Simon Cowell sucker punched Paula Abdul this week and Paula took it like a pro. Sadly, this did not happen on Wednesday night’s “American Idol.” It happened on that other Fox singing competition series. Which brings us to what’s wrong with “Idol” this season – besides the ratings, that is. For the first time in many seasons, there is absolutely no judge drama.
Fortunately, show host Ryan Seacrest promises us, tonight’s auditions will be full of drama. No telling what can happen “with an eclectic crowd like this,” says Seacrest as the camera pulls back to reveal him standing in a virtually all-white crowd. “American Idol” has come to Portland, Oregon, and the “Idol” Civic Cliches Research Dept. seems to have run out of gas. “A jewel of the Northwest” that’s known for its cloudy skies is the best the department could come up with for Voiceover Seacrest
Okay, but did you know this about Portland? “Everyone in this crowd has a story,” Seacrest says. “Everyone in this crowd has a dream.”
Brittany Zika, for example, dreams she was singing with Sara Bareilles. Then she went to a Bareilles concert, held up a sign asking to sing with Bareilles and got invited up on stage. So the dream came true. She took that as a sign she should pursue a career as a singer and headed to “Idol” auditions. How will Brittany handle it when she realizes she’s at the wrong show, what with Bareilles being a judge on NBC’s singing competition “Sing-Off”?
Well, she reacts by tripping as she walks on to the audition stage – or maybe that happened because she’s wearing clown glasses. Brittany, being the pro she is, recovers quickly, explaining to the non-Bareilles judges she finds in the room – Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson – that she’s Tripster the Hipster. We’re ready to write off the effervescent 21-year-old, but she has a nice voice and does a passable job on Brandi Carlile’s “The Story.” The judges send her to Hollywood, but only after Randy gets her to lose the most easily shed bits of Hipster Clown costuming — the glasses and the hat — and shake her hair around. “See – the sass comes out,” he says approvingly.
Ben Purdom, 18, is a mess; he belches and blows his nose and explains to Seacrest that he’s been sick since Tuesday. His audition number is “Born This Way” which he sings like a Jimmy Fallon parody, but he’s for real. The judges are incredulous, but of course consent to an encore, and he does Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” as a folk song. Really, Fallon should book this guy..
Big buildup for Jermaine Jones, complete with video crew sent to shoot him and his mom in their natural setting. Seems he came from a musical family and sings in church. “It’s amazing the gift that god has given him, “ Mom says. So we are prepared for some kind of spiritual experience, especially when he comes out on the audition room risers and we learn that he’s 6’ 8 ½” tall. But his performance is kind of plodding, though his tone is nice. “It’s a natural gift you have,” says JLo, adding “loosen up a little bit.” “The Gentle Giant goes to Hollywood!” Randy enthuses.
And that’s the end of Day 1 in Portland.
Day 2 dawns with a big problem: JLo is missing her black tights! “Oh, you know what? I forgot to give them back,” says Seacrest, reminding us of all those Simon Cowell jokes from years gone by. That just slipped out – we’re still in “The X Factor” recovery.
Portland is producing an excess of Brittany’s. Only this one spells her name “Britnee” Kellogg. She’s a Britney Spears lookalike, who’s come with her two small boys. Britnee, 27, was married to a basketball player “and he held me back from what I wanted to do,” so she became a mom. Then her husband “decided to go pursue other women,” so now she’s pursuing a singing career. She says she’s going to sing “You’re No Good,” which Tyler takes to mean, “You have a beautiful sense of humor.”
Britnee’s got the best voice so far in Portland, based on what the producers have shown us, which is setting the bar pretty low we know. The judges send her to Hollywood. Before leaving to collect her ticket, Britnee asks JLo how it is to be a successful performer while trying to raise kids. “We never leave the kids,” JLo says; in fact, her kids and mom are in the next room. “When you have dreams, you make them happen” and the kids will be better for it, JLo adds, continuing the “Idol” series: Life Advice from Superstars for Common Folks, which began the other week in Pittsburgh with Tyler giving a coal miner some pointers about confining his dreams to singing underground to his co-workers.
Sam Gershman, 21, is a busty Leah Michele type, full of pep, who leads a crowd of auditioners in a dance out in the waiting room. “Gershwin?” Randy asks when she enters their audition room. No, she says, “but “my father’s name is Ira.” Blank stares from Randy and JLo while the producers dub in the sound of crickets to signal they apparently are unable to associate “Ira” and “Gershwin.” She chooses “I’m a Woman” to perform, and it’s very Broadway, and we know where this is going because Randy can’t stand Broadway. Tyler ogles her on the way out.
David Weed is a nice, nerdy guy who works in fast food, and says that every time he asks someone if they want fries with that, “I die a little inside.” “Lucky no one gave you the first name of Smoky,” observes Tyler. David sings “Tom Sawyer” by Rush and it’s awful. “What’s the dream?” Randy asks, meaning it can’t be singing. So David switches dreams to standup comedy, tells a bad joke and it’s all over. “It’s so strange for everyone, for 22 years to say you’ve got a phenomenal voice,” he muses.
The producers are so short of material for this episode they even throw in a bit where Seacrest is seen walking behind the judges carrying a potted plant, with a camera crew in pursuit. It is never explained. We miss Simon and Paula terribly. Heck, we even starting to miss Kara Dioguardi and Ellen.
Romeo Diahn, 22, escaped war in Liberia, and lived in a refugee camp before his family came to America. He’s a nice, modest kid – the kind of Idol Immigrant we all like to see. So everybody’s disposed to give him the Idol Green Card admitting him to Hollywood. But first, he’s got to sing. Let’s face it -- so long as he’s not terrible, he’s in, based on back story. He does Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” and it’s pleasant enough. “You sang for your life,” says Tyler. “I hear it in your voice.” Not so JLo, who gives him only a “tiny little yes.” But Randy sends him through to the next round because, he explains, “A refugee camp, ohmigod!”
Naomi Gillies, 22, from Boston. says she wants to sing a Steven Tyler song. So, naturally, we pick her for one of a long line of I’m a Winner If I Only Get to Kiss Steven girls. But no, she turns out to be at least adequate on Aerosmith’s “Cryin,” though JLo goes too far with her “good round tone” praise. On the other hand, Naomi has the dignity not to paw Tyler, for which we give her extra points.
“But for the next two hours the dreams of so many others we laid to rest,” says Voiceover Seacrest, like he’s reading a fairy tale, while shots of weeping, cursing, and cameraman pushing flash by.
Next up, Ben Harrison, remarkably baby faced for 28 years old. OK, disturbingly baby faced. He’s got a ventriloquist dummy’s face, actually. Ben says he keeps getting tossed out of rock bands because, as he keeps saying, “I’m adorable.” Ben chooses to sing Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” which he condenses to about a riff and a half, ending in a squeaky high register, then a kiss blown at JLo. “Why? Why? Why?” Randy kvetches, like his gig is the Trials of Job.
“When we return one more audition that will leave the judges stunned,” Voiceover Seacrest promises in his best mood-chiller voice
Jessica Phillips is the night’s Best Back Story winner. Her boyfriend, D’Angelo Perry was felled by stroke, though he’s plainly a very young man. He was in the hospital for more than a month. “When he woke up, he didn’t know who I was…Now I’m really a caretaker.” We see some footage of the couple at home. The good news is D’Angelo can speak, though with a heavy slur. But, she says, “every day is a blessing because we still have life.” “I would be nowhere without her,” he says.
“You’re gonna be good, I feel,” says Randy who, as the oldest surviving “Idol” judge, has figured out that when producers send him someone with a hot back story they will not be a bad singer.
Jessica performs “Again”, the Faith Evans song, after she takes several moments to compose herself, and she’s a sort of okay singer with a winning stage personality, leaving us wondering if we just think we like her as a singer because she’s a good person.
And, as some auditioners we never saw toss rose petals, others skip and still another leads away a pony with a contestant number and a cardboard “Hollywood” sign stuck on its rump, Seacrest assures us “The Talent in the City of Roses definitely delivered” as we wonder what episode of this show he saw tonight that we missed.
Last week: Auditions go down to Texas
Interactive: “American Idol’s” decade of hits and myths