Hey folks. A+ again. Sorry for the delay. Onwards. This week, we begin in Memphis. They show us downtown, empty. Beale Street, empty. The trolley things, empty. Where is everybody? Why, auditioning for American Idol, of course! Oy. Anyway, they show like 100,000 people inside a stadium, screaming their balls off for the chance to be humiliated on national TV. It’s at this point that I always cringe at what the screaming is doing to their voices, but I guess one must sacrifice a great deal when attempting to out-whore an entire metropolitan area.
Also, I should say that the Memphis show is cut in half, to make room for the State of the Union Address. The first and last time I’ll ever honestly say this: Thank you, President Bush.
We begin with Frank Byers, a 21 year-old cheerleader/coach from Southern Arkansas University. He brought the entire freaking marching band, and the whole cheerleading crew with him. They annoy. Well, with all this hubbub, the cheers and fight songs and the special focus story, you’d think Frank would be awesome, right? Not so much. He sounds like the guy who might wow ‘em at a karaoke bar, but ultimately has no flexibility in his voice, a lack of control, and no falsetto (which is fine, but then… don’t do it, you know?) It doesn’t hurt to listen to; it’s just “not horrendous.”
Then this weird thing happens, that actually happens a lot on AI, so I’m assuming the producers instruct people to do it: When Simon says you suck, you respond by cutting him off – and singing another song, in just as mediocre a fashion as the last. He’s talking over you, you’re singing over him, he’s telling you it’s no use, you’re begging him to unchain your heart, and ultimately, it feels so undignified and pathetic. Yep, definitely the producers. Anyway, he doesn’t make it, and the crowd still does a cheer.
Next, Tamika Simms. This girl seems polite enough, but has such a flat affect it’s hard to watch her. I don’t know what she said, because I was literally snoring through it. There is, however, a non-hilarious part where she says she has a good voice and could be “A Maya.” Simon goes, “What?”
Randy, chucking, says, “Maya’s a singer.”
So she sings Ashanti’s “Rock With You,” horribly. Every molecule of air has been funneled through her nose. Simon tells her she sucks, and she asks if she can sing another song. He says no, so… she starts singing “Secret Lovers” by Atlantic Starr (Damn you, producers!). She blows.
Now we meet Chris Rivera, who sings “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, and it sounds like he’s been singing through a vocoder, played through an LP with warps in it, so that in some parts it sounds all “Luke, I am your father” and other parts sound like Theodore Chipmunk. So weird. When they tell him to stop, he flourishes with a falsetto, “Whoa-oh!” That makes Randy and me chuckle. He doesn’t make it.
Now, here’s Alexis, who we’re supposed to laugh at because she has huge gums and small teeth with braces. Seacrest makes a pun on “bracing ourselves” for her, and I laugh so hard my lung prolapses. Except not.
Okay, here’s the thing about this audition. She does suck, I’ll give you that. But the audacity it takes to do an a cappella singing audition with Teena Marie’s “Square Biz” is so awesome, I can’t describe. If you haven’t heard the song, it sounds like one of those ones that was produced in itty bitty parts, basically verse by verse. When they’re put together, it’s an impressive flurry of words and stuff. But if you try to sing it live, you either have to slow it down, or risk asphyxia, because there is literally no space in between… anything. It’s like ninety straight seconds of wordwordwordwordwordword without taking a single breath. Needless to say, Alexis has to breathe. So it ain’t good.
Suddenly, it’s Sundance Head, son of Roy Head, of “Treat Her Right” fame (1965? Anyone remember?) He’s a cute chubby guy with spiky hair and a baby Scott Ian goatee. And he seems personable enough. So, with all of this hubbub, the human interest story, the mention of the musical pedigree, you’d expect him to be good, right? Well, he is. He sings “Stormy Monday,” and he’s a natural, soulful singer with a pleasant roughness. This is actually a good clip to watch for people who do too much acrobatics. His inflections, his musical choices – they sound artful and enhance the song. Anyway, he’s good and goes through. Simon mentions under his breath that this kid’s better than Taylor Hicks. Well, since Taylor’s only “pretty decent,” I’m gonna say, yuh-huh.
Next up is Wandera Hitchye, who sings “A Change is Gonna Come.” And I really like it. A Sam Cooke song, but with a little bit of Mary J. Blige. She has a really appealing, husky voice, and lots of control. Inexplicably, the judges cannot stand her. Simon’s excuse: the market is flooded with girls just like her. Because if American Idol stands for one thing, it’s definitely musical innovation. They literally say there’s nothing special about her. Honestly, I think it’s racist of them. Hear me out – I’ve never once cried racism, in all the seasons of American Idol (which, by the way, I have combed through like the freaking Zapruder film every episode since it began). But seriously, that’s the excuse? Nothing special about her? Well, what was special about Kelly Clarkson? Taylor Hicks? That Sundance kid that just came out? Even my baby Elliott Yamin? White people singing soul music? Elvis, anyone? So my opinion is, they said she wasn’t “next level,” wasn’t “unique enough,” wasn’t “special,” because she was a black woman singing soul music. And I guess talent isn’t enough of a gimmick to make it through.
And see, now I’m pissed at AI on two levels. One, I’m pissed because it sends a gross message, and two, because my getting riled up about it reminds me how seriously I take this piece o’ suck.
Hey, our first montage of suck! People are frowning, crying, sobbing, heaving, weeping. No one can believe they didn’t make it – on camera, that is. The sobbing? A sure-fire way to get your untalented ass on the AI. Well played, untalented friends. Well played.
There’s a spazzy dude named Travis who sings his own composition – a composition that, ironically, has no melody or rhythm. A sample lyrics: “Are you here, here, here? Are you there, there, there? I’ll never have you replace it/Getting so close I can almost taste it. Every time you ask to leave, I will say no no.”
Then we meet a blond girl named Dani who sings “Baby I Love You.” It’s not horrendous to listen to, but it’s not good enough to be an actual singer. It’s like, the hot chick at high school who people have convinced is talented, singing in her car with her friends. Also, she does two things that I cannot tolerate: One. She lacks soulfulness in her voice, so she replaces it with some contemporary pop-infused highly produced version of what country music was at one time. Two. She lacks soulfulness in her voice, so she replaces it with purring and sighing and orgasm sounds, in the hope that we won’t notice. I, not having a wiener, notice. Let me state in no uncertain terms: she is a worse singer, and infinitely more annoying, than Wandera. But they adore her, and call her (ready for it?) Unique. You know, I think it would actually be more effective if, on this show, they actually just took headshots and did the first elimination that way. I mean, let’s not harbor any illusions about what we’re doing here, right?
Some recently divorced guy comes on national TV and calls his ex-wife a bitch, then sucks up the place, and then a woman whose boobs are threatening to come out at any moment also gets the boot.
Then we meet a guy named Sean who says he gets called Castro a lot, and let me tell you, he kind of looks like a young, kindly, hippie Fidel. He sings a Johnny Cash song. If I were the judge, I wouldn’t put him through – surprisingly unsucky, yet not good enough. They liked him, Randy even going so far as to loudly proclaim, “It doesn’t matter what you look like, you can blow!” Because Randy lives on the Planet Testicularis, where that’s actually the truth.
Now, Melinda Dolittle, a backup singer who sings very, very well. She’s shy and lacks confidence while speaking, but while singing, it’s very lovely and masterful and pleasant. It is a bit weird to see Paula trying to convince someone not to be afraid of singing because she’s “really good,” (get it, because Paula can’t sing! Harr!). But Ms. Dolittle, whose Pygmalion-like transformation into queen diva will no doubt be concocted by producers should she make it to final twelve, passes through to the next round.
More well-meaning suck. Suck after suck of Hunka Hunka Burning Love, until my ears bleed. In fact, a montage of “weirdos” like Bad Dancer Guy, Visor-Wearing Dude, Way-Too-White Man, Black Guy In a Cowboy Hat, Flat Affect Dude, Gay People, Fat Chick. Ah, comedy.
We end Memphis with some dude with a shaved head who looks like a less-attractive version of Chris Daughtry. He left his pregnant wife to audition, and when he found out his daughter was born while he was away, he stayed at the audition. Classy. So he sings, and it’s not the worst ever, but it’s seriously weird sounding – like he’s tightening up his soft palate on the high notes. Remember Cameron doing Sloane’s dad on the phone to Mr. Rooney? It’s like that. On top of having this weird tone, he thinks he’s way, way better than he actually is. He makes it through, and only then does he return home to see his new baby. And we’re out of Memphis.
On to New York, baby! The guest judge for this round is Carole Bayer Sager, who wrote music or lyrics for Arthur’s Theme, That’s What Friends are For, Groovy Kind of Love, and I think that shitty Aerosmith Song from the movie where Ben Affleck sadly does not blow up.
We begin with Ian Benardo, who is a classic famewhore, having danced it up on So You Think You Can Dance this summer. He’s one of those nonstop talkers, but, uh, I think he’s kind of funny. Especially when Simon asks him why he’s there, and Benardo gives him a look like, “do you see all the cameras here?” Awesome. He’s not a good singer, but it doesn’t matter, because it’s a vehicle for the shtick, which surpisingly doesn’t bug me (although it lacks hilarity), because it’s antagonistic to the judges, which I’m always in favor of. Simon actually looks irritated, like his time is being wasted, which is, ah, how you say, rich. It actually is hilarious when Ian asks Simon for his work visa. And, buh bye.
There’s a crying pretty girl whose dad doesn’t want to support her dream of singing, which turns out to be a great tactic, as she blows more than Moby Dick. Some girl from Queens sings Toto’s “Africa,” and stinks up the joint like my cat Louie after she sneaks some teriyaki beef jerky (ahh, remember similes?).
A girl named Ashanti tries for the third time to get through. She sings Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You,” and she has a cute, kitten-like voice . Actually, she sounds kind of like Minnie Riperton (though not as good – Minnie was a Queen). She even goes for the super high notes, and does ‘em. They think she’s too old fashioned, and suddenly she hops into this weird Broadway acting bag, where she’s begging them to hear her out, and I can’t really tell if it’s put-on or what. The producers even put twinkly piano music behind Her Big Speech, which is kind of funny. Anyway, I have no idea what they have against her, but she doesn’t make it through.
Two almost staggeringly foul girls try to audition together, and because they are gorgeous, it doesn’t matter that the Ashanti woman sang circles around each of these girls. The dong, she is risen; the girls, they are through. Blech.
Some guy named Cliff comes out, and Paula starts, “So, it says here you work in a bank… is that… fun?” Yeah, Paula, it’s so awesome that I’m risking perpetual humiliation on national TV for the one in a billion chance that I’ll be a huge rock star.
A montage of suck follows, NYC style. Space man, Weird Hair Guy, Obese Peeps. Hilarious.
Not everyone sucked, however. A girl sang Ain’t No Way, and it was good enough to get the judges to shut the fuck up for a second. Carole Bayer Sager actually gives great advice to her, telling her that staying with the melody isn’t a sign of weak vocals, but of musicality. Yay!
A boy who looks like a little Tyson Beckford is intro’ed. This kid is only 16, but holy crap, he is gorge. His voice is okay – pretty good, not bad, whatever. But again, he is so utterly fantastic-looking that he is through.
Then, some super-bubbly chick who reminds me of me because of her lack of neck (it’s sad, really – what can I say, we’re 4’11”). For all her spazzity, she’s actually pretty okay. But she’s shorty short short and fatty fat fat, so her mediocrity is intolerable. She’s gone.
Then: the seriously bad who know they’re seriously bad, but apparently made some workplace bet to get on TV, and part of the bet was to act pissed when they don’t make it through. Some guy sings New York New York, and he literally looks about 47. Then, his name thing comes up, and it literally says, “47 years old” (hey, good guess, A+!). And this isn’t considered a tremendous waste of time? (BTW, the cutoff is 29).
A summary of the next 25 minutes:
Pretty pretty girls with okay voices, girls who are 21 but look 41, and the judges get a bunch of people’s names wrong. And then… The judges prove themselves the ultimate asses when a girl tells them her first name is Fong. Simon then addresses her as Pong, and Randy & Simon think it’s awesome. Randy corrects Simon, and then Simon, responds, “Honestly, Ping Pong, whatever your name is…” and Randy cracks up. Other cultures are weird and funny! Gah, shut it, you pud. At least Olivia Newton John (who, we haven’t seen before or after this moment) gets pissed.
Some girl named Rachel sings very well, and yet they kind of hate her, because they can’t put her in a box, and the tone changes with each song. To the judges, this isn’t versatility, it’s a problem. They don’t want versatile. P!nk, for example, would be their nightmare – putting out an R&B album, and then a rock album, then pop, disco, etc. They don’t know what to do with her. They put her through, though Randy makes no attempt to hide the fact that he loathes the sight of her.
Some more sounds of suck, and we’re out. Next week, Birmingham, home of Ruben Studdard! (Who? Exactly.) See you then!