This week, American Idol Audition Hell wends its way to the cornfields of Omaha, Nebraska for the first time. Though the rolling fields and wide-open spaces are as Norman Rockwell-pretty as anyone could want, one audition hopeful complains that Omaha is “not that exciting”. Also not exciting – the sixty minutes allotted to the Cornhusker State yields exactly 5.5 good auditions for our viewing pleasure. That’s a pretty chintzy harvest – especially considering Simon is being nice this season.
While Paula’s away, the boys will play
Paula Abdul’s flight has been delayed, so Randy and Simon scootch closer together at the judges’ table and fantasize about what it would be like to split Paula’s paycheck between them and just go with a two-person panel. Their daydreams come to a crashing halt with the appearance of Chris Bernheisel, age 24. Sadly, Chris has been waiting for seven years to audition for AI, as he couldn’t afford to travel to any of the previous audition cities. In spite of all this, Chris remains wildly optimistic, and expects his audition to go so well, “happiness will go flying everywhere”. In order to facilitate flying happiness, Chris has brought the judges presents. He proudly passes out a couple of stuffed dogs and a t-shirt for Simon, then displays a photo album containing pictures of himself with Kelly Clarkson. Then, apparently feeling he hasn’t made quite enough of an impression, snivels dramatically to Simon and Randy about how his Idol dreams have finally come true - sort of. His version of “Since You’ve Been Gone” is a wretched mess, made worse by an impromptu handstand in the middle of his performance. Simon, who obviously finds the country air very relaxing, chuckles that he likes Chris, and loves the bribes, but his singing just isn’t good enough. Chris’ lower lip trembles, and Simon quickly admonishes him not to feel bad, because he’s a nice guy. Chris recovers enough to ask if he can audition for the AI “red carpet”, and Simon tells him to advise the local FOX affiliate that he & Randy want to see Chris on TV, doing Seacrest’s job. Ah, now the happiness is truly flying! Chris is wildly grateful, and bounds excitedly out of the audition room to tell the news to his family, while FOX Omaha scrambles to post a picture of Chris in their security office.
Jason Rich, 21, is a humble Iowa farmboy. In fact, he’s so humbled to be in the presence of Simon and Randy, he completely forgets the words to “When You Say Nothing At All”. Indeed, it looks like nothing is exactly what Jason will be singing today, because he can’t get past the first line of the song. Even that nerve-wracked first line shows promise, however, and Simon and Randy encourage him to breathe and try again. Finally, Jason manages several bars of the song, and displays a nice, boy-bandish singing voice. Randy thinks he sounds good, and votes yes. Simon likes him, and agrees to put him through, but not before warning Jason that he’d better get his nerves under control because he won’t get a second chance again.
AI Smackdown 2008
Paula finally arrives, fashionably late, just in time for a montage of hapless midwesterners who can’t remember the lyrics to their audition songs. Welcome back, Paula. On to the good stuff, in the form of 23-year-old Rachel Wicker. Rachel is an arm-wrestler, and she’s tough enough to withstand Ryan Seacrest’s attempts to beat her. Oh, Ryan, your personal trainer is so going to kick your ass for letting a chick show you up like that. Rachel challenges Simon to a contest, but Simon won’t be drawn in, figuring that she’ll probably beat him. Rachel is auditioning with Leanne Womack’s “Don’t Tell Me to Stop Loving You”, and she proves to be a very competent country singer as well as a good person to have on your side in a fight. Simon, who still hasn’t acquired a taste for twang, moans that her performance is that of someone who’s at the end of a 50-year career. Randy isn’t crazy about Rachel’s “half-yodel” but after some brief hemming and hawing, votes yes. Paula likes Rachel and gives her a yes vote, sending her to Hollywood, but first wants a go with the lady arm-wrestler. Rachel, looking anxious and unwilling to hurt the diminutive Paula, gently pins her wrist and escapes with her golden ticket.
Sarah Whitaker, 25, is a former goth pro wrestler. Well, she’s still goth, but has retired her “Lady Morgue” persona. She puts a few “moves” on Ryan for some laughs, and unleashes her trademark laugh, a screeching cackle that would do Morticia Addams proud. Her singing is no less scary than her makeup – it’s half Julie Andrews and half Amy Lee, after throat surgery. Simon is horror-stricken, and comments that Sarah’s song is the “soundtrack to this town” – just plain weird.
Ryan quits his day job
Ryan, either intimidated by Lady Morgue or annoyed with his lack of screentime during the audition rounds thus far, sidles into the audition room to complain about Sarah’s elimination. The judges suggest he trade jobs with Paula, who then flounces into the holding room to hobnob with the commoners, while Ryan takes her seat at the table. Ryan doesn’t seem to be taking the little game with the jovial good-natured spirit it’s wanting, however, and snipes, “How do I pretend to be overpaid for doing no work?” Seriously, dude, you should have had more than enough practice at that by now. Into the melee steps sweet little Samantha Sidley, 22, who looks confused by the stars’ antics but bravely declares herself to be the next American Idol. Samantha does indeed have a lovely, controlled voice, nicely displayed with her performance of Norah Jones’ “Don’t Know Why”. Pushed to offer a critique, Ryan likes her voice but thinks she needs to work on her confidence. Simon and Randy jeer at him, and Paula pops her head in to protest. Ryan shuffles out of the room, calling out to Samantha that he would have voted yes. Paula rejoins Simon & Randy, and comments that while Samantha’s showmanship needs work (which she was able to view through the door, I suppose), but gives her a yes. Randy agrees, and Simon bestows a fourth yes for an absolute-guaranteed trip to Hollywood.
With all the fun going on, there’s only time to show snippets of what looks like three very good auditions indeed, courtesy of Elizabeth Erket, Denise Jackson, and Michael Sanfilippo, who are all golden ticket winners. Another unnamed successful auditioner announces that she’s going to prove she’s America’s Next Top Model. Your confusion is fierce, hon, and I’m sure Tyra appreciates the plug.
17-year-old Angelica Puente has family issues, and a rather painful pre-audition interview reveals that although she’s estranged from her dad, he thinks enough of her to have paid to send her to Omaha. Angelica admits to the judges that she’s nervous, and Simon encourages her to picture Randy in a bikini. And just after I’d finally managed to scrub that mental picture from my mind. Angelica is taking on the old-and-often-mangled AI standby, “The Power of Love”, but proves she’s able to emote very well and can hold her own in the diva line. Paula bemoans her lack of performance skills, but believes she’s promising enough for a yes. Randy is also a yes vote, and Simon thinks that Angelica will be very good with a bit of effort. In the holding room, Ryan dials Angelica’s dad with the good news, and Dad touchingly says that she’s always been her American Idol.
Between a rocker and a weird place
The success of Chris Daughtry has apparently encouraged would-be “rockers” to come out in droves to audition, presuming that a “rocker” means a guy with long stringy hair. The guy bringing something a little different is 24-year-old David Cook, who sports a raggedy half-Mohawk and a slightly surly look. David auditions with “Living on a Prayer”, and although I wish he’d picked just about any other song, he has a great voice with just the right amount of raspy edge. Simon is pleased, and Randy thinks he’s really good but needs to work on his “persona”. Paula also likes David, and he’s off to Hollywood.
Johnny Escamilla, 18, claims to be “one of the weirdest guys you’ll ever meet”. Let’s just clear that up right away – he’s not one of the weirdest, but he’s most definitely one of the most tiresome. His gold-sequined jacket causes actual indigestion, as Paula lets out a most unladylike and noisy hiccup when Johnny takes his place in front of the judges. Johnny is opting to sing “Shout”, and never mind his inability to sing – his dancing ability makes John Belushi’s turn in Animal House look like Gregory Hines in White Nights. Simon briskly tells Johnny that he’s quite simply “everything I hate(d)”, and Johnny disappears back into anonymity.
It’s not the last seven minutes without a clipfest of suckage, set to the tune of Steelers Wheels’ “Stuck In The Middle (With You)”. Saving the day is Leo Marlowe, age 23, who also hails from small-town Iowa. Simon asks Leo if he’s one of the popular guys in his village of 200 residents, and Leo quips that his mom says she raised the perfect homecoming queen – too bad it wasn’t one of her daughters. The judges all chuckle merrily, and are rightly pleased with Leo’s version of “A Song For You” – the best has once again been saved for last, as Leo is not only personable but a talented vocalist. If Johnny was everything that Simon hated, Leo is everything that Simon likes, and gets an emphatic yes vote. Paula thinks Leo scored a touchdown, and Randy smilingly hands Leo his golden ticket.
The end-of-the-day tally is 19 Nebraska hopefuls on their way to Hollywood, proving that there’s more than just corn in the Midwest. Tomorrow, the always fabulous MotherSister leads the conga line to sunny Miami. Adios till next week!
I’m starting a petition to have Seacrest replaced with Chris Bernheisel. PM me your signature.