If there is one song that has been more of a curse than a blessing to “American Idol” auditioners for over 18 seasons now, it is “Proud Mary.” Just last year, Top 20 contestant Shawn Robinson, through no fault of his own, fell into the trap when he shared a duet with celebrity artist Elle King (“X’s and Oh’s”) that featured the classic song that was a hit for Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969 and would be transformed into a raucous R&B classic in 1971 by Ike and Tina Turner.
Shawn chose to do the slow version with his partner, but it barely mattered when, during a live episode, King seemed to sing the first verse twice on-air and might have caused the ‘Idol’ hopeful to come in too soon. While judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan praised their recovery, it was left up to the social media jury to declare that King was responsible. Sadly, Shawn would be duly exed out of the reality show.
But on the fifth and final audition episode of Season 18 that aired on Sunday, March 15, a Puerto Rican-born contestant name Gilberto Rivera will put the pride back into “Proud Mary” during his eventual audition that is slightly delayed when the judges return to their seats. Exuding confidence, the rather tall contestant is quite a sight with his long cascading hair, shiny red platform shoes and a glittery rainbow-colored tank top and black shorts. He casually says hi to Luke and then asks if he could sit behind the judging table next to him.
Lionel comes into the room and is a bit taken aback that someone has claimed his chair and says, “I’m being replaced.” Gilberto asks him,”What makes you the next American Idol?” Says Lionel, playing along, “Only because I feel there is no place to go now at this point.” Asks host Ryan Seacrest, who occupying Luke’s usual seat, “Are you going to sing an original?” At that point, Lionel launches into his signature hit “Hello,” and sings the love song directly to Gilberto. And the bold hopeful sings his lyrics right back to Lionel off the cuff.
A shocked pop legend is impressed and the official audition begins. Gilberto, 23, is originally from Orlando, Fla., but he moved to the Big Apple over a year ago and became a subway singer. He announces he will be performing — wait for it — “Proud Mary.” the Tina Turner version. When his recorded track speeds up, Katy begins to twirl and the other judges stand and move about. Gilberto is almost out of breath as he tries to keep up with the music but he ends quite nicely.
Lionel says to him, “We’re in this business of uniqueness. You my friend are clearly unique. Is it pop or is it theatrical? Theater may be your stage.” But Gilberto replies that singing is his passion. Luke asks him if he has ever been to Hollywood? Nope. Do you want to go there one day? Desperately. Katy, meanwhile, has one request: “What about shaving your chest?” Gilberto says you tell me what you want and I will give you everything that I have.” Lionel isn’t so sure but unique performer does get a golden ticket to Hollywood.
At least he saved the reputation of “Proud Mary”on the show. The last shot shows Gilberto getting his chest manscaped in a salon a la “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Too bad he didn’t yell out as his follicles were painfully pulled, “Kelly Clarkson!”