Much like the lightweight Katy Perry track covered by one too many season 9 contestants, tonight’s American Idol telecast ran decidedly ”hot and cold,” to the point where I could almost imagine the show’s producers sitting around a conference-room table cooking up peculiar plots to ensure the most tepid Hollywood Week episode of all time. Some of the things they said (in my head):
”We could get people excited this year by rolling out names of the top 24 semifinalists starting on Tuesday, but only after we make ’em endure 70 minutes of insomnia-curing conference-room footage!” ”Hey, let’s see if we can pull off that ruse again where we insist that singers who forget their lyrics are going home immediately, but then not actually follow through with our threats!” ”Oh, and yeah, we’ll let Jermaine through to the top 46 — but it’s gonna be that annoying Sellers dude, not Purifory! Psych!”
Such is the frustrating (but not unexpected) yin and yang of the Idol experience. For every David Cook, there’s a Kristy Lee Cook. For every cool new song cleared for usage (howdy, Coldplay!), there’s a seeming insistence that every third contestant cover either Colbie Caillat’s ”Bubbly” or Michael Jackson’s ”Man in the Mirror.” And for every refreshing water-like beverage served to the judges, there is a corresponding corporate-branded container.
Okay, that last example didn’t quite make sense, but neither did the abrupt elimination of worship pastor Tasha Layton (more on her in a minute). But since their future earnings potential now rests firmly in our hands, let’s first run down the seven singers who advanced to the semifinals tonight — and, more importantly, what their ”thumbs up” from the judges actually means to the season 9 proceedings.
Aaron Kelly: Proof that someone high up in the Idol food chain is either helpless to resist the rosy red cheeks of teenage male singers, or at least cynical enough to know a certain segment of fans must have a contestant whose head they can fantasize about squeezing off and dangling from their rear-view mirrors. Indeed, with Aaron’s ”yes, ma’am” responses and his big doleful eyes, it’s easy to see how the judges fell for his charms. But whether or not the kid has the emotional maturity and vocal confidence to actually contend for the season 9 crown, well, that’s an altogether different story.
I mean, can anyone out there imagine that two weeks from now, the kid will be ready to deliver anything in the same division, let alone the same league, as David Archuleta’s Top 20 Week take on ”Imagine” back in season 7? Sure, Aaron’s initial audition to Miley Cyrus’ ”The Climb” was impressive, but that was in a little conference room in front of only the judges and some crew members. Up there on the massive Kodak stage, Aaron struggled with the lyrics to ”Get Ready” during the group round, and again whiffed on ”Angel” on Day Three. And while the nervous quaver in his voice during the latter track added some poignancy to the proceedings, I couldn’t help but feel like the judges had prematurely sent a potential stick-ball prodigy to the Major Leagues for the aw-shucks irresistibility of seeing him swim around in a big ‘ole uniform. I hope Aaron proves me wrong, but somehow his step forward felt like a disservice to both him and the show.
Michael Lynche: Proof that the producers’ ”find us an everyman!” mantra is alive and well and annoying as ever in season 9. I hate to be the one to pop Big Mike’s balloon — in fact, I’m disinclined to say anything negative about a guy whose biceps are as big around as my noggin — but dude’s Day 3 rendition of Jason Mraz’s ”I’m Yours” was so breathy and flat, he might as well have been performing it while doing a light warmup on the treadmill. Weirder still, Simon couldn’t have been more wrong that the personal trainer got stronger throughout Hollywood Week, as his Day One performance of ”Waiting on the World to Change” was significantly stronger than his two subsequent performances.
Then again, maybe Simon simply meant that Michael’s b-roll footage, not his vocal had improved; having your wife deliver a baby mid-audition is the stuff that TV dreams are made of, as was the image of the burly contestant lifting Ellen, Ryan, and Kara (the latter wrapped in what looked like a gold, ribbed body condom) into the air out of pure joy. And while it’s hard to rain on the parade of a guy who exited the ”auditorium of doom” door with a jaunty shuffle-step, I can’t help think of ”nice” guys from past seasons like Matt Rogers and Michael Sarver, both of whom went a lot farther than they should have on the basis of their ”Personality, 10; singing, 3” formulas. Show of hands: If all of us had to place a vote right this second for Big Mike or the cocky-but-vocally-superior Todrick Hall, wouldn’t the former contestant win in a landslide? Speaking of which…
NEXT: Ode to at least one Jermaine