Boy did I have a scare tonight! For a moment, I thought American Idol had premiered two weeks early, but it turned out I was merely watching Grease: You’re the One That I Want, NBC’s latest and probably most successful attempt to rip off that Fox behemoth. We’ve seen a lot of imitators over the years, but nothing seems to be as much of a blatant copycat job as this show (So You Think You Can Dance gets a pass due to its shared Idol producers).
Now, just because You’re the One That I Want is wildly derivative doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad. I actually enjoyed it. First, there’s the source material — Grease — a musical that’s so ingrained in pop culture that people like me who’ve only seen the movie once or twice still know practically all the songs and characters. Because of this, our ability to be armchair talent scouts is stronger than ever. Second, the concept is pretty neat. Season after season of American Idol, there’s always some contestant who stirs up a controversy because his or her voice is too Broadway-ish for the competition. Well, now we don’t have to worry about that. Future Clays and Constantines and Justins finally have a home. Plus, we don’t have to be embarrassed if we like them (and to set the record straight, I did not like Clay, Constantine, or Justin).
Anyhoo, enough with this handjive of an intro. Let’s get to the show!Off the bat, I thought we were in for a disaster. Why? Because the very first image we saw was none other than the goofy, unwelcomed visage of Sir Billy Bush. UGH. My friend used to work for him, and she had nothing but great things about Bi-Bu (my impromptu nickname for him), but that being said, he’s still incredibly annoying. As we later discovered, he spent the entire night trying to out-Seacrest Seacrest. Billy, it’s not gonna happen. To paraphrase your gig on Access Hollywood, Lights, Camera, SHUT UP.
Anyway, Billy explained the basic rules of the show, which was that the winners would get to star in a real life Broadway production of Grease, a musical, he said, that made “huge stars of John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.” Well, mostly Travolta. We could tell he was the bigger star because he refused to show his big face on this series. Instead, we had Olivia Newton-John, who not only waxed nostalgic about Grease, but she also proudly displayed her wildly surgically enhanced face (which clearly was enjoying the honeymoon of many a Botox injection). Of course, just in case you weren’t sure if Olivia’s had some work done, a quick glance at her wattle-like neck revealed all sorts of age-incriminating details — kind of like the rings of a tree.
Let’s get surg-ery, surg-ery. I wanna get surg-ery, let’s get into surgery. Let me hear your Botox talk…
We then sat through the opening credits, which featured Dannys and Sandys multiplying at an alarming rate. And in case you were wondering, there was exactly only one black Danny. C’mon, NBC! Broadway’s supposed to be color blind! When I saw Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on a school trip thirteen years ago, one of Joseph’s brothers was black, and last time I checked, Michael Damien was as lily white as they come. If Joseph can do it, you can too, NBC! Up with diversity!
After the credits, we found Billy standing with an attractive British woman named Denise Van Outen. She kind of looked exactly like the love child of Portia Di Rossi and Gwyneth Paltrow. And yes, that did make her quite hot. I wasn’t sure what her role would be on the show, but I imagine it was to inject a healthy bit of T&A into the proceedings. (For all you wondering, Ms. Van Outen is apparently the hottest thing since bangers and mash over in Britain, at least according to Wikipedia).
Next, it was time to meet the judges. First was Jim Jacobs, the creator of Grease. He had a mustache.
Then came David Ian, the suave British producer of the upcoming American production of Grease. He kind of looked like a weird combo of Tom Cruise in Collateral and Michael Buffer. At this stage, there wasn’t much else to say about him except that he was the token British guy that all these talent shows seem to need. I say the next talent show we see should have some rigid, authoritarian Asian man. Or Russian. Just to change it up a little.
Last but certainly not least was the director of the upcoming musical, Kathleen Marshall. Since everyone else so far has looked like the lovechild of two different celebrities, why stop with Kathleen? The best way to describe her would be the hybrid of Reese Witherspoon and Catherine O’Hara. Except paler.
We then watched a quick montage of crappy auditions, and then — and this is pretty much inexcusable — NBC actually played music so derivative of American Idol’s theme that I actually thought maybe they had laid in a temp audio track that had somehow made it to the air. I rewound the moment about three or four times, certain that I was hearing that famous guitar track, but after further examination, I decided it was only a really, really, really obnoxious rip-off. This show was shameless.
Anyway, Billy Bush then informed us that in two weeks from tonight, a select number of people would be sent to “Grease Academy” where they’d be slapped with a singing, dancing, and acting regimen. From there, only twelve people would “graduate” from this esteemed institution, and they would then take center stage as the public then begins its process of whittling down the contestants one Sandy and one Danny. Oh, and if you’ve never seen Grease before, those are the lead roles, FYI.
At long last, we were finally ready to commence the auditions. Billy tried to infuse some sense of drama into the situation by insisting that all the judges’ careers were AT STAKE over this. Yeah, not so much. Let’s stop with the bombast and just move onto the singers.
First up was a bright young ingenue named Ashley (I think that’s how her name is spelled — NBC put up not one title card the entire show). Apparently Ashley spent all her money to come to the audition, and guess what? She wants it so bad! Never heard that one before. She sang “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” and while I felt her voice was caterwaul-riffic, her Meg Ryan charm and pretty hair won over the judges easily. Ashley was sent through to the next round, which incidentally involved a dance audition. I guess it was a good choice. She’ll go over especially well if the audience is predominantly FELINE.
Next up was an old hag named Robin Rosensweig. I’m fairly sure she was an actress hired by the producers to spice up this audition process, but either way, she was still kooky enough to warrant a place in my heart. She informed the judges that she was half a billion things from murder mystery writer to speed typist. My favorite, however, was when she described herself as a “beginning stand up comic” with a stable of “Harry Potter jokes.” WELL! Consider this role yours! Everyone knows Grease is nothing without its Harry Potter one-liners!
Anyway, Robin sang for the judges, and while she was certainly awful, she wasn’t as truly awful as I thought she’d be. Her voice was almost sweet in its own horrifying way. Didn’t matter though. She was a goner.
“You say I look like who? Nakomis?”
After a montage of men auditioning, we then learned a little bit about Jim Jacobs’s past (snooze), and then it was time for Kaitlyn Doubleday. She kind of looked like the long lost triplet to Sabrina and Kelly from 8th and Ocean, plus twenty pounds. (BTW, does anyone know if 8th and Ocean is coming back? Please say it is). Anyway, she pretty much sucked, what with her flat voice and all, but somehow she won over the judges. David Ian said she seemed to really connect with the material, which completely stumped me. But I guess you can never overlook the power of a pretty blonde girl.
Next was a girl named Fawn Ledesma. Again, not sure of spelling. If you’re reading this, Fawn, and I’ve grossly butchered your name, please direct your complaints to NBC. Anyway, off the bat, we could tell one thing about Fawn: she never saw a belt that was too wide to wear. Yes, Fawn was rockin’ one big-ass belt that seemed to be abnormally high for such an accessory (is it normal for girls to wear belts just under their breasts?). Anyway, David Ian found her first song to be boring — clearly he was not as entranced by the belt as I was. Fawn then sang a livelier second song, which was better, but the producers will still unimpressed. And so America’s hope for the next great Broadway star / belt enthusiast went down the drain. Or so we thought…
To belt, or not to belt. That is the question.
Backstage, Billy told us that David’s rejection of Fawn had been “the most cutting critique so far!” I didn’t realize that the reckless usage of the word “boring” could qualify as a “cutting critique,” but this was Billy Bush, we were talking about. He certainly didn’t think Fawn should have been dropped like an old belt. As he handed her a tissue, he told Fawn, “This one I don’t agree with.” GREAT. Remind me to call upon your Broadway know-how when I put together my upcoming production of Nunsense.
Next was an older gay guy/massage therapist named Ricky. He told us his biggest fear was that the judges would tell him he sucked. Well, guess what? He sucked. Such is the cruel nature of You’re the One That I Want. More promising was Max Crumb, a twenty-one year old fitness club receptionist. We could tell he had star power because his backstage antics proved him to be terribly goofy. What a pistol! Anyway, he sang very well; although, listening to the smooth stylings of Max Crumb kind of made me feel like I was aboard a cruise ship (near the Jell-o at the midnight smorgasbord, to be exact). No shock here: the judges all loved him and sent him through to the next round — with one stipulation. The next time they saw him, they wanted him to be dressed like Danny. That meant slicked back hair and a leather coat. SUCH DEMANDS!
We then paused for a little biographical information on David Ian. Turns out he produced the early nineties British production of Grease. It was a risky move for him because he had to take out a second mortgage on his home to fund the show, but luckily, it earned “millions and millions,” which meant he had enough money left over to pay for a spray tan or ten.
Suddenly, we found ourselves back with Fawn — she of the monolithic belt. Billy, it seemed, could not stand idly by as his starlet was cast aside by the cruel judges. She deserved a second chance, he said, and in a move that he claimed was completely unstaged, Billy waltzed out onto the stage and pleaded with the judges to give Fawn another try. Would they show pity for dearest Fawn???
As if there was any suspense. When we returned from the break, the judges all predictably melted from Billy’s charm and let Fawn have one more shot at Broadway stardom — that is, if she didn’t demonstrate any “hootie head voice,” as Kathleen said. I don’t know what Hootie Head Voice is, but I personally think it sounds delightful.
Anyway, for her second shot, which was actually her third song so far, Fawn seemed to be much improved. I still didn’t think she had a very good voice, but her energy was up, and the belt — it couldn’t be denied. For a moment it seemed like she might actually redeem herself, but then came one awful, terrible, missed note, and just like that, her dreams shattered. The judges denied her once and for all, and so the saga of Fawn came to an end. Afterwards, she passive aggressively thanked Billy Bush for giving her a second chance to humiliate herself. No, thank you Fawn, my sweet, belty Goddess.
With Fawn officially gone, I couldn’t help to wonder one thing: what the hell happened to Denise Van Outen? Did she suddenly come down with a fatal case of Hootie Head Voice?
Nevertheless, next up was… Mindy Cohen? No, wait. It’s Wendy the Snapple Lady! Wrong on both counts. This was Patricia, a hefty woman from the Bronx who won points off the getgo for her willingness to bash all the other girls in the competition. Turns out she could sing too. Yes, Patricia had a great Broadway voice, and as added bonus, she was a self-described “tapdancing cupcake.” Apparently she literally dresses up like a cupcake and dances for supermarket openings and whatnot. Little known fact: twenty years ago, David Ian was a clogging scone. See? We all have humble origins.
Well, despite her plump disposition, Patricia made it to the next round, and then we were treated to Kathleen Marshall’s background: basically, she won a Tony. Hurrah!
Next was a montage of people who were just too darned old to be auditioning, which provided a nice contrast to the next hopeful, a seventeen year old boy named Vince. The funny thing about Vince was that he still seemed to be waiting for puberty. Plus, he kind of looked like a girl. A young Greta Scacchi, to be specific. He was actually very good in terms of singing, but that whole androgynous, undeveloped thing kind of worked against the Danny Zuko mystique. He was unceremoniously dropped, causing his little chin to quiver backstage in his interview with Billy Bush. Hey Vince, just remember: Danny Zuko wouldn’t have cried. Personally, I was shocked that Billy didn’t march on stage and demand Vince get a second shot. But then I remembered that Billy was probably trying to have sex with Fawn and not Vince. Sorry, kid. You’re out of luck.
“I guess I have no other option but to turn to gay porn.”
One of my favorites of the night was Cara Hilly, an energetic girl who learned about the auditions because her father had called her up and told her. Now she was just trying to “make Daddy proud.” Grrrowl! Well, I think she made Daddy proud and then some. Cara was great; although, she seemed slightly more Frenchy than Sandy. Either way, she easily made it to the next round.
Next was yet another fat girl, but this one came with big, curly hair. Her name was Sunshine (groan), and I just assumed she’d be terrible. After all, there could only be one talented fat girl on a show like this, and Patricia had already taken that spot. However, Sunshine was actually really good too, eliciting a veiled compliment from Kathleen Marshall: “I don’t know if I exactly see you as a Sandy [translation: you're fat], but I think you’ve got a lot of chutzpah to come down here and sort of push yourself out here in this way [translation: it takes a lot of nerve to show your fat ass around these parts].” Ultimately, Sunshine was sent to the next round, causing Billy to remark, “Sunshine is a surprise Sandy.” He then added, “On account of her being fat.” Okay, okay, he didn’t say that. But still, the implications these people are making are kind of extremely rude, yes? Not that I disagree with them. Hey, I never said I wasn’t rude.
“I plan to spend my mid-thirties as a fag hag.”
Some guy named Phil was next. He was a substitute teacher, and if anything, he had the Danny look. But that’s about all he had. The doofus got on stage and attempted to croon out a Green Day song; however, his inability to hit a single note really worked against him. With Billy Bush cracking up backstage, Phil was quickly axed. He took the rejection well, saying this was all for his students. For a moment, my heart warmed — until I remembered that he was just a sub. Dude, you have no students.
In a shocking turn of events, an actual black girl showed up to audition. Yes, Deja arrived on stage wearing pants so tight, NBC had to literally blur out the camel toe (look closely — you’ll see a blur). Anyway, she sounded okay at best, but the judges sent her through anyway. The producers probably told them that the prospect of an entirely white group of finalists might not be the best thing ever. Hence, Deja and her blurred out crotch advanced to round two.
As the Los Angeles auditions continued on, Billy informed us that the panel needed more “workable Dannies.” Enter Jason Rice. He may or may not have been a “workable Danny,” but he had the sort of sentimental story that would ensure him a spot in the next round. You see, Jason’s brother wanted to be Danny — it was his dream — but he was too sick to audition back in the day. He implored Jason to go out and audition for him, but Jason didn’t heed his dying brother’s wishes. Now he forever regrets not fulfilling his brother’s request and was hoping to make things right by auditioning for this show. Seriously.
Well, when David asked, “What brings you here today?”, Jason laid out the whole “My brother died” card, which did exactly what we expected: ensured him a spot in the next round, despite some dubious singing abilities. Can’t deny the dead brother.
Next was Rebecca, a 23 year old pharmaceutical sales rep, and man did she look it. She was dressed in attire that seemed to say, “Courtyard by Marriot is my friend!” The good news was that she was not totally the corporate drone that she appeared to be. Rebecca was in town the night before for a business dinner and learned of the auditions then. As a result, she only had this one scant outfit to wear. I don’t know why, but I loved the backstory and gave myself over to Rebecca’s pharmaceutical charms. She was a great singer and earned herself a spot in the next round. The only question was whether or not she could dance (or find another outfit). I was doubtful on both counts.
Last but not least (for this round in Los Angeles, that is) was Chad, a dreamy soccer coach. The good news for him was that if he didn’t earn the role of Danny, I was fairly sure he could carve out a lucrative career as Donny Osmond’s stunt double. Anyway, he was a shoe-in. The guy could sing and gyrate, a double whammy that easily won over Kathleen. Looked like they’d finally found a workable Danny!
With that, Day One finally came to an end, and guess who came back out of hiding? None other than Denise Van Outen! Or as I like to call her, D-VO. I was wondering if maybe she’d take the baton from Billy and cover the dancing rounds, but I was wrong. She simply disappeared as quickly as she came. Oh well. It’s been fun, Denise!
The next day, it was time to dance, dance, dance! A quick survey of the kids revealed that Cara Hilly was nervous, Max Crumb was even more nervous, and some former naval officer was the most nervous of all! To paraphrase Cowboy from Big Brother 5, this entire process was most nervousing.
Anyway, the boys and girls were each given one hour to learn a dance routine. Amidst this, we saw Patricia do her tap routine, which was fairly awesome. I decided that she was my favorite. I also decided I was a glutton for punishment because there was no way she’d make it past this round.
As for Rebecca the pharmaceutical sales rep, the good news was that she had found some striped shirt to prance around in. The bad news was that the girl had no rhythm. She couldn’t get any of the steps. But maybe this was all misdirection. I sure hoped so. Even though Rebecca had that midwest, semi Paige Davis hairstyle that I hate so much, I couldn’t help but root for her. I mean, look what she has to go back to: pharmaceutical sales. So sad…
Of course, when it came to the guys, there were plenty of clunkers there too. That naval officer was especially slow with the choreography. Plus, he kind of looked like a troll; so that was bad too. All in all, I didn’t see Broadway success in his future.
Finally, it was time to dance for the judges. Everyone seemed to like Cara Lilly. Our blurry-crotch’d Deja, however, received a stern “no” from the judges (but that didn’t mean she was cut, as we later found out). Patricia the Cupcake, meanwhile, gave it her all, vamping up as best she could, which it made it all the more painful knowing that she’d most likely be going home while the bland, vaguely pretty blond girl would probably be heading out to the Grease Academy.
And then, of course, there was Sunshine, a.k.a. the other Fat Girl. She kind of reminded me of Ugly Betty. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Probably good, I guess?
Afterwards, everyone bounced off stage, and no one seemed to be more unhappy than Jason, the guy with the dead brother. He made all sorts of frustrated noises that immediately made me hate him. I really hoped he got cut. Hey, his brother’s dream was only for him to audition, not to land the role.
Finally, it was time for the judges to deliberate. None other than D-VO showed up to spy on the panel, but of course, her appearance lasted about as long as Diddy Conn’s career (which is not long at all). Eventually, the judges were ready to make some cuts. David Ian had the glorious task of telling contestants either “You’re the one that we want to go to Grease Academy” or “You’re…. not Sandy/Danny.” But of course, the real result of all this was that we heard him say, “Yooooou’re….” about half a dozen times.
Well, I won’t go through all the results because honestly, who really cares at this stage? Of the noteworthy contestants, the Navy guy got cut (no surprise there), but Deja passed through to the next round (again, it would look really bad if this were an all white cast). As for Rebecca, it was back to the dreary corporate world for her. That’s right, after an entrancing dalliance with Broadway, the young pharmaceutical rep was denied entrance to Grease Academy. Don’t worry, Becky. You can always sing at the company luncheon…
And then there was Cupcake. Would Patricia be able to earn herself a spot in the Academy? No. She was summarily denied, which then led to one of those annoying goodbye sequences where she told the camera that it was “all good” and that her moment would come and America wasn’t ready for her yet anyway. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know you’ll be bawling your eyes out the moment you reach the privacy of your Honda Civic. Cupcakes have emotions too, you know.
As for that blond girl, Kaitlyn, she was on edge because not only did she want to go to the Academy, but she had also skipped work that night too! And now she might lose her job! However, Kaitlyn easily made it to the next round, which meant one thing: looks like there’s a job opening at California Pizza Kitchen!
But what about Max Crumb? He’s the one they told to come back dressed like Danny Zuko. Well, he had done just that — even slicking down his hair. Was that enough? Of course it was, but NBC tried to wring some sort of suspense out of the situation by inserting a lame commercial break. When we came back, sure enough, Max was given the okay to move on to the Academy. No shock there. With the workable Danny situation at dangerously low levels, any guy who could halfway carry a tune and learn the box step had a pass to the Academy.
Then there was Sunshine, the other large girl. David told her she was incredibly talented and had worked her ass off. Yay! But she wasn’t Sandy. Boo! Commence the eating disorder now.
As for Jason Rice, the judges cut him too, causing a sudden burst of rage to briefly register on his face. He honestly looked like he wanted to punch someone, which was close to the truth (an innocent door bore the brunt of his frustration moments later).
Well, with twenty minutes left in the show, I wasn’t sure what we’d be in store for next. Surely there wasn’t enough time to hit another city. Alas, I was wrong. We then headed to Chicago, and after an uninspiring tour through Jim Jacob’s youth, it was time for more singing. There were plenty of boring, anonymous girls, and it wasn’t until a nineteen year old named Jacklyn walked on stage that Chicago showed any promise. Jacklyn had apparently taken a year off from college to pursue her theatrical dreams, and this was her big chance. Too bad she had a cold! (Not that it mattered. There was no further mention of it the rest of the show.) Jacklyn was pretty good, and both David and Jim liked her greatly. Another Dayquil success!
Next up was a forty-two year old man named Dominic. I was doubtful of him at first, on account of his age, but he actually had a good voice and the look. And besides, he was a young forty-two. Half the people in the movie Grease looked older than forty-five anyway. I say give Dominic a chance!
I didn’t know Joe Namath could sing!
Sure enough, that’s exactly what the judges did. Hopefully, he won’t be paired with a wide-eyed, underage neophyte… like Kelly, a seventeen year old girl with a slightly Taryn Manning-ish face. There’s really only one word to describe Kelly: bangs. Yes, she had bangs. Big bangs. Wide bangs. Distracting bangs. It was a veritable bang-a-thon on her forehead. I’m not sure if she was sporting them to be in character, or if bangs are kind of her trademark awfulness. Either way, it was hard to ignore them.
She has a certain Sally Struthers air to her…
I didn’t particularly like Kelly. Her voice was loud and piercing. It seemed to show a lot of promise, but man was it unwieldy. However, I could tell that she was going to win over the judges, and that’s exactly what she did. Yeses across the board. It left me wondering — would there be at least one controversial candidate? On American Idol there’s at least two or three a night — a split vote that a third judge must vote yes or no on. But no such luck here. Yawn.
Just like in Los Angeles, the judges faced a considerable Danny shortage in Chi-town. Who would have ever thought Grease auditions would fail to draw hoards of men? Oh yeah. EVERYONE. Luckily, there seemed to be hope, I guess, in this one guy named Alex. He was actually a costume designer with a Judy Garland impersonation up his sleeve (hmmmm), but when he showed up to sing, he was dressed kind of like a lumberjack (huh?). I couldn’t put it all together. All I knew was that I didn’t really like his voice, but he went through to the next round anyway.
Speaking of next round, that’s where we sped off to next. Yes, Chicago wasn’t particularly bountiful for the auditions — at least compared to Los Angeles. We then saw the boys and girls rehearsing separately, and after a quick shot of a sweaty Dominic, it was time for everyone to strut their stuff for the judges. Most of the men were terrible — at least from what we could see, which was not much. You’d think that for a show that’s about singing and dancing, we’d get to see more dancing, but with the clock winding down on this premiere, we had to move along at a brisk pace, which was fine with me.
Anyway, not a lot of surprises for the girls in Chicago. Lil’ Kelly and Jacklyn both advanced to the Grease Academy. However, Alex the costume designer was unceremoniously dropped (thank God) while Dominic, at the ripe old age of forty-two, was sent to the next round. New objective: if Dominic and Kelly make it to the top twelve, America must vote for them to win. It’s about time Grease had a touch of Lolita to it.
And with that, the show essentially drew to a close. Pretty good, I thought. Certainly no Idol, but a nice accompaniment. I think we can probably do without all the Olivia Newton-John commentary, which was frequent and irrelevant. However, I am all for hearing Dinah Manoff’s insights into the Grease experience.
What did you think about the premiere? Will you keep watching? Who were your favorites?