True confessions time: I turn into a little bit of a crazy person whenever I’m in the passenger seat of a car. I liberally press the imaginary brake. Heading into sharp curves, I shout nonsense like ”beware the yellow arrows of danger!” And don’t even get me started on what happens when the gas gauge starts creeping into the danger zone.
So I guess it’s really no surprise that I’m consumed by feelings of panic as American Idol heads into Hollywood Week: Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Ken Warwick and Company have got control of the wheel, and after seven audition episodes, I’m clutching the passenger-side door handle and wondering if, eight seasons in, this nation’s tank of crazy-talented, undiscovered(ish) vocalists is down to fumes. And it sure didn’t help that tonight’s episode was akin to pulling up to the Exxon station and stocking up on Doritos Collisions, Caramel Creams, and Diet Dr. Peppers but failing to pump the gasoline.
Seriously, the judges handed out 26 Golden Tickets in New York City, and an additional nine in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and yet two of the strongest impressions tonight were made by merry pranksters — one of whom inexplicably got a free trip to Hollywood because Randy Freakin’ Jackson and Kara ”Take Me Seriously!” DioGuardi found him entertaining. To get back to my long-winded car metaphor, that’s not just forgetting the Premium Unleaded, it’s dumping cola in the tank.
But, wait…let me hold back on the bitchery for a second, and detour to discussing the one singer highlighted tonight who I’m certain I’d like to hear more from — drumroll, please — Jackie Tohn! Now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find her entrance to the judging room ever so slightly off-putting. Maybe it was the ”what up with the what ups?” salutation. Or the way her purple and white leotard top looked like it might’ve been pilfered from the set of Madonna’s ”Hung Up” video. Or the fact that she appeared to have something metallic (a gold butterfly, maybe?) and moderately distracting suspended between her contestant number and her belt buckle.
But really, the minute Jackie started singing Jason Mraz’s ”I’m Yours,” I didn’t care about any of that superfluous stuff. Not only did she prove to have a husky, muscular instrument, but Jackie transformed that depressing little patch of gray linoleum where the contestants are forced to stand into an honest to goodness concert stage. She danced with abandon. She made eye contact. She essentially performed as if Simon, Paula, Randy, Kara, and the entire Idol crew had shelled out their hard-earned cash to buy a ticket to a Jackie Tohn show. And heck, since Simon halted her first song, we got treated to an encore — what I think was an original ballad, since a Google search of the lyrics yielded no results — that proved Jackie’s got the chops to grapple with whatever kinds of hokey theme nights she might face as the season continues. The woman is like Amanda Overmyer — with the ability to hit her notes! No wonder the set started crashing down onto the judges table — even inanimate objects wanted to get in on the fun. To quote Good Paula* in her critique of Jackie: ”You’re unpredictable and surprising, and it’s all good for me.” And bonus points to Ms. Tohn for traveling with a guitar, not a tragic backstory.
(* Programming note: Bad Paula reportedly vacationed in the South Pacific during the audition rounds this season, leaving Good Paula to do most of the heavy lifting. The dueling personas are still negotiating who’ll sit in during upcoming live performance episodes. Stay tuned!)
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