Last night, American Idol went to Dallas for its second audition episode, but things seemed a little, well, strange. The judges seemed to be going through the motions, the night’s big finish was an eight-minute attempt to bring the world the next William Hung, and a lot of the people who got through had auditions severely lacking the oft-discussed “wow factor.” Is everyone just tired? Could everyone just be exhausted after last year’s anticlimactic run–especially the viewing public? Fox won the night handily again, but ratings were down 19% from last year’s second episode.
This episode was heavy on the filler–being in Dallas meant that the obligatory “let’s have the lousy contestants mangle Kelly Clarkson song” factor was going to be in play, but I was surprised at how sky-high it was. In addition to the “let’s see just how hard ‘Since U Been Gone’ is” montage, there was one guy (he looked like a spray-tanned Jake Shears and taught Randy Jackson the meaning of the word “guyliner”!) who sang “Never Again”–a curious choice, since it’s a somewhat atonal song, and much harder to stay in key on than other Clarkson tracks. On the bright side, his audition really helped make the reasons for the song’s failure as a single crystal-clear; a super-angry track that is near-impossible for people to sing with, especially from someone who made one of the greatest shout-along songs of the past decade, isn’t exactly a recipe for chart success.
Also, I should probably note that the producers are still trying to keep up the illusion that the cattle call and the Simon/Randy/Paula auditions happen in the same place–and even at the same time. But the shots of Paula getting out of her limo in front of the W Dallas’ big “W,” and the shots of people descending that hotel’s fancy white staircase after being rejected, were in stark contrast to the herds of people waiting inside a stadium for their first shot at the producers. Is this another case of the show’s producers thinking its audience is too stupid to notice something really obviously “off” about the show’s narrative?
THE WINNERS: Twenty-four people made it to the Hollywood round out of Dallas, and I have to be honest: A lot of thems really didn’t have any charisma about them, with the young ladies especially seeming very bland. (I’m starting to wonder if Christina Tolisano was sort of right about the pretty-girl bias. I mean, I know we live in America, where a suntan lotion and a lad mag can both open up restaurants based on the promise of having buxom young ladies serve you your food. But still.) There was one 18-year-old whose “talent” was mimicking Britney Spears note for note, and she got in on the strength of her overly Aguilera-influenced take on “Unchained Melody”; there was another 16-year-old who could sound like she was emoting, but it was completely devoid of lyrical interpretation. Come to think of it, a lot of the people who made it through were in Jordin Sparks’ age range, which doesn’t really bode well for the next round of competition.
I’M CALLING IT NOW: However, of those winners, there was one who stuck out: Jessica Brown, a mother of two who kicked a nasty meth habit and used “Jesus, Take The Wheel” as her recovery song. Her audition started off last night’s episode and while Randy called her take on “I’ll Stand By You” a little “pitchy”–the first time the “p” word was used this season!–she made it through. Between the Fergalicious backstory, the kids, and the fact that she actually seems somewhat charismatic, I’m betting that she’ll make it through to at least the top 12. You heard it here first!
AND ONE MORE: Pia Easley, a striking, mohawked backing singer-slash-model who sang “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” by Gladys Knight, also had a lot of pizazz–though I wonder if her unique look will bump her out of the round of 12.
HARDEST-LUCK CONTESTANT: Kayla Hatfield, who has eight horses and two kids, was in an awful car accident when she was 18–she lost sight in one eye, and her face still has scars from the crash. But she was really spunky and positive, and if her version of “Piece Of My Heart” would have been a little less grunty I might have been less surprised that she made it through to Hollywood. (The only person to say no to her? The relentlessly positive Paula Abdul.) I guess the producers are super-serious about bringing contestants who will pull at America’s heartstrings and make them care–but what happens when fewer people are watching regardless of the soap opera tactics?
MOST ILL-ADVISED TACTIC FOR STANDING OUT: I was going to say “going into labor while you wait for your audition,” which is got Antoria Gillon some screen time (but none for her singing), but then we were introduced to Brandon Greene, a pretty cute guy who revealed to the world that his habit is collecting his fingernail peelings. In a Ziploc bag. (Endorsements ahoy!) And he had a selection of nails with him–for luck, I guess? His performance of Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” was actually pretty good, though! And he made it through to Hollywood. And you probably all guessed that someone had to make the joke about him “nailing” his audition.
THE POOL WAS THAT DRY, EH: The last seven minutes of the show (!) were devoted to Renaldo LaPuz, a 44-year-old Las Vegas resident who dressed up like an angel pimp for his performance of an original song about everyone in the world being best friends forever. Online info about him is sketchy–which makes me wonder if the Idol producers found a weirdo who wasn’t out to “virally” promote his other projects–but “I Am Your Brother,” which Simon and I have pegged to become some sort of novelty hit within the next, oh, 24 hours or so, has become a YouTube sensation. (It’s catchier than “Tattoo,” at the very least.) The full clip, which includes some Paula Abdul sign-language interpretation:
PAULA ABDUL OUT-OF-IT SCALE: 4/10. As you can see from the above clip, Paula was in a really good mood during the Dallas auditions. The fact that she was dressed up like a Fembot for Day Two probably helped elevate her spirits, or at least regulate them. And the fact that she did disagree with Randy–well, just once, but still–indicated that she was at least sentient for part of the auditions.