CONCORD, N.C. -- “American Idol” made its long-awaited pit stop in Charlotte on Wednesday night, during a two-hour Fox telecast in which Ryan Seacrest used that pun and pretty much every other racing-related play on words as he hosted the auditions that took place here last year.
The first round of auditions was held at Time Warner Cable Arena in June, then the celebrity judging panel saw about 100 contestants in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord.
Nifty editing made it appear to viewers unfamiliar with Charlotte that everything happened in the same place: Over the course of the telecast, shots inside and outside Time Warner Cable Arena were blended with footage from the speedway.
After an intro that showed Seacrest tooling around the oval in a pace car shouting “This is the most fun shoot EVER,” judges Randy Jackson, Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban got things started by having some fun at the expense of Naomi Morris, a 28-year-old Charlotte bartender whose plunging neckline made a bigger impression than her singing.
Morris was rejected, but over the course of the Charlotte auditions, 37 hopefuls were put through by the judges to the Hollywood, rounds that will air next month. Among them: Charlottean Ashley Smith, 22, who works three jobs and is a single mother of a 2-year-old boy; Concord resident Taisha Bethea, 21, a Jay M. Robinson High graduate, who is the lead singer of the Charlotte alternative-rock band Carson; and Na’chelle Fullins-Lovell, 19, a religious studies student at Livingstone College in Salisbury who went to Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte.
Teasers for the episode hyped a more extensive look at the dust-up between Minaj and Carey that was leaked to celebrity gossip site TMZ last fall. The grainy video showed the rapper shouting, “I’m not ------- putting up with her ------- highness over there,” among other choice words.
But Wednesday night’s show featured a clearly watered-down version of the tirade: several minutes of simmering tension – as they debated the merits of a rendition of “Lean on Me” by Summer Cunningham of Warner Robins, Ga. – followed by Minaj saying, “Maybe I should just get off the panel.”
She exited, then Carey said: “That was my move. I was gonna do that the next time she ragged on me.”
If Minaj did indeed threaten to shoot Carey (that’s what the pop singer told Barbara Walters in an interview), there was no whiff of such a crime on TV.
Wisely, though, they got that out of the way around the halfway point, and returned the focus to (mostly) great singers. Also advancing:
Rodney Barber, 27, an uptown Charlotte street performer; Ja’bria Barber, 16, of Clover, S.C.; and Brandy Hamilton, a 25-year-old Navy reservist from Charlotte.
Seretha Guinn, 26, a hairstylist, ended the show on a high note by advancing to Hollywood after a melodic version of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” TV theme song that she tweaked – “On the East side of Charlotte I was born and raised, on the playground where I spent most of my days” – a nod to the fact that there’s more to Charlotte than NASCAR.