It seems like every American Idol season, the show’s producers devote one very special episode to turning the ever-predictable audition process upside down. Attractive, seemingly well-adjusted folks get their dreams crushed. Freaks and geeks clutch their golden tickets and break out the happy dances. Rejected contestants upgrade from R-rated tirades to amusing punch lines. And — ”hallelujah, Jesus!” — tonight’s Charleston, S.C., episode gave us all those scenarios and more, in a mercifully succinct 61 minutes. (Sorry, Fox, your evil plan to lure me into Moment of Truth — and earn added cash for delivering my soul to Satan — didn’t work; better luck next week!) Here’s how it all played out:
1. Subpar vocals arrived in pretty packages This is my fourth season covering Idol for EW.com, and with all the obsessive viewing, I consider myself pretty astute at spotting Hollywood-bound contestants before their first notes are sung. Not so much with Air Force pilot Lyndsey Goodman. With her pale eyes, dark red hair, and voluptuous figure, she looked just as likely to be painted on the side of a military plane as to be flying one; better still, she came off as bright and likable in her interview package. So imagine my surprise when, during her rendition of Alannah Myles’ ”Black Velvet” (the overdone audition song for soulful white chicks), her lips began trembling like a child who’s stayed in the pool too long. Before I had a chance to muster up outrage that an average singer was about to head to Hollywood on looks and personality alone, there was Simon calling her a ”very good cabaret singer,” Paula declaring that Lyndsey’s nerves had gotten the best of her, and Randy looking woeful. And just like Snoopy’s World War I flying ace, Lyndsey was nose-diving back to anonymity.
Similarly, I was expecting Phil Stacey: The Sequel after producers spent the hour cutting back to footage of Oliver Highman, whose wife had gone into labor before he got a chance to sing for the judges. Yet like Lyndsey before him, Oliver possessed only a decent instrument, and one that was marred by the kind of excessive quavering that could set off a seismograph. I can’t recall the last time the judges called out a contestant for unnecessary vibrato and meaningless vocal runs, but here’s hoping Randy’s and Simon’s harsh critiques were the first steps toward a new and melodious Idol era. And don’t cry for Oliver, either. Dude’s gonna make a killing after he launches pimpmynewborn.com.
2. Flamboyant folks backed up their bluster with decent pipes I’m not certain how far siblings Michelle and Jeffery Lampkin will go in this competition, but I have to say, from the duo’s opening ”bah chicka wah-wah” to their post-audition victory jig, they rank in my top 5 favorite Idol auditions of all time.
Most of the credit goes to the hilariously outré Jeffery, who arrived with a necktie around his forehead and a declaration that he possessed the ”owww! factor” necessary to be the next winner. Of course, I thought the producers were setting us up to see the tears of a clown, especially after the siblings revealed they’d be tackling a supersize R. Kelly-Celine Dion duet (”I’m Your Angel”) for their audition. Yet once Michelle and Jeffery launched into a gorgeous, restrained harmony, Simon had to bite down on his pencil to suppress a grin. Over the years, the cranky Brit has delighted in splitting up group auditioners — be they friends, relatives, co-workers — but after Randy voted no for Michelle and yes for Jeffery, Simon took Paula’s side and sent ’em both to Hollywood. ”You can’t split those two up, Randy!” Simon said with amusement, as Jeffery shouted, ”Hallelujah, Jesus!” and performed an enthusiastic (if bizarre) two-step.
Knoxville teenager Amy Flynn was slightly more restrained when the judges gave her passage to Hollywood, but the way she reacted to Paula’s initial ”yes” vote — with a clenched fist, then two thumbs up and the kind of facial expression you’d expect from a frat boy whose college football team just scored a touchdown — was no less humorous. I’m just glad Idol showed some restraint, too, and didn’t turn Amy into a disposable joke. Sure, her rendition of Christina Aguilera’s ”Reflection” was marginal at best, and yeah, her unwavering confidence had me making mental comparisons to Reese Witherspoon’s horridly beautiful performance as Election‘s Tracy Flick, but I’m sure parents of teens and tweens everywhere were stoked to see a 16-year-old happily extolling the virtues of abstinence on a popular television program.
Side note: My pal (and Idolatry nemesis) Kristen Baldwin informs me via e-mail that she wants to start the movement that sends Amy to the finals, even though it’s probably ”the worst thing that could ever happen to her tragically overmanaged life.” Kristen even has a slogan ready: “Vote for Amy Flynn: She could go all the way!”
NEXT: The losers zing back!