It was a long road to Hollywood, a road that led through stadiums filled to the brink with pathetic untalented wannabes sure of their non-existent excellence, the sadly unhinged individuals encouraged by their equally deranged “loved ones” to put themselves forth for public ridicule and yet more hopelessly delusional fame seekers whose families were too embarrassed to take part in the spectacle. Amid a multitude of such, let's politely call them mistakes, that carry the blame for the three full weeks of so-called audition shows, which are just a thinly veiled excuse to highlight the clinically insane for fun and ad revenue, there were some good eggs to be found.
Those good eggs, 147 to be precise, are assembled at the Kodak Theater tonight staring dutifully at their awe-inspiring environs probably thinking less Oscar and more Simon. One of them will, no doubt, end up as the next American Idol and/or artificially created AI star. Not that we need another one, or that we needed the last four or five of them either – Pickler anyone? - but since we'll get one nonetheless there's not much we can do except watch it all unfold.
Hair and Manilow assistance
Seacrest says the talent this year is “unbelievable”. Last year it was incredible and the year before that it was amazing. The Hollywood round will last five tough days during which the wheat will supposedly be separated from the chaff. Of course we all know that some of the chaff somehow always ends up in the top twelve. Simon tells them they all have only one shot tonight. Of course. Except the ones who get a second shot, but more on that later.
This year AI has condescended to “help” the contestants out a bit with a full day of “boot camp”. Instead of letting them fend for themselves for the first week in the makeup, wardrobe and voice department, they'll be getting instruction in all those areas. I'd call it the Sanjaya Amendment except, as you'll later see, this “help” is not so much designed to steer contestants clear of unfortunate wardrobe choices as much as to reinforce their regrettable tastes and pile onto their mistakes. Supposedly this will enhance their personality more. As far as I'm concerned AI is just dialing up the crazy on purpose. Remember that hippie chick with the dead parent sob story who walks barefoot in her small town? Well, instead of a good blow dry and an interview with a hair brush she gets her braids rearranged by style experts. That's going to really help her, I bet.
The vocal coaching they receive seems somewhat more helpful. Of course it's all conducted karaoke style in front of all the other contestants and a bunch of cameras. The advice given ranges from “show the story”, “take care of this first” and “everybody should have a Plan B”. Smashing advice! And because you can never have enough marginally constructive criticism, Barry Manilow is here to impart his special brand of generic wisdom. I'm not sure how many of these twentysomethings have any idea who he is, but they cheer as if they do and even take notes as he's delivering his lecture. Hee!
The Dennis way is the highway
Half the contestants are allowed to roam freely in LA to relax and ponder their upcoming fates, while the other half is facing the music at the Kodak Theater. The first round of eliminations works firing squad style, with eight contestants lined up at one time passing the mic between them and singing a cappella. Each one gets to sing a song of their choice after which the judges decide who stays and who goes home.
Remember Lil Rounds who auditioned in Kansas City to good reviews? She's in this first round together with Dennis Brigham. She belts out I will always love you impressing the judges again, especially Kara. Dennis is that character with the nasally voice and annoying personality who got a split decision in Kansas City despite being quite horrible. His weak rendition of Stevie Wonder's Once in my life comes out sounding affected and nasally. Simon couldn't stand the facial expressions and says Dennis won't ever be taken seriously as an artist. Deliberation is quick. Lil and three others make it through, but Dennis is stuck in the back row on his way home. For some reason Dennis is allowed to stand on the stage to mouth off at the judges, sing badly some more, take cheap shots at the judges and even at Simon's wardrobe. I thought the circus round was over already! Despite the drama, the decision is final. Dennis will not be seen or heard from again. Hopefully.
As the day progresses, the judges think things are rough and people are not doing so well. The next group's first singer is Nathaniel Marshall from New York, whose song is something called The anchor holds. Poor Nathaniel. He's wearing flip flops, a hairband, piercings under his lower lip, a tie over a T-shirt, earrings and several tattoos. He's a style disaster all around and that's before he launches into some bizarre Christian song that leaves Simon staring at the ceiling and Randy chewing on his pen. Paula praises his vocals but hated the song. Simon wants to know why he picked the song and Nathaniel launches into a spiel about how he needed the song for support or something because he had nobody growing up after which he starts bawling and saying that he “wants this so badly, it's on [his] skin”. Boofreakin'hoo.
Anoop Desai and Jasmine Murray are both great but they're followed by Rose Flack the barefoot hippie girl. She is very much an individual, you know, because she's got her number pinned straight to one of her braids and because she considers footwear to be optional. It's, like, so cool, man! Apparently her boot camp day went badly and there were some confidence problems and some weeping involved. Can she pull it off today? Her Dock of the bay is off-key, tentative and lacking in power and in a city selection round she'd have been sent packing without a golden ticket for that little piece of horror. The judges seem bored and disappointed too. In the end, the entire group of eight makes it through to the next round. So much for everybody getting only one chance.
Can other early favorites shine? The next group includes Steven Fowler from Ohio. He brings a smile to Simon's face, Randy is blown away and Paula loves his singing. Jorje Nunez from Puerto Rico gets a thumbs up from Paula for his short song and also looks like a promising prospect. On the other hand, Von Smith is nothing short of a disaster. The tortured screaming, the overconfidence, the disgusting facial expressions, the itch I had to smack him while he was screeching like a maniac on crack, all combine to make me not a fan of this guy. Simon is visibly annoyed by the whole thing and calls it a “indulgent nonsense, horrible song, horrible performance, annoying”. Ouch. Ultimately Steven makes it to the next round along with two more people and... Von Smith. Once again, what was that crap about only getting one chance that Simon was talking about? Equality for all! Only some are apparently more equal than others. No wonder I've never been tempted to vote for this crap.
Want more proof that there's no such thing as a fair chance on this show? AI next airs a whole segment about the judges lambasting various contestants about their dismal song choices. Gee, I remember that a scant 20 minutes ago they let a guy through who squeaked out an slit-your-wrists bad “inspirational” song that they all hated, so I fail to see their problem now. They were all coached on the all-important song choice during the previous day's boot camp sessions, however it seems not many took the suggestions to heart. Either that or “song choice” is just a more palatable stand-in for “we don't really want you but we needed 147 people in Hollywood”.
Just when you think that the freak show ended with the city auditions, a guy like Nick Mitchell comes along. You may remember this specimen as Norman Gentle, the disco-shirt-and-headband-wearing freak who somehow made it to Hollywood despite antics that would have doomed 99% of applicants. He did vow to drop the cheap act and even put his costume in the dumpster after his audition. However, it looks like the temptation to appear as big a moron as possible was just too hard to resist. He's back as Norman Gentle with more crazy antics and more annoying singing and the same disco shirt and headband. Randy finds him hilarious but says he can sing. Simon doesn't know what to make of him, while Paula just wants him to sing as song all stripped down. This almost prompts Norman to strip which would have be bad enough, but he then gets a second chance which is really, really bad enough. Two more people from his lineup also make it to the next phase, but since they don't have a moronic shtick, they're not worthy of more than a passing mention.
The (marginally) better half
With one half of the contestants down and a new day dawning in Hollywood, the well-rested second half get their chance to be ripped to shreds. There's no point denying it: you either have to knock it out of the ballpark or you have to have a good enough shtick or a good enough sob story to make it through to the next round. Let's see who gets to play.
A total of 83 people pile into big, shiny new gas-guzzling Ford SUV's which coincidentally have moonroofs, voice enabled audio systems and a GPS. Look for them at a Ford dealership that hasn't gone belly-up in your neighborhood. Seacrest has a little talk to the first contestant of the day, Jackie Tone from New York. She was the one whose voice made the window fall in in New York. She is now wearing a tiger shirt and acting like a 12 year old. She has a scratchy rock voice which she completely abuses in the worst possible way but both Randy and Paula like her. She makes it to the next phase along with five others from her group.
Many more who are accused of the wrong choice do not make it through. As friendships are formed they are sadly broken up by the cruel judges. Other like Danny – the guy with the dead wife – and his BFF Jamar from Kansas City are still in the running. We are treated to a recap of Danny's sad, sad story which I see no point in repeating. If he makes it the finals AI will milk it for all it's worth anyways, I might as well keep the nausea at bay for you (and I) as long as I can. Suffice it to say that Jamar Rogers' version of California dreamin' is smokin' good, while Danny Gokey's Kiss from a rose is really great. They both make it further as do many others whose faces are briefly flashed before us.
The Bikini principle
Ready for Bikini Girl from Phoenix? She's back and this time they made her wear a dress, albeit it's one that looks like something on discount sale from the back page of the Frederick's of Hollywood catalog. Katrina Darrell is singing an affected version of Faith Hill's Breathe which finds no favor with Kara who says that she almost thought Katrina was good. Almost. Paula ultimately agrees with her but Simon and Randy sheepishly admit that they like Bikini Girl. I wonder why? She makes it through along with all the others from her group. Yay. Maybe in the next round Katrina can bring along a stripper pole 'cause that's the only thing that might actually help.
Jessica Furney who was so good in the auditions and was prominently profiled, did not make it but others like oil field worker Jeremy Michael Server stands out again and makes it through. Jesus Valenzuela was also quite memorable in the prelims, however it's a no-go for him this time around. With only one group left to perform, and the day at an end, how many more will fail to impress?
After so many failures, will David Osmond make it through? He's belting out another obscure clunker but does it really matter? The allure of another cookie cutter Osmond is too strong. Erica Wesley sounds good to me while self-descibed punk rocker Emily Wynne-Hughes goes for a No Doubt song Excuse me mister even though she planned to sing I put a spell on you, and flops. Kara is disappointed with her bad showing. Paula and Simon are equally dismayed. In the end the Osmond boy, Emily and some others make it through. Erica Wesley on the other hand wants to keep on fighting. She tries to convince the judges that she should have made it through, sparking a little tiff between Paula and Simon when Simon stands firm by his decision to send Erica home. This is how the cookie crumbles.
Some of the more promising prospects aren't even given any camera time, including Adam Lambert the standout from San Francisco who looks like he could be the love child of Angelina Jolie and David Cook with a punkish/emo look. He's just ripe for the sub-13 year old vote, I'm telling you. Incredibly 104 people are still in the running, which means that we've spent an hour and getting rid of only about a third of the original 147 contestants.
Group day is up tomorrow night, which should be interesting. My excellent partner in recappage, MotherSister will be here to give you all the shocking details and guide you through the AI maze. Who will live to see another day? Seacrest promises lots of drama and tears, so it should be good. Right?