The best moment on last night's American Idol had nothing to do with auditions or judges or the usual early-season freak show: it was seeing Atlanta-native Ryan Seacrest's baby photo aired on national television. (Ryan is the epitome of the geeky kid who grows up to rub all his millions in his childhood bullies' faces.)
So did Mary J. Blige make her mark as a judge? Did we find the next Fantasia or Kris Allen hidden there among Atlanta's would-be stars? Idol judges handed out 25 golden tickets last night—let's take a look at all the lucky guys and gals going to Hollywood. And heck, why not, let's give them one extra minute of fame and go over our favorite train-wrecks as well. American Idol Season 9 rolls on below.
GUEST LOVE: Mary J. Blige previously appeared on Idol during the Season 5 finale, when she performed a duet with Elliot Yamin, but Wednesday night she snagged a spot behind the judge's table, where she proved instantly more helpful than Tuesday night's wallflower, Victoria Beckham. (Though we'd probably agree with what we imagine Posh would say about Mary, which is that she looked fantastic). When shy, apparently indesctructible Jesse Hamilton (who almost died three times!) froze during his audition, Mary was the one almost sobbing from laughter while Randy, Kara and Simon were barely giggling. Guess they've had more practice learning how to keep a poker face during those awkward auditions.
I CAN DUET ALL BY MYSELF: Dewone Robinson kicks things off singing a schizophrenic song he penned himself, "Lady We're Not Together Anymore" and sings both the male and female parts. We were fully expecting this to meander into "Trapped in the Closet" territory, with more characters and voices being introduced, but alas, he's cut short.
THE FANTASTIC MS. FOX: Keia Johnson, a spunky girl with a gorgeous head of hair and an infectious smile, sings a fantastic rendition of "My Heart Will Go On." She tells the judges she won Miss Congeniality in a beauty pagaent. Simon says: "I'd rather have the other award," to which Kara, who has displayed new depth (and amped up the bitchiness) in the first two episodes of Season 9, shoots back, "You wouldn't get any award." We guess we know who's vying for the meanie role at the judge's table once Simon vamooses. In any case, Keia is awarded a golden ticket, and deservedly.
MOVE OVER, JASON DERULO: Jermaine Sellers, a choir boy who takes care of his disabled mother all by himself, sings a gorgeous R&B version of Joan Osborne's "One of Us" and basically checks off every box on the Idol list of ideal contestants: sob story? Check. Appealing to churchgoing Middle America? Check. Good looks? Hoo boy, check. Amazing voice and ability to make songs your own? Check. Jermaine walks out with a golden ticket in hand — was there really any doubt?
411, THIS IS YOUR EMERGENCY: Kristy Marie Agronow, a TV show host for 411: The Show, might have sounded good enough for Hollywood if she didn't sing "Love is a Battlefield" like she was trying to impersonate a failing drama student who was impersonating Pat Benatar. We weren't exactly shocked to see her deliver a passionate post-performance soliloquy so over the top we could almost envision the italics as she said it: “This is my battlefield today because singing is my love. Singing is my life. Music is my passion. I would really love to go to Hollywood.” Is anything more depressing than having a rejected contestant's parents waiting outside with a sign? How about a dismissed girl with her entire cheerleading squad waiting for her downstairs?
PICKIN' PICKLER: It's a dead tie between Vanessa Wolfe and Holly Harten for the title of Season 9's Kellie Pickler. Vanessa, a heartfelt girl from a small (and we mean tiny) Tennessee town, is a twangy one-woman pull-quote machine, drawling lines like "I’m going to Hollywood! I’m gonna ride on an aero-plane!” But other blonde Holly Harten, the "Guitar Girl" who dressed up in her Halloween costume of a human guitar, has got more confidence and spunk: when Simon criticizes the cheesy costume, she winks, "I can always lose the guitar," knowing full well that she's playing up her sex appeal. They're both on their way to Hollywood—first girl to get a boob enhancement wins the title of 21st Century Pickler.
SAY MY NAME, SAME MY NAME: Skii Bo Ski—a name you never knew you loved until you first heard it— is responsible for several fabulous (if , incomprehensible) gems you'll be repeating for the rest of the season, including “It’s a package deal. I’m like the dollar store” and "Skii Bo Ski, baby! Skii Bo Ski!" The funny thing is... Skii Bo Ski (aka Antonio Wheeler) can actually sing! That is, when he isn't repeating his name like he just learned it. (This is 21st century "branding," apparently.) Randy has to yell “Shut up! You’re through to Hollywood!” to even get him to leave the room. You can see why someone might have to tase this guy to get his attention. Skii Bo Ski, baby!
BFF4EVA: Whenever you have two people auditioning in the room at the same time, chances are one is good and one is bad, because that's how drama works. "Annoying, annoying, annoying," says Simon to Corben Turner and Lauren Sanders, two lifelong besties who probably cling to each other because no one else can stand them. Simon either wants them to leave together or go to Hollywood together (or form a two-person girl group called The Ditzies). Corben can actually belt a tune, and she makes it through, but her tone-deaf pal does not. The girls are shattered that they can't continue to Hollywood together, but Simon assures them, “If it’s any consolation, I don’t think you’re going to be away from her for very long.” This is why Season 9 is going to hurt so much — because the caustic zingers that once delighted us now sting us as reminders that the show will never be quite like this again.
SUPERSTAR: Bryan Walker, now known as "The Singing Police Officer," impressed most of the judges with a rendition of the Carpenters' "Superstar," in the style of Season 2 winner Ryan Studdard, and he was awarded a golden ticket. Why didn't he impress all of the judges? Because Simon suddenly left the room due to a "migraine." Clearly, this is part of Fox's oh-so-clever strategy to ween us off him by showing "less and less of Simon." We do not like this one bit. We only get so much time left with you, Cowell, don't abandon us yet!
KISS OFF FROM A ROSE: Lamar Royal LOUDLY sings Seal's "Kiss From a Rose" and before the judges could get a (critical) word in edge-wise, he leapt into a second take in a last-ditch attempt to woo them... then cursed at them, storming off... then came back to sing some more before security ushered him out. Lamar basically illustrated Poor American Idol Auditioning 101: aggressive, bizarre behavior coupled with a total lack of self-awareness and an unbridled love of profanity. Ah, even after nine years, it's still so entertaining to watch.
JUST PANTS: Ladies and gentleman, I give you the "Umbrella" of 2010: "Pants on the Ground" as performed by senior General Larry Platt, the final person to audition in Atlanta.
Simon says: “I have a horrible feeling that song could be a hit.” Make it happen, America! I believe in you! After all, William Hung's debut album literally peaked at #34 on the Billboard 200.
Best Guy of the Night: Jermaine Sellers.
Best Girl of the Night: Keia Johnson.
Best Quote of the Night: Lamar Royal, while being escorted out by security, confronts the camera: “Who is Kara? I never even heard of that [bleep]. I wish Paula was here!”
So do we, Lamar. But not as much as we imagined, especially not if Kara keep developing the personality she grew this season.