Thursday, January 18, 2007

(A+ guest post!) American Idol: Week 1 Cattle Call!

Hi everyone, A+ here. Jeremy has kindly offered to let me guest-blog recaps of America’s favorite waste of time, American Idol. For those of you who couldn’t care less, I promise to always put AI in the title so you can skip the posts. But I hope you’ll ride the train, even if you don’t watch the show.

And so we begin season six with what I’ve read will be twelve weeks of cattle calls, before we get to the good stuff. Full disclosure: I actually really hate this part of the season. Watching people suck, or pretend to suck, or not know they suck, is an awful experience that I never seem to find as hilarious as the producers think I will. Also? I can’t possibly explain every inch of the FOUR HOURS A WEEK they insist on pelting us with, so I’ll just go over the highlights for now. Anyway. The show.

In a voiceover, Seacrest is quick to take credit for Jennifer Hudson’s recent Golden Globe win for Dreamgirls, despite the fact that when she was a contestant on the show, she was voted off relatively early, when Simon Cowell basically told her she was “out of her depth,” and instead chose to throw all his praise behind Diana Frakking DeGarmo. Who? Exactly.

Even more weirdly, all of this is done with the distinctly unsucky “Baba O’Riley” by The Who as background music. Yes, that’s irony. Predictably, they edit the song so as to avoid the repeating of the lyric, “teenage wasteland” over and over. Also ironic.

After the “who will win blah blah blah next American Idol blah blah,” we start seeing Minneapolis auditions. We also learn that Jewel will be the guest judge. Hooray.

Some girl who is a “makeup artist at the Mall of America” proclaims that Jewel is her idol, and already with the waterworks, before she even steps in there. Then she sees Jewel and starts crying again. After about 45 seconds of “prep,” she sings “You Were Meant for Me,” and although it’s hideous, it’s clearly awesome that she’s trying to sound exactly like Jewel, and doing a great exaggerated impersonation of all the little Jeweltones that irk so thoroughly. The baby-talk voice, the yodeling, the whispering. Awesome. The judges are predictably rude to her, laughing directly at her as Simon quips that it sounded “just like the record.” Jewel looks embarrassed for everyone and everything, except, oddly, the fact that “You Were Meant for Me” sucks anyway, no matter who sings it. Randy asks Jewel if it sounded just like her, but she ain’t talkin’. They tell the contestant that she sucks, and she. Is. Shocked. She literally goes, “Are you kidding me?” She tries whining and crying, but it's that cry-for-show that little kids do when they get a minor injury that doesn’t hurt, but they think you’re watching them and want something. In other words, a big, sobby, whiny temper tantrum. This is a girl who’s used to crying for shit. She finally leaves, and her entire family is there to console her, including her mother, who tells he that “there’s always next year.” Let’s all hope not. Next.

A montage of suck from America’s Heartland follows.

Next spotlight. A guy names Jesse comes in and says he has an incredible range, can hit notes Mariah Carey can hit, and music is his life. (By the way, proclaiming that music is your life, or that it “feeds” you, is the patented AI harbinger of being a terrible singer. Yawn.) He sings “My Heart Will Go On” as sung by my aunt and uncle’s leaky camping air mattress. He’s so horrible he doesn’t even have a sense of when the notes go up or down. Mid-song, he just walks out (probably insulted by being laughed at to his face). Suddenly, he reappears, and without talking, starts the song again. Everyone in America is irritated. They (sigh) ask him to sing another song, and he tries “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” with the same lack of pitch, breath, tone. This is what we call tone deaf, y’all. Bye.

More fools. Some guy dressed as if Uncle Sam were a boxer comes in and tells us that he’s going to sing an R.E.O. song in Italian. Scratch that. He means aria. Aw, man, I was looking forward to hearing “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” in Italian. He’s meh, actually, but he doesn’t make it through.

A 16 year-old from Madison, Wisconsin (hey-ohhh!) is given the focus sob story. She says that her mom has a drug problem, and she was born what was referred to as a “crack baby” (and I think still is referred to that way among less-enlightened folks, no?), but she’s thankful for her gift of song. She sings “And I Am Telling You,” and it’s nice. Let me just state for the record that I think that song is too big for any 16 year-old to sing, and that includes Miss Denise, although she clearly has talent. They love her, and she’s going through to the next round.

Next. A kind-looking woman with braids and a snappy tie sings “Kiss” by Prince. Sort of. She has a major meltdown with the lyrics, and… you know what, screw it. Here is a transcript of a portion of her audition, so you can see what I mean.

Women, no girls…
Women no girls, I want no women no girls…
I want women, not no girls…
I want women, not no girls, [speaking] Oh my God, I’m so [bleeped – I have no idea].
Women not girls, they rule my world, yes they rule my world
…no girls, yes they rule my world…
No women, I want girls, I don’t want no girls ‘cause they rule my world. Yeah…
Women, ‘cause she rule my world…

This literally went on for two straight minutes. I’m not sure if this was edited funkily, or what, but she just wouldn’t stop. When they told her she sucked, she looked sincerely crestfallen and apologized to the judges. Then she tried to run out of there, but smashed against the “in” door on her way out. I hate this show.

Some skinny girl named Perla with a ton of hair and and a charming accent (she addresses the judges, “Well, Seemone…) sings “Call Me” by Blondie, and it blows in a meh sort of way. It’s that “Hey, I’ve got soul!” sound, where she actually doesn’t. Randy demands a verse of “Hips Don’t Lie,” and they like that much better, because know this, Perla. You are Latina, and in the world of AI this means you will sing nothing but Shakira, ever. Bleh, she sucks. But Simon and Randy’s wood was collectively strong enough to put her through to the next round.

We hear mediocre to excruciating versions of “Folsom Prison Blues,” a slew of the best darn singers in the Central High School Jazz-Slash-Show Choir, and a bunch of military service people (in uniform, natch) get through to the next round, because telling them they can’t sing makes the terrorists win.

One more montage of suck, and we’re off to the Seattle audition. Man, I love Seattle. Seacrest Seacrests on about how great The Emerald City is, and hey! It’s raining here! Isn’t that hilarious? Oh, Seattle, you fickle friend.

And suddenly, I’m exhausted. Some guy comes out dressed as Uncle Sam who’s not a boxer, and we find out he’s the same famewhore as the cop who slow danced with Paula last year. It’s hilarious, see, because he’s dressed like Uncle Sam. We also spot various full-figured gals with tight dresses on, that we’re supposed to laugh at. It’s hilarious, see, because they’re fat.

And then… a long string of people whose mental health I actually, seriously question. Some woman with platinum-bleached hair, bright red lipstick that has strayed far outside the parameters of what one would normally refer to as “lips,” and a thin satin shirt over no brassiere-like substance whatsoever, tells us how great she is. Her flat affect and earnest-seeming demeanor make this whole thing suddenly feel as if it’s been directed by Christopher Guest. On top of it, she sucks. They tell her as much, and she looks a little sad, but is ultimately good spirited.

Okay, here’s the thing. I can’t actually tell if this is a hoax or not. I guess I don’t really care, since they didn’t seem to laugh in her face or make her cry, but the whole thing actually made me feel uncomfortable. I don't actually enjoy making people look like fools, even ones who can't sing or put on lipstick.

Next, a very cute boy with a very cute afro and goatee sings and Amos Lee song quite sweetly, and although he’s not the best singer ever, it’s a pleasant change from the endless barrage of poo-flavored snacks we’ve been fed all week.

And then suddenly, it gets creepy. Do you remember the developmentally or emotionally disabled kid who was mainstreamed in with the rest of the assholes, so that every recess, lunch period, and gym class this sweet, well-meaning kid would be teased without even knowing it? The jocks would nude-nudge-wink-wink him about having sex with cheerleaders, to the delight of said cheerleaders, who would coyly flirt with him just enough to crack each other up. They were laughing at him behind his back, right in front of him, because he lacked the cynical douchebagginess to be in on the joke? Remember him? Well, he’s auditioning for American Idol, and the producers are desperately trying to make us the jocks, the cheerleaders, and the people who just stood there and watched. Fuck them. Their horrible singing voices are beside the point; I just hate how Randy and Seacrest ask them questions about what makes them so awesome, Paula hops between her kindergarten teacher and turn-her-back-and-snicker bag, and Simon refuses to look them in the eye, except when insulting them. There’s just too much douchebaggery for me.

This all comes to a head when Simon tells one guy, “you look like one the creatures who live in the jungle with those massive eyes… what are they called… bushbaby.” While Paula cracks up. The guy just stands there, looking at Simon with that exhausted face, the face you get when someone jokes about your height/weight/skin color/acne/boobs/hair/baldness/teeth/mole/unibrow for the ump-fucking-teenth time. Sigh.

On to brighter topics. A young woman from Texas, standing at what I think she said was 6’7”, charms the judges with spunk. She’s really cute, despite Simon remarking to Paula and Randy upon her exit, “You just put through a giraffe.” My belly is truly aching from all the laughter. Go Tall Texas!

A final montage of suck for the week, and we’re out. God, I hate this show.

So, for the initial cattle call, what would I sing? A tough one. You only have two minutes to show the judges your talent, as well as represent what you hope will be stylistic the box they’ll cram you into all season. Er, I mean, your “style.” I’d definitely go with Angel From Montgomery, for two reasons: One, it’s relatively simple, thus letting you, in the words of Paula Abdul, “make the song your own.” In my case, that would mean going thick on the blue-eyed soul, without the melismatic mess modern singing has become. Two, they won’t have heard it 3,000 times that day. If that song wouldn’t be allowable (they have to pass through the right-to-air hurdles), I’d just do Bye Bye Blackbird. Because on AI, jazz means cred. As I am both too old and too fat to be on American Idol, it’s basically a moot point, however.

What about you? If you were auditioning for the cattle call, what would you sing?


Anonymous said...

I also hate this part of the show. And I think it gets worse every year. Also, nobody who I heard go through was really that great. Not bad, but not great. I fear for the rest of the season.

What would I sing? Rich and I discussed this last night, and I decided I would sing something in Swedish, and then the judges would demand I sing something in English, and I'd leave in a huff.

Anonymous said...

holy cr*p -- a 2,000 word post. certainly a JFW record.

Anonymous said...

We were speculating about this around the water cooler yesterday (I'm totally NOT kidding--we have a water cooler and we actually stand around it and talk--but that's just because there are usually leftover doughnuts or cookies around there too), and the consensus was that the judges are abusive partly because it makes for "better" tv, but also because they don't take any of the wacked acts seriously--meaning they think these people are up there purposely acting as bizarrely as they can in hopes of getting on TV for 30 seconds. Jerry Springer, the musical.

In other words, it's BS from both sides, crashing in the middle to produce AI and through the magic of the heat and light of public opinion to birth Kelly Clarkson! Isn't that the "American" Way (no apologies to Simon's homeland for claiming him)?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post!

Last season, I think it was, there was a guy who wanted to be known as sex. He had his mother sitting there vouching for him. His routine was so bad I thought it must have been a hoax. But I never learned the truth.

Maybe some of them are hoaxes but don't really want to make it a big publicized stunt, as in the Soy Bomb guy.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for that triple everyone--it kept telling me it couldn't complete the operation! Lies!

Anonymous said...

You're a wonderful writer, A+. You should have a syndicated column -- I mean it.

A fan

A+ said...

Carly: I would pay good, good money to see that happen next season.

Anon: Yeah, the recaps can get wordy...

Dan: Your "bs from both sides" hypothesis is an interesting one. I often find myself hoping that's the case, anyway. And I'm jealous you guys have a real water cooler. All we have are bubblers.

Anon 11:09: I totally remember Sex! And the Soy Bomb guy! Good times.

Anon 2:28: Aww, that's really kind of you. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I've missed you A+ and have been looking forward to this day. You did not disappoint!