Millions of swirling confetti and the brilliant glow from hundreds of stage lights envelop last year's winner, you know, that other David dude, as he basks in the glory of his recent win. This orgy of incandescence is part of a triumphant celebration brought on by no less than 97 million votes according to Seacrest the Voice. Thus starts the second part of AI's monster season premiere, reminding us all that by the end of the season, we'll be witnessing this majesty all over again. All nice and gargantuan, just like AI likes it. No doubt we'll be breaking the 150 million vote mark this year, because, as everyone knows, it's what's expected.
Now that I've given AI what AI wanted with that opening segment, namely a big splashy intro into the big splashy fantasy, I'll take it down a notch because we're in Kansas City. Not exactly the center of the Universe as we know it, but it did spawn David Cook who, apart from being razor shy and hair gel happy, is AI most recent winner. Seacrest – T-shirt precisely tucked into one pocket, hair carefully coiffed into artful disarray – wonders whether history will be repeated. I wonder whether I should quit stalling and get on with it already. I've got two hours of this stuff and I'm aiming for less than 10,000 words here.
Can't live, if living is so off-key
As AI rolls into town with four judges and one Seacrest wonder, there's a sea of screaming hopefuls, a squad of cheerleaders and banners galore. Seacrest's cult of personality reaches new heights as well, with giddy fans, overeager hugs and more giddy fans. Randy is confused about his location, Simon is greeted by his adoring groupies, Kara introduces herself and, hey look, it's Jason Castro meeting Paula by the door. The family is making another go at infamy with his brother so he's here to support him. Can't wait.
First up is Chelsea 74752 who looks like a beauty queen, talks like a cheerleader and is incredibly impressed with her own powerful, amazing voice. Her supportive family and friends encouraged her to apply and finally she's here, having caved under all the adoration. She launches into Maria Carey's I can't live which comes out sounding like a cross between the sound of a train screeching to a halt and the death scream of a hyena being gored by an angry elephant. Randy laughs out loud while the others just stare. Simon says it sounded like the noise of a cat that fell off of the Empire State Building would make just before meeting the pavement. Ouch! Paula, the hypocrite, tells her to brush off Simon's negativity and embrace the positive. Kara says she's a pretty girl and Chelsea finally leaves to commiserate with her lying, cheating, awful friends who supported her pitiful delusion.
Footsteps in the hall
Sometimes it's a good idea to stack the deck in one's own favor, and what better way to do that than by picking a Leona Lewis song co-authored by none other than Simon the Decider. Ashley Anderson, tall, thin and somewhat Leona Lewis-like, is attempting a completely unknown gem she says it's called Footsteps in the Sand. She mangles the very first line and gets to a do-over, emphasizing “footprints” as she's belting out the awesome hit. Yeas all around and Ashley the Leona impersonator makes it to Hollywood. Note to future contestants: pick obscure Simon-penned clunkers for maximum suckuppage and a guaranteed golden ticket.
The day rolls on, with thousands still lined up to be abused. Casey Carolson, contestant 70298, is ready for her closeup wearing a pretty dress and cowboy boots. She's singing a Vanessa Carlton song quite decently, immediately bringing a smile to Simon's face. Simon and Paula like her, Kara sees a total package and Randy is a definite yes for Hollywood. Off she is screeching with her friends and family, which is all nice and good, but we're 16 minutes in and no real nutjobs yet. Somebody in the editing room must have been asleep at the wheel.
R.e.s.p.e.c.t., find out why you can't get it
Oops, spoke too soon. After a brief montage of people flipping, drumming and performing other acrobatics we meet Brian Hettler, talent #66487 from Kansas City, clad in a V-neck wife beater, black satin jacket and a whole lot of chest fur, who claims to have a big voice in that big hulking body of his. A great aria from Rigoletto plays in the background as Brian confesses he's a classically trained opera singer who is finally getting back to music after taking a couple of years off. Right away Paula makes a face as she is no doubt bowled over by his hirsute charms, then as Brian starts belting out Aretha's Respect. Randy starts laughing while the others snicker. Simon says he hated it all, Randy says it was terrible but that doesn't stop 66487 from launching into a Josh Groban song which he briefly delivers with operatic aplomb but little talent. Perhaps he should've taken more time off from singing. Another mournful piece plays in the background as Brian strolls out refusing to cry.
This, of course, prompts AI to show a montage of weepy losers, proving that there's no shortage of that kind of material. We even get a chick wailing loudly as if in horrible pain. I wonder whether they paid her for that performance.
Why, oh why can't I?
Onward! More David Cook plugging ensues and The Seacrest – now wearing a plaid shirt and somewhat less hair gel – interviews his parents on the street. What do they think of it all so far? Well, there's a whole lot of talent here. Is it as good as their dear son's talent? Well, maybe almost. Of course. Cue another glowing montage of Cook's glorious run on the show to contrast with a slightly less glamorous montage of shrill strangers with no talent intercut with baffled looks from the judges and snarky comments from Simon. The incredible AI commonplace of it all is comforting and safe. Until we get to the final 36, this is where the real fun resides, whether we like to acknowledge it or not.
It's a steady stream of poor saps like James Michael Avance, with his high-pitched awfulness, who gets compared to a singing Ryan Seacrest – never a good thing; Billy Vinson, portly, sartorially challenged and devoid of singing talent who squeaks out a Christina Aguilera song from the Mulan soundtrack and Chris Jones who attempts Josh Groban, predictably mangling it and eliciting more snickers from the judges. Another notable throwaway is Deandre Hopkins, a victim of too much fake Burberry checks and very little self-awareness.
Perhaps Von Smith, all cool with a fedora and grandiose claims of an incredible singing range who hopes for positive remarks, might alleviate the tedium. He delivers a tortured Over the Rainbow which he presents as a strange musical schizophrenia wrapped some singing talent. The looks on the judges' faces range from incredulous to confused but they put him through saying he's good. His mom bursts into tears saying sonny is a great joy and signaling that Von might make it far in the competition. They never pimp the adoring family unless it's for a reason. Right?
They kissed a girl and they liked it... or so they say
Remember Jason Castro is here to support his brother? Time for a filler segment on Jason's run last season in which he made it way too far for my liking. But he was somewhat cute with his Jimmy Hendrix impersonator meets surfer dude meets pothead charm. Will his brother Michael, who apparently takes hairdo pointers from British punks from the 80's, come close? He already has the same faked talent for giving crappy interviews with a sheepish smile – must have studied his brother a bit too closely – but he is supposedly different from Jason, who is more girly, because he is manly. Sure, whatever. A whole montage ensues where the brothers argue their manliness with Seacrest sitting right between them. Somebody behind the scenes has a wicked sense of humor.
Finally in front of the judges, Michael says he only started singing 20 days before his audition. I can see how making it to Hollywood would be a culmination of half a month's worth of dreams for this guy. Manly Michael tears into a song called Love with a girl by Gavin DeGraw, which comes out polished and over-rehearsed. Twenty days my ass! Simon is a bit baffled, Kara likes his nonchalance, Paula terms him fun and he makes it to Hollywood with four votes. I can't help but notice a third Castro brother and a sister when Michael exits to join his adoring family. Expect to see Jason back next season with one of them.
It feels like, tonight, they're pushing somebody
Sadly, we're only 40 minutes into the show. It seems like it's been dragging on for hours already and Seacrest has been teasing a guy with “an incredible story” for the entire time. I'm getting sick of the dude already, sight unseen.
The losers parade is not over as Vaughn English sings with a banana and gets promptly dispatched to make room for Matt Breitske, welder and father of a three year old with long-held singing ambitions that were thwarted by the cold reality of life. The big bald bear of a man glides into a Ain't No Sunshine by Bill Withers with a clean, crisp voice and feeling. Randy calls him a bar singer, Kara and Paula think he has natural talent. The girls say yes and Simon agrees praising his heart and ambition. Sadly it's a no from Randy but he's overruled. Daughtry belts out Feels Like Tonight triumphantly in the background as Matt the welder walks out with his gold ticket. Will he make it far? Don't worry, Seacrest is threatening to follow up with him later on, so that's always a good sign.
Over the rainbow
Jasmine Joseph from Norfolk, Nebraska is a jazzy girl with at least six different shades of red and blue in her hair. She is devoted to AI which she says is the only thing in her life right now. That's just too bad because her Over the Rainbow sounds like it's being sung through a bulletproof door by a 300lb linebacker on crack. She gets lots of astonished stares, a whole lot of silence and finally makes an awkward exit away from her beloved AI dreams.
From Oz, Kansas we have fresh-faced Jessica Furney who lives with her 93 year old grandmother. Oz, has an Oz Museum, surprisingly enough, but not much else. Jessica thinks she's the next American Idol because she has worked hard and wants it really hard. Hmm, is that how it works? But let's give a chance to the girl in the plaid shirt who is singing Janis Joplin's Cry Baby, with a bit too much flourish but pretty good talent. Simon likes her, Randy likes her naturalness and just like that the girl from Oz goes to Hollywood on her birthday. Aww!
Contestants #77138 and #77139, sisters from Kansas City, are here to liven up the dreary scene with a rap act. They are “two of the most talented individuals” here, they say, because they can be choreographers and body guards and rappers all in one package. Besides, being named Asia and India, they cover a lot of territory. They dedicate their food-themed rap to Randy, something about cheeseburgers, cookies, lettuce, hot sauce, bodily functions and something else that I fast-forwarded through. Then Asia sings individually, off-key, followed by India with a so-so bit of her own. Asia gets bounced but India makes it through. Pass the barbecue sauce!
Jamar Rogers, bartender from Wisconsin, is next and he wastes no time bringing it with California Dreaming. A strong but contrived voice, a few weird facial expressions later the judges quickly send him through, but they all comment on his over-the-top delivery. Guess that's something he should take to heart. Outside, his friends and family and audition buddy Danny – the one whose story Seacrest has been teasing the whole show – are waiting for the verdict. The gold ticket brings loud squeals all around and Danny is shown again, weeping and talking about his grief. You know, that's all tragic, but at this point I'm sorely tempted to fast forward through his segment. I don't know about you, but I hate being bludgeoned with such heavy-handedness. Not that being bludgeoned is ever a good thing, but you get it.
Danny Gokey's sob story finally unfolds to a mournful piano tune. His wife passed away after a long illness just four weeks before and here he is amid his pain to sing I heard it through the grapevine. He does a really great job aside from some weird arm motions which the camera quickly pans to avoid. Paula raves, Kara is a fan, Simon liked him and Randy says he's the best they've seen. It's all yeses for him and a trip to Hollywood.
My boy, dawg!
Out with the good, in with the bad. Seacrest says the girls were lacking in Kansas and we get to see four different specimens that are not only lacking but seriously scary. They're just numbers though on the path to hopefully less suckage.
However, at the one hour fifteen minute mark, we get contestant #74002, all preppy and boyish in khaki shorts and proper shirt. A folklore student, Anoop Desai from North Carolina, launches into a Boyz to Men song he sounds boybandish but has a vibe. Randy calls him Anoop-dog, Simon thinks he's too geeky but ultimately he's good enough for Hollywood. Kara knows his blah wardrobe can be whipped into shape later with a bit of La-La-Land magic.
Should I be listing all the rejects? There's a whole Signed, sealed, delivered segment with dozens of awful losers followed closely by a segment of all the nutjobs who thought it was Halloween in August or something. It's your typical array of people dressed as Easter Bunny, cowboys, girls in curlers, ninjas, pimps, Big Birds, hookers and various other oddities. One enterprising contestant, Andrew Lang, even brought his own cheerleaders who serenade the judges with a reworked Rudolph the red nosed reindeer. Great intro, but can he sing? My girl has been done to death, and Andrew gives his all to make it different with little success. Randy says yes at first but reconsiders after Andrew launches into another song. You know you suck royally when even Paula says you're theatrical. Sadly the cheerleaders' pride will not be making Hollywood history.
The way you make me feel... mother
Have we had a band director on the show before? Well, we have one now. Asa Barnes sings The way you make me feel quite well and with an earnest smile on his face. He even looks like he's already been made over for Hollywood. This guy might go far. They don't waste a whole segment on one guy for nothing.
Exploitation time! Michael Nicewonder from Nebraska, related to Hank Williams Jr. no less, claims he is an undiscovered star who can really sing. His own mother disagrees but he is determined to make it. Will he try a Mariah tune or even Elton? No! Such stuff is too small for Michael who goes instead with his own original creation. It's a song about love and such but Simon asks whether it was written about a pet. Hee! Simon then earns his paycheck by asking him to sing the song he's written to his grandmother too while Paula groans loudly. In the end, they all encourage him to get in touch with Hallmark and get his stuff on their cards, or something. The whole wonderful humiliation ends with Michael in tears, just like it was supposed to. Haven't we seen this before somewhere?
There's more where that came from. Dennis Brigham, #75035 from Illinois, dreamt of Simon and is excited and is ready to sing With you by Chris Brown. He's also happy to include some gratuitous bad dancing, back flipping, finger snapping and even an encore. Paula gives him a pity yes as Dennis begs to be put through. Simon doesn't get it. Finally, Dennis becomes the day's 26th golden ticket. Color me shocked.
#66230 has peacefully slept through the day, oblivious to the excitement around her. Mia Conley has waited all day to show off her bad dye job and her even worse singing. Loving you sounds like a cat being skinned alive but she is surprised to be denied all around. She says she can hit Mariah-like high notes and they made a mistake. Yes, they did. I did too when I wasted a full paragraph on this chick. Damn you AI for being so filler-happy.
Unbelievably, we're down to the last contestant. She is 23 from Memphis, TN and her name is Lil Rounds. Amazingly enough she gets her very own segment. What were the odds? She is a mother of three and she's busy, and a victim of a tornado disaster. But she's no victim when it comes to singing! Lil does justice to a Stevie Wonder tune with loads of power and control. Paula loved her, Kara thinks she's the best so far, Simon says she's fantastic and Randy says she's Fantasia slash Mary J. Blige. Lil cries and runs out screaming, golden ticket in hand. Do you think she's being pimped?
Fantasia croons in the background as Seacrest wraps up the cheese. 27 golden tickets were handed out in Kansas City and some of them we even got to see. Those are the ones you're supposed to be voting for later on, so keep them tucked away for future reference.
Six cities were visited in all, including Salt Lake City, San Juan, New York, Louisville and they all gave birth to some talent and a lot of horror. In all, 147 people made it to Hollywood and Ryan says it's been the most talent-filled season so far. But, as usual, the superlatives don't end there. The Kodak Theatre will be the scene of many musical crimes to come this season. Expect supercharged drama on the “most dramatic” Hollywood week ever. He says that like it's supposed to be something new. Hah!
Be back next week when the insanity continues and I may be forced to fast forward more. MotherSister will be on hand as well to deliver the goods while I visit an ear doctor to have the damage evaluated.
Drop me a PM if you think Paula was uncommonly lucid this week. Something is not right.