“American Idol” Hits San Francisco, Doesn’t Quite Find Its Heart

Yesterday was a heady day, one where a well-known historian praised the country’s new President by saying that he “made [the inaugural] his own” while the ever-grinning Ryan Seacrest asserted his dominance over the radio airwaves through the sheer brute force of his corporate parent’s balance sheet. So it would of course fit that, while ABC was showing Barack and Michelle Obama twirling to “At Last,” Fox went back to the American Idol well, knowing that even in times of hope and putting our noses to the grindstone, there are still some people out there hoping to find the next William Hung, or at least to watch Simon Cowell tussle with newly installed judge Kara DioGuardi.

I PREDICT A RIOT (IN MY BRAIN): The show started with Tatiana Del Toro, who wielded an animal-print dress with a stapled-on crinoline, a super-annoying laugh, a binder with her portfolio, and a psychic’s assurance that she was definitely going to make it through all the way to the top 12. The “singer/actor/model” performed an off-pitch, overly vibratoed version of “I Never Loved A Man” and a similarly affected version of Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” but that didn’t stop Paula Abdul from loving her pluck. “She’s what we need, I think, to color things up,” Abdul said, no doubt hoping that her synaesthesia would take over again, and the rest of the judges somehow put her through. Jesus, this is going to be a long season.

LIVIN’ ON THE AIR IN CALIFORNIA: The above pic is of Dean-Anthony Bradford, a “failed entrepreneur” who wore a Herb Tarlek-inspired overcoat that he referred to as “the Jacket Of Life.” His singing was better than Tatiana’s, but unfortunately his fashion sense wasn’t as appreciated by the judges. Sexism rears its ugly head once again! Luckily, the guy has bounced back into his own band (please note the bit of his bio where he talks about living in the Empire State Building!) and he has a new song about the Idol experience:

Which brought me to the new song ‘OverSung’ which was always about the Idol process. Because I seriously did give them exactly what they wanted on Idol, I ‘OverSang’ my way through the entire journey, knowing exactly what I had to do. And though the process, I was over them, over it and beyond the superfluous silliness that had burdened me for far too long in my young life. Though, of all of my premeditated crimes, wearing that coat was not even on my list; I was merely cold and that coat is the warmest thing I’ve ever owned. (And it’s the first thing I bought for myself when I was no longer homeless, hungry and desolate, so I don’t care what anyone says about it, because it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever bought for myself… FOR MYSELF, not for anyone else.)

It was heartbreaking going through the whole thing, sitting in these rooms with folks with numbers glued to their chests who all were drinking the kool-aide. Everyone there wanted to be famous, not because they had worked for it, or earned it… because they believed they deserved it. I was there with them, so I’m just as guilty of these crimes. Our parents, certainly our parent’s parents, were generations that worked their asses off to feed their familes, provide shelter, clothes and fight for the mythic American dream. Then somewhere around Gen X, we stopped bleeding to attain, things happened in explosive ‘booms’ and not over decades of ravenous labor. Lordy, by the time the kids in my generation popped out, we had all become shamelessly worthless. Lazy. We knew how to party, but we didn’t know how to work… And we certainly thought we were owed the keys to the palace. We felt entitled to greatness. American Idol helps perpetuate this unusual sense of entitlement. Which is why it was so daunting for me to see these people have full-on emotional breakdowns when they’d get cut from round 2, or 3, or whatever… I saw some of the most sincerely breathtaking defeats you could imagine. These people were demolished. They had nothing else in their life but this fleeting moment where they believed, sincerely, that Idol would crown them to their rightful throne. WINNING American Idol is not a plan, it’s a lark of a random thing… If it happens, fantastic, you will sing on the Idol Gives Back special and tour the following summer and belt through cover songs, and an album of sugary synthetic pop of your own soon after and your cheeks will go numb smiling all the damn time. But, damn it… GOOD FOR YOU, YOU WON. But YOU don’t get to plan for that win. If the producers decide you’re the chosen one, you move on. If you do not, you didn’t earn it, you didn’t deserve it and you need to fall back to the REAL plan to find fulfillment in your life and success in your career.

The song is definitely oversung, that’s for sure. And wordy! Which I guess is part of his schtick.

TIMBALAND, CALL YOUR OFFICE: On a show full of filler (um, how about the whole bit given over to the dude who solved the Rubik’s Cube?), there was one kinda-bad, kinda-good standout: Nick Reed, who probably got a little too inspired by season-six runner-up Blake Lewis’ beatboxing and forgot that there had to be a little bit of singing sprinkled in as well.

A BIT OF PINK: She only got about 10 seconds of screen time, but I did enjoy the sorta Pinkish qualities of 16-year-old Allison Iraheta’s voice.

THE FIRST ADAM LAMBERT SIGHTING!!!! My favorite semifinalist sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” onscreen, although Paula’s calling him “diverse” made me wonder what other songs were in his audition. Simon referred to him as “theatrical,” and his swoosh haircut was a bit too much, but still! Paula called him the best auditioner she’d seen yet, and I only think that might be a little bit attributable to the way he fawned over having seen her in concert when he was 10.

HARDEST-LUCK CONTESTANT: Kai Kalama, whose mother is in the final stages of cancer and who’s devoting his life to taking care of her. (The backing music for his package was the Israel Kamakawiwo’ole version of “Over The Rainbow,” which seemed a little cheap, if only because I doubt the producers knew that version before Jason Castro paid homage to it last season.) His vocal on “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” was strong and clear, and as far as his lack of personality… um, anyone else think that he might have been a bit preoccupied by the interviews about his mom’s cancer that he had to endure pre-judging? (Besides, it’s not like Leona Lewis is a font of bubbliness. Ahem.)

SPEAKING OF MY BRAIN: Man, I thought this episode would be a lot easier to get through given that it was only an hour, as compared to last week’s two-hour slogs, but somehow the producers managed to fill them with even more not-as-funny-as-one-thinks crap. “Hey, look at this crazy girl with bad hair extensions who can’t pronounce body parts! All those syllables coming out of that sorta-ignorant mouth sure are funny!” This woman—Akilah Askew-Gholston, of Oakland—had seven minutes devoted to her lunacy, which I’m going to take as a sign that the San Francisco auditions were something of a disaster. (Only 12 people got through to Hollywood, as opposed to the over two dozen that came out of the auditions shown last week.)