Too many auditioners seem to be spending more time working on their backstory than on their singing, and the judges are letting them get away with it
”American Idol” recap: Up close and personal
”We’re returning to a city that in previous seasons’ auditions yielded a cruise-ship singer who earned Oscar gold, a geeky special-education teacher who went multiplatinum, and an illiterate single mother who conquered Broadway…”
”Welcome to Atlanta. THIS [dramatic pause] is Backstory Idol.”
Okay, so maybe that’s not exactly how Ryan Seacrest kicked off season 7’s latest audition episode. But for those of you who got caught up with the nation’s other big contest and spent the night watching Super Tuesday results roll in (instead of the popular singing competition that precedes House), you missed an hour that rivaled an airport arrivals area for its pileup of baggage.
Take, for example, Josiah Leming, an 18-year-old high-school dropout who’s spent the last year living out of his little white car. Call me a cynic, but I couldn’t help envisioning the kid spending his junior year Googling famous pop stars’ backstories and deciding that Jewel’s former life of vehicular residence sounded like a keen way to make himself a more interesting American Idol contestant. And by the time he arrived in front of Paula, Simon, and Randy to sing an original number called ”To Run,” he’d also cribbed a page from Madonna’s playbook, infusing his songs (and his banter) with a hint of a British accent. (This, of course, yielded a typically banal comment from Randy: ”I don’t usually like people from Morristown, Tennessee, singing with a British accent.” How much are they paying that dude?)
Which isn’t to say Josiah didn’t deserve his ticket to Hollywood. Sure, his vocals were a little too tremulous, and they might not hold up that well if or when he makes it to Idol‘s big stage, but there’s no denying he’s got enough charisma to have me looking forward to his Hollywood journey. Here’s hoping, however, that the show’s producers spring for a hotel room.
Similarly, I got so caught up in the interview package that preceded Miss South Florida Fair’s audition that I didn’t remember to write down her name — and considering she’s got as much chance to crack the Top 24 as Dennis Kucinich has of nabbing the Democratic presidential nomination, I’m not bothering to go back to the DVR to investigate, either. I mean, her cover of the Jackson 5’s ”Who’s Loving You” was perfectly adequate, but if the producers give a golden ticket to one more cute, thin, blond wannabe, Hollywood week is going to start looking like a convention for Carrie Underwood impersonators.
On the other hand, although Simon called the pageant veteran ”possibly the most annoying person I have ever seen in my life,” I have to admit I got a few chuckles from that bubbleheaded monologue about her reign over the South Florida Fair: ”I kissed a pig and milked a cow and got kicked by him, or I guess it would be her. It was a lot of fun. I’d definitely do it again if I don’t do American Idol. Which I hope I do do, American Idol. I just said ‘doo-doo American Idol.”’ Mock me if you must, but much like my six-year-old nephew Philip, I’m pretty much guaranteed to crack up every time I hear the term ”doo-doo.”
Sorry, I needed a little laugh before launching into a discussion of the night’s most harrowing plotline. I can’t in good conscience sit here at my computer and slam Asia’h Epperson for attending an American Idol audition only 48 hours after her father’s death in a car accident. After all, I remember the day of my own father’s funeral trying to decide whether or not to take a call from a magazine exec who had just bought the company that I was working for and who was trying to decide which of the publication’s employees to keep and which to lay off. At the time, justifying my job (and my paycheck) seemed like the most insignificant concern in the world, and yet somewhere in the back of my mind, I could hear my dad asking me who exactly I thought was going to be paying the rent on my pitiful little apartment. Needless to say, I put my mourning on hold for 10 minutes and took the call.
In other words, everyone deals with grief differently. Maybe all Asia’h’s dad ever wanted was to see his daughter achieve her dream of becoming a singing sensation. Maybe her family insisted she swap her black garments for that saucy polka-dot number and go sing her heart out for Simon Cowell. Maybe this young woman realized that life truly is fleeting and sometimes you have to ignore logic and decorum and emotion for the chance to do something remarkable.
And yet while it’s true that life goes on, does it have to go on television? I mean, would anyone have objected if Idol‘s producers had given Asia’h a free pass to Hollywood, without having to pass through the audition room or collect a golden ticket? Did we really need to hear her voice cracking with emotion as she delivered a gut-wrenching rendition of ”How Do I Live,” dedicated to her dad? I know I would be a happier and more fulfilled Idol viewer without having had to wonder to myself whether Asia’h’s occasional pitch problems and peculiar enunciation were a product of her wracked emotional state or her vocal limitations.
NEXT: Flat notes and a new favorite
Anyway, while we’re on the subject of vocal limitations, what was it about glass cutter Joshua Jones that sounded so special to Paundy? (Oh, yes, I have just this very moment decided to combine Paula and Randy into one nonsensical entity whenever they make idiotic decisions and vote yes to screamingly mediocre singers.) Not only did Joshua have to turn his back to the judges to hide his spooky facial tics, but his rendition of Queen’s ”Don’t Stop Me Now” sounded a little bit like he was singing into an electric fan.
And while I didn’t disagree that 16-year-old Alexandra Lushinton deserved a golden ticket, something about her rendition of ”My Funny Valentine” fell a little flat for me. Maybe I was too fixated on the way she paired a military cap and jacket with red leggings (jarring!), but I feel she’s another one of those young contestants who’d benefit from another year or two of life experience before thrusting themselves into the national spotlight. Side note: Alexandra’s great grandmother made my night with the following zinger: ”Don’t let me cry because they’re taking pictures.”
Actually, I shouldn’t give all the credit to the 93-year-old comedienne. One Idol hopeful rocked my world tonight with a bitchin’ one-two punch of Janis Joplin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Indeed, with her gin-soaked vocals and her two-toned hair and a sparkly scarf that’d make Stevie Nicks salivate, 22-year-old nurse Amanda Overmyer brought classic rock back to the Idol audition room. Sure, Simon was correct in calling her cover of ”Mean Woman” a little overwrought, but her take on ”Travelin’ Band” was so good, it even brought a moment of clarity to Paula Abdul, who said that Amanda was both ”authentic and real” (before returning to her standard-issue seal claps and ”I love you I love you I love you”s).
As for me, I loved loved loved the way Amanda talked so matter-of-factly about her audition as a crossroads where she’d learn if she’d be making money at nursing or singing. No overdramatization. No histrionics. Just a cool chick who enjoys her day job almost as much as she enjoys putting on her leather jacket and kerchief and cruising the streets of Mulberry, Ind., on her motorcycle. Indeed, although no one could accuse Amanda of having a boring interview package, in the end it was really about her singing. Which is kind of what the show is supposed to be about.
What do you think? Did you enjoy tonight’s audition show, or are you starting to get impatient for Hollywood week? Were you as bored as I was by the mouthy teen and the pratfall-prone diva who clashed with the judges? What did you think of Asia’h’s decision to audition so soon after her father’s death? And did any of tonight’s golden-ticket holders strike you as top 24 material?
If you’ve got any strong feelings about this week’s Idol auditions that you’d like to discuss as a call-in guest on the next episode of Idolatry, please shoot an e-mail to Idolatry@ew.com, and be sure to include a phone number where we can reach you on Thursday mornings.