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American Idol finds soul, showcases weird production in second night of auditions [RECAP]

by Carolyn Menyes   Jan 16, 2014 22:38 PM EST

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It may be unlucky No. 13 for this season of American Idol ratings-wise, but that doesn't mean the show can't still find some raw talent. After last night's premiere, tonight (Jan. 16) found the reality talent show back in Austin and in San Francisco for auditions take two.

Now that the newness of the new American Idol has worn off a bit, it's clear just how different the production values are for this season. It's not just "The Chamber," the tiny closet that the contestants stand in before they audition for Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., and it's not just the attempted use for social media engagement in the form of Twitter hashtags and leading commercial breaks... it's the way the show is shot, edited, put together.

Even though American Idol promised a return to form and a refocusing on its contestants, that's not necessarily what we got.

Take Aranesa Turner for example. With a beautiful, wild head full of curly hair, this young woman gave a smooth, R&B-twinged take on the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory track "Pure Imagination." However, due to editing, viewers only got to see a few small snippets of what otherwise could have been a standout performance.

Another victim to the odd editing was Quiandra Boston-Pearsell, a high school student who came to Idol with her talk-singing best friend. She sang with a youthful, soulful voice that perfectly fit with her look. However, since she came with Jamiah Malik, the Idol producers played a game of: "which one did the judges like?" Jumpy cuts put together footage of feedback from Lopez, Urban and Connick and reactions from Malik and Pearsell.

In the end, she made it through, though it would've been nice to see what exactly the judges had to say about her. Malik, meanwhile, was sent packing home.

In her post-audition interview, Pearsell was in shock over the judges' pick saying "I don't even know how to feel about that." Girl, you're not the only one.

There were some hints at full auditions, which is really where Idol can shine. Jesse Roach, the first performer of the afternoon and the one who seemed to stand out the most, led Austin day two. With black hair and a black guitar to match, she took on KT Oslin's "Do Ya" with a raspy, powerful voice with just a hint of a poppy whine that created something truly unique and set the stage high.

Another Austin standout came courtesy of Megan Miller who absolutely blew through Carrie Underwood's "Last Name." Miller was the first true country performer of the night and oversang the hell out of her choice song. She didn't quite blow out the speakers on the TV, but the judges did worry she could blow out her voice, a valid concern. However, she got through.

And then there was the "life is better for pretty people" audition, courtesy of Spencer Lloyd. His olive skin and dreamy green eyes were more memorable that his take on Colton Dixon's "Never Gone," but Lopez was so smitten he got through. But, he's not likely to make it past Hollywood round one.

Oh, and we got out first Idol legacy: season one third place contestant Nikki McKibbin's son Tristen Langley had his audition in Austin, and his "Santeria" cover was underwhelming, but it made for a good story, so he got through.

Austin brought a stronger pool of talent than San Francisco, but that didn't stop Emmanuel Zidor from coming in swinging. This soulful, honest man literally crawled into the audition singing with his solid R&B tones.

The true standout from San Fran came in the form of singer-songwriter David Luning, who looked just as rustic as someone on Mumford & Sons' tour bus. Equipped with the mighty acoustic guitar, Luning powered through an original song. His raspy, bluesy voice and obvious songwriting ability was enough to get him to Hollywood, but let's be real... this guy is not meant for American Idol. He's destined for another avenue of music making.

Adding to the odd production twists of this season, twin sisters Selena and Sierra Moreno auditioned together, with the former slaying Janis Joplin's "Try," while Sierra struggled to make it through "1+1." Selena made it, Sierra did it, and in all his wisdom, Harry Connick Jr. acknowleged they all knew that was what was going to happen. But, it did make for a little bit of drama, which has been largely lacking this season.

Finally, it's time for the real story of the night. Call her the comeback girl, but Briana Oakley is here to stay. After getting cut from Hollywood last season, the 17-year-old returned with Sara Bareilles' "Stay," and her soft, jazzy voice with the absolute right amount of passion showed she was more than capable of taking Idol by storm.

In total, 33 people moved on from Austin day two and San Francisco, making the people going to Hollywood total 79.

Oh, and we're just not even going to talk about that Rick Roll thing. It was dumb and it's not 2008 anymore.

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