So it begins.
On Wednesday, American Idol kicked off season 11 on Fox with a retrospective feel. The two-hour event kicked off with a dark, printed message framing a key question to viewers: "Where were you when it all started?"
Viewers were transported back to 2002 and reminded of the moment Texas cocktail waitress Kelly Clarkson won the show's inaugural season. You remember: The days when Paula sparred with Simon and Randy's frequent exclamations of "Yo, Dawg!" were still mildly amusing.
But you didn't tune in for a walk down Memory Lane. It's the auditions, the contestants, the stories of perseverance tugging at the heartstrings that have kept American Idol running longer than some marriages.
Judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson have all returned this season. Along with host Ryan Seacrest, they are traveling the country looking for the next superstar singer, making stops in Aspen, Colorado; Galveston, Texas; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Portland, Oregon; San Diego, California and St. Louis, Missouri.
Oh -- and for the first time, Savannah, Georgia. That's where our Season 11 audition tour got its kickoff.
With competition from other singing reality shows and the pressure to mirror the chart-topping success of previous winners and finalists, the judges say all it takes is finding that one special contestant with a very special back story.
Which brings the question: What wannabe Idols are leaving talent show fans with red-rimmed eyes this season?
We can think of a few.
Cue the Kleenex for Amy Brumfeld: One of the more unusual stories of the night came from the 24-year-old, who told the cameras about her current living situation. The young woman, who delivered a raspy rendition of Alicia Keys' "Superwoman," is currently camping out in the woods with her boyfriend and their dog.
The clan cannot afford more conventional lodging and are living off the land until Amy lands her big break.
"I live in a tent in the woods, right out in the middle of the woods. I'm kinda struggling, majorly struggling."
How's that for a tearjerker?
Jennifer liked Amy because she inspired her to make up a new word: "Hipsy." "Hipsism," and the spirits of the children in the woods, were enough to earn Amy a Golden Ticket to Hollywood.
Of course, tears don't always come in the form of grief. A hearty dose of comedy can be just as good at summoning a good cry.
Just ask Oprah.
Ah -- which brings us to the story of Mawuena Kodjo.
The West African-born Mawuena was undoubtedly the worst singer of the night. And the only thing more inspiring than his tenacity was his terrible rendition of Rascal Flatts' "I Won't Let Go" -- which he delivered with complete conviction.
Next up, we have Shaun Kraisman. Or as we prefer to call him: "Are you there, Ryan? It's your doppelganger." Kraisman does an uncanny impression of Ry and it looks like the presenter took to the stage with a little help from his lookalike.
The 26-year-old sales consultant from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina impressed the judges with his spot-on impression of the TV and radio personality.
"Will you work for half of Ryan's pay?" Randy joked.
Kraisman failed, however, to impress the judges with his singing.
What makes this a sob story?
If only this were a talent search for the next Hardest-Working Man in Hollywood! Shaun would be on the next train to Tinseltown.
Alas, it was not to be.
One of the most memorable inspirational tales of the night came in the form of Brother-Sister duo Schyler and Colton Dixon. Schyler hopes to define herself without brother Colton, who was prominently featured during the Hollywood round last year.
While only Schyler had decided to audition again, after having failing to make it through in 2010, Randy, Steven and Jennifer also asked Colton to drop a few notes. After performing David Cook's "Permanent" for the panel, Colton was informed that he, too, had nabbed a coveted Golden Ticket -- even though he hadn't even registered to audition.
Their persistence paid off and the brother and sister both sailed through to Hollywood.
Don't you just love a happy ending?
In all, 42 singers received head nods to Hollywood in Idol's first showing of 2012. Good job, Savannah!
Now it's on to the Steel Town as Idol visits Pittsburgh Thursday night. Go Steelers!
American Idol airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.
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