OFFSTAGE: Keith Urban’s American Idol Highs and Lows

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I have not talked to Keith Urban since the American Idol auditions in North Carolina. But after watching Wednesday night’s (Jan. 23) show, I think it’s safe to say he had a high and a low.

The high might have been Brian Rittenberry, the 27-year-old bookkeeper from Georgia. “When you came out and started talking, I just thought, ’Oh, my God, I hope you sing with that voice,'” Urban said. “You just have a good light about you and soul, and it’s just husky and cool, and your vibrato’s great. Other than that, it sucked.” Other contestants he seemed to love were Jimmy Smith, who did “Bless the Broken Road” (Urban told him, “I dug that”), then Janelle Arthur, who did a fusion of two Urban songs — “Where the Blacktop Ends” and “Walk in the Country” — much to his delight, and Ashley Smith, who shocked all four judges with a dead-on “Cowboy Casanova.”

Then, there was that low. That awkward, uncomfortable, please-make-it-stop low. When Summer Cunningham came out and did an outstanding “Lean on Me” and then said, “I did the country music thing. I’m more of a soulful country, maybe, is kind of what I’ve been doing.” When Urban responded with a terse, “Right,” I knew she’d pissed him off. He went on to say, “I always get thrown when people say, ’I did the country thing.’ I’m like, ’Well, that’s like saying I did the brain surgeon thing.’ Either you’re a brain surgeon, or you’re not.” When she tries to backpedal, he just brushed her off with another “Right, OK.” Cunningham made it through to the Hollywood round, but something tells me she may not do very well out there. Urban may bury the hatchet, but he could leave the handle sticking out.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.