OMG, there are children in the White House again, and only hour-long episodes of American Idol. This is officially the coolest week ever for America. So we’re in Kentucky tonight! You can look forward to lots country fried establishment shots: bluegrass, cowboy hats, and … I don’t know; what else do they have in Kentucky? Chicken? Oh! There’s also Churchill Downs! All right, that should be enough local color to get us all in the mood. I’m officially ready, so bring it, Louisville.
A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Now here are some crazy crowd shots to file away in your memory for posterity. There’s a bubba coming out of a porta-potty, a blue-haired lady, many guitars, people arguing over how to say “Louisville” (pro-tip: imagine there are no vowels), and lots of spaghetti arms waving with excitement because collectively they are the next American Idol.
Auditions! Swingadelladoo! Rail thin Tiffany Shedd brought along her parents, her patented boy-killer wink, and an unimaginative use of frosted white eye shadow to help her get through to Hollywood. The parents say all manner of nice things about her – her dad’s just so proud of Tiffany he can hardly speak, and her mother declares that her “heart melts” whenever she hears her daughter sings. There’s no way Hollywood can survive without her. Before entering the blue room, Tiffany interviews that no matter what the judges say to her, she’s going to remain positive and head on to college if rejected. At least there’s a backup plan. Once in, Kara asks why she’s there, and Tiff answers that she has a great voice that the show needs. Then she sings Mariah Carey’s “Hero” in what I can only call a woolly voice, one that might make many things melt if I were ever subjected to it for a protracted period, but none of them would be my heart. My will to live. Brain stem, perhaps. Eardrums, definitely. But not my heart.
Paula immediately snaps, “Go to college.” That’s Paula who said that, mind you. Paula. Simon claims to not even have recognized the song, and Tiffany offers to sing again. The judges shake their heads sorrowfully, Simon congratulates her on going to college, and then says something about horses and donkeys. Tiffany exits, cries, and then displays that vaunted positive attitude by proclaiming herself one of the best singers ever and shivering while she rants that they didn’t even let her sing her other song. Her mother meanwhile is holding her hand and encouraging her to sing it for the camera. Tiffany obeys by slaughtering “Because of You,” while her mother nods along in appreciation? I don’t know how this happens. Really. This isn’t like, the open mic at the company picnic or whatever; it’s national television. Does that not register? Or, maybe the Shedds are some of those mythical creatures who are just so evolved and secure in themselves that they don’t need dignity, and don’t care if literally millions of people are pointing and laughing. In that case, I admire your higher plane, Shedd family. But I do not want to go to there.
Watching Plants Grow
More family business. 23 year old Joanna Pacitti has her mother there pledging to love her no matter what, and almost saying a swear on camera. The producers must have had enough of the whinging about plants and prior experience last season, so they’re putting all Joanna’s stuff out on Front Street right away; she talks about moving from Philadelphia and getting into the business at 16, writing music, learning about the struggle, having all her little girl dreams of teen superstardom crushed, etc. Then, as Joanna walks in to see the judges, Kara says, “Wait a minute, weren’t you on A&M Records?” Because the music industry is super small, Kara has an encyclopedic memory of no-hit wonders, and we’ll believe anything. So Joanna sings Pat Benatar and sounds just like a girl who would move to LA at 16 to be a singer. Good enough to leave home, not good enough to make it work. “I like you,” Kara says very mysteriously. Joanna breaks down into tears and squeaky sounds as the judges all compliment her and send her back to Hollywood, where she currently lives. Just like the storybooks, y’all.
His Name Is Mudd
By the by, there’s lots of horse racy footage and an extended Kentucky Derby metaphor going on tonight, so if you want some deep thoughts to underscore your Idol viewing experience, you can keep that in mind.
Meanwhile, meet Mark Mudd Jr., a genuine Kentucky boy from a town small enough to be named Coxs Creek. Mark also had the good grace to wear a denim shirt and bolo tie as he unfolded the hard luck story that is his 25 year old life. Apparently he’s had two car wrecks and according to him, he’s been near dead no less than five times. Also, Ryan skillfully manages to get Mark to confess that his five-times-great grandfather, Dr. Mudd, patched up John Wilkes Booth’s leg right after Booth shot Lincoln, and got 8 years in prison for it. That’s what I call a pedigree. Mark manages not to say anything disparaging about dem Yankees what jailed his granddaddy though, so points. Mark hopes that his session with the judges today will dry up the dark cloud that’s hung over his family name lo these many decades, but I think he should count himself lucky if lightning doesn’t strike him after his audition. Ha, no, it’s not that bad. I just wanted to finish the metaphor.
Simon and Randy kid him about his cell phone looking like a gun holster, and then Mark sings a song of some sort. I know it’s a song, because Randy claims to recognize the name of it, but otherwise I would’ve called it cane syrup. Kara and Paula laugh at Mark because at one point he whinnies like a horse (is that the song?), and then he just stands there quivering nervously while they stare at him unnervingly. Paula says this isn’t the right competition for Mark, and Simon presses her to identify the competition that he could excel at. Mark actually looks a little ashamed of them all for being utter cows, and then he shrugs and goes to leave, stumbling over the words, “Take care; be careful,” which Paula and Simon choose to view as a threat. Maybe Paula has an excuse, but having come from the land of cane syrup myself, I know “Be careful” in this context isn’t a threat. It’s a promise. No, but seriously, it’s just another way of saying “take care.” Mark tries to explain all that to the judges, but now Paula’s nervy herself, or nervier, whatever, shaking her head and clucking, “You don’t say that to people.” Of course not, because that might degrade them or something, amirite?
Abercrombie ad ready Brent Keith from Blanchester, Ohio is up now. The chyron lists his occupation as “traveling musician,” and I think that’s the coolest thing I’ve seen this evening. If you don’t think it’s cool, I suggest you rent Muppet Musicians of Bremen, and all will be revealed. No need to thank me. Anyway, Brent sings a song by Bad Company in a pretty okay way. His voice is rich, kind of tinny, but it could be interesting. Paula nods in appreciation, Kara’s got a Cheshire grin going, but Simon throws cold water by making allusions to busking. Everyone is OUTRAGED, and it’s stupid, and then for no reason Paula and Kara are under the table? And Brent gets through anyway with 4 yeses because he has very white teeth and a very square jaw line.
Parade of fools! We haven’t had one of those yet, so let’s relish it: a 30 year old 20-something slaughtering “Over the Rainbow,” a girl bleating like a lamb, a dude in KISS makeup and a zebra fur poncho singing about what else but zebras, and this is enough for now, wouldn’t you say? So I’ll stop.
Twenty-three year old dueling piano player Matt Giraud is from Kalamazoo, Michigan. That’s one of those places I only think of as existing in cartoons. You know, like Walla Walla. Not that this has anything to do with anything other than my capacity to be ridiculous. In front of our foursome, Matt sings Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be.” It’s labored, but it’s serviceable. Paula thinks his raspy tone is unique. Kara says she likes him. But does she like-like him, inquiring minds want to know? Simon draws a comparison to Elliott who sang this song excellently in season 5, and I will just say no. Chris Richardson maybe. Then Simon tells Matt that he needs to believe in himself more in order to make others believe. Randy says something idiotic about swagger, and then Matt gets a golden ticket.
Next up, a self-described academic. This is going to rule. Ross Plavsic from Crestview Hills, KY says he loves to study things like physics, languages, and the higher maths. He turns up to the Downs in an ill-fitting suit and tie, with accountant hair and a geeky smile, ready to impress us with his ability to draw Mandarin characters in clumps together so they’re easier to teach. Ross has also taught himself to sing, using YouTube videos. I mean, it’s going to rule. In front of the judges, he goes into his spiel about characters and then they giggle and brush that off and Paula asks him what he’ll sing. Ross has selected “Cara Mia,” a little known tune by Jay and the Americans. He begins, and would it shock you to hear that he’s actually good? Well then, get ready to be not shocked. He grunts it out like a porcupine, and the judges get tired of looking astonished and holding in the giggles so they join him on the refrain, and then it’s done. Paula asks him to sing something contemporary, and Simon’s like, “No way, this is an insult to my being here.” He asks what Ross would sing if he won, and Ross says he’d probably do whatever they’d given him to sing for the finale. He’s a go-along kind of guy; you have to give him that.
Ross complains that his dry throat has been bothering him all day, which causes Paula to offer him water, which causes Ross to step up and drink from her cup. And by cup I mean straw. First of all, ew. Second of all, I know we have all suspected something other than water lurking in Paula’s Coke cup, but now I’m sure we’ll all put our minds at ease on that point because Ross’s eyes didn’t go all glassy. Third of all, if you missed Paula’s panicked face while witnessing Ross’s oblivious violation of her straw as he chatted about his Dean’s List triumphs and physics degree, you missed something awesome. It may be my favorite moment of this show ever for all time, so thank you for that Ross Plavsic. Then he sings again. Simon notes that the water didn’t help, and Ross is like, “Yeah I know, it’s my throat, man,” and they humor him. As he leaves, Ross is kind enough to serenade us with something about being “back where he started from.” He rules.
Everyone Says I Love You
We’re on Louisville Day Two now. More crowd shots, but you can sub whatever you’d like for them. I myself like to picture Ryan doing the happy prospector dance whenever he’s not on camera. But whatever works for you.
Twenty-one year old Alexis Grace makes her living raising children. Also she’s from Memphis, she dreams of a singing career, her baby daddy is off at military school, and she routinely serenades her daughter Ryan with her guitar while looking wistfully towards the future. She is a walking TV movie. I’m seeing Blake Lively in a career-turning performance. On this show Alexa sings “Dr. Feelgood,” and the judges eat her up, but I’m not digging it. Alexa has a pretty enough voice, but the way she blares like a foghorn isn’t doing much for me. Simon likes her commercial look, Randy thinks she’s going to take over the world, and Kara’s there too. Paula says “Absolutely; I love you,” and then Simon rears back and sneers, “You don’t love her,” because it is a little ridiculous. Paula’s all, “Don’t tell me how to feel,” Randy begs for someone to validate him and Alexa obliges, and then one bewildering minute later she’s out the door with her golden chance to make her way.
Montage: everyone’s tired, it’s siesta hour in Louisville, and the judges are cranky because apparently this job is difficult in some undefined way we never get to see. What they need is a breath of fresh air, a concentrated punch of energy, and here it comes in Aaron Williamson! He likes life! He loves the judges! Whoo! WHOO! Aaron and his perma-grin meet the judges and proclaim that he will be America’s Next Top Model. Everyone laughs, especially Tyra, because she loves to be mentioned, and then he purports to sing CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” only it’s terrible. Aaron shouts like Godzilla’s around the corner, Kara really likes to remind us that she sings, so she “sings” along, and then Aaron catches the spirit and Kara falls down. Simon counsels him to find a career that involves shouting, and he says, “I’m just intense,” which is the best answer ever. I love him. Out in the hall, Aaron gets a dap and hug from his dad, and they’re all smiles as they walk to their car.
Also smiling is Rebecca Garcia. She wound up on the morning news as she waited in line, and Paula instantly recognizes her. So, wow. Paula watches the news. Always keeps us guessing, doesn’t she? Then she spots Rebecca’s lyrics written on her arm. That’s two! One more and Paula will win the Triple Crown of lucidity. Rebecca sheepishly admits that she didn’t want to forget the lyrics and look silly. Of course that didn’t keep her from wailing “Before He Cheats” with her eyes closed and writing around like a 6 year old with a full bladder before discreetly checking in with the cheat sheet to finish up. Kara steals Paula’s chance at being finally on the ball by noting that our Rebecca was voted “Most Humorous” in one of those wacky yearbook polls. She tries to say without saying that Rebecca’s there to make fools of them, but Rebecca will not give up the act and so bursts into shuddering tears while they scramble to rebuild her self-esteem. Kara asks Paula to deck her because she feels guilty, Paula misguidedly refuses, Rebecca continues to cry. It’s not bad for a free show. (Come on, no way was that real.)
Suck This, Adversity
But here to be realer than real is Leneshe Young, an 18 year old gal from Cincinnati. We meet her after a quicker than a flash montage of successful auditioners bursting through the doors with joy and yellow paper, in what I’m now going to call the Kellie Pickler Memorial Sappy Backstory Segment, or mind-number for short. Leneshe was raised by only her mother with a gaggle of brothers and sisters, in and out of homeless shelters, and basically being everything you think of when you hear the word “hardscrabble.” But can’t nobody break her stride, can’t nobody hold her down, and so on. In front of the judges, Leneshe declares herself 100% sure she is the next American Idol, and intends to be 100% original in her audition by singing a composition of her own called “Natty.” Lest you think that we’ve hit a snag and suddenly charted a course for Terrible Town, I have to say that Leneshe’s song is at least recognizable as a song. About ballers, and thuggish ways, and such. She’s no Kara DioGuardi to be sure, but her voice is fricking fabulous. I love her, and also her huge family politely smiling and hoping for the best outside the doors, where her mother just hopes that Simon, Paula, Randy, and the new judge will see what everybody in the world sees in Leneshe. Then when they finally see Leneshe and her inevitable golden ticket they hop up and celebrate like she’s already won. And in a way she has, hasn’t she? Let’s all lift our chins appreciatively and salute Leneshe and fam as they show us the sheer emotional power of overcoming. Aaaand, scene.
Well. Louisville can boast nineteen success stories in all, but for the most part what we saw wasn’t very exciting. In fact I’m pretty underwhelmed. I might need to take a lesson from Aaron Williamson and be my own spirit picker upper. Next week we’re going deeper south, to Jacksonville, and then finally winding up the auditions with San Juan and some place in New Jersey. The funny MsFroggy and I will be back on hand to distill down those three hours into something digestible. Y’all be careful until then.
WHOO! Yeah! It’s working already! Thanks, Aaron!