speech impediment got worse when he came to U.S. from Cuba. He described how he had no friends growing up. His father explained that music is his life since he’s alone most of the time, and his mom said that if he couldn’t speak, he’d sing. Arbos delivered a flawless rendition of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and it was clear that ‘Idol’ producers saved the best for last. ”Just sing all the time,” Urban said. Jackson added, ”That was really pleasant  really really nice,” Jackson said. “It’s amazing that the stutter doesn’t happen when you sing.” Minaj said she loved the vibe he brought to the room, while Carey praised his “beautiful voice.” After receiving unanimous “yeses,” Arbos began crying. “You’re adorable,” Carey said, hugging her new protege. “You’re gonna do great.”

Minaj summed it up best: “Chicago was unbelievable.”

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