Friday, January 27, 2012

Houston Auditions: "I like your insides as well, man."

The MVP of the Houston auditions was an adorable man named Commander Burbank. There I was expecting one of Ryan Seacrest’s typical openings, and then BAM! International Space Station! Commander Burbank, sorta/kinda floating in a little transmission room, smiled at the camera and was like, “So this is Idol … in Space!” And my heart was stolen for good.

Then Ryan was back on camera, obviously loving every moment of this. I’m assuming this has been a lifelong dream for him – working your ass off until a show gets so big that this measly Earth can’t contain it anymore. Once your show reaches Space, Mission Control should just pack up and call it a day because there’s no outdoing that. Ryan Seacrest, this was the pinnacle of your career. You’ll remember this as the beginning of the long end. Wow, I just went into depress-mode there. Sorry. I worry about Ryan. He’s like the glue that keeps the entertainment industry from spiraling apart.

So Houston. Right. Houston, by way of Galveston, a delightful town famous for a tragic hurricane and home to heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. Musical talent, though? Not so high on the list. Idol totally backstabbed you, Houston. In Space. Girls ruled the night in both talent and as the impetus for the judges to snipe like children. The men in Houston were special, for lack of a better word. Too bad. All the good ones must be in space like Commander Burbank. Uncle Steven kicked off the hour by woefully saying, “It’s so hard for me to tell somebody they suck.” Yeah, we noticed.

This … is … American Idol! In Space!

Not as Cool as Commander Burbank but Pretty Darn Close

Skylar Laine likes to shoot guns and ride ATVs. Aw, shucks, Idol, don’t scare Ryan! Her family runs a little grocery store where she works, and her grandpa couldn’t even describe how proud he was of her. Nuts of wonder, I’ve always been a soft touch for proud grandpas. Skylar said that she’s trying out so she can take care of her family and their little shop, and the whole segment was a delightful gem of country values. She sang “Hell on Heels” for the judges, and wow, what a little spitfire she is. Once the head-tossing, finger-shaking, and country-growling subsided, the judges gave her a Golden Ticket. Then Skylar’s incredibly tall friend came into the audition room because, surprise, she has a huge crush on Uncle Steven. He checked her age first to make sure he wasn’t breaking any laws and gave her a big hug. I love that Uncle Steven feels the need to confirm ages now. That’s totally reassuring.

Baylie Brown is back! OMG, do you remember Baylie Brown? So much promise, so much young talent, and then she was all but shanked by those horrid Jersey girls Antonella and Amanda. And speaking of which, remember Antonella, the one with the nude pictures? Holy guacamole, she was bad! For those of you who don’t remember Season 6 like it was yesterday, poor little Baylie ended up in the group round with two of the worst people ever, and there bickering and sniping ended up steamrolling Baylie’s chances. It was very controversial and a big deal in the Idol Universe at that time. People still talk about Baylie Brown’s elimination. Behold the drama as it unfolded five years ago …

So, yeah. Baylie was a silly 16-year-old girl who let the awful-twins get in her head so much that she forgot the words. Is she older and wiser now? Well, she definitely hasn't forgotten about “those girls from New Jersey.” That was the first thing she mentioned when we saw her older face and darker hair. Fortunately, Baylie sings even better now. Her voice rang clear as bell during her audition, and Randy even pretended to remember her by saying that she’s improved. We’ll see if Baylie has more luck in Hollywood this year.

Kristine Osorio is 28, ancient in Idol years, so the Houston auditions were her last chance. I wanted to squeeze her through the TV in a bear hug because, seriously, an adult! With kids and a real house and probably all kinds of debt. That’s what I call an American Idol (In Space!), Dawgs. Years ago, Kristine formed a band with her now ex-husband, then (as men do) he impregnated her with three kids – at different times, of course – and she gave up on her dreams. But now, with the attorney bills stacking up, Kristine decided to do something just for her for once in her life. Instead of paying her divorce attorney, she bought a plane ticket to Texas so she could audition for Idol. That could have turned out very badly, Kristine. You’re lucky. I’ll just count my lucky stars that she didn’t drop out of high school. She auditioned for the judges, and Hallelujah, it was awesome. Her voice was raw, powerful, and infused with 28 years of experience. I wish the best for this lady. I really do.

Cortez Shaw is a dreamboat, I must say. Very handsome. Very handsome, indeed. Hmm … Okay! Cortez works his way through college as a warehouse laborer, and he understands that life is a series of hard knocks that keep pushing you down. He told us some inspiring stuff about hard work and determination and his single mom who kept him motivated. We get it, Cortez. You are the American Story, the Ideal Idol, the Lone Sexy Man in a Sea of Women (In Space). Cortez sang Adele’s “Someone Like You” for his audition, only he put his own spin on it. It sounded a bit like a remix of the original, but he stayed faithful enough to the melody that I’m not offended on behalf of Adele. He has great range and charisma. I’m pretty sure J. Lo is already halfway in love with him.

Ramiro Garcia was born without ears. Things worked out, though, so don’t worry about him. A worship leader at a Houston church, Ramiro is the apple of his family’s collective eye. “He sing in another level – different to this world,” said his dad, blinking away tears. Awww. I don’t believe Papa Garcia would ever lie to me. Put him through to Hollywood! Ramiro sang “Amazing Grace / Chains Are Broken” to the judges with all the conviction that probably makes him a great worship leader. I thought it was a little shouty, to be honest, but Papa Garcia approves, and arguing with him is among the Seven Deadly Sins. The judges slobbered all over the desk at Ramiro’s voice, Steven admired Ramiro’s “insides,” and YO, YO, YO! He’s going to Hollywood!

Battle of the Sexes

Girls rule. Boys drool.
Every season, Idol channels its inner 8-year-old child and manufactures some girl vs. boy drama in at least one city. Houston got the honors this year. I’m totally in J. Lo’s corner this season. I think we witnessed last night exactly what happened to Paula Abdul’s sanity. J. Lo started off the auditions as this cool, composed diva, and by the end of the day, she was pounding her head against the desk and muttering, “Is this serious? Is this serious? Am I dreaming?” Curse you, Uncle Steven and Randy. J. Lo deserves better!

The shenanigans started when J. Lo liked three girls that the guys rejected. Randy kept saying that they weren’t ready, and J. Lo gaped at him and shrieked things like, “Are you crazy? You finally say a complete sentence, and it’s that? I hate you forever, Randy Jackson!” I don’t know what Uncle Steven’s aim was at this point. He lives in his own world sometimes. From what I heard, all three girls had great voices, but maybe we missed something? I don’t know. All that matters is that J. Lo was upset. And when J. Lo’s upset, a personal assistant probably has to shine all of her shoes without dinner.

Then we saw the truly wretched audition of Linda Williams, who never saw a note or vocal run she didn’t like in “Fallin’.” It was all J. Lo could do not to laugh in the woman’s face. The vocal was a hot mess. J. Lo was totally right, but the talking cat and dog in the room with her didn’t agree. Linda finished up the audition and breathed, “I’m about to pee myself,” and without missing a beat, Uncle Steven said, “Go right ahead.” EW! Who are these people? The guys voted Linda through, leaving J. Lo aghast at the injustice of it all. She glared at the men and snapped, “That was awful. That was awful.” I’m really glad J. Lo didn’t have to experience The Rise and Fall of Bikini Girl. She probably would have punched the girl. Don’t be fooled by the rocks that she’s got, Dawgs. She’s still Jenny from the block.

And Now, The Bad Auditions Illustrated Through a Series of Dramatic Quotes:

“Um, all the camera action in my face.”
Phong Vu’s response to Ryan about his favorite part of being on Idol

“The energy, the emotion, the sympathy. I feel the pain. It’s coming through me. I wanna channel it back to you. Toni Braxton, unbreak my heart.”
Phong Vu to the judges

“Your hands are sweaty.”
Ryan to Phong Vu

“Randy, Jennifer, Steven – grant me the power to bring revolution to the world.”
Alejandro Cazares

“I want to be your age one day, Steven.”
Alejandro Cazares

“I wrote ‘Dream On’ back when the Dead Sea was still sick.”
Uncle Steven

“No, no, no, no!”
Randy in response to Alejandro’s audition

“The revolution is not over. Not ‘til I SAY it’s over.”
Alejandro Cazares

Nuts of wonder, Dawgs. By the way, Idol, I totally heard the gong you played when Phong Vu walked into the audition room. Just because you’re in Space doesn’t mean the laws of common decency don’t apply. What is UP with Idol and Asian Americans?

I’m ready for Hollywood Week. These auditions are so tedious. Any favorites yet, Dawgs? Is Idol better or worse in Space? Have a great weekend, and for the love of Ryan Seacrest, leave something in the comments so I know you’re here! Please? Pretty please? Perhaps I’ll bribe you with kittens …

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Aspen Auditions: "If you ask her for another song, I'm gonna kill you."

Aspen: Like so many locations in Idol's Parade of Horrors, the lovely place where dreams come to die.

Aspen, Colorado: Destination for the rich and famous and proud home of very little talent. In Aspen, strange things happen. One moment, you’re admiring the autumn leaves on the majestic Rocky Mountains, and the next, you’re watching a bear huddled in the snow. Things like seasons and consistent climates mean nothing in Aspen. In this magical land, Ryan Seacrest can stand in the sunshine on dry ground and pack a snowball seconds later. It’s a fantastical place of beautiful scenery and crazy people. Really crazy. What else would you expect from this Rocky Mountain paradise?

Overall, Aspen scores high points for being drop dead beautiful and low points for anything involving music. Sure, they handed out a few Golden Tickets, but was it really worth it in the long run? Learning that Rocky Mountain Oysters are actually bull testes only gets us so far. You know?

So the people in Aspen were about 95% cray-cray, and 5% boring. When Uncle Steven looks like the most stable person in the room, you know we’ve entered some fairy tale-level realms of the absurd. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Seven Dwarves marched out of the mountains and performed a scat routine for the judges. It was just that kind of night. No disrespect to the people of Aspen, by the way. You can’t help it if Idol chose to forgo the upstanding citizens for the train full of people with Ringling Bros. That’s how Idol rolls, y’all. I mean, Rocky Mountain Oysters

Who knew, right?
This … is … American Idol!

The Good Auditions (I use the term “good” loosely. Take that as you will.)

Jenni Schick kicked off the episode by screaming bloody murder and bouncing around the holding room like the world’s most annoying pinball machine ball. This kindergarten music teacher (Oh sweet lord, the children!) hates the sound of recorders and thinks that Uncle Steven is the cat’s meow. Delusional women with crushes on Uncle Steven are not interesting anymore, Idol! You have one or two per show, if you haven’t noticed. You know what would be surprising and interesting? A woman with the hots for Randy Jackson. Then I’d be like, “Okay, this is unusual and unexpected. I’ll watch this and be entertained.” Anyway. Jenni spewed all kinds of nonsense at Ryan, telling him that she and her boyfriend had a list of people they were allowed to kiss and that Uncle Steven, Lady Gaga, and Adam Levine were on hers. And Ryan just looked disgusted by that because he likely knows that deep down, none of those people are worth kissing. Then Jenni all but threatened to kiss Ryan, and his face turned the palest shade of white ever, and I’m pretty sure he peed his pants a little. I think Jenni does that to people on a regular basis. For her audition, she sang “Heartbreaker” in an over-affected girl rocker voice. She was in tune, but her voice had a cringe-worthy nasal quality to it. Since I couldn’t stand her, I knew the judges would love it. They put her through to Hollywood, and then Randy, trying to be all funny and clever, shouted, “And … you may kiss the judge!” So Jenni kissed Uncle Steven, and it was open-mouthed and gross. I’m pretty sure herpes was transmitted to someone in that moment; I’m just not sure to whom. 

Curtis Gray documented the morning of his audition by video camera, which was probably a bad idea because he looked totally … under the influence of herbal supplements. I don’t know this for a fact, Dawgs, so let’s not start any rumors. But really. Red flags. Just say no, kids. Just say no. “I slept wicked good last night,” he mumbled at the camera. “Unbelievable how good I slept.” Well. As long as he got a good night’s sleep. After devoting his long life (20 years, tops) to music, Curtis was ready to put his extensive voice lessons to good use. And he did, for the most part. He barreled through the audition like it wasn’t his first rodeo and showed off a nice tone and good control. It was kind of boring, though, which surprised me because I expected a guy who says things like “wicked good” with pupils the size of pinholes would have more to offer. But Randy was all like, “Yo, yo, yo, yo! Listen, listen!” and sent him to Hollywood. Then Curtis’s pants fell partway down while he celebrated, and I’m pretty confident we won’t be seeing him again.

Richie Law sounded way too much like Scotty McCreery for my mind to separate the two. It’s too soon, Cowboy. Way too soon. Fortunately, a guy named Devon Jones sang right after Richie, and his falsetto was more magical than unicorns and leprechauns combined. Then Some Guy sang the living hell out of “Hey, Jude,” squeaked on the epic “better, better, better – WHOA!” part, and people were suddenly going to Hollywood at a rapid rate. I love montages.

Haley Smith burst onto the scene with her earthy hair and charmingly gapped teeth and insanely creepy voice. She lives in a cabin in the middle of the wood and loves nature so damn much it makes her laugh maniacally for 30 seconds straight, which – um – might pose a problem when she goes to Hollywood. L.A. is like the antithesis of nature. “The landscape is to-die-for, if you’re to die for anything,” Haley said while not quite looking into the camera. I’m sure she’s totally balanced. When she walked into the audition room, the judges started squealing like pigs about how Haley’s a “flower child” and everything cool about the 60s and 70s. Haley’s glassy eyes liked that statement, and she hit them with some “Tell Me Something Good.” She had an amazing voice, pure but raw around the edges, and Uncle Steven melted like butter in her hand. He blathered some courting lines about being “honored” to be in her presence, and although Haley and her sweet ponytailed boyfriend don’t know it, she’s about to become the Haley Reinhart of Season 11. She left the room in a cloud of patchouli and peace signs, and Randy said, “A real flower child … at 19. That’s impressive. Uniqueness.” If Randy had to put a complete sentence together, an angel would lose its wings.

Shelby Tweten got the sad, too-personal-for-TV backstory of the night. At first glance, she looked like a normal teenage girl, this little blonde thing with curly hair and a bright smile. But then the judges, with the subtlety of a jackhammer in a funeral home, asked her about her path because their notes told them that Shelby had something to share. So she did, and … Look, I’m not going to poke fun at her bipolar disorder because it’s a truly devastating thing that hits a lot of lives. I can, however, yell at Idol in ALL CAPS to QUIT EXPLOITING THE MENTAL STABILITY OF TEENAGERS AND PEOPLE IN GENERAL, YOU SCUMBAGS! That is all. Shelby sang a country song, and her voice carried a lovely tone. It was so pleasant that I almost forgot the part of her home segment when she said, “American Idol gave me a reason to stay on my meds.” What exactly are Idol’s editors and producers? Gremlins?

Your average Idol producer.
Jairon Jackson was anxious to become a superstar. He wrote his own song for the audition, and sang it even though people close to him told him to sing something else. Wow. Way to make Jairon feel loved, jerks. The song was called “So Hard,” and it wasn’t bad at all. He sounded like every other person I hear on the radio, so the guy definitely has commercial potential. J. Lo gave Uncle Steven a break from propositioning the contestants by telling Jairon, “You’re a lover.” The thing that stuck out to me most about this audition was the way Jairon left Ryan hanging during his celebration. No one leaves Ryan Seacrest hanging in a corner!

Angie Zeiderman claimed that it was time for a “vintage glitter queen” to be on Idol. She credited her frequent comparisons to Lady Gaga to her love for putting on a show. I think it has more to do with the fact that she looks like Lady Gaga without any of the creativity. It probably isn’t a good thing. Loaded with more confidence than Randy at a name-dropping conference, Angie started her audition with a semi-raunchy cabaret performance of a showtune. It was … eye-opening, to say the least. Lots of thrusting and writhing and suggestive looks. I could have done without, is all. Randy’s head nearly boiled over because he hates showtunes. So Angie switched to “Blue Bayou,” and her voice was still the same, only shriller. They put her through, and after she left the room, Randy went on and on about how much he hates vibrato. Oh, okay, then. So Randy hates it when singers use proper technique. Good to know.

The Bad Auditions

Tealana Hedgespeth has a serious inferiority complex when it comes to her twin sister. Well, I would, too, if my twin sister wasn’t insane and actually dressed like a human being instead of an alien in a bright yellow romper. Tealana wanted to prove herself so badly that she warbled though Melissa Etheridge’s “Come to the Water” like her pitch was Nemo and it couldn’t find its way home. Randy sent her away with the words, “You’re funny, man. I like you.” Alanna Snare taught me what Rocky Mountain Oysters are and only gained my sympathy when the show ruthlessly cut the sounds of cows mooing into her dreadful rendition of “Jolene.”

And then there was Magic Cyclops, a man from Iowa who speaks like Ricky Gervais on a bender. Magic Cyclops is kind of … beyond words. He was obviously there just to get on TV for being weird, so I'll give him his 15 seconds of fame. Le sigh. The ways I must lower myself to fill a recap ... Just let his quotes and actions speak for themselves:

“I have 11,000 air guitars, and there’s a guy in Dublin who has, like, five more than me.”

“There’s a storm brewin’, and it’s the Magic Cyclops a-coming for them.”

Said the judges had a choice between a song by Neil Diamond or Jimmy Buffett, only pronounced buffet. Like, a buffet of food.

In response to Randy’s “I’ve gotta go to the bathroom” bit, Magic Cyclops said, “I’ve gotta go to the bathroom, too.” Then he bent over and blew confetti out of the back of his pants.

Wore a poncho to the auditions.

“Will you play the theme song to The Incredible Hulk while I walk away?”

As Magic Cyclops disappeared back into the Rocky Mountains, the Aspen auditions came to a blessed close. So that was an experience, I guess.

Tonight, tune in to watch the Houston, Texas auditions. Howdy, partners! It’s Cowboy Time!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pittsburgh Auditions: "Your face is just so small."

According to Ryan Seacrest, Pittsburgh is the “city of champions.” Not this year, sweetheart, but I doubt you pay a lot of attention to sports, so I’ll let that one slide. You know my favorite things about Pittsburgh? The way navigating the city is way more difficult than it should be. Oh! And the way that no matter what the city’s on the news for, some dude is waving a Terrible Towel in the background. The city almost literally bleeds black and gold. It’s so quaint in a Western Pennsylvania way, and it made me long for my college days when I thought all of this was normal.

There was a lot of talent in Pittsburgh, wasn’t there? I always knew Pennsylvania was a thriving oasis of talent. Other states should pay more attention to us. The judges wondered if there was something in the water of Pittsburgh that makes people so awesome. Ew. Look out the window of your conference center at the Monongahela / Allegheny / Ohio Rivers. Let’s not draw attention to the water. Lots of Golden Tickets were handed out, though. It was just kind of glossed over that many of the recipients of the Golden Tickets were from New York City, Ohio, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Well. At least Pennsylvania made a nice backdrop for Idol’s money machine.

Steel City

This … is … American Idol!

People Who Did Better than the Steelers in the Play-offs – Oh, shush! It’s true! *snicker*

Heejun Han – This Korean immigrant was quite the character, wasn’t he? Idol was really playing this guy up to be a joke with all the shots of his bored face and sound-bites of him angsting over whether he was talented enough. He shared a kindred moment with Ryan, in which he told our unflappable host, “Your face is just so small … You’re very good looking.” Geez, Heejun, for ten years I’ve been brainstorming to come up with the perfect thing to say should I meet Idol’s magical leprechaun, and you sweep it right out for under me. When Heejun went into the audition room, Ryan interviewed the kid’s massive fan club and asked if he was any good at singing. The one girl was like, “Yeah, uh – we’ve never heard him sing before.” Oh, nuts of wonder. I thought we were in for a good one. Then Heejun tore away everything I thought was true in life by singing the pants off of Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” His tone was beautiful. The judges just gaped at the guy because what else were they supposed to do? They were trying to fit this mythical creature named Heejun Han into a box, and he sprinkled some fairy dust, wrinkled his nose, blinked, and exploded awesomeness all over the room. And then he up and stole my parting words, too: “Randy, you look better in person. I’m sorry.”

Eben Franckoewitz – Lest we forget that a childling call Justin Bieber exists in this world, Idol decided to Bieber the heck out of 15-year-old Eben. (Who else wishes that Eben is short for Ebenezer? Please, let it be so!) Just in case we didn’t know that Eben was a wide-eyed small town boy with a dream, his mom summed it up for us the way only a mama can: “You’re only 15-years-old, and look what you’re doing. It’s great.” The judges told Eben that he looks a bit like Justin Bieber (he doesn’t) and oohed and ahhed while Eben sang “Ain’t No Sunshine” (bad choice). What’s up with these kids choosing songs that are eons too old for them? Who can Eben possibly be referring to in that song? His mom? If so, ew. He had a nice boy voice, though, all sweet and lyrical and pure. They’ll chew him up and spit in out in Hollywood similar to the way they destroyed Jacee last season. But it’s his dream! So I guess that makes it okay.

To hell with it ...

Reed Grimm – Oh, I love the contestants who come from the creepy families that moonlight as singing groups! Reed has been onstage since the age of 2 with his family, at which time, I’m assuming he climbed the equipment and shouted out one-word phrases at inopportune moments for the audience. Two? Really? Because the world has been a sadder place since this song was in the mainstream, Reed did a one-man interpretation of the accompaniment and lyrics of the theme song from “Family Matters.” He had a moderately crazy Joe Cocker thing going on while he performed. There was some scatting, a few random sounds, lots of jerking and flailing. Very artsy stuff, you know? When I stopped twitching from the visual assault of watching Reed perform, I enjoyed his voice. He reminds me a little of Jason Mraz, only crazy. Since this is Idol, he’ll be right at home.

Paul. Paul, the dancing man. If he can't do it, no one can!

Samantha Novacek – And now my first dramatic note of the season …

Dear Samantha,
The next time you try out for anything (and you will be going to other auditions because Hollywood won’t be a happy time for you), do not bring your attention-whore sister to do strange things while you sing. Patty the Pittsburgh Planker isn’t even famous. Planking isn’t even cool. None of that works to anyone’s advantage, except for Patty's. I think that you sang well, but I really couldn’t concentrate because Patty the Pittsburgh Planker was totally audition-blocking you. I just thought you should know.
Best Wishes,

Creighton Fraker – The names this season are killing me. How do they expect me to type this gibberish? So Creighton’s a starving artist in New York City who probably wears scarves in the summer. At least once in his life, Creighton has had a woman blow bubbles on him while he performed. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll like this guy a lot. He presented the judges with an original song that he supposedly spent the entire 8-hour bus trip writing. What? Did he just decide to drive to Pittsburgh on a whim? So he had no idea he’d be traveling across two states to audition for a televised singing competition? *Sigh* Okay, then. The song was stupid, but beneath all of the mess that was Creighton (I wrote in my notes, “Oh, what a douche.”) was a good voice. He gave off some Justin Timberlake vibes, and that was cool. He wouldn’t stop singing, though, and I momentarily missed Simon because I know the cranky Brit would have rolled his eyes the whole way out of his head. Steven told Creighton, “You’re a beautiful man.” Well. I have no response for that.

Travis Orlando – This is one of the guys who auditioned last season with a hard life story. Since then, life for Travis has only gotten worse. The 17-year-old lives in a homeless shelter with his dad and brother because his mom walked out on them. That’s sad. No, really, it’s sad. I’m not sure why this is relevant to a singing competition, but I can feel his pain. He performed “Isn’t She Lovely,” and his voice sounded good. Not spectacular or anything, but the kid can definitely carry a tune. When the judges started to hedge on sending him through to Hollywood, I could just see the lava of emotion getting ready to spill out of the top of Travis’s head and spew all over the audition room. He dropped this bomb right off that bat: “I dropped out of high school. It’s an all-or-nothing thing.” NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!

Why is this being glorified on Idol? Pay for him to go to school, you cretins! Idol can’t fix Travis’s crappy family life, and it most certainly can’t pick him up off his face when his music career ends up dead in the water. Nuts of wonder. So Travis cried and begged and covered the room with a thick layer of pathetic, and J. Lo got all teary-eyed and said, “Scared is good. Scared makes you do things you wouldn’t normally do.” Holy crap, J. Lo! Do you think you’re Yoda or something? School! Tell him to go back to school! Alas, they didn’t. Travis is going to Hollywood.

Erika Van Pelt – This mobile DJ / wedding singer had my favorite voice of the night. I loved her rich, alto take on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and so did Steven. He gazed at her adoringly and kept trying to sing along. A real adult singing real songs. How refreshing!

Hallie Day – While Travis Orlando spattered our TV screens with tragedy, Hallie cracked them with intensity. Did you see her eyes? That was some Terminator-level determination going on in her head. Hallie have goal and not stop until Hallie reach goal. So let’s talk about her tortured past. Oh, you know you want to. Hallie dropped out of high school at the age of 15 – a new trend, it seems – to move to New York City and sing for a girls’ group called Plum Crazy. Well, that didn’t really pan out for Hallie, and in the tradition of many wounded child performers, she turned to drugs. She moved back home, where she was so depressed over not being famous yet that she attempted to overdose on a bottle of pills. This isn’t … *deep breath* … this isn’t a story about dreams, Idol. This is the story of a girl who likely struggles with depression and lacks coping skills. I feel like I’d be better off not knowing about her past. The tackiest part of this segment was the edited shot of Hallie collapsing into a chair at the auditions while her voiceover told us about her suicide attempt. I don’t know why this bothers me every year. I’ve come to expect it, but then Idol stands up and slaps me in the face with all this cheese, and I lose control. Moving on. Hallie sang “I Will Survive” so we would feel her intensity and understand that she’s a survivor and there ain’t nobody stopping her now. All kinds of shouting and glaring and growling. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being slightly intimidated. Honestly, I’m still a little nervous that I'll burst into flames for complaining about her sob story before. Good thing: Hallie has a really good voice. Bad thing: She yelled at me. She yelled at us all. The volume doesn’t always have to be turned up to eleven, dear. But Steven said, “I like watching her when she sings,” so I guess none of that matters.

The Lone Loser – Don’t make that face. There was only one reject. Poor kid.

Shane Bruce – Like his grandfather and uncles and father before him, Shane works in the West Virginia coal mines. Ah, here’s a kid who knows what it’s like to work for a living. No dropping out of school or quitting his job here. But despite the financial security of his super dangerous job (really, really dangerous), Shane has a dream. Oh, crap. Don’t they all? Did you notice how awkward Shane’s co-workers looked when he sang in the coal mine? It’s like Idol wants us to believe that coal mine workers sing while they work like Disney characters. Shane told the judges that he was singing, “You know that movie Shrek? The song where the guy’s, like, ‘Hallelujah’?” I’m ashamed at how long I snickered over the fact that he identifies that song with Shrek and not with Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, or hell, the eighty other Idol contestants who have performed it in past seasons. I really shouldn’t judge. When Justin Bieber was getting popular, I was all like, “Who’s that girl singing on the radio?” and didn’t figure out it was a boy for several months. So, really, I’m not any more up with the hip stuff than young Shane Bruce there. My heart kind of sank when Shane started singing. He could carry a tune, but his tone was very labored, he lacked proper inflection, and his transitions were slow and awkward. The judges were upset, too. They told Shane he needed more time, and the kid looked like his dream was a brand new puppy that the judges had just launched out the window into one of Pittsburgh’s rivers. Uncle Steven tried to make it better by talking about the mines and how, “Maybe you singing to them down there – maybe that’s your forte.” Ouch.

And that was Pittsburgh. Do you think the contestants did the city justice? Will the judges ever stop caving when they see tears? When will Uncle Steven learn to say the right thing? And who else wanted to tear the comedy sound machine out of his hands and throw it in the river with Shane Bruce’s metaphorical puppy? Uncle Steven: the oldest toddler you know. Remember that the San Diego episode is airing on Sunday after the play-off game. And remember to remind me because I’m not sure I can remember that. Geez, Idol. What are you thinking about, messing with my weekend?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Savannah Auditions: "Hot, humid, and happenin' ... Just like your daughter."

Season 11 kicked off in the saddest way possible. They reminded us of how long it’s been since Season 1. “When I was six years old,” said the multitude of pretty young things, “I wanted to be like Kelly Clarkson.” Oh, great, so the contestants are all grown up to the rip age of … 16. One girl bragged about idolizing Carrie Underwood in Season 4 and carried a poster of her little child’s face dressed in pajamas – I can only assume the PJs had footies on them – and posing next to the TV way past her bed time. I, one the other hand, watched the meteoric rise of Carrie Underwood from my college dorm. Oh, fiddlesticks. Please excuse my mid-twenties crisis, Dawgs. It’s irrational and silly.

This year, the contestants are going to “document” their journeys. Goodness gracious. In the year 2012, everyone thinks he’s a You Tube star. One dude with big ear piercings told us, “American Idol’s, like, an icon of American society.” Indeed. Indeed, it is, young Einstein.

The brains didn’t stop there. The Savannah auditions boasted a recurring theme of successful people saying very unintelligent things. I hope this isn’t a theme for the entire year. Wait, scratch that. I hope this is a theme for the entire year. When our three esteemed judges entered the audition room, J. Lo and Uncle Steven were dressed as fashion disasters (mis-matched beige and a purple pimp hat?) while Randy seriously wouldn’t stop talking. Then Ryan, that mischievous imp, started the auditions.

Savannah didn’t particularly impress me. I probably would have enjoyed it more without the two-hour show. Nuts of wonder, I hate the two-hour shows. Allen even had the nerve to start up the treadmill around 9:30, making it next to impossible to hear the final auditions without turning my sound system up so loud that the astronauts could probably hear it in space. The judges handed out dozens of Golden Tickets – some of them deserved, others not so much. There were lots of young people, one sob story, one example of awkward racism, one dad who considered busting Uncle Steven’s lip, and one producer manipulated case of sibling rivalry. Ah, that’s the good stuff. Once upon a time, there was a group of nice people in Savannah … until Hollywood came and ruined everything. This … is … American Idol!

The Lucky Ones – Savannah actually had a large population of not-awful people. These are the ones we’ll see again in Hollywood.

David Leathers Jr. – AKA “Mr. Steal Your Girl,” AKA “Mumbling Mumbler Who Needs Subtitles Even Though English is his First Language.” But I digress! Davy Jr. is apparently quite the ladies’ man. He can sing so pretty that girls literally throw their boyfriends aside and flock to him. Fabulous. This kid already has the confidence to make it in Hollywood. Back in 2009, Davy Jr. actually beat out Scotty McCreery in a singing competition. He was bashful about it with Ryan, of course, but his eyes said, “Of course I beat that deep-voiced freak. I’m David Leathers Jr.!” I was surprised when Davy Jr. told the judges that he’s 17 because he doesn’t look a day over 12. Apparently, his stunted growth works to his vocal advantage. His audition reminded me of a young Michael Jackson, only not quite as good as MJ. Davy Jr. can definitely sing, but his voice cracked and strained in a few places. That makes me nervous because if that boy’s voice changes during the competition, he’ll be introduced to a world of pain. The judges felt no concern for that, though. They adored the novelty of the kid’s high-pitched voice and sent him straight to Hollywood. This gave Randy the opportunity to warble this gem: “You’re gonna go where Scotty McCreery went, dude. Wow. Wow, wow, wow, wow. Wow.” WOW.

Gabi Carrubba – This adorable ball of energy is a champion tap dancer. So she’s very ambitious. The teenagers on this show much have a special motivation gene. Gabi’s goal was to make Uncle Steven make that face he makes when he enjoys an audition. You know, the face he makes when he looks like he’s falling asleep. No, not his normal face. The one where he kind of nods his head, too. And twitches a little? Whatever. You’d know it if you saw it. That face. Gabi snag Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” for her audition. It sounded pretty, natural, and on-pitch, so Gabi’s definitely multi-talented. Uncle Steven even made that face. You would’ve thought he gave Gabi the world. I only hope that she turns down the pageant / dance faces. Smiling like a maniac makes her look like a teen-bot, and I want to like Gabi.

Shannon Magrane – I’m guessing that the producers don’t get a bonus unless they serve up a 15-year-old for Uncle Steven to leer at like the pervy old badger he is. Shannon was as perfect for the job as Kim Kardashian is perfect to promote long engagements. The daughter of Joe Macgrane, who pitched in the World Series for the Cardinals, Shannon is a volleyball player and fancies herself a soul singer. She dragged her entire entourage into the audition room, so right then, it was settled. Shannon was going to Hollywood. Her audition was good. The girl doesn’t lack in soul, but she needs to practice control in a bad way. Her voice went several places that I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to go. I should just be impressed that she held my attention despite her mom’s decision to jerk around dramatically and mouth the lyrics while Shannon sang. The judges love families almost as much as they love wearing silly outfits, and they insisted on shaking the veteran baseball player’s hand. Then Uncle Steven, God bless his filthy little heart, opened up a conversation with Papa Magrane about the humid George weather. And of course, when Papa Magrane said, “It’s hot, humid, and happenin’,” the most logical thing for Uncle Steven to say was, “Just like your daughter.” Oh, my. Just … Moving on now …

Amy Brumfield – All you need to know about Amy is that she loves her boyfriend to distraction and lives in a tent in the middle of the forest with him. Yes, in a tent. It’s a nice tent, as far as tents go, but when she pointed to the little copse of trees they use as a bathroom, I honestly wanted to punch something. What the hell, Idol? If you can afford to find their little encampment in the forest with your cameras, you can afford to put them in an apartment. My theory? Amy wants to live in the tent. Hear me out because I’m not being snotty. Her boyfriend has jobs. JOBS. With an “s” at the end. The plural of “job.” Now the working poor are definitely a thing, but there has to be some sort of program to get those kids shelter. If the boyfriend’s mom is generous enough to prepare a cute outfit for Amy's audition, wouldn’t she also be generous enough to – I don’t know – help her son not live in the forest with the bears and the icky Southern bugs and the bad weather? So yeah. Something’s fishy about this sob story, and it isn’t whatever was provoking their dog to make sweet love to their mattress. The singing doesn’t even matter at this point, but I’ll cover it anyway. Amy sang Alicia Keys’ “Superwoman” for her audition. She definitely has a big set of lungs, and she sounded okay. I’m rarely bowled over by auditions when the sob story leaves me with more questions than answers, and Amy wasn’t an exception. She seems like a lovely spirit, though, so I’m sure we’ll see her again.

Stephanie Renae – This 15-year-old has wanted to be the American Idol, like, forever. Which in regular people speak, translates to since she was 8 and realized that Carrie Underwood was the coolest thing since iPods. She even sang Carrie’s ghastly coronation song, “Inside Your Heaven,” for her audition. It was pretty, so long as you ignored the nasally quality to her voice and the complete absence of vocal inflection. Uncle Steven and J. Lo believed that those things could be fixed in a couple months, though, so off she went to Hollywood. I’m in Randy’s camp on this one. Stephanie needs a little more time. She’ll get eaten alive in Hollywood.

Schyler & Colton Dixon – Poor Schyler. The pretty teenager traveled the whole way to Savannah to audition for the second year. Her brother, Colton, nearly made the semi-finals last year but got cut in exchange for that fiery-haired rainbow Brett Loewenstern. The judges, armed with the subtlety of an elephant wearing a kimono, insisted that Colton enter the audition room and sing for them. Like, I pointed out before, those three love families. Schyler auditioned first with The Script’s “Breakeven.” I thought she sounded wonderful. She had good range, good control, and just the right amount of rasp to offer something different. The judges smiled prettily at her perfectly awesome audition, and then were all, “OK, Colton, SING! Don’t give up on dreams, Colton. Sing for me!” And Colton was like, “Aw, shucks, I don’t know …” And it was obvious he was LOVING every moment of the attention he was getting. He wanted them to beg after cutting him last season. Then he sang David Cook’s “Permanent,” and it was clear that he’s improved since last season. It was a little too angsty for my tastes, all the tortured moaning and sad faces. I still prefer Schyler, even despite her stankface every time the judges ignored her in favor of Colton. J. Lo, who has a plethora of life experience, knew that this moment was very meaningful for Colton. So she left him with this parting gem: “But you know what makes you better, too? Pain.” Oh, how delightful. Yes, remind the boy of the emotional torment you put him through last year. Now you’ll have to grovel in Hollywood, too.

Lauren Mink – I was a heartless shrew during tent girl’s backstory, but the moment they showed Lauren directing her little choir of adults with disabilities, I choked up like a big sap. Lauren’s beautiful on the inside and the outside. She sang “Country Strong” with her sweet little twang that was timid but pretty. I like her unassuming behavior and natural singing voice. She was like a cool crisp glass of iced tea compared to Colton’s tortured can of Red Bull. Also: J. Lo, they are gooseBUMPS. Not goosies. Goosebumps. That is all.

Ashlee Altise – After the extended period of time I spent trying to figure out what was wrong with the top of her head (she was wearing a cap over her dreads), I came to the conclusion that Ashlee Altise is just a little bit insane. She was dancing and talking and laughing all kinds of nonsense, and my jaded mind automatically filed her away as cannon fodder. Oh, but no! Ashlee actually gave a good audition. She tackled “Come Together” with a big, confident voice, and her insanity kind of grew on me. I hate to be wrong, but I was wrong. Imagine that.

W.T. Thompson – Oh, where to begin? *Heavy sigh.* Every year, at least one misguided individual quits their freaking job because they couldn’t get off work to audition. Idol hopefuls, if you’re reading this, take this advice: Never quit your job for a reality show that will ultimately break your heart. And just in case W.T. wasn’t sad enough already, he let us in on the fact that his girlfriend is 6 ½ months pregnant. I’m crossing my finger that at least she has a job. Oh, and these people? They live in a house and not a tent. Just wanted to throw that out there. Adding to the tragedy, W.T.’s performance wasn’t very impressive. He can carry a tune, but I didn’t detect anything special. Soft-hearted Uncle Steven and J. Lo put him through, and once again I was left to agree with Randy. Hollywood will not be a good place for W.T.

Brittany Kerr – Gorgeous NBA dancer sings a 5-note range version of Joss Stone’s “Spoiled”? Give that girl a Golden Ticket, boys! I think Brittany is stunning, but I hope that she has more range to add to her cool vocal tone. Little Randy and Little Uncle Steven might be embarrassed if she doesn’t.

Phillip Phillips – It must have been super difficult for this boy to remember his full name when he was young. The last name is so different than the first, what with that “s” and all. Phillip got the pimp spot of the night, which makes sense because he’s kind of dreamy for a 20-year-old. Cute in a boy-next-door kind of way, Phillip works in his father’s pawn shop, where he lives in constant fear that the stuffed animal heads will mutiny. His first audition piece was “Superstitious” by Stevie Wonder. I wasn’t overly impressed with this one. He didn’t sound bad, but it was kind of jerky and over-affected. Case in point: J. Lo said, “It’s like you had electricity going through your body or something,” at the same time Allen called from the treadmill, “What’s this kid doing? Having convulsions?” I giggled at that. Allen’s commentary has that effect on me. Fortunately, the judges allowed Phillip to pick up his guitar, and he did a cool rendition of “Thriller” that won me over as a fan. I worry about Phillip, though. What if “Thriller” becomes to Phillip the same thing that “Straight Up” became for Andrew Garcia. Later on this season, you know Randy will say, “Remember that one time? When you sang Thriller? And it was really cool? Do you think, maybe, you could do something like that again? And by ‘like that,’ I mean the same thing.”

We’re Going Off The Rails On The Crazy Train!!! – In brief …

Pia Toscano doppelganger Jessica Whitely sang like a demon-robot malfunctioning inside of Shakira’s voicebox and promised to come back to audition in Texas. The judges considered telling her to save her money and time, but she ran out of the room before they had a chance. Ryan Seacrest doppelganger Shaun Krausman would make an excellent American Idol host (his impression is uncanny) but a miserable musician. Keep practicing your “Dim the lights!” delivery, and all might not be lost. Before his audition, Joshua Chavis said, “My biggest dream is to sing the National Anthem at a Nascar race. And that’s for my mama.” The audition went exactly as you’d expect. Somalian immigrant Mawuena Kwomo got the racist cut of the night with unnecessary subtitles and Randy’s condescending challenge to go out in Savannah and find people who thought he was a good singer. The only bright spots of this segment were Ryan’s determination to find Mawuena a fan and the group of little girls who insisted with wide eyes that he could sing. Oh, and the adorable old guy in flannel who asked Mawuena, “Are you a runner?” and later became his biggest fan. Then there was Erica Nowak, a whole bundle of creepy, who felt up both Uncle Steven and Randy and sang like a cow. Her best line of the night was, “Steven Tyler is my future ex-husband … *evil laugh* … he just doesn’t know it yet.” Yikes, Uncle Steven might want to smear lamb’s blood above his door at night from now on.

So that’s the beginning of Season 11. What do you think of the talent so far? Were the judges especially dumb, or was it just me? Tonight, they’re showing the auditions from my home state. Pittsburgh, PA, you’ve waited a long to time to embarrass yourself on a national stage. May the Idol gods be with you!

And now I’ll leave you with a list of things from the telecast that I can only comment on with a question mark (?):

Why don’t Southern newscasters have Southern accents? Seriously. This is a real question from me.

“They said I was emotionless,” said sobbing boy after rejection in the audition room.

“What is UP with this heat?” Ryan asked. I guess being in GEORGIA wasn’t obvious enough.

Uncle Steven characterized himself as “moist” during the montage about how much the ladies love him.

Randy the Wordsmith: “We came. We won. We saw. We are.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Season 11 Begins Tonight - Leave Your Humanity at the Door!

I'm Alright. Gopher

Dawgs! Dawgs, I've missed you! How's life? Any new developments? Has reality TV withdrawal struck yet? There's a Randy Jackson-sized hole in your hearts, isn't there? That's a seriously big hole, by the way. Better get that checked out by a doctor. Do you like my new digs? Goodbye, Livejournal - Hello, Blogger! This site is a little easier to use and more accessible, so I hope you like it.
I'm strangely unprepared for this season of Idol. This is my 5th year (holy crap!) of recapping, and I think age is setting in. I woke up this morning and thought, "Yowsers! Idol starts tonight, and I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to prove that I'm ready for it! This must be how Ryan Seacrest feels when the telecast goes way over time." Wasn't it just yesterday that I covered the hoe-down - er, showdown (same difference) - between Scotty McCreery and his nuts of wonder and Lauren freakin' Alaina and her yards of pink taffetta? Time is a tricky thing, Dawgs.

So let's discuss my goals for the 11th season of American Idol. A whole decade has passed, I'm cursed with fatigue, and goals are definitely in order.
  1. Increase our community - I have a legion of dedicated readers who tune into my recaps every season. You've seen me at my highest (the fabulous joy of Season 8) and my lowest (Season 9's disastrous semifinal rounds). But I want more people on here. They don't even have to like Idol. Hell, sometimes I despise the show beyond comprehension. The more people who read, the more motivated I feel to keep up on my recaps. So if you have a friend with a long lunch break or a deep-seated desire to spend long portions of their evenings with a beverage of choice reading about singing competitions, send her here! No invitations required!
  2. Create a dialogue - You're more than welcome to leave comments, Dawgs. You can write long-winded paragraphs on my bad musical taste and utter wrongness concerning all things Idol, if that's what floats your boat. Really. I don't mind. Just make sure to come with a sense of humor. Last year, I had a few dedicated commenters, but I want more. Call me selfish, but I do.
  3. Have a jolly good time - My favorite part of the Idol season is when it dips into unforeseen levels of the absurd. This usually happens during Hollywood Week and the semi-finals, when the entire outfit loses its bananas. Returning to Idol is like returning to your own bed after a long vacation. There's something oddly comforting about the shenanigans. I can't explain why I like it. I just do. It's very possible that I (and the general American public) have a personality disorder in which watching awful people be awful and good people have their dreams turned inside out seems obscenely fun. I never said I was a good person, Dawgs. But let's remember that last year, Santa brought me a new heart. It's rusted a bit in 12 months, most of the damage brought on by the Country Music nightmare that was last season, but it's still beating.
The best thing about this new season is my new theme! Last year, I referenced the heck out of The Wizard of Oz in celebration of my new heart. It was a good time, but now I must move on to ...

The Princess Bride Poster
The Princess Bride: A celebration of parody and overused fairy tale tropes. This must somehow be relevant to Idol. It must be. Also: I realized last night that I can quote almost every character in the movie.

And what better way to start off the season than to picspam the living daylights out of this new blog with Season 11's Cast of Characters? (More characters to be assigned during the season.)

Randy "Dawg" Jackson as the rhyming giant Fezzik

"I just want you to feel you're doing well." -Fezzik
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Uncle Steven Tyler as the swashbuckling Inigo Montoya

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." -Inigo Montoya
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Jennifer Lopez as the vapid but moderately good-hearted Princess Buttercup

"You can die, too, for all I care." -Buttercup
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Ryan Seacrest as bumbling and short villain Vizzini

"Inconceivable!" -Vizzini
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And featuring Me as The Ancient Booer

"Boo! Booooooo! Boooooooooo!" -The Ancient Booer
She's actually quite pretty in the appropriate lighting.