Neil Patrick Harris' legendary guest-judging stint makes the so-so talent in Dallas a little less hard to swallow
American Idol 0127
Show MoreAbout American Idol
  • TV Show

An American Idol audition episode is like a can of Diet Coke ([un]official sponsor of this late-night writing session): No matter where you pick one up — Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Orlando, Los Angeles, or Dallas — it’s going to pretty much look and taste the same as the next one.

Things will kick off with a grim joke of a tryout. There’ll be at least one crying montage in which a third of the weeping rejects will be full-figured women. Any soul who is revealed as ”the last singer of the day,” or whose intro package contains sentimental music, a story about triumphing over adversity, and/or a phrase that sounds like it could end up appearing in the season 9 victory anthem (i.e. ”the odds were stacked against him”) will make it to Hollywood. And Randy will defy basic mathematic principles (”one billion percent yes, dude”) and the laws of grammar (pick a critique, any critique).

Tonight, however, the standard operating sameness got a needed twist of lemon in the form of guest judge Neil Patrick Harris. No, he didn’t reinvent the audition-episode wheel (he was only filling Paula Abdul’s chair, after all, not Ken Warwick’s). But the How I Met Your Mother star’s presence added biting wit and insight to even the most tiresome moments.

Take, for example, this evening’s opening act, starring repeat audition offender Julie Kerelighan, who brought the same brand of delusional desperation to the show this year as she did in season 1. For her second trip to the rodeo, Julie also carried a homemade sign declaring ”This Is My (Last) Year (to Get on National Television Before I Age Out of Idol Eligibility).” (For the record, those are my parentheticals, not hers.) The brilliance of NPH, though, was the way he immediately honed in on the fact that Julie’s poorly planned and executed poster — with her surname scrunched uncomfortably in the bottom corner — was more offensive than her butchery of Alannah Miles’ ”Black Velvet.” Because, in all seriousness, if you know you have no business singing outside the shower, and you’re going to be one of those annoying fameosexuals who’s just hoping to score yourself a bit part as ”Simon’s Punching Bag No. 874,” you should dig into said role with the fury of Paula Abdul driving needles into her Ellen DeGeneres doll. Buy a couple extra pieces of poster-board from your local Target and make your signage a week early — don’t just throw it together in the parking lot outside the audition venue. In other words, commit!

NEXT: Erica Rhodes whips the panel into submission, just not with that voice

I guess, in light of that rant, I should give at least a half-clap to Erica Rhodes (AKA Whippi Longstocking), who entered the audition room with a crack of leather to the floor and the drop of Simon’s jaw, thanks to an outfit ordered direct from the Frederick’s of Hollywood Dominatrix Collection (and paired with a thigh-high, spiky-all-over boot whose hotness even I can’t refute). Even more impressively, though, Erica came equipped with a ”former-child-star-gone-bad” story arc that was so prurient — she used to be on Barney, you see, and now she’s all grown up (wink wink) — that no one on the panel noticed her renditions of the Prehistoric Purple Devil’s theme song and En Vogue’s ”Free Your Mind” were shrill, lightweight, and relatively rote.

Simon, at least, made me chuckle when he asked Whippi, ”What’s the big dream here? I know what mine is.” But for the life of me, I cannot fathom why Kara showered the following bit of praise on the young woman: ”It’s really rare that someone comes in here and they’re like, ‘I’m just gonna do my thing. This is who I am. And here it comes.’ And I really like that about you.”

Really, Kara? Really? Are we going to laud Erica’s authenticity for using her looks to distract from her middling talent? And do you think that in all actuality, in the best of all possible scenarios that Erica might imagine for herself, that she’d need to resort to driving home the base message that even dinosaur-loving, overall-clad little girls grow up to be voracious sex machines? Sorry, Kara (and Kara fans), I know it seems like I’m obsessed with tearing down the ”fourth judge” like Ali does with Vienna on the current season of The Bachelor (Read my Idolatry cohost Kristen Baldwin’s recap). But every time I tell myself that I’m taking a night off from Kara-bashing, the woman goes and says some nonsense that demands a harshly worded paragraph. Aaaand…exhale.

I’m also gonna just throw it out there that, flanked by her buddy NPH, Kara seemed far more relaxed and less desperate-to-please than she has all season. Look at me, accentuating the positive!

But on the flip side of WhipGate, a couple of other hopefuls tonight decided to rely on their reserves of creativity (as opposed to bared flesh and cheap ploys), using self-penned songs to try to score their Golden Tickets. And while I’m not completely convinced Todrick Hall or Kimberly Carver have the inherent charisma and/or the vocal firepower to be true Top 12 contenders, I’m at least curious to see how they’ll fare in Hell Week. Todrick, who apparently appeared with Fantasia in The Color Purple, wrote an Idol-themed ditty that was, as Simon called it, ”cutesy,” but that I’d have to describe as clever and entertaining. Sample verse: ”Kara decked and dressed/ Simon’s face lookin’ so unimpressed/ Sitting there like a bump on a log/ Randy what I gotta do to be your dawg?”

Kimberly, meanwhile, split the panel 3-1 with her original jazz composition; Randy, Kara, and NPH (who took control of the table with a breezily delivered ”let’s take a vote”) saying ”yes,” and Simon offering the only dissenting note: ”If it was ‘Jazz TV,’ yes.” In Kimberly’s case, I’d have to side with the cranky Brit — not because I think jazz singers shouldn’t have a shot in the Idolverse, but because I found the tone of Kimberly’s voice to be slightly strident, bordering on grating. I wonder if NPH would’ve changed course, too, if he could have seen Kimberly diss the latter half of his acting career by squealing ”I’m gonna have to go back and watch Doogie Howser again.” Yikes.

NEXT: Michael Tweets the contestant reviews

The two singers I liked best all night, though, brought enough charm and natural vocal ability that they didn’t really need any gimmicky outfits or accouterments. Dock worker Lloyd Thomas — cue Kara cooing, ”This guy is working the docks!” Yes! That is what dock workers do, woman! — showed off a surprisingly polished vocal on Stevie Wonder’s tricky ”Overjoyed,” and had me howling with laughter when, after Simon declared him his favorite of the day thus far, he shouted ”You better leave right now!” Meanwhile, Dave Pittman’s countrified twist on Sam Cooke’s ”Bring It on Home to Me” and effortless eye appeal made his battle with Tourette syndrome almost an afterthought.

The remainder of the night’s Golden Ticket recipients came off more as Hell Week pawns than legitimate heirs to the Kradison throne, and therefore, I’m gonna review ’em Twitter-style, in 140 characters or less. (If you don’t already, you can get updates on all my Idol coverage, including galleries like my 15 Best Idol Auditions Ever, by following me @EWMichaelSlezak.) Okay, enough shameless self-promotion… without further ado:

Maegan Wright: Looked a mess in white cutoffs, blue tee. Nice Ronstadt-esque quality to vocal though. Howz divorced-parents story relevant?

Dawntoya Thomason: Her name wins my award for ”Best Future Pop-Diva Monkier,” but correspondingly unique vocal not included.

Stephanie Daulong: Blonde with wacky headband showcased sexy, husky instrument, but we only got to hear her for 5 seconds. Pourquoi?

Christian Spear: Lovely teen inspired w/story of beating Leukemia, but not w/a wispy wannabe-Beyonce cover of Etta James tune.

Joe Jonas: Nonverbal member of something called JoBros offered feedback using complex method of Morse code w/ eyebrows. Why’d he replace NPH?

Oh, whoops, that last dude there was a guest judge, but you might’ve mistaken him for Kara’s bright-eyed personal assistant, given his utter lack of instructive and/or opinionated comments. Why not cut footage of the Jonas youth altogether and let us hear a few seconds of singing from Michael Castro — brother of season 7 finalist Jason Castro — who made it to Hollywood last year, and was shown getting a Golden Ticket again tonight without so much as a peep from his mouth? I did, however, like Joe’s introductory comment, ”to see future stars coming out of Dallas, it’s really exciting for us,” in which he continued to speak in the plural, clearly unable to separate himself from his sibling counterparts. That eventual solo transition will not be an easy one, especially since he’s going to have to cross ”reality show judge” off his list of possible future gigs.

What did you think of tonight’s show? Anyone else actually find themselves laughing at Randy’s funny about pink-clad Vanessa Johnston physically moving around and looking for notes while she sang ”At Last”? (I actually found it as amusing as Simon’s freaky Clint Eastwood impression!) Who else is up for a ”Hire NPH/Shania in 2010!” petition? And who just wants to get to Hollywood Week already?

Episode Recaps

American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

  • TV Show
  • 20