‘American Idol’ recap: The first cuts are the sleepiest
In American Idol‘s previous seven seasons, Hollywood Week has often unfolded like a ridiculous soap opera, so I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the first night of season 8’s edition tried (with varying degrees of success) to follow a script straight off the set of daytime drama. There was the plucky heroine with the big smile (Lil Rounds) and the leading man with the tragic past (Danny Gokey). There was the adorable ingénue (Jasmine Murray) and the sexy geek (Anoop Desai). And with the presence of ”Norman Gentle” and ”Bikini Girl,” the roles of ”comic” relief and trashy villainess were covered. Heck, even the cannon-fodder came through brilliantly, popping up out of nowhere, then getting dispatched with all the fanfare of an extra on Lost who utters a line or two, then ends up with a flaming arrow sticking out of his chest.
Still, what makes for a great scripted drama doesn’t always work in the world of reality television, and missing from tonight’s telecast was a sense of the unexpected, the possibility that you might be about to witness the painful downfall of one of the promising contestants the producers made you fall in love over the last three weeks. At the same time, Idol whiffed when it came to introducing those dozens of Hell Week participants who hadn’t gotten a stitch of airtime during the audition rounds. Really, are we supposed to believe we’ve seen — and more importantly, heard — from every member of the top 36 by now? (Well, actually, you can answer that question with confidence if you happen to read — and more importantly, believe — online spoilers. Which kinda makes me wonder why Fox doesn’t announce its 36 semifinalists in a live broadcast, instead of taping the ”elevator of doom” episode weeks in advance.)
Anyhow, before we take a deep dive into episode 8 of season 8, I’d like to share the list of name-brand contestants who I determined — using my DVR’s pause and rewind functions — to be among the 104 singers who survived into the group-performance rounds (without scoring any significant airtime tonight): Deanna ”husky voiced” Brown (yay!), Megan ”tattooed arm” Corkrey, Michael ”Jason’s bro” Castro, Joanna ”I was once signed to A&M” Pacitti, Arianna ”adopt a grandfriend” Afsar, Matt ”dueling pianos” Giraud, Leneshe ”Nati” Young, Matt ”welder dude” Breitzke, Alex ”eyebrows” Wagner-Trugman, Brent Keith ”country dood” Smith, Anne Marie ”makeover” Boskovich, Adam ”too theatrical for Simon” Lambert, Alexis ”hubby at military academy” Grace, Scott ”legally blind guy” McIntyre, Melinda ”almost naked” Camille, Austin ”class president” Sisneros, David ”yeah, those Osmonds” Osmond, and Frankie ”Winehouse impersonator” Jordan.
NEXT: Lil bit too much love for Lil Rounds
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s look at which contestants played their roles to perfection tonight, and which ones weren’t entirely convincing.
In the role of…the diva the judges will pimp early and often: Lil Rounds Look, it’s too early in the season to say that by April Fool’s Day, I won’t be sporting a ”Team Lil” T-shirt. The woman has copious charm, and a voice as powerful as Ryan Seacrest’s hair gel. But when she stepped to center stage tonight and gave ”I Will Always Love You” the full Whitney, my left eardrum made a grab at my cell phone to call 9-1-1 and report an assault.
Imagine my surprise then, when not only did Paula and Kara give Lil a standing ovation, but they also took the unprecedented step of granting a backstage-at-the-Kodak interview to Ryan, just to reiterate their love for the perky young mom. Yeah, I know, at least Kara didn’t grab the mic and treat us to her very special rendition of ”Iiiiiiiiiiiiiii…Will Always Love Lil,” but it’s way too early for this kind of viewer manipulation.
In the role of…the contestant whose vocals could quickly overshadow his backstory: Danny Gokey Remember this time last year when David Archuleta was known as the kid with the damaged vocal cords? And remember how two weeks into the semifinals, Archie’s medical history was as distant a memory as what song Jasmine Trias performed during Gloria Estefan night during season 3? (For the record, it was ”Here We Are.”) Well, that’s the beauty of Idol: Talent always trumps interview packages.
And, so, even those of us who were somewhat perturbed (or like my colleague Kristen Baldwin, deeply disturbed) by Danny’s audition interview — during which he went into great detail about the death of his wife just a month prior — cannot deny that he’s got chops. Indeed, Danny’s rendition of Seal’s ”Kiss From a Rose” showcased what was undoubtedly the night’s best vocal: Sung with power, pitch perfection, and emotional connection, Danny proved Paula’s point that he’s ”ready to record records.” And it doesn’t hurt that he’s got great hair. Now if the guy would just take a page from David Cook’s season-7 playbook and learn that less is more when it comes to discussing family health matters. And maybe not choose songs with multiple uses of the word ”grave.” (Sorry! I can’t pretend I wasn’t thinking that!)
In the role of…the ”mean girl” who will/must eventually pay: Bikini Girl Yeah, I was gonna use her real name, treat her like a real contestant, but then she started macking on Seacrest and making excuses for her shrill take on Faith Hill’s ”Breathe” and I started wondering to myself, ”Do we need a snotty, less talented Haley Scarnato in this year’s competition?” And honestly, there are dozens, if not hundreds of shows, where hardbodied bubbleheads can score airtime by flashing some skin — Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, America’s Next Top Model, The Bachelor — leave Idol for the actual singers, will you?
NEXT: Norman Gentle continues to camp it up
In the role of…the dead horse/one-joke pony: Norman Gentle I could talk about the diminishing returns of Norman’s encore performance of ”And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” or the fact that he didn’t even bother to wear a different outfit than he did to his audition, but it’s easier to quote Simon: ”Without the glasses and the silly headband, you’re just a boring person. And when you put the stupid outfit on, you become a joke…It’s just ridiculous.” So how did this guy — who performs with about a sixteenth of the camp, style, and vocal potency of an amateur drag queen in a mid-sized market — survive another round of judges’ cuts?
And on a larger note, does anyone feel like the advance of Bikini Girl and Norman is damaging to the Idol‘s overall credibility? I mean, is a cheap laugh really worth it if it undermines a legitimate effort to uncover the next Chris Daughtry or Jordin Sparks?
In the role of…surprise special guest: Stephen Fowler! The guy may need to step it up in the fashion department — a sleeveless gray hoodie is fine for, um…actually I’m not sure if it’s ever fine — but his strong, straightforward take on Stevie Wonder’s ”Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” was downright revelatory in comparison to all the hammy, overwrought performances that surrounded it. As Randy explained it, Stephen slayed a bear. Which I think is the season 8 equivalent of either ”blew it out the box” or ”molten hot lava bomb.”
In the role of…season 8’s stealth heartthrob: Anoop Desai So what if Anoop’s haircut is a little tragic? David Cook’s was, too, until Idol‘s stylists tamed his wayward tresses. But seriously, there was something strong and extra smooth about Anoop’s take on ”If It’s Magic,” and if he’d just dial back a bit on the R&B affectations, he could end up activating an army of motivated speed-dialers.
In the role of…flawed vocalist I most enjoy listening to: Rose Flack Oh how it broke my heart to see the teenage hippie chick dissolve in tears and conclude that she doesn’t have ”all that great of a voice” compared to her more experienced rivals. Yet, while it’s true that Rose doesn’t have the best pitch control, I’d much rather listen to her finesse her sandpaper-y instrument (which reminds me a little of the Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins) on ”(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” than have to endure another five seconds of vocal aggression from Von Smith, Jamar Rogers, or Jorge Nuñez, each of whom seems to think of singing as a sport in which each note should be hunted down, killed, and hung like a trophy on the living-room wall.
Honestly, did the judges really enjoy Jamar’s ”California Dreamin”’ (which he performed with the same vein-popping fury we witnessed during his Kansas City audition), or are they just keeping him around for a dramatic side-by-side elimination with best bud Danny when the top 36 announcement is made? I’m also not sure about all the love for Jorge Nuñez, a seemingly very charming and sweet young man whose rendition of Jon Secada’s ”Angel” was in tune, but was as overripe as that squishy nectarine you find in the back of the crisper drawer. As for Von…oh, he needs his own paragraph.
NEXT: A message for Shouty McShouterson
In the role of…guy who is probably not going to change: Von Smith VON, WHY ARE YOU SHOUTING AT ME? ME, I’M ONLY SHOUTING AT YOU, SO YOU CAN HEAR ME OVER THE SOUND OF YOUR OWN SHOUTING! SOMEWHERE DOWN IN YOUR PANCREAS, I BET YOU HAVE A BEAUTIFUL VOICE. BUT I ALSO BET NO ONE IN YOUR LIFE EVER TOLD YOU THAT SINGING WITH FEELING IS NOT THE SAME THING AS SINGING SO HARD THAT YOUR VEINS START THROBBING, ALLOWING ME TO TAKE YOUR PULSE JUST BY LOOKING AT YOUR NECK. YOU SAID THAT FOR NEXT TIME, YOU NEED TO ”WORK HARDER.” BUT I WOULD SUGGEST YOU ACTUALLY DO THE OPPOSITE AND WORK ”LESS HARD.” TRUST ME.
Also, Von (hush, now…you’re really going to enjoy this quieter volume once your ears adjust), I also wanted to make a translation from Cowellese to English: When Simon calls a song ”indulgent nonsense,” that just means he’s never heard of it before. That said, I had to Google your lyrics to figure out you were singing James Morrison’s ”If the Rain Must Fall,” which, yeah, was totally indulgent nonsense.
As for the other contestants who succeeded in cracking the group rounds, and scoring some airtime, let’s try (because it’s waaay late and this column is waaay long) to sum each one up in ten words or less.
Nathaniel Marshall: Pierce chin, ”music on my skin!” Boy loves tattoos, drama.
Jackie Tohn: Delightful despite (because of?) sequined fannypack. ”Rock Me Right” indeed!
Jasmine Murray: Record exec’s dream. Much better in Hollywood than audition. Hmmmm.
Jeremy Michael Sarver: Roughneck seems nice. Can’t remember voice though. Uh-oh.
David Osmond: How will I feel about Madonna’s daughter in season 17?
Emily Wynne Hughes: Admission of nerves scored big points. Judges way too harsh?
And on that note, what did you think of night one of Hollywood Week? Do you think the ”Idol Boot Camp” made any difference? How come Fox repeated so much footage before, after, and in between the commercial breaks? Were you as bummed as me that Jessica Furney (the girl who took care of her grandma) got booted? And did you laugh as hard as me at Dennis Brigham’s demand to know ”What kind of message are you sending America?” after he got cut? Do hit the comments section to discuss all of the above, but before you do, check out my countdown of Idol‘s 10 All-Time Best Hollywood-Week Moments!