Ellen knows that Paula isn’t really gone. She’s just a spastic seal clap away! And if we all spastically seal clap hard enough (and also maybe leave our medicine cabinets open) we’ll bring her back to life!
If there is such a thing as the opposite of American Idol, it’s Mad Men, which is my usual gig around here. And let me tell you, it’s a breath of fresh, tacky, spray-tanned air to change it up a little. These people can’t even define ennui, let alone give lengthy, artfully shot monologues about it, and for that I love them. Except Kara. I just really hate Kara. And remember how we thought Simon had no sense of humor? Well, it turns out he’s just never been around anyone funny before. Who knew?
It’s the first real singing episode, kind of! And the very first Ellen episode! After what seems like years and years of cross-country dreamcrushing, we still somehow have 181 eager contestants to get through. (That’s 157 dreams left to crush before we even have a top 24, for chrissakes.) But you can tell it’s getting serious, because the proceedings have moved to their official venue, the giant echoey featureless airplane hangar known as the Kodak Theater. And off we go!
In addition to his engrossing, bitter sexual tension with Simon Cowell, this season will also feature Ryan Seacrest’s simmering resentment toward Ellen DeGeneres for looking better in his haircut.
First order of business: ELLEN ZOMG! And look, if she were replacing Simon or even Randy you might be able to argue that she’s underqualified. But she’s replacing Paula Abdul, whose most tangible contribution to the judging panel was to provide someone for Simon to roll his eyes at. Can Ellen Degeneres really fill the tiny adorable elfish little shoes of a woman who, before American Idol, was best known for her rather disturbing interspecies relationship with a cartoon cat wearing a wifebeater and suspenders? I’m pretty sure she can, yes. Especially if she continues to say things like “She’s gonna get annoying” and “You frighten me.”
I honestly don’t remember MC Scat Kat looking this much like a suspect on Law & Order: SVU, do you?
Anyway, Ellen is awesome, no surprise there, and she makes a very good point, which is that she knows an awful lot about standing in front of a fickle, judgmental audience who’s just waiting for you to screw up. In the two minutes after she’s introduced, she makes me laugh more than every other episode of American Idol combined, so my official verdict is “Paula who?” I will miss the boozy incoherent ramblings, sure, but Kara never does or says anything interesting, so all they have to do is get the prop guy to crush a few Ambien into her giant conspicuous product placement
COKEâ„¢ VITAMIN WATERâ„¢ thermos and voila, new Paula.
So here they come, in seemingly interminable groups of eight. And right away we are treated to Antonio “Skiiboski” Wheeler. Who has a perfectly nice voice and all, but man, when they tell you to go away and you stand up there to plead your case I lose all goodwill toward you. Because sure, SkiiBoSki, that’s how this works. Guy with the wacky gimmicky name begs Simon to reconsider, and then Simon’s all “Wow, yeah, you totally changed my mind!” and then the wacky gimmicky guy goes on to win the whole competition. Sound familiar, SkiiBoSki? No. It doesn’t.
People whose names follow the pattern Firstname “Ridiculous Self-Imposed Nickname” Lastname often run for local political office, but they never make it on to American Idol.
Katie With The Alzheimer’s Grandma makes it through, though. Katie is very talented and charming and her grandma is adorable, but seriously, probably half the room has an Alzheimer’s Grandma, so as sob stories go it’s kind of a stretch.
Vanessa is this year’s “Country Come to Town/WILL THE PRESSURE GET TO HER???” contestant, and the answer is yes, of course the pressure will get to her. Or maybe she just wasn’t very good in the first place. And come on, Vanessa. I’m from the South, and the rest of us really hate it when you insist upon fulfilling your own stereotype by saying “aeroplane” and having your bra straps hang out and not combing your hair before going on national television. Why not marry your cousin and eat some roadkill while you’re at it? Sheesh.
I’ve got my eye on you, Hipster Latino Rerun.
Andrew Garcia, however, not only has a convincing “we’re poor” sob story, he’s kind of awesome. His acoustic guitar “Straight Up” is really fantastic, and Kara has gone 14 minutes without me wanting to punch her before she says “You did your own spin on it! Like Adam did!” Look, lady, Adam Lambert did not create the Cool Trendy Arrangement Of An Old Pop Song genre. I know this because I have an entire iTunes playlist of them, and among them is the exact “Feelin’ Good” arrangement Adam did last year, only it’s by Muse, who actually arranged it. I’m just saying. (Also on that playlist? Kris Allen’s “Heartless,” which was just as good or better. So there.)
So Vanessa Otter and her Jug Band Christmas go home, and so do a lot of other sad people, and where there is heartbreak and shame, Ryan Seacrest’s stage whisper is there to document it. If Humiliating Exploitative Slow Motion Montages Of People Crying Set To Bittersweet Alt-Country Ballads were its own Emmy category (and it easily could be; think about it) American Idol would win every year.
BREAKING: Guy with hipster fro wearing ironic cowboy shirt and deck shoes thinks judges made a mistake!
The next standout is a pretty blonde girl. I know, crazy, right? But this one has kind of a hippie-who-spends-a-lot-of-money-on-her-hair vibe going for her, and she plays guitar, and I like her enough to kind of change my mind about that Estelle song. Yay, Janell Wheeler! (Any relation to SkiiBoSki? )
Next Carrie Underwood? Or next Brooke White? Which one is better? What’s the difference, really?
And now the standard-as-of-Season-7 INSTRUMENT FAIL montage. You can only hide behind your musical instrument if you know how to play it, is the lesson here, and it’s more painful than the crying one. I feel dirty, like I owe each one of these poor kids an apology for watching. Sorry, INSTRUMENT FAILures. I’m a terrible guitar player too, if it’s any consolation.
Next up: Mary Powers. Porn star? Superhero? Drag Queen? Nope, just some lady with one of those growly voices I tend to like. I also tend to like the ones hovering around the upper age limit, so that “Songs From The Year You Were Born” week is a little less depressing. (Sooner or later somebody will sing a Nirvana song, and I will weep openly.) Once she’s through, she tearfully tells the camera that her entire life, her family’s entire life, is going to change, and it’s amazing. Now, I haven’t seen Wednesday night’s group show, so I don’t know how she does, but you made the top 96, Mary. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Next Alison Iraheta? Or next Amanda Overmyer? Or next girl who gets your latte order wrong?
And then there’s this beatboxing guy. Why do they let these people through? Ratings? Do they really get more viewers out of thirteen more seconds of SkiiBoSki/Beatbox Guy footage? Is it really worth the airfare, or the dark stain on your conscience for toying with these people’s emotions? Ha trick question, nobody involved with the production of American Idol has a conscience! (Ellen doesn’t count.) And they fake me out here, because right after Beatbox Guy comes Lily, whose enormous feather earrings look EXACTLY like the ones Jan Hooks wore as Jenna’s mom on 30 Rock last week. So hey, trainwreck, right? Trainwreck of AWESOME! Within five seconds I hear her say she’s singing freaking “Lullabye of Birdland,” I see that her guitar is old and scratchy like it was her dad’s, and go figure, she totally pulls it off. I’m sold. Go stand next to Hipster Latino Rerun, Lily, you’re my favorites! I’ll buy you some new earrings!
And then there was this guy:
Oh dear. Luckily Big Mike makes it through today, but I mean, come on. “Daddy, why aren’t you in any of the pictures of the day I was born?” “Well, son, I was in Ballroom C of the Burbank Ramada practicing an a capella show choir number with two divas and a douchebag.” Hilarious story to tell once he’s rich and famous? Or testimony in a divorce trial/custody hearing? Time will tell.
We’ve made it 44 minutes in before we get our first emo haircut AND our first Faux Michael BublÃ©. That must be some kind of record. The hair is Tim from Texas, singing a David Cook song. The crooner is Justin, who is awful, but not nearly awful enough to do what they did to him, which was to make him step forward then tell EVERYBODY ELSE they made it. That’s fucked up. If Justin snaps and shoots up an Urban Outfitters you have only yourselves to blame.
Now Casey James apparently took his shirt off for Kara. Like Bikini Girl. Or something. And yes, he does have an American Apparel twinkie appeal I can appreciate, but he also has a pretty awesome Stevie Ray Vaughn kind of voice going, plus he actually plays interesting things on the guitar in addition to just standing behind it, both of which are pretty rare in this competition. He makes it and I’m happy, but then Maddy (she of the Down Syndrome brothers) doesn’t, so now I feel all guilty. I am too weak for this show.
I like you, Bikini Guy, but I also liked our last two “White Guy With A Guitar” American Idols. I don’t think Simon will allow three in a row.
Didi sings a Kara song. Kara looks at her in awe. God, what an amazingly beautiful song, Kara thinks to herself. Shut up, Kara’s thoughts. I like her though, despite the boring asskissy song choice, and she makes it through. Brave choice! It could easily have backfired, but nope! Asskissery successful! Simon tells her he likes the idea of someone like her – a waitress – coming on the show and doing well. That’s what it’s all about. Well, yes, Simon, that’s literally what the show is about. Did he forget that we’re not supposed to know how many premanufactured pop stars get through (coughCARLYcough) instead of waitresses? What a weird thing to say. Ellen’s face agrees.
I am going to like this show sixteen times better with Ellen on it, even if her entire contribution consists of “Whatchoo Talkin Bout, Simon?” reaction shots.
And now, Crystal, single mom, tattoo, piercings, dreadlocks, “I’m doing this because I love my son,” etc. You know the drill. Also, she tattoos her son’s name on her back. On her back. The one place she can never ever see it. Interesting choice, Crystal. Her song choice could also have easily backfired (“Natural Woman”) but she knocks it out of the park. Go figure. I’m betting she’ll be more amenable to a hair makeover than Jason Castro was. I like her now, but how long that lasts is inversely proportional to how much footage they show of her talking about her kid.
Due to budget cuts, American Idol was forced to consolidate the Mandatory Single Mom and Mandatory White Suburban Kid With Dreadlocks categories into one admittedly charming package.
So there you have it! A very very small percentage of your Top 96! NINETY SIX. I’m starting to think Simon Cowell actually earns his absurdly astronomical salary. By now everybody knows who makes it through Show Choir Day – everybody but me, that is! So I’m off to find out who done me proud and who done me wrong. I’ll see you this summer with that special blend of “lengthy literary analysis of subtext and motivation” and “gay jokes and impure thoughts about Christina Hendricks and Jon Hamm” that only Mad Men recaps can offer. Enjoy the ride, everybody!