Not a crown in sight. No sashes flashing state names. Noticeable lack of Aqua Net and Vaseline. “All American Girl” is reminiscent of The Miss America Pageant, but with a pulse. The 45 girls competing for the title of All American Girl seem to have something that’s been missing from the pageants we’ve seen in the past – personality. And lots of it.
Let’s begin with introductions. The host is comedian Mitch Mullaney. He’s funny enough. He’s attractive enough in a Robbie Benson sort of way. He doesn’t bother me and so far serves his purpose well. The judges are requisite Brit and former Spice Girl “Ginger”, Geri Halliwell, former pro basketball player turned sports analyst/commentator and all around chauvinist who took this gig seemingly to get a date, John Salley, and Suzanne De Passe, apparently one of the most successful women in the entertainment industry, though honestly, I’d never heard of her prior to this program.
Here’s how it works. Young women throughout the nation send in videos and attend open auditions in order to wow the judges with their appearance, singing and dancing skills, athleticism and intelligence. The 3 judges narrow down the field of hopefuls to 45 who are then invited to Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim where the contest begins.
The remainder of initial competition is broken down into stages. In Stage 1, each contestant is given 2 minutes to perform for the judges. Their talents vary greatly from singing, dancing, monologues and wrestling (yes, I said wrestling. You didn’t read that wrong.) to Evelyn's talent, which is entertaining, but unclassifiable. At the end of Stage 1, the judges will have narrowed the contestants to 24, who will move on to Stage 2. In Stage 2, each girl will be judged on charisma and personality, athletic ability, talent and smarts. At the end of Stage 2, each contestant stands before the judges, who will become coaches for the girls for the remainder of the competition, and each judge chooses 5 girls to be on his or her team. If no judge chooses the girl standing before them, that girl gets the boot. If more than one judge selects the same girl, then the girl gets to pick the judge she wants to team up with.
Now that we have all of the preliminary stuff out of the way, let’s get on with the recap, shall we? Yes, I think so. Time to meet the contestants!
Welcome Tarah, a petite and pretty blonde who impresses the coaches with a ‘50s dance. Next is Natalie, who is also dancing, and says she’s just going to “get out there and get her groove on.” Techno music starts and Natalie dances for about 30 seconds, which is apparently the length of Natalie’s groove. She’s pretty and she can dance, but 30 seconds out of a 2 minute opportunity hardly impresses the judges. Nat’s followed by Venice. Venice. Venice. Venice. What in the world were you thinking? Venice does a very strange (and poor might I add) impression of Michael Jackson. The only things included in the impression were the moonwalk and the dangling baby (which Venice substitutes with a scarf clad teddy bear.) If there had been a gong, Suzanne would have hit it. She was the judge least impressed with the performance. See Suzanne is friends with Michael and is credited with “discovering” the Jackson 5. Oops! Venice… 3 words. Know. Your. Audience. Though honestly, I think any audience would have thought her performance stunk. Fourth up is Jaime, affectionately known to Salley as “Vegas.” Jaime sings solely to Salley and ignores Geri and Suzanne. No points from the women, but SCORE from Salley!
Marisa is next. She immediately displeases the judges by prefacing her performance with “I don’t like what I’m about to sing, but I’m going to sing it anyway.” Fortunately, she does a pretty good job vocally, but after the song she gets the smackdown from Suzanne who tells her to pick a song she likes next time or just keep her dislike to herself. I’m thinking that out of every song out there, why would you pick a song you don’t like?! Whatever. Myshema steps on stage to perform a poem that she wrote herself. The coaches are blown away. I am too. She’s talented. Myshema, if the All American Girl thing doesn’t work out, you can definitely make a living on your poetry and performance art. Following Myshema is Ashley. Ashley tells the judges that she makes up in style what she lacks in talent. Ashley is right. Though her voice is nice, her looks are nicer and her style definitely made an impression. Following Ashley is former top 30 American Idol reject, Melanie. Melanie belts out our national anthem and apparently impresses the judges, but Geri points out that singing is plays a small part in the competition. Let’s hope Melanie has more skills than just singing.
Up next is Monica. She’s cute, she has a good voice, she has a winning personality. Judges are pleased. Last up is Kira. She plays a piece on the piano. The judges seem to like it. I’m not so impressed. Maybe it’s just me. At this time, the judges call the names of 6 girls: Caianda, Monica, Myshema, Marisa, Kira and Melanie. From the strength of their first performances, they automatically advance to Stage 2. The rest of the girls will be heading into the second half of Stage 1 where they will get a second opportunity to showcase their talents and Jaime will get a second opportunity to get Salley’s number.
The second set of performances are handled a bit differently. The judges may automatically advance or reject a girl based on the strength or weakness of her performance. If the judges are on the fence after a second performance, they wait until all of the girls have performed again before deciding if she moves on to the second round. Venice, as we suspected, gets booted automatically after some particularly poor violin playing. She could have sung like Mariah Carey at this point and not advanced. There was no getting past her slam on MJ. Natalie impresses the judges by singing and playing Alicia Keys’ “Fallin.” This performance is surprising to the judges who had been ready to cut her on the spot after her 30 second groove. Had this been your first performance, you would have been an auto advance with the other 6. Carrie and Evelyn are next. We are seeing them for the first time though they are performing for the second time. Carrie performs an operatic aria. The judges approve. Evelyn recites all 50 states while juggling and standing on a piece of wood that is balanced on a log. Evelyn, if any of the questions on that intelligence test are about the 50 states of the U.S., you’re golden. Evie’s talent has me laughing, but the judges are all poker faced, so I can’t tell what they think. Last up is Vegas Jaime whose second performance is a sexy dance. Again, Jaime performs solely to Salley. At this point I’m convinced that Jaime works in Vegas at a male strip club.
Deliberation time for the judges. Those chosen to advance to Stage 2 include Ali, Andrea, Ashley, Carrie, Cherra, Cynthia, Dana, Evelyn, Jessica, Kelly, Kristi, another Monica, Natalie, Rachel, Sarah, Shannon, Shauna and Tarah who join Caianda, Kira, Marisa, Melanie, Monica, and Myshema.
We’ve seen the talent portion, now we get to see athletic ability. The remaining 24 girls have to complete an obstacle course which includes diving and swimming across a pool, climbing up a rope ladder and back down again, crawling beneath robe netting on their bellies, running through tires and finally shooting and sinking a free throw. Ashley starts off the competition and makes good time. She’s an obvious athlete. Kira, Shauna and Carrie are strong athletically as well. They finish top 3. Bottom three athletes include Cherra, Monica and Evelyn. I can’t say much for Cherra, but Monica and Evie can definitely fall back on their personalities to make up for their lack of athleticism. Luckily viewers aren’t shown Evie’s near drowning… and besides, Monica’s cannonball in place of a dive is classic. If you know others are going to laugh at you anyway, I say best to give them reason to laugh.
Obstacle course over. On to the group dance competition in which the girls are taught a difficult routine which they must attempt to master and perform after only an hour or two. In rehearsals, it’s obvious who the strong dancers are, as they pick up the steps quickly. Some of the others are struggling with the moves and are going to make for entertaining TV. Right before it’s time to perform for the judges, Rachel tells the cameras that she feels like she’s going to pass out. She realizes that she’s one of the weakest dancers and confesses to the camera that she believes that it’s going to appear to everyone that she’s faking in order to get out dancing. She’s right. We think she’s faking. However, her act…er… her condition worsens and she goes to the nurse’s office and doesn’t have to dance.
First group of 8 performs with Melanie, Andrea and Natalie doing pretty well, but with Tarah being the only true standout. The second group performs and they are a bit weaker than the first group, with Kelly being the best in the bunch. The last group is absolutely hysterical. It’s as if they didn’t really learn a routine from a choreographer, but instead tried to learn the moves from watching the first two groups. Though I thought pretty much everyone was weak, Salley points out Ashley and says, “You were right. You are not a dancer.” She laughs it off and I like her even more. So you can’t dance! Who cares! You’re funny and you’re hot!
Third part of Stage 2 is the test for general knowledge. They’re weeding out the morons in this one. I’m pleased. Morons suck. Pretty and talented morons suck worse. The quiz is 20 questions and the girls have 15 minutes to complete it. Viewers are let in on 3 of the questions:
1. What nationality was Vincent Van Gogh?
2. Which book features character Holden Caufield?
3. What is the name of the process for splitting atoms?
(Just fyi, he’s Dutch, Catcher in the Rye and fission).
I can’t remember who said the atom splitting process was called electrolysis, but I was laughing out loud. In a matter of minutes, Ashley is finished and waiting for the rest of the girls. She takes top score on the quiz. Rachel “I can’t dance because I’m going to pass out” scores lowest. Maybe she should have pulled that passing out stunt for the intelligence test, too. Just a thought.
The trials continue as the girls are given a personality challenge where they must get up in front of the judges and each other and tell stories from their lives. Some are funny like Monica and her friends spying on an ex. Some are heartfelt like Marisa’s teen pregnancy and Shannon’s father’s shooting. Some are seen by the judges as pleas for a sympathy vote, like Rachel’s story about taking care of her handicapped older sister. Blood. Pressure. Rising. Going-to-pass-out. That trick really could have helped you save face, Rach.
With the big tests being over, now is the last opportunity for the girls to make an impression on the judges. Each will have a 2 minute interview and will answer questions posed by the panel. Marisa is questioned about how she would handle being apart from her child. Kristi is asked if she’s always happy and goes into a soliloquy about how she’s a very intelligent woman, despite her ditzy demeanor. Evelyn is asked if she goes too far and responds that this is the most controlled she’s ever been. Ashley is asked why she should be the All American Girl when she can’t sing or dance. She replies that she brings something different to the competition. Shauna is asked about her beauty pageant past. She rolls her eyes at the question and said she isn’t defined by her beauty pageant background. The problem I see is that her whole demeanor SCREAMS beauty queen.
Ali wigs me out the most out of all of the interviewees. She has a Mena Suvari quality about her. Her eyes are very wide and she acts really spacey. John asks her if she’s using her sex appeal to be noticed in the competition. As she shoves her breasts back into her low scoop neck shirt she says, “Well, I’ve heard that sex sells in Hollywood, so I’m trying to learn how.” Now, I’m appalled by this response, but the judges seem fine with it. Ali, just put your breasts away. End of interview.
Last person shown is Kira. I think she’s impressed the judges so much with her all around talent, personality and athletic ability that they are looking for her faults. They want to hear her weaknesses. She says she’s loud. Yes, yes she is. I noticed that RIGHT away. She says she interrupts. Yes, I noticed that when you interrupted Geri as she posed the question. And she says she doesn’t shower every day. We have a winner! She has officially grossed out every one of the judges. Some things are better left unsaid.
Now it’s time for the judges to pick their teams. I described the method earlier, so let’s just get on with it. Marisa is first up. Not picked. Ashley is picked by John. Cherra - nope. Sarah - nope. Dana - nope. Shauna is picked by John. Myshema - nope. Evelyn is picked by Suzanne (and congrats on placing 2nd in the general knowledge quiz, by the way). Jessica is chosen by Geri. Daisy Fuentes look a like, Kelly, is picked by John. Geri picks Monica. Natalie steps up and all three judges want her for their team. (Here’s your competition, ladies) Natalie chooses Suzanne. Geri takes stinky Kira. The other Monica isn’t chosen. Chaianda - nope. Cynthia - nope. Tarah is picked by Suzanne. Andrea - nope. Geri picks Melanie. John takes Shannon. Suzanne takes Ali. None want Kristi, but Suzanne and Geri both want Carrie, who chooses to go with Suzanne. Last up is Rachel and the judges say nope.
Suzanne’s team is complete, but Geri and John both need one more girl each. All of the previously rejected girls come back and stand on stage. John chooses Andrea to be on his team. I have to say I’m pleased as I like her. Geri opts for Kristi. Done and done.
The final teams are:
Geri – Jessica, Monica, Kira, Melanie and Kristi
John – Ashley, Shauna, Kelly, Shannon and Andrea
Suzanne – Evelyn, Natalie, Tarah, Ali and Carrie
Tune in next week on Wednesday when All American Girl will fall into its permanent time slot of 10/9 central.
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