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At long last, American Idol is back, and it’s better than ever. Well, maybe not better. Thanks to the odd decision to seek out talent in Minneapolis, MN, the judges — and in turn the audience — were subjected to many painful auditions, not to mention stereotypical Fargo-esque accents. You betcha! Even the contestants that did make it to Hollywood seemed to lack much star power. The only singer that truly seemed to stand above the rest was a crack baby. And what a crack baby she was. Needless to say, the Twin Cities will not be turning into the future wellspring of hidden talent and charisma anytime soon. Add to this the less than stellar contributions of guest judge Jewel, and we didn’t quite have the makings of a home run season premiere. However, that’s not to say that these first two hours weren’t fun. Oh, they were fun all right. Watching Simon, Paula, and Randy berate and belittle these kids reminds us why so many imitators (ahem, You’re the One That I Want) fail to measure up. It’s good to have you back, Idol.The big season premiere kicked off at last year’s climactic moment: the crowning of Taylor Hicks (all together now: UGH). Ryan Seacrest then babbled on about how the show had changed lives, as evidenced by Clay Aiken, who has gone from gawky and weird to a more palatable strange and weird. We then saw a random flash of Fantasia looking super hoochie in her music video, and ultimately, Ryan announced that Katharine McPhee was now America’s Sweetheart. Someone might want to send a memo to Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, or any other woman who’s actually earned at least a million dollars off the American public.
We then saw a montage of all the stadiums (or stadia, really) that filled up with wannabe pop stars, and like I do every year, I marveled that this show can a) draw out so many people, and b) actually sift through them all. But enough pondering. Let’s just get to the auditions!
First up was Jessica Rhodie, a shiny girl who worked at the Mall of America as a professional Makeup Artist. You betcha! Her major talent (aside from singing, natch) was taking average people and transforming them into supermodels, or at least the Mall of America version — which meant that she took average people and made them look like average people with bigger hair.
Anyway, the mere prospect of auditioning for Idol was enough to make Jessica cry, especially knowing that Jewel would be judging her too. Apparently, Jessica was a living, breathing, hardcore Jewel fan — a species some say is rarer than the California condor.
Well, Jessica entered the audition room smiling and nervous — and tragically untransformed into supermodel status. Her teeth had the faint yellow glow of tartar buildup (HD reveals all), and her outfit was — well, I don’t know what it was. It started off as a denim miniskirt and ended as a flowy dress. Maybe this was a staple look during Jewel’s more bohemian years, but whatever it was, it looked fairly ridiculous. It wouldn’t matter though if she could sing.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t sing. Her voice wasn’t the worst, but it was deep and husky and yet nasally and shrill. It was therefore no surprise that Randy responded with merely a string of “No no no no no.” This ultimately led to a Jessica breakdown as she crumpled down to the floor, tears welling up in her eyes. Jewel looked totally shocked — as if she wanted to know what the hell she had gotten herself into. That look never went away the entire evening.
“We’re trying to find the best, and you’re so far and away from it,” Randy said, and then to add insult to injury, when Jessica tried to storm out, she went through the wrong door and was promptly rebuffed by its immobile heft. A tough way to go out. Ah, but Jessica wasn’t done. Outside, she sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. At first it was funny, but then it just became awkward. Her boyfriend didn’t even know what to do. C’mon now. Lift that chin up, be proud, and go treat yourself to some Applebees!
Next up was the rather dreadful Troy Benham. His goal was to be urban Amish, or as I like to call it, Urbish. He had never actually seen Idol, on account of his lack of a television (there apparently is also a lack of proper dental care in Amish country as well), but Troy was ready to impress the judges with his sonorous voice. Needless to say, I wished he go on Rumspringa and never come back. He was truly terrible, and his song made little to no sense. Paula seemed mildly transfixed by Troy’s sounds, but then again, she’s transfixed by lint. No surprise here: pass.
After a montage of crappy people (my favorite sort of montage), we then met Jesse Holloway, our obligatory nerdy black teenager with delusions of musical greatness. A season or two ago, we had that kid who claimed to be Toni Braxton’s cousin. Now we had Jesse Holloway. He didn’t attempt to hitch himself to any musical superstar. He just assumed that his skillz would speak for themselves.
Of course, one look at his acne and his vacant eyes had us fretting the worst. It didn’t get much better when he promised a “unique vocal range” (ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!) and finally boasted that “I can hit some notes that Mariah Carey can hit.” Let the caterwauling begin.
Jesse regaled the judges with an awful, awful version of “My Heart Will Go On,” and about halfway through, he suddenly stopped himself, announced that he needed water, and then marched out of the room. Sadly, no amount of hydration could save his voice. When he came back to finish his song, he went headfirst for the high notes, and needless to say, he hit none of them (as if he had hit any of the regular notes anyway). He was amazingly terrible, and when the judges told him so, he refused to believe it. What’s a talented, undiscovered superstar to do but break out some MJ? Jesse suddenly began squealing “Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough,” and the best way one could describe it was scrubbing Windex on a mirror. It was so horrendous that even Jewel was about to say something (don’t worry — she didn’t).
Eventually, Jesse huffed away — hitting the stationary door first, natch — and once he was in the lobby, he soundly mouthed off to the judges. “When was the last time Paula made a record!” he snapped. Hey, when was the last time you made a record. That’s right. Keep walking.
Next was a guy named Charles who showed up dressed as Apollo Creed. He announced that he would be singing an “aria song,” which is pretty much the same as saying he’d be singing a “song song.” Well, readers, our old friend Papi (who’ll be switching off with me on Idol coverage starting next week) emailed me to say that the “aria song” Charles sang was “Caro Mio Ben,” which is a “really sappy song everyone sings in voice class when they’re in school.” How does Papi know this? He sang it in Junior High at the state competition where he made it to the finals. To that end, Papi notes, “Boo-ya.”
The good news is that somewhere along the line, Charles may have gotten vocal training. The bad news was that he still sucked. Simon was disgusted by the display, especially the costume, and unsurprisingly, Charles was cut. He too went out the wrong door. The producers should do that more often — place hidden obstacles in the way of the rejected singers.
Next up was Denise Jackson, and before she even said a full sentence, the sentimental music was playing in the background. Clearly she was already going to Hollywood. So what was her story? Oh, she was a crack baby. No big woop. Okay, Denise had a touching story. Her mom was a drug addict, and Denise was born as a crack baby, but instead of going into the foster system, her grandmother raised her. It was a remarkable story since most crack babies have various physical ailments or disabilities, but Denise was absolutely fine (except for her teeth, but those can be fixed). Anyway, Denise got up in front of the judges and announced she was going to sing “You’re Gonna Love Me,” the Dreamgirls tune that Jennifer Hudson has recently resurrected for the masses. So do crack babies sing well? Damn straight. Denise full on belted that sucker out. She was so loud and authoritative that the microphones seemed to be breaking left and right. And just like that, she was through to the next round! That’s right, thirty-four minutes into the show, and we finally had our first acceptance.
Next up was Tashawn Moore, a girl that had one major problem: she couldn’t remember the damn words to her song. Tashawn Moore walked proudly into the room dazzling (read: confounding) everyone with a random necktie. When asked why she was wearing it, she explained that she wanted to dress to impress, and “a tie would do just my justice.” It was an affable mangling of the English language, but this wasn’t a grammar competition. It was a singing competition, and we were ready to hear what Tashawn could bring to the table (aside from two diet cokes and a breadbasket). Well, Tashawn tried to sing Prince’s seminal hit, “Kiss,” but she unfortunately could not remember a single line. She kept singing “I want women / not girls” over and over and over again. And then she sang it some more. Every now and then she’d have a breakthrough and sputter out “Act your age / not your shoe size,” but then it was back to repeating the same line over and over again. After what felt like ten minutes, she finally made her way to the famous chorus, which she continued to stammer through, and then finally, finally she ended the song with a nifty flourish as she lowered herself to the floor for a histrionic finale. Needless to say, it only took about three seconds before she was headed out the door. The wrong door, natch.
Out in the lobby, a girl with no gaydar asked Ryan if he had a girlfriend. This was Perla Meneses, a Colombian immigrant, who came to the U.S. with a teddy bear, a guitar, and a dream. Okay, I added the dream part. She persevered over homelessness to make a living for herself, and now here she was, auditioning for American Idol. We all were rooting for her, but could she sing?
Well, Perla made the odd choice of singing “Call Me” by Blondie, a tune that didn’t really showcase her voice very well. Imagine Shakira, but with even stranger vocal inflections. It was weird, and while there seemed to be promise, I would have given her the thumbs down. Randy, however, saw more potential and asked her to sing some “Hips Don’t Lie.” Good move. Perla was about ten times better with this song, and as a result, her improved vocals and hot body earned her a ticket to Hollywood. I don’t think she’ll make it to the semi-finals, but hey, it’s a start.
Ryan Seacrest then told us that while there were some adequate female singers in Minneapolis, the judges had yet to meet a worthy male to go to Hollywood. Maybe that would all change with Matthew Volna, a bland cowboy who claimed to have pizzazz. Yes, the sort of pizzazz that puts you to sleep. He compared himself to Carrie Underwood, but then noted, “She didn’t have the look that I have.” Yes, that’s probably because she’s a girl and pretty whereas you’re a boy and ugly.
Well, Matthew was a real diamond in the rough. He was amazing. Just kidding. He sucked. Imagine Bert from Sesame Street. Now imagine him in a cowboy hat. Now imagine him singing too. That’s what this guy sounded like. The difference is that I would have actually enjoyed a singing cowboy Bert. I didn’t enjoy a singing cowboy Matthew. Not even Jewel could stand him. She joked, “I think that song would be really good if you sung it just a little bit lower.” GOOD ONE, JEWEL! Looks like she’s got some real comic INTUITION. Who will save her soul… from hilarity!
After Matthew was mercifully dispatched, we saw another mini montage of terrible singers, including one guy who did all sorts of strange noises up at the judges’ table (I cackled quite loudly over him), and next was a Navy guy named Jarrod Fowler. Well, when it comes the armed forces and American Idol, the two have a storied romance, stemming back to Josh Gracin (who, for the record, I always hated). Anyway, Jarrod had a very special pedigree. Not only did he serve on the S.S. Ronald Reagan, but he was also the winner of (drumroll please) Reagan Idol. For all you wondering, Reagan Idol is just like American Idol, except all its applicants come from the S.S. Ronald Reagan. And it’s also kind of lame. And probably super fun to watch and participate in. For those of you wondering, the answer is yes, there is a TVgasm Idol in the works…
Anyway, back to Jarrod. In an absolutely shocking development, he announced that he would be singing Rascal Flatts, and I know what you’re thinking — since when do military people sing country music? Try to contain your confusion. Well, as soon as the guy proved that he could actually hit notes, we knew he was going to Hollywood. Heck, I’m sure Middle America was already in love with the guy. He’ll probably be the next Taylor Hicks, which means come four weeks from now, I’ll be hating him.
Sure enough, Jarrod made it through to Hollywood, and while this wasn’t nearly as impressive as his tenure on Reagan Idol, I think we can all agree it still ranks as a decent accomplishment.
Now at the one hour mark, Ryan Seacrest told us that “So far, the Midwest has turned into the Mid-worst.” Oh SNAP! (But true).
Speaking of Midwest, next up was a girl whose plain, chubby looks seemed to typify the region. Her name was Trista Giese, and she such a borderline psychotic fan of The Wizard of Oz that she could do the weird lion growl, which actually sounded more like Chewbacca than anything else. Well, her handlers let her show up at the audition (although, I’m sure they were just off camera with their electric prods). When Trista first did the Chewbacca noise for Ryan, I thought it was just a quirky bit — little did I know it would be a sampler for what was to come. Trista gurgle-sang her way through some weird Wizard of Oz performance that probably only Paula could understand (I’m convinced that everything sounds like Chewbacca speech to her).
The judges finally stopped her long enough to ask what the hell she was thinking, and Trista responded, “I’m unique. I am the most different that has ever been on the show.” Yes, but Trista — all the singers on this show are good. To be different would therefore make you bad.
Faced with rejection, Trista picked up her little poster — yes, she had made a Wizard of Oz poster featuring who else? Herself! — and asked “Do you guys want the poster?” Nearly unanimously, Randy, Paula, and Simon all said no, causing Jewel to remark, “God, you guys are cold!” Hey, I don’t see you chomping at the bit to add that piece of folk art to your collection.
Oh, and of course: Trista went through the wrong door. It just never gets old.
Next up was a vocal teacher named Stephen Horst. Clad in a green shirt that seemed to say, “I’m going to be truly awful,” Stephen promised to entertain us with the only song that makes me think of Ben Affleck and animal crackers: “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” by Aerosmith. Very quickly Stephen probably lost his entire client base as he allegedly sang his way through the song, employing melisma whenever and wherever he could. Just imagine Constantine Maroulis’s voice. Now just imagine it louder, shakier, and off-key. That’s about as close as I can get to describing Stephen. The funniest part of this all was that he warmed up by playing a pitch pipe — as if that would help.
Nevertheless, Paula felt there was too much vibrato, Jewel said it was too musical theater, and Randy said he shouldn’t be a vocal teacher. Simon saw an opportunity to create trouble, and so he pounced, trying to play the kid against Randy. The grumpy Brit mischievously noted that it was awfully rude of Randy to be so personal about Stephen, and after a while, the tactic worked. Stephen seemed to grow truly angry with the situation, attacking Randy for being insensitive and ignorant about his teaching skills. It was all a dick move by Simon. And it was also great.
Next up was hottie blondie Michelle Steingas. As long as she could hit about four or five notes, she’d be moving on. Luckily, she actually could sing, and sure enough, she was going to Hollywood. It seemed like everything was looking up for her; although, I did perceive a hint of doom when she announced, “I can quit my job!” Can’t wait to see her dream shattered in a few weeks…
Speaking of jobs, we then sat through a montage of people who had been fired from their jobs for auditioning, and then we met Dayna Dooley. She had auditioned in Pasadena, CA, but failed to make the cut. When she told her boss, he believed in her so much that he and his wife flew Dayna and her sister out to Minneapolis to help them get a second chance. At first, I thought it sounded mildly creepy, but then when the boss, Gary, and his wife stood up and waved at the cameras, I couldn’t help but love them immediately. I just hoped he was right about Dayna.
Well, when Dayna walked into the audition room, Simon and Randy immediately razzed her about her relationship with Gary, causing a scandalized Jewel to balk, “You GUYS!” How could they even JOKE about that in front of Jewel! I could only hope she’d channel her feelings of incredulity and helplessness into a brand new poem!
Anyway, Dayna began singing, and at first she was okay at best. As Randy would say, she was a little pitchy. But as her song went on, she seemed to get out of control, culminating in a high note that was so piercing, I thought my TV screen might crack. It seemed as though she wasn’t cut out for this competition. All the judges said they were rooting for her, but the talent just wasn’t there. They then called in Gary and informed him that he had been off the mark. Simon said she was terrible; Randy said she was tone deaf. In response, Gary insisted she must have had a bad day because she sang around the office all the time, and she was wonderful.
Somehow or another, this whole scene wound up with Dayna singing “Fever” to Gary, which felt kind of icky and uncomfortable. On the plus side, she was significantly better, but still, the judges feared that without the soothing presence of Gary, Dayna might be all over the map. Sadly, the judges gave her a reluctant no, and she was sent packing once and for all. Afterwards, Jewel continued to be utterly shocked at the boys’ comments as she proclaimed, “LASCIVIOUS!” My my! I reckon Jewel might come down with the vapors if they don’t stop cussing soon!
Next was a nice, young, gay boy without parents. They weren’t dead. They just weren’t there. Were they ashamed of their son’s homsexuality? No. They just couldn’t afford to be there. Or something like that. Anyway, this was Matt Sato, a sixteen year old kid with an unfortunate acne scab directly on the tip of his nose (Papi also noted that Matt would do well to cease all eyebrow waxing at once). Anyway, Matt seemed to be okay, but given the weak male talent pool, he managed to impress the judges. And just like that, Matt the Red Nosed Reindeer moved onto Hollywood.
If there’s anything Idol loves, it’s a makeover. And if there’s anyone who needs a makeover, it’s a tomboy. Meet Rachel Jenkins. She works in her family body shop and is enlisted in the army reserves. Already, we knew she was moving forward, and once she mentioned that she had a husband in Bagdad, we knew it was all but certain. She walked into the audition bestowing compliments on the judges — mostly that they were all cute — and then began singing. She was decent, but again, I wasn’t very wowed over by her. It’s hard to deny a military girl singing country music though. Sure enough, she makes it through.
Next was Sarah Krueger. She was really good — one of the best of the night in fact. Nothing much to say about her. She was awesome. She was moving forward. And she wasn’t even a crack baby. Amazing!
Ryan then introduced us to two oddballs. First was a tragic, rotund girl with blue eye shadow and stringy blond hair. She was living out her dream by appearing on American Idol. You see, she was the show’s biggest fan, and yes, I mean that in all the cruel meanings of the word. The other singer was Jason, a triple threat of singing, dancing, and juggling. His goals were simple: he just wanted to be like all the famous people in Hollywood. You know, like the bloggers of TVgasm!
Anyway, Jason was up first, and he managed to bring new meanings to the word “flat” with his song. However, his simultaneous devil stick performance managed to captivate Paula like a kitten encountering its first ball of yarn. I half expected her to paw at the air at any given moment. After the performance, Randy expressed exactly what I was thinking: Jason would probably do better on America’s Got Talent. I couldn’t tell if that was a dis on Jason or a dis on AGT, which just so happens to be exec produced by Simon.
Jason then dazzled the judges with a remarkable dancing exhibition, which was not unlike the jig I do while attempting to shake snow off my ankles. Afterwards, Jewel and Simon responded at the exact same time. “That’s pretty good!” Jewel cooed while at the exact same time, Simon scoffed, “That was terrible.” I side with Simon, as always.
Afterwards, Jason stormed out of the room, and angrily ranted against Simon to the cameras. At first, it almost seemed staged, but his uncontrollable sobbing seemed too bizarrely real. “I’ve never been so insulted in my life!” he cried, weeping into his mother’s bosom. I always feel bad for these women. They just have to stand there and be supportive, knowing that their kid is both a colossal failure AND possibly mentally unstable. Nevertheless, Jason continued, “I wanted to start off famous. They blew me off!” When Ryan suggested that maybe there were other routes toward celebrity, Jason rebuffed him angrily, saying, “SINGING IS WHAT I SHOULD BE DOING!” Don’t deny him his destiny, Seacrest. This songbird must be set free!
Next up was that portly blond girl. Her name was Brenna Kyner, and she had the privilege of entering the audition room right on the heels of Jason. She explained to the judges that she was the American Idol über fan and that her favorite contestant was Ace. That’s a strike against her. She then revealed that she had met him a few times and that he had drawn a heart on her wrist, which she later had tattooed. Okay, psycho alert. Let’s get the fish nets and tranquilizer darts ready.
Well, Brenna finally announced that she’d be singing “Under Pressure” by David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. The song choice alone gave me unreasonable hope that she might be surprisingly good, but I was quickly and utterly proven wrong. Brenna started the song on an impossibly high, impossibly terrible note that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the song at all. It was hilariously painful.
Unsurprisingly, Simon hated her, but Brenna couldn’t understand his reasoning. “Why???” she asked repeatedly, seemingly on the verge of a Kathy Bates-like breakdown. She then informed us that she’d had ten years of training, which only led me to believe that she had fallen the victim of a cruel prank by some wino who needed her $50 a week. Amusingly, Brenna asked Simon, “I don’t understand why y’all didn’t tell me ten years ago I wasn’t good.” Simon had a very logically response: because he wasn’t her teacher.
Of course, Jewel tried to put a positive spin on the whole thing by saying, “Hey, it’s really cool you get to audition on the show!” SHUT UP, YOU IDIOT!
Brenna made one last ditch effort by mentioning her degree in vocal performance (again, cruel wino joke, I’m convinced), and then she was sent out the door. Surprisingly enough, she seemed to take the rejection in stride once she back in the hallway. Randy, however, was totally defeated, renaming Minneapolis as “Minne-Hopeless.”
After a dumb montage of crappy singers singing “Kiss,” it was time for one last singer. His name was Josh, and since he was our final audition of the night, we knew he had to be absolutely amazing or absolutely terrible.
Josh told us that the main reason he was trying out was because of his dad, a man who had total faith in his son. “I expected him to be a goalie,” Pops said. “I didn’t expect him to be a singer.” Ah, the quiet shame of a midwestern father finally surfaces!
Actually, the dad was quite proud of his son, saying he’s always been a singer all his life. With the way this segment had been framed, I thought we were about to find the ultimate diamond in the rough. Yeah, not so much.
Josh was basically a Chris Daughtry wannabe, and considering that Chris was already a Nickelback/Live wannabe, this was bad news. As we all know, every layer of wannabe-ness that’s removed from the core inspiration just gets worse and worse, kind of like a Xerox. Normally, I’d launch into discussion of the simulacrum effect, but honestly, it’s late and I’m tired and we’re at the end. Point is that Josh sucked. He tried to sing a Fuel song, but he did that high school garage band thing where he made his throat sound all hoarse and breathless. Say what you will about Chris Daughtry, but that style works naturally for him. It didn’t for Josh.
The judges all told him this, and even though they actually liked his personality quite a bit, they didn’t feel comfortable putting him through to Hollywood… unless he could show some versatility. Simon told him to go out and return in fifteen minutes with an Abba song. Now things were getting interesting. After a brief encounter with the wrong door (yes!), Josh ran around urgently, trying to find anyone who knew any sort of Abba song. Sure enough, he was paired with “Dancing Queen,” and when he returned to the judges, he sounded… exactly the same. It was like listening to someone crooning Abba while taking a dump. Except worse.
The judges affectionately said this wasn’t for him — he should stick with his band — but then Josh seemed to suddenly understand what they were talking about. He said he could do a Barry Manilow voice, causing the entire panel to perk up with anticipation. Alas, he merely wound up singing Copa Cabana with his pseudo-Fuel voice again. Sadly, this was the last straw. Josh was sent packing, which was too bad because if he could have simply gotten out of his own head, he might have had a shot. Eh, who cares, right?
So from 10,000 people, the judges only sent seventeen to Hollywood. That’s right. seventeen out of 10,000. That’s a success rate of .17%. What did you think of the premiere? Who were your favorite singers? Who were your least favorite? Who were the funniest?