Hello again to that bizarre human specimen, mystery of mysteries, the Cream-reading American Idol fan. What can I say, you are my people. I thought I would start my 2012 recaps with a little refresher on how I watch this show: I fast-forward (a lot) when I get bored, I occasionally yell at the TV, and I don't watch the results show (unless you count fast-forwarding to the last five minutes to see the pain on the low-vote-getters' faces). With that, let's get to it!
So, the latest version of this dog-and-pony show has already been trudging along for a few months. We had the auditions, then more auditions, then they threw all the contestants on a bus to Vegas for ... more auditions. I am jumping in here, on the eve of the first performance for the Top 13. So far I have my usual complaints — the judges, the editing, too many blonde pageant girls — but, in a shocking twist, all the people I was rooting for made it through. AND, to add a pat of butter to that oatmeal (it's good; try it!), the contestants who bugged the shit out of me, and who I was convinced would go through on the strength of the screaming tween vote, were booted (I'm looking at you, Eben "Bieber Hair" Franckewitz.)
This week, on our first Big, Big show of the season, the boys are taking on Stevie Wonder and the girls are wrestling with Whitney Houston. I'm concerned about this choice because those are two legends who, when aped on Idol, usually make the contestants read as bad karaoke/pale comparisons. Oh well, we shall see.
Joshua Ledet is up first. He has continued this show's tradition of proving to white people that black church is way more fun — he's a preacher's son with great range and a really interesting voice. The name "Mantasia" has been bandied about. Joshua's performance of "I Wish" is solid, though I'm surprised how nervous he seems in the rehearsal package. Randy, who is wearing an insane broach shaped like a frowning Japanese girl, liked it.
Even when I'm fast-forwarding through it, that Weight Watchers ad featuring Jennifer Hudson dueting with herself makes me uncomfortable.
Elise Testone is up next. Mentor Mary J. Blige cringes through her original song choice. Elise gets testy about it. Testy. Testone! Testy Testone! HA! She takes the stage in an ill-fitting gold-embroidered strapless dress. The waist is too short or something — it's like she's all boobs and hips; it's very Snooki. This is part of an overall trend: The ladies' fashion this season has been seriously terrible — Vegas showgirl meets purity prom with dad. Elise's rough-hewn voice is really interesting, and I'm glad she's in this competition, but this vampy thing doesn't feel comfortable on her. The whole performance feels rushed and a little awkward. "Whitney is a beast," says J-Lo, and I don't think she means ghoul. The judges, who have apparently undergone a group lobotomy, actually offer some real criticism. Elise does not take it well. During her post-chat with Ryan, she frowns and grumbles her way through a series of excuses. Hey girl, remember, this is a popularity contest. Get it together.
Next up is "Gentle Giant" Jermaine Jones, he of the deeeeep voice. His low vocals remind me of when I sing songs from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers to my cat — of course, I always play Adam ("Bless your beautiful hide, wherever you may be ... ). I mean, I guess his voice is sort of impressive in its oddness, but I just find it kind of boring. It's old-lady music. Like it could soothe a restive bowel. Also, he sweats a lot. The judges liked it, though Randy actually manages to say something quasi-critical. I am liking the judges so far tonight. Also, please more of Jermaine towering over Ryan Seacrest.
Speaking of fashion, Erica Van Pelt needs some help. Last week was matronly, this week is bridesmaid. It's a shame, because she has such a great voice and she's so likable. Why can't they just dress her like a cool grownup? The song, "I Believe in You and Me," is OK. I have had an epiphany — Whitney Houston songs are cheesy dreck if you don't have someone like Whitney Houston singing them. The end of the performance gets a whole lot better.
Murfreesboro in the house! It's time for local boy Colton Dixon, he of the lanky legs and silly hair. When he almost made the Top 24 last year, I joked that he looked like every Belmont kid I ever saw hanging out at PM, drinking Coke. Is Nashville still like this?! (Sometimes I miss Nashville.) Colton is doing "Lately." In the rehearsal footage, Jimmy Iovine asks Colton to sing an original so he can see what he's working with. To me, this betrays serious producer pimping — we are rarely allowed to acknowledge that these people might be real artists using this karaoke competition to get a tiny leg up in the music industry rat race. Colton does sound much more comfortable singing his personal brand of radio-ready emo. For you Middle Tennesseans following along at home, last week, Colton sang Paramore, and I thought it was pretty terrible. That genre of screaming and feelings doesn't seem to translate well onto the Idol stage. This week's performance is better, and I do think this kid will go far. He's savvy and confident and apparently young ladies are turned on by boys who share their jean size. I think J-Lo likes-likes him. And maybe so does Ryan Seacrest: He adds, "You can hear the girls screaming."
If there's one contestant that really sticks in my craw this season, it's noted Jesus lover and tall person Shannon MaGrane. Last week she sang some Jesus-y song about candles, and light, and spreading those things in the world. She wore the dress from her purity ball (joke successfully recycled!), which she attended with her MLB-vet dad. True story: Many professional athletes are very religious. How else do you think they're able to so successfully hide their prescription pain pill addictions? God helps them! In Shannon's defense, at least this week she eschews the whole "ballad gown" thing and actually dresses like a hip young person. She takes on "I Have Nothing" and bombs terribly. Her voice cracks and swerves, and NO ONE helps her. Maybe it is punishment for those thoughts about Michael Fassbender THAT EVERYONE HAS. J-Lo opens her criticism with "Sweet baby," and you know that ain't good. Even Steven uses the phrase "crash and burn." It might be the harshest thing he has ever said on this program.
Next up we have Cowardly Lion impersonator Deandre Brackensick (how amazing is that name?). During his pre-performance sit-down with Ryan, they show some embarrassing footage of him crying after the Wild Card round. His reaction is amazing — so humble and game. What a likable kid. He sings "Master Blaster" with a reggae vibe. It was a fun, silly performance, and I found myself smiling.The judges seem to like to too.
OK, next up is my guuuuurl Skylar Lane. I am obsessed with this little firecracker — she's spunky, she's a balls-to-the-wall performer, and she has that certain authenticity (feigned or otherwise) that is so essential to building a brand in country music. She says she's going to bring "country to Whitney" in "Where Do Broken Hearts Go." She kills it, especially at the end. She is also the only person this week to really "make it her own." I love her.
More of Lee's favorites! I am also obsessed with Heejun Han from Flushing, Queens. I know some people on the Internet think he's more clever than talented, but I actually like his voice. It's so smooth and delicious. Like sundubu. Plus, he is genuinely hilarious, and on live TV no less! That is not easy to do. During his rehearsal package, Mary J says, "I wasn't expecting him to sound like that." Hmmm ... did you also not expect Jeremy Lin to play basketball like that? Eh, Mary? He sings "All in Love is Fair," and it's lovely. There is also something about how he struggles to sing around his accent that I find oddly moving. What can I say, I'm a sucker for immigrant stories.
Aw shucks, it's Holly Cavanaugh. For the girls, we might as well call this power-ballad night. She chooses "All the Man That I Need." How do we feel about the lyric "he fills me up," followed by the line "he's all the man that I need"? How did I not notice this before? This is one of those moments when you realize that your childhood is gone for good — like when you finally understand all the sex jokes in Grease. It's a great performance. Holly has a really big voice, even if it's not that original.
Next up it Jeremy Rosado, who has a nice squishy quality. I always find Jeremy's singing kind of boring, then he hits a huge note at the end and I like it. Same thing this week. I do like his sweater.
Let's play another round of Little Girl, Big Voice. Jessica Sanchez, come on down. She wins the backstage catfight for "I Will Always Love You." Bring on the atmospheric mist! OK, so she slays it. This girl might just have Whitney-level talent. She earns a standing ovation — if only for the way she draws out the last couple notes. "You just made 40 million people cry," says Steven. Why? Are their Sodastreams also running low on gas?
Now it's time for my boyfriend Phillip Phillips. Yes, he is a stupid Dave Matthews impersonator, but I don't care — he's just so darn cute. And can he ever wear a T-shirt! He sings "Superstition," and I find it too loud and kinda dumb. I am bored. Maybe this would work better on mute.
There we go! Week One. As you might know by now, Jeremy and Elise were the bottom vote-getters (Elise, smile next time!). Jeremy gets sent home. He seemed like a nice kid. I wish him the best of luck.