If tonight’s installment of American Idol had to be turned into a movie trailer, the voice-over would go a little something like this: ”Super-polite contestants! Pink bunny rabbits! And Ryan Seacrest in [insert sound of needle scratching across record] — flannel! If you thought Idol was the meanest show on television, then you haven’t been to Utah. The sob stories are sweeter. The producers only emotionally abuse one contestant (but don’t worry, she’s a Goth!) And — you’re not gonna believe this — but you might need both hands to count the number of memorable contestants scoring Golden Tickets. Yes, Idoloonies, you’ve seen the rest (five middling episodes so far this season, to be exact), now it’s time for the best: This…is American Idol‘s Salt Lake City audition round!”
Okay, yeah, so it wasn’t the all-time greatest audition episode in Idol history. But in a season where the show’s producers have consistently emphasized pretty much everything but water-cooler-worthy singers, what a thrill it was to see and hear the likes of Megan Corkrey, Rose Flack, Frankie Jordan, Taylor Vaifanua, Jarrett Burns, Austin Sisneros, and David Osmond — each of whom possessed some combination of fine vocals, personal magnetism, good looks, and personality (in some cases charming, and in others polarizing) — in the course of a single hour.
And if that wasn’t enough to make you feel like (finally!) the competition is on, the episode ended with a sneak peek at the emotional meltdowns and musical collapses of Hollywood Week (coming next Tuesday to a TV near you). That’s right. Don’t start queuing up ”Shiny Happy People” just yet, because the smart money says that not all of the Salt Lake City 7 will survive to the top 36. So let’s run down tonight’s featured contestants
Most Likely to Succeed: Megan Corkrey As Simon Cowell told Megan after her terrific take on ”Can’t Help Loving That Man of Mine”: ”You’re different. You are one of the few I’m gonna remember.” And indeed, I can still hear in my head the way Megan used her whiskey-soaked pipes to effortlessly twist the tempo and cadence of the jazz standard into a flirty midtempo romp. In fact, Megan’s vocals were so memorable, it kind of makes me wonder why Fox felt it needed to maximize viewer tear-duct activity by focusing on her decision to get a divorce and become a single mother to her toddler son, Ryder. Don’t those cats know by now that when the vocals are on point, there’s no back story required?
It also didn’t hurt that Megan possesses a quirky beauty — complete with mammoth arm tattoo and jaunty gray skirt with yellow-ribbon trim — and a quiet confidence that never seemed to veer toward arrogance. The same cannot be said of the woman whom the producers seemed to be setting up as Megan’s main competition in the battle of the ”young, talented moms” division. Which brings me to…
NEXT: Ramblin’ Rose
Most Likely to Inspire a Viewer Backlash: Frankie Jordan Already, Idol message boards are splashed with Haterade about the fact that Frankie graced the soundtrack to Win a Date With Tad Hamilton with a song called ”Once Again.” I mean, really, I don’t know who the hell Frankie thinks she is trotting into an amateur talent competition with the massive amounts of name recognition and cold-hard cash she raked in from her association with an album that big, but at this point, I think we can pretty much guarantee Ashlee Simpson is gonna show up for the season nine auditions. (Wait, don’t give Papa Joe any brilliant ideas!) (Actually, let’s not sweat it; Ashlee would never make it past Simon anyway.) (Whew.)
In all seriousness, though, while I don’t have a problem with Frankie’s one-time brush with ”success,” I do take issue with the slight whiff of arrogance she displayed before her rendition of ”You Know I’m No Good.” Sure, Frankie, you’re gorgeous, and sure, you’ve got a lovely, smoky tone, but do you really think it’s a winning move to look into the camera and declare about your voice that, ”You’ll hear it, you’ll love it”? And when you noted ”I’m pretty sure I’m gonna go through — not to be all overly confident,” were you aware that as an Idol contestant, your fate would rest in the fickle, easily outraged hands of Idol fanatics who’ve already taken you off their speed-dials? Oh, and while I’m piling on poor Frankie, I’ve got to say that while her performance was pitch-perfect, I kinda thought she did a note-for-note imitation of Amy Winehouse’s original. Too bad we couldn’t combine her vocal strength with the heart and magnetism of the contestant I suspect will end up as…
Most Likely to Break Our Hearts: Rose Flack It wasn’t so much Rose’s very sad story of losing both her parents by the time she’d turned 15 that made me fall for her as it was her effervescence and self-described charm. (Today’s Idol riddle: How charming do you have to be to get away with calling yourself charming — without losing your charm.) I dunno…Rose’s tangled hair, her made-for-TV smile, the sweet bond she displayed with her best friend’s family…it made it darn near impossible not to root for the 17-year-old from Rathdrum, Idaho. And hey, if that makes me a sap, then it makes Simon one, too, seeing as how he unabashedly followed up Paula’s declaration of love with his own admission that there was something he, too, loved about Rose. Problem is, I’m not entirely convinced it was Rose’s voice.
Don’t get me wrong: Her take on Carole King’s ”I Feel the Earth Move” was packed with soulfulness and raw emotion. But there were definite moments when Rose strained to stay on pitch. As Good Paula noted, Rose has got to work on her vocals if she wants to crack the top 36. But, heck, even if the kid doesn’t make it that far, I’m betting her magnetism and intense telegenicity — Is that a word? Well, it is now. — will take her far. As long as she puts on some shoes. Seriously, as someone whose eyes are inherently drawn to the garbage juice, pet by-product, and random hideousness of urban sidewalks, I must say that the soles of Rose’s feet could star in their own major motion-picture horror franchise. A different movie genre, however, sprang to mind while watching the next contestant up for discussion…
NEXT: Jordin Sparks’ (not so) mini-me
Most Likely to Parlay His Idol Moment into a Motivational Speaking Gig: Austin Sisneros I’ll preface this by saying that I get no enjoyment from hearing life lessons spring forth from the mouths of teenagers. So when Austin declared he was ”auditioning to inspire people and tell people it’s okay to follow their dreams,” I feared my remote-control had developed its own consciousness — how’s that for a horror-film plot? — and switched the channel over to some kind of testosterone-y version of the Miss America pageant. Come on, is there really some kind of movement against folks following their dreams? Do we really need the Riverton High School class president to instruct us that such dream-chasing is a noble and worthy pursuit?
Anyhow, the judges were totally on key when they questioned Austin’s song choices — Train’s not-good ”When I Look to the Sky” and Raffi ‘s even-worse ”It Takes a Village” — but they went off pitch when they gave him his golden ticket. To my ears, Austin’s vocals were breathy and slightly strained: He might have a singing superstar deep within, but it’s going to take some voice lessons, some life experience, and maybe a set of Anthony Robbins DVDs to unlock his potential. None of which is to say that Austin didn’t make for good television, or that he won’t end up scoring the Annual Will Makar Trophy awarded to that handsome whippersnapper who makes tween girls swoon until they’ve heard him sing live from the Idol semifinal stage. Still, more likely to advance to the viewer-voting portion of the show’s eighth season is…
Most Likely to Give Jordin Sparks a Panic Attack: Taylor Vaifanua She’s goofy! She’s Amazonian! She’s got a voice that’s 5′ 11” — without heels! And you know Simon, Paula, Randy, and (probably) Kara love that combo! But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling slightly ambivalent about the girl who looks like a younger, more athletic Kim Kardashian — with the skank scrubbed off. I was surprised, actually, that Taylor chose ”Joyful, Joyful” as her audition number, and even more taken aback that none of the judges called her out for picking a hymn. Not that there’s anything wrong with hymns. But last time I checked, the pop charts weren’t really runnething over with that Beethoven sound. Again, not that there’s anything wrong with Beethoven. Oh, and speaking of contestants already exhibiting questionable song-selection skills, how about…
Most Likely to End Up in the Family Business: David Osmond It was obvious, really, why Idol chose to kick off the night with David’s audition, seeing how he’s not only the proud owner of a ridiculous soul patch, but also the son of Utah’s own Alan Osmond. (That clip from the Osmond Brothers Boys’ Quartet on The Andy Williams Show was all kinds of awesome — and I say that without a hint of saracasm.)
So why do I think David’s destined for a very Osmond career when he happens to have a pretty sweet voice (and decidedly David Cook-ian hair)? Well, I really can’t see a scenario in which Simon and Co. throw one of the 36 coveted semifinal slots to a 29-year-old contestant with famously clean-cut aunts and uncles who chose to introduce himself to the world with Take 6’s ”Something Within Me.” No, I’m not a heartless bastard. I was moved by David’s positive attitude in the face of his struggle with MS, the same disease that stopped his own father’s performance career. But the judges were right that David threw in way too many runs, and I’m pretty sure I detected a few jank notes in the mix, to boot.
Most Likely to Not Be Heard from Again I thought Jarrett Burns’ rendition of ”Put Your Records On” was actually pretty soulful and solid, but the way the producers ran his performance together with that cacophonous montage of bad auditions — including that girl in the blue top who held onto her one downtrodden note with a conviction that bordered on brutality — makes me think he’s probably not on their list of favorites.
Oh, and speaking of the night’s rejected applicants, here are a few questions for you: Was I the only one who hated the way the cameras wouldn’t get out of Tara Mathews’ face? I know she chose her own brand of humiliation with those hideous garters and gloves, but I swear if Fox could get clearance to air it, they would’ve dangled her from the ceiling and let the blindfolded judges hit her with sticks till all her self-esteem came tumbling out. And as for Chris Kirkham’s gimmicky audition, while the segment went on way too long, and wasn’t particularly entertaining, the look on Simon’s face when ”Greg the Rabbit” strolled into the room made it all worthwhile. Is there anyone on TV who can pack so much disgust, shock, and horror into a single facial expression? Finally, why was Ryan wearing his best lumberjack drag and describing the Golden Tickets as ”yellow”? (Yes, they’re yellow, but that’s not what they’re called. Sheesh.)