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Singer silences his stutter with song on 'American Idol'

“American Idol” returned to its roots on Thursday with a kinder, gentler episode filled with inspiring stories designed to tug at the heartstrings and make it even sadder when some of those getting good news in Chicago are summarily booted off in Hollywood.

The biggest story by far was Lazaro Arbos. Arbos has a stutter bad enough that even a simple sentence is difficult for him, and the judges had to help him get the words out when he told them the name of his song. But as soon as he broke out “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” all of that went away, and he got four yes votes from the overwhelmed panel.

Is Arbos likely to win? Probably not. But he’s a great story and he inspired anyone who watched. That, traditionally, is what the audition episodes are all about.

Unconventional for a different reason was Kez Ban. Ban doesn’t have the look of a pop singer – she has the look of someone who plays with fire for a living, which, as a fire performer, is what she does – and she acted like she didn’t much care how she did and was just there on a lark. Maybe she had a gig down the street and showed up to kill time.

But whether she was slumming it or simply sandbagging, Ban got four yes votes and moved on to Hollywood. Then she complained about the paperwork she’d have to fill out. Her voice was good enough to go far, but she’ll probably have to act like she cares a little bit about how she does if she wants to succeed in the competition.

That was just the tip of the iceberg in the TV-movie-of-the-week category:

  • Mariah Pulice was recovering from an eating disorder, and clutched her golden ticket as if it were an affirmation of all the work she’d done to get there, which it pretty much was.
  • Clifton Duffin’s parents had never heard him sing, and then got called in to hear his good news.
  • Brandy Neelly was adopted by her aunt after her mom and dad had problems, which is not something viewers heard about when she made it to Hollywood a year ago.

All three moved on. Apparently this “not taking the stories into account when making decisions” thing everyone talked about before the season began is not 100 percent true.

Another familiar face making a return trip was Johnny Keyser. He got bounced in Hollywood a year ago, was one of four contestants with a chance to get voted back to be a finalist, and lost out on that as well to Jermaine Jones. (Nice call on that one, America!) Performing before a panel that featured three different judges than he saw a year ago, Johnny got the second chance he was looking for.

"Hopefully you've done some work so you won't crash and burn this time," Randy Jackson said. Thanks for the support, dawg!

Also of note: Gabe Brown was discovered in Iowa City, was bused to Chicago, bribed the judges with cookies and got in despite a very unpoppy like rock vocal. If you want to get in good with the folks who count at this stage, sweets are apparently the way to go.

The judges' story lines were the same as the first episode. Mariah Carey is the one all the contestants genuflect before. Nicki Minaj is the one who does whatever it takes to keep herself from dying of boredom, whether it’s accents, deadpan humor or the slow torture of dangling faint hopes in front of overmatched contestants and watching that dreamlike optimism wither and die in their eyes. And Keith Urban is the laid-back dude who’s supposed to be normal.

But that apparently changes next week when the show moves to Charlotte, N.C., and the drama between the women on the panel really starts. Thursday night was inspiration. Next time, apparently, it’s just frustration.

Do you think Lazaro will go far in the competition? Which of the other hopefuls stuck out to you? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page!

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