Welcome back, Idol faithful! And welcome aboard to all those new to Idolmania!
Hard to believe another year has gone by since we met up to revel in the good (the Davids), the bad (Kristi Lee Cook), the fugly (anything Paula wears), and to get drunk on the enormous powers which lie in our dialing fingertips.
What will Season 8 have in store?
Will we ride on waves of emotion and hair product with a contestant of Sanjaya proportions?
Will a country mouse hit the bright lights and big city of Nashville a la Carrie Underwood?
Will the Website Which Shall Be Nameless relentlessly force us to endure an undercooked chicken – Kevin Covais.
And will anyone be able to "make it their own" week after week after week, recycling tired old standards from every genre into true works of art – like our reigning champ, David Cook? (Cougars beware – rumor has it he and Kimberly Caldwell’s journey has come to an end and they have gone their separate ways. Woo hoo!)
Ahhhh, therein lies the beauty of this show. We simply don’t know. Yet.
Over the summer American Idol visited Phoenix, Kansas City, Jacksonville, Louisville, East Rutherford, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and even San Juan, Puerto Rico to ferret out the best of the best, and yes, the rest of the rest.
Admit it, it wouldn’t be an audition phase without snorting Coca Cola (have to get in a product placement in) through our noses at some hapless William Hung or Renaldo Lapuz (I am your brother, your best friend foreeevvver – sing with me! ) or – God Help Us all – Rhonetta Johnson and her predilection for tin foil skirts and no underwear. Someone pass me the bubbly water, I’m feelin’ faint...
Several changes are in store – all for the better, in my humble (and soon to be sleep deprived opinion)...
The results shows have been promised to be pared back down to 30 minutes. And while that doesn’t automatically get rid of THE GROUP SONG or the Ford Vommercials, it does mean my last nerve won’t be getting grated until at least April.
Idol TAKES Back Idol Gives Back, at least for 2009. Good. I am all for giving to charity and helping those in need, but a two hour guilt-fest isn’t needed considering the state of our economy.
A new judge! While the PR machine has gone into overdrive to convince us all that Paula and song writing phenom Kara DioGuardi are BFFs (They were once roommates! They are buds! Girl power!), it should make for an interesting season to see Paula have to share the love and the lip gloss with another female. I don’t get the felling that she "plays well with others" in this regard.
But back to what makes Idol Must See TV – the contestants.
Somewhere, out there, beneath the purple lights, someone’s singing badly, and doing it tonight...
Somewhere, out there, beneath the purple lights, someone’s singing badly, and doing it tonight...
Or maybe not. Perhaps our 2009 Idol will be found in the Arizona heat. We know that a Phoenix rises from the ashes, but will a star rise from the masses in Phoenix? Let’s find out!
Season 8 opened with the profound quote from David Foster, "In life, the microphone passes your lips but once...you had better be ready to sing."
Sorry David, but in the case of American Idol? You’d better be able to sing is more like it. Case in point, the montage which followed, beginning with Simon addressing a ballroom full of hopefuls in Season 1, when no one had any idea what a juggernaut and starmaker this show would prove to be. But with the stunning find of Kelly Clarkson, this show was off to the races and is still winning every ratings derby out there.
I enjoyed the little trip down memory lane set to What A Wonderful World, especially as so many wonderful contestants (Cook, Daughtry, McPhee, Yamin, Hicks, Fantasia, Clay) were interspersed with a trek down the sidestreet of What A Horrible Whirl Of Bad Moments – Crying Girl, Sanjaya’s faux hawk, Bush Baby, The Brittenum Felons, er, I mean twins, Clay Aiken giving his biggest fan a stroke (minds out of the gutter, please - I meant that in the clinical sense of the word) on national TV...
It summed up exactly why we tune in each season – the highs are so very high, and the lows are so very, well, hilowrious.
We then cut to Ryan Seacrest standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon saying ... wait for it ... savor it ... "THIS. IS. AMERICAN. IDOL."
And from the chair next to mine, my 12 year old daughter saying, "Fall off. Fall off. Fall off."
With a new season, finally comes new graphics. No more shall we enter the virtual suppository and emerge through the neon colon. Rather we are just treated to several shadowy generic "contestants" who look like someone slipped them some Rohypnol as they gaze out into the cyberstadium waiting to be effed in the A by the fickle voting public.
A brief look back at the fate of the two Davids at last season’s finale revealed what we all knew deep in our hearts: our tweens are seriously messed up.
With footage from the Britvich home in Pennsyvania, of that final moment when David Cook took the crown, you would have thought Hannah Montana had been canceled and The Cheetah Girls announced they were breaking up. The screaming, rending of garments, tears, angst... not since Elvis was shipped off to Germany has the world seen such a hormonal torrent.
We can only hope for that much emotional investment again this season.
Ryan kicked off "the biggest season ever" in the 106 degree heat of Phoenix, Arizona. With roughly 10,000 people sweating in uniSUN, spirits were high as they all claimed with Palinesque delusions of grandeur, "I’m the next American Idol!"
Kara DioGuardi, the new judge and Kat McPhee’s older sister (ok, ok, they’re not related, but could be), was given her due via an intro that highlighted her songwriting prowess – she has written and/or collaborated on songs on 45 Top 10 albums – and we were underway...
Determined to win over the judges with his Michael Jackson as a Drill Team Leader in Tap Shoes impersonation, Tuan sang The Way You Make Me Feel. Unfortunately, the way he made the judges feel was ill, leaving him to whine, "I don’t know what they’re looking for, honestly, but it’s not me."
Tuan, have you ever watched the show? Wait, sorry, unfair question. We let Sanjaya Malakar hang around long past his expiration date. Hell, he was practically curdled by the time we voted him off. He made anything possible.
Emily Wynne-Hughes, with hair the color of a cotton candy pumpkin, arms tatted in every color of the Crayola rainbow (the 64 count box with sharpener on the back), and piercings galore was up next. Emily is the lead singer for a girl rock band – a band with a scheduled European tour – but no matter, the chance to reach for that brass ring / golden ticket only comes once a year.
Singing Heart’s Barracuda, I was, quite frankly, stunned. That is a throatful of a song to attempt, with some Freddy Kruger calibre-scary notes along the way, and she hit them all. Add to that her winning personality and those bandmates of hers just may have to say Au Revoir to that tour. She’s off to Hollywood for now.
Randy "I-Worship-At-The-Alter-Of-Tommy-Lee-And-Shop-At-The-Same-Store-As-Bret-Michaels" Madden cruised in next. Randy is a character out of Office Space. Trapped in a corporate cubicle, he fancies himself much cooler than he ever will be. But just like that little dude had his red stapler, Randy has his dream, too. He’s a rocker, dammit. A teary, soul-patch-quivering-like-Jello-on-a-fork, rocker.
Singing Livin’ On A Prayer, I did find myself moved enough to utter, "Oh my God." More tears fell, with the ultimate blow to his rocker dreams being Simon calling him a "Drama queen."
A real rocker would have hopped the table and beaten the shite out of Mr. Cowell, copping a feel off Paula in the process.
Young JB Ahflua was next. His audition showed us that he can sing, is going to Hollywood, cares about his family, and that’s it. I guess he was too normal for extended footage.
As opposed to Michael Gurr who sucked the paint off my walls, yet merited four minutes of pity. "I’m really scared." "I’m not feeling well." "I’m nervous." They played him up so much I thought for sure he was going to turn out to be one of those unlikely musical heroes a la Clay Aiken.
Punk’d! Where’s Ashton?
Michael opened his mouth to sing Starts With Goodbye and suddenly he was channeling Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies – Granny having a difficult bowel movement in the outhouse, that is. He then tried a second song and evidently the BM was even bigger...and coming out sideways.
Poor Granny, er, Michael. Methinks he needs some Metamusical. As it was, he settled for sitting on the floor and eating a banana surrounded by family.
More BMs (bad music) followed – Will Kunick butchering Tears For Fears – seriously, he was practically wearing an apron and asking how thin we wanted the slices; Celine Dion now walks funny thanks to DJ Bradley reaming her out; and Dionne Warwick has this message for Shawn Vasquez after seeing that audition, "That’s not what friends are for."
Was it time for someone good? Someone to redeem Phoenix and massage our eardrums?
Next in was Audre "X-ray" Caraway, declaring, "Music is what I do!" He chose to sing a song he had written called Cactus Baby. He began to let loose with the lyrics and something amazing happened! He turned into spaghetti. I’m not kidding. As he sang, his entire body turned into a bowl of overcooked pasta. Loopy, limp, a little slimy...
He finished with the only word I believe can truly do justice to his performance, "Swingadelladoo!"
Can I get breadsticks with that?
Sixteen year old Arianna Afsar had her turn – and if you’re like me, you’re always leery of the teenagers, especially the girls. They tend to be either so sweet they cause aural cavities, or so over-the-top they make you want to smack their parents. She was neither.
Sure, she founded a group called Adopt-A-Grandfriend (teens who perform at nursing homes), and is as adorable as a new kitten, but she is also articulate, polite, grounded – and not in a you-can’t go-to-the-Jonas-Brothers-concert way..
Oh yeah, she can sing, too. Her performance of Put Your Records On was smooth, strong, and not whiny as so many teens tend to be.
Pause: It was at this point that I noticed Paula’s latest attempt to convince us she is smart. Enter pair of glasses #1. Dark, rectangular, something Dwight Schrute might get wood over.
Moving on to Day 2...
Dawn breaks with the Ghosts of Bad Notes Past, the highlight of which, for me, was reliving climbing "the frosty mountain" a few seasons back.
This all led up to, or down to, as the vocal range may be, the introduction of Low Rida. OK, ok, his name was Elijah Scarlett and he had the most uncomfortable sounding voice I have ever heard – and that includes frosty mountain boy.
Shawty, it was low, low, low, low.
He sang My First, My Last, My Everything and I was left pondering one question, "What is the opposite of sucking helium?" Sucking tar?
Next up, Pretty Hyper In Pink, 16 year old Lea Marie Golde. According to Lea, she is Kara’s biggest fan, has written over 100 songs (which she brought for Kara to see), and she is a cross between Hillary Duff and Madonna.
After hearing her sing and taking in her overly caffeinated personality, I do believe that moniker is correct, because my ass was angry at the pain she was causing in it. It’s not that she was terrible, she wasn’t, but as opposed to Paris Bennett, who went from Smurfette to Throaty Diva when she sang, Lea just remained in the land of the little Blue People.
Don’t worry though. At only 16, with that much conviction? She’ll be baaaaaack.
Another 16 year old merited less face time, but redeemed the MySpace generation nonetheless. Stevie Wright sang At Last, and you could see the judges respond in kind. At Last someone who was controlled, strong, not overbearing, or dressed like a bottle of Pepto Bismal. Just a nice girl, with a big voice, and an even bigger smile. I’m predicting Top 12.
Living up to their pledge to highlight more of the good this season, in walked Michael "Brick Sh*thouse" Sarver. Come on, the guy was as big as the oil rig on which he works. Yes, Michael is a roughneck on an oil rig – the fifth most dangerous job in the world, a man’s man, as it were. (And it does take a real man to audition in a shirt with nipple doilies appliqued to the front) But he’s also a husband, father of two little kids, and has an amazing voice.
Singing Thank You, I wrote one word, "WOW." Looking forward to hearing some more in Hollywood.
Next to be highlighted was Audrina Partridge from The Hills. Actually it was Bikini Girl and Partridge lookalike, Katrina Darrell, flaunting the hills. Forget dressing like the Statue of Liberty, a cow, or a leprechaun. If you really want to get in front of Simon Cowell, follow the less is more philosophy and wear as little as possible.
In she walked and Simon looked like Jim Carrey’s character from The Mask – his eyes literally popped out of his head and onto the table.
She launched into Vision of Love, which contained more runs than a cruise ship full of Norwalk virus, and while I don’t think there’s a spot for her on the Idol Tour next summer (I’m thinking a stint on the next season of Bad Girls Club), through she went to Hollywood, despite royally pissing off both Kara and Paula by insulting Kara’a singing.
Ahhhh, the power of a pair of boobs. She made her exit and tracked down Ryan to make good on her promise to "make out when I get my golden ticket."
Sex sells, so we got another gooey serving via Eric "Sexual Chocolate" Thomas. He sang Ribbon In The Sky and even Stevie Wonder could see how bad he was.
Moving on... Brianna Quijada – a human koala bear, yes, the girl was that sweet and cuddly – sang Let’s Hear It For The Boy. The judges were fairly unimpressed so she started in on Killing Me Softly. I did not think she murdered it, softly or otherwise, but her second song killed her chances with Simon. He gave her a No, but some well placed groveling got her a ticket to Hollywood anyway.
Oh well, you gotta have some chaff in order for the wheat to stand out, right?
Deanna Brown was an unlikely contender. All alone, no entourage of sweaty friends and relatives, dressed simply in a shirt and pants, no tattoos or heavy make-up. But what she did have was marketable – a soulful, unique voice on Sitting’ On The Dock Of The Bay, and a sweet personality. Four yeses and she’s on her way.
Cody Shelton is another teen, 17, and his passion is making horror movies with his camcorder. Oh well, everyone should have a hobby, right? "Hey Mom, stand still while I pretend to hack you to pieces with this rubber machete. That’s good, now I’m going to pour ketchup in your hair....that’s great! You really look scared!"
Cody has the odd personality and full head of hair of last season’s Danny Noriega, but as opposed to Danny, Cody can REALLY sing. I predict he will kill the competition in Hollywood.
Another montage of filler - this time of Simon asking contestants – all Miss South Carolina wannabes – "What 3 countries in the world will you be popular in?" Due to us not having maps and all, the answers were predictable, Paris, New York, London...
Channeling the quiet awkwardness of Elliott Yamin and the unlikely pop star prowess of Clay Aiken, Alex Wagner-Trogman regaled us with a tale of being a closet singer – as in sang in his closet – which turned out to be a bad idea, as his closet was full of mold.
Leave it to Simon to hit on that when he walked in, "So you just came out of the closet?" Classy. Classier still was Randy trying to beat the homophobe joke into the ground.
Paula, the scholar in yet another pair of glasses, looked disgusted.
Alex then sang Baby, Come To Me, and all the cheap jokes stopped. He can sing. Really well. Some hair magic, some trips with a stylist to the nearest Abercrombie & Fitch, and who knows just what is Aiken to come out into the spotlight?
The final filler of the evening was an eardrum assaulting montage of the worst of the worst singing Dead or Alive, ending with an escapee from Ye Olde Arizona Renaissance Festival. I swear he was singing into a turkey leg...
Saving the truly heartwarming and best for last, Scott McIntyre closed tonight’s show. Scott is, for all intents, blind. He has a range of vision he equates with "looking through a straw."
No matter. It hasn’t stopped him from being a classically trained pianist, a ballroom dancer, skier, and a college graduate at the age of 19. Oh yeah – he’s adorable, too.
Singing And So It Goes, I immediately had a favorite for this competition. Not out of sympathy, but out of admiration for his talent, his love for life, and his shaggy blonde hair. Four yeses, and so he goes to Hollywood, but not without a high-five from Ryan. (What a dillweed. Try to high five the blind guy. I swear he'd have asked Roy Orbison, "Hey dude - did you see that Pretty Woman in the bikini!")
So, one city down, seven more to go. Up next, Kansas City, home of some of the best bar-b-que in the world, but will anyone’s talent be worth savoring?
What’s your take so far? Do you have a fast favorite? What do you think of Kara behind the judge’s table? Did you notice Randy never once called anyone ‘dawg’? (Must be a 12 Step Program.) And do you think Paula’s glasses make her look professorial or pathetic? Chime in!