A 'stripper,' a bikini-clad dude, and a dermatological revelation prove that naked ambition is alive and well in Denver
Danelle Hayes led the Denver pack with a ferocious take on a Melissa Etheridge ditty
Credit: Fox
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This just in — from the business news wire service in my mind…

LOS ANGELES — American Idol, the nation’s No. 1 television program for eight seasons running, signed a two-year deal today with DermaFab Corp., to join its longstanding troika of sponsors, Coca-Cola, Ford, and AT&T. The upstart skin-care company’s CEO brainstormed the partnership after watching Idol‘s Denver audition episode and marveling at guest judge Victoria Beckham’s unexpected revelation that ”beautiful skin” trumps actual vocal ability when it comes to discovering the nation’s next superstar singer. After a subsequent half-striptease by a well-groomed male contestant led to his receiving a Golden Ticket, DermaFab execs committed to a reported eight-figure contract that will allow the company to promote both its face- and body-care lines to some 20 million viewers every week.

”In this economy, a foolproof marketing plan is like a unicorn: rare and beautiful,” said Venus Milquetone, CEO of DermaFab. ”But if we can obliterate the acne, the unsightly blemishes, and even the distinguishing facial characteristics of the season 9 top 24 — as well as slather a little SPF onto Simon’s oven-fried chest area — we could be as omnipresent as Randy’s hyperbolic use of percentages.”

Wall Street investors, hypnotized by the other-worldly appeal of Beckham’s barnacle-like hair bun, reacted favorably to the deal, and added that sales of high-definition televisions are likely to spike as a result of this week’s revelations as well. ”For the next three months, viewers are going to have to look deeply into contestants’ pores to try to determine which one deserves the Idol crown,” said Smith Frank, analyst at Devlin Investor Services. ”Forget high-tech surround-sound systems; for season 9, it’s all about HD image-quality.”

Okay, okay… so I’ve devoted three admittedly ridiculous paragraphs to a passing comment made by a guest-judge who’s best known for outrageous footwear choices, not for actual singing. But I’m antsy and frustrated and hopeful and scared all at the same time, and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone: You see, after enduring seven episodes of Elvis wannabes and deluded football jocks and assorted costumed freaks, I’m ready for Hollywood Week. I’m ready for some Melinda Doolittle-y phrasing, some David Cook-y rearranging, even some Frenchie Davis-Kimberley Locke-y verse exchanging. (Look at me, rhyming!)

But before I start a one-way ”journey” down Hell Week memory lane, let’s not overlook the fact that in the midst of tonight’s storm of superficiality, Idol‘s producers offered up two or three legitimate contenders who — with a few minor adjustments — have the potential to create misty water-colored memories that we’ll be reminiscing about this time next year.

My favorite of the bunch — despite the fact that she’s clearly a contender for the Von Smith Shouty McShouterson Memorial Trophy — was karaoke hostess Danelle Hayes, she of the giant crescent earrings, the jazzy silver necklace, and surprisingly chic headkerchief-and-gray-tank ensemble. There may not have been anything subtle about her take on ”I’m the Only One” — then again, Melissa Etheridge’s original isn’t exactly a study in restraint — but there was the kind of bruised and broke-down passion to Danelle’s full-throttle performance that had Kara correctly calling it the day’s ”most moving audition.” Better still, Danelle’s gruff, muscular instrument sounded like a mashup between two highly underrated divas, Toni Childs and Anastacia.

NEXT: Haeley Vaughn is a little bit country

I just hope that if the cameras focus on Danelle during Hell Week, they’ll stick to her singing instead of her backstory. Look, I get that being a single mom who makes a living as a karaoke hostess can’t always be easy, but I was left a little perturbed by Danelle’s tears, by her complaint that she’d had to plaster on a smile doing gigs at so many bars, casinos, and corporate meetings. I mean, look, if the woman had to clean shopping-mall toilets or dig ditches for a living, I might’ve reached for a Puffs in solidarity. But the implication that somehow playing some local business’s holiday party was so beneath her that she could burst into hysterics just thinking about it? For most singing hopefuls — and dare I say most Golden Ticket recipients over eight seasons of Idol — that’s as close to the dream as it’s gonna get in the long haul.

Haeley Vaughn, on the other hand, brought a much sunnier (and yet not too sunny) vibe to her audition. And while I probably could’ve lived without the ”I’m a miracle baby!” introduction — I mean, pushed to the wall with a camera in our faces, couldn’t each and every one of us share a sad, or sad-ish, tale — the sharp-dressed 16-year-old delivered her story with such matter-of-fact charm, I didn’t once think to myself, ”This isn’t a Lifetime movie, sweetheart!”

Anyhow, I was far more interested in Haeley’s stated goal of becoming the first ”black pop-country mainstream artist” (even if Darius Rucker already beat her to it, as well as Charlie Pride). It’s weird-bordering-on-disturbing that I totally got where Simon was coming from when he said Haeley stood out immediately just by virtue of auditioning with a Carrie Underwood track and not a Mary J. Blige song. As a society, we carry very specific expectations of black female artists/Idol contestants — you have your choice of straight-up R&B, Gospel, jazz, or maybe a little pop, but certainly not rock or country! — whereas nobody would find it remotely strange if a white female artist busted out with some Whitney or MJB or Beyoncé. So while Haley’s ”Last Name” felt a little rushed, and maybe went a little sharp at certain points, I’d be lying if I said I’m not hoping she’ll raise her game in Hollywood, and maybe even challenge some of our antiquated notions about why we don’t expect to hear people with a certain skin color singing a particular kind of music.

Okay, end of hasty socio-political rant. Hope you’re still with me ’cause we have five more Golden Ticket holders to discuss, thanks to Cecile Frot-Coutaz & Co. allowing us to see 7 of Denver’s 26 total successful tryouts. [Side note: I know that’s not the worst ratio of good-to-gimmick we’ve seen in season 9, but can you imagine if the episode had packed in, say, five more Hollywood-bound singers (approximately 40 seconds each) instead of choosing to play a game of’ ‘let’s make fun of your nervous tic!” with Mario ”Jailhouse Rock” Galvan? And shame on Ryan for uttering the phrase ”queasy little laugh” on national television!] Oh wait, I’m supposed to be finished ranting. So let’s move right on to…

NEXT: Casey James works hard for his money, er, ticket

Mark Labriola, the guy who said he’s often mistaken for the ”ugliest guy in Hollywood” (Mark’s own words, Jack Black, not mine!). I know Simon said he liked the guy’s candor under fire, but honestly, I was a little freaked out by the sudden and unexpected overshare after Simon asked ”tell me something interesting about you.” I mean, how about saying ”I have an adorable little boy!” or ”I work with computers”? But nope, instead, Mark went the route of so many folks who appear on so many morning shows in the face of personal tragedy/trauma, yapping to the panel about how his mother committed parental abduction when he was four, how his dad tracked him down and brought him back home at age 10, and how… y’know what, actually? I’m gonna do what Mark could not, and as the old song goes, put a lid on it.

Interestingly, the judges seemed a lot more enthusiastic about Mark’s audition than I did. Sure, Squeeze’s ”Tempted” is a lot cooler than your average Idol jam, but Mark’s rendition was excessively breathy, and started veering off key toward the end, which doesn’t bode well for what’ll happen if dude makes it to the semifinal stage. I’d actually have said ”no” to Hollywood, but then again, I’d have probably regretted it after watching tonight’s show and seeing Mark cry tears of joy while admitting that he had thought that, at 28 and with a child, the time for his singing dreams had passed him by. (Good thing Avril ”I’m like totally punk” Lavigne wasn’t there to set him straight about balancing Billboard chart success and bebehs.)

As for the night’s four remaining Golden Ticket recipients, I’m guessing they’ll be picked off in Hollywood Week like tiny baby guppies in a tank full of Piranhas. (I don’t read Idol spoilers, so I can’t say for sure.) But assuming I’m right, let’s cover the first three Twitter-style, in 140 characters or less:

Nicci Nix: Flew in from Florence; name flew in from Motley Crue convention; sang Girls Aloud. Unique (speaking) voice. Posh sez: ‘Beautiful skin!’

Kimberly Kerbow: Hot single mom/Rachel McAdams lookalike. Fun personality, but cannot remember her voice. Glad Simon brought up her wig, so I didn’t have to.

Tori Kelly: Voice had inherent shrillness that bordered on unpleasant (on John Mayer’s ”Gravity”); Posh said she was best of the day. Posh wrong.

[We pause this American Idol recap for a very special Cinemax late-night movie presentation, which is already in progress…]

Music Producer You need to work on your personality.

Aspiring Singer I’m willing to do anything that I need to do to get this gig.

Music Producer Really?

Aspiring Singer Uh-huh.

Music Producer Why don’t you let down your hair?

Aspiring Singer [Releasing pony-tail.] Okay.

Music Producer You look like a model! How about unbuttoning your shirt?

Aspiring Singer [Unbuttoning shirt.] Okay.

Music Producer Now take that nasty little shirt off.

Aspiring Singer [Stripping off shirt.]

Music Producer I’m saying yes.

Aspiring Singer [Approaching producer.] You won’t regret this.


Oh, sorry Idoloonies! This is a family-friendly blog, and alas, the preceding scene, in which competently bland Casey James sang a John Mayer song, then stripped naked from the waist up while Kara, Victoria, and (!) Randy cheered him on, is just too many kinds of wrong for me to contemplate. I know, I know, as Kara pointed out, Simon and Randy had their fun last year with Bikini Girl — that sounded dirtier than I intended — but does that make it okay to borderline sexually harass a male contestant a season later? No it does not, and I can’t belieeeeeve some of you paused and made me answer the question for you!

NEXT: The cocky jock gets his comeuppance

And anyway, if a male auditioner was going to be treated like a side of premium angus, shouldn’t it have been ”long-snapper” Austin Paul? [Sidebar: Is that a real football position, or did dude just pick a random, sexually suggestive term and try to pass it off as sports lingo?] Seriously, the guy came strutting in all confident-like, massaging his own pecs in his tight gray T-shirt, smirking and singing ”Bigger Than My Body” in a voice that alternated between ”half-drunk college glee-squad member” and ”tiny girl singing into fan.” And even after getting knocked down a few pegs by Victoria even (who said his singing made her feel ”itchy”), Austin still insisted he could be a star. Kara was right when she insisted ”a guy like you needs to be a little less confident,” even if she delivered her vitriol with a little too much enthusiasm to come off as completely above the fray.

But here are my burning questions: Why don’t Idol‘s producers allow us more opportunities to see this type of failed audition — from a guy who’s neither crazy talented, nor completely awful? Why is it that the show so rarely gives the full evisceration package to someone who’s traditionally attractive? Isn’t it funnier to burst the bubble of a cocky egoist, rather than a trembling innocent?

So rarely do the show’s now maddeningly predictable audition telecasts strike the correct balance of talent-to-trash, of funny-to-touching, of stark-to-gray, that I’m always a little impressed when the producers take me by surprise and make me laugh. That happened in tonight’s final moments — not because the sight of Ty Hemmerling in a bikini was a thing of hilarity, but because of Simon’s succinct and spot-on response. The minute Ty arrived, stone-faced and threatening to break out the Billy Ray Cyrus, the cranky British judge let out an expletive, then stood, headed for the exit, and huffed, ”I’m going back to Los Angeles.”

Where you go, Simon, we shall follow. On to Hollywood Week!

What did you think of tonight’s show? Were you impressed by any of the Golden Ticket receivers? How did you feel about Casey’s strip-down? And how about Simon’s remark that the runaway scat-man’s performance was like ”having Paula back on the show”? Finally, were you surprised the producers showed Daughtry’s audition without reminding us that Simon voted against sending the now multiplatinum superstar to Hollywood?

Episode Recaps

American Idol

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

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