So this is it, the first live show of “Idol XI” and our first look at the new set for the show. The producers went with a Nuclear Meltdown theme – there’s so much glowing and flashing going on in here, the place looks like its about to go critical.
The judges’ entrance: Steven Tyler is in a zebra skin duster. Jennifer Lopez has peeled herself out of Sunday’s Oscar-presenting Fredericks of Hollywood number and is now wearing a strapless nurse’s uniform. Randy Jackson has come as a badly wrapped Christmas gift.
There’s the reading of the rules by show host Ryan Seacrest, who has cleansed himself of the faux ashes of the late North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-il, with which he’d been doused Sunday at the Academy Awards by His High Royal Highness of Obvious Gags, Sasha Baron Cohen.
Twenty-four contestants are left, plus one rejected guy who has been returned to the competition by the three judges under The X-Factor Save rule, which states that if it worked on “The X Factor” it’s good enough for “American Idol.” Lucky 13 will be revealed later in the show says Seacrest, who is wearing the most gorgeous three piece suit ever seen on primetime television.
Guys sing tonight, chicks sing Tuesday night. Then on Thursday, the five guys and five chicks who got the most viewer votes get announced and each judge gets a Wild Card pick, for a total of 13 Idolettes.
First to sing: Reed Grimm, 26, “The Quirky One”. Backstory video: Reed spends a lot of time babysitting his adorable toddler nieces. Now we know why his stage moves are Big Bird’s. He performs Maroon Five’s “Moves Like Jagger.” He’s very talented -- if not really “Idol” winner material – and the performance has everything: drum playing, scatting, thinggummy dropping, lyric bleeping.
Girls in the audience go nuts. Now comes the first live judging moments of “Idol XI” and we watch to see if the judges will this season give actual pointers that might help out the contestants, or rave about everybody in the belief it will help the show’s ratings.
Ratings win again this year.
Randy’s thrilled Reed is “a very musical guy” — and bold enough to go first, as if he had the choice. His number shows American who they’re dealing with, says JLope. “Tonight there is going to be a whole new generation watching your [heinie],” notes Tyler, catching the “American Idol” Decency Police asleep at the button.
Second to sing is Adam Brock, 27, “White Chocolate.” Brock has always been considered a Renaissance Man, he explains modestly, what with being a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and all. Adam sings Aretha Franklin’s “Think” in another of his blue-eyed soul-ish performances, but his voice is less impressive this time around. Maybe Opening Night XI nerves. After the judges fawn over him – Tyler says he owns the name White Chocolate — Seacrest coyly asks Tyler what kind of chocolate he prefers. “I prefer dark chocolate,” Tyler says. Randy stands and says, “I consider myself milk, but dark is cool.”
Next up is Deandre Brackensick, 17, “Milli Vanilli look-alike.” The high school senior performs The Willow Smith Hair Toss while singing Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reason” in a falsetto that starts weak but finishes with the intensity of a smoke alarm. “One of the most commercial guys I’ve seen,” Randy enthuses. To cue millions of tweener girls in the viewing audience, Seacrest grabs two random tweeners and brings them on stage to get a hug from Deandre.
And speaking of tweener girl crushes, here’s Colton “Twilight Saga” Dixon, the gaunt pale-faced 20-year-old from Tennessee who’s wearing a much loved raccoon on his head that looks like it was run over by a wagon – well, because it was run over by a wagon, in 1754, only it, and Colton, are immortal.
Colton tells us people are used to seeing him at the piano but tonight he’s “going to shock people.” Tonight he performs Paramore’s “Decode” — at the piano! Then he sings on top of the piano! And next to the piano! “I can hear you on the radio right now!” JenL enthuses.
Colton’s followed by Jeremy Rosado, 19, “The Care Bear.” Jeremy, the sweet kid from Florida, we’ve already seen doing a lot of cheering for other auditioners. He sings Sarah Bareles’ “Gravity” short-of-breathlessly. And sometimes out-of-tune-ily. “You’ve got such a big heart, for that alone you should be America’s idol, “ says Tyler. “I was so impressed with the tender moments and the big booming vocals,” adds Randy, vivid-imagination-ily.
The judges agree that there’s so much talent this year it’s tough to make any choices. “I’m as confused as a baby in a topless bar,” says Tyler, adding, “Wait! Who am I?” He pulls down his shirt and exposes a nipple while JLo looks proud as punch at the reference to the game of hide-and-seek her left nipple played with about 39 million viewers during Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. “That was an Oscar reenactment, ladies and gentlemen,” says Seacrest. And, as they’re cutting away, JennL yells, “It wasn’t a nipple!”
And there’s the news of the night.
Next up: Aaron Marcellus, “A Good Singer In Search of A Two Word Descriptor.” Aaron is a singing coach from New York, and a very competent singer with a warm stage personality but he’s not easy to peg, which is going to be a problem. He performs Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” and Randy correctly pegs him as being like “an old school veteran.”
“This Seasons Country Crooner” is Chase Liken, 21, a West Virginia theater student who seems to own two horses and kinda resembles Brendan Fraser, as Tyler points out. Chase sings “Storm Warnings” by Hunter Hayes, and he’s pretty good -- though not as good as anyone needs to be to make it through this show’s high country-crooning standards. Still, he’s the one and only country guy Idolette this season, which could work in his favor. “You’re a good looking dude like me and Steven,” says Randy.
Creighton Fraker, “The Street Performer,” left South Dakota for New York where “you don’t have to be ashamed of being a little different,” he says. Why did he pick such a sappy song as “True Colors” from 1986? But he’s nice, and earnest, and competent. Tyler says “you put it over the top,” while Randy goes back to the theme of how hard it’s going to be to choose, and adds “we’re going to look at everything -- the back stories.” Sounds ominous.
Phillip Phillips, 21, “The Pawnshop Worker,” from Leesburg, Georgia, is one to watch – a good-looking scruffy guy with soulful eyes with a guitar – aka “American Idol” tweener-vote magnet. His throwback song choice – Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” -- is surprisingly interesting. Still, Randy goes all technical on Phillip, complimenting him for sounding like Dave Matthews, then knocking him for the “re-harm,” which we assume means some sort of musical reinterpretation but sounds like a form of negligence. JLop interprets that Randy meant, “Just stick with the melody more.” What’s gotten into them? Oh yeah! Phil’s a scruffy guy with soulful eyes sporting a guitar! They win – and then don’t sell.
Eben Frankiewitz, “The Kid”, makes a gutsy/stupid choice in Adele’s “Set Fire To The Rain” which is all wrong for his clear boyish voice. He falls prey to his nerves. JLo guesses kindly that Eben probably he couldn’t hear himself at some points, but, she says, the fact that he recovered “tells me you’re a great performer.” Tyler’s advice: “Listen to some blues records, try to shake it off a little bit.” Compared to the gush fest that is “Idol” judging these days that’s practically a Simon-esque slap in the face.
Heejun Han, “The Voice of Sanity,” has been one of our favorite personalities so far this year and, judging by the audience applause in the hall, the feeling is widespread. Heejun’s droll take on everything from his ambition-crazed group-mate, to Seacrest’s Coca Cola Red Room interviewing style has been a highlight of the season.
“I’m going to show the world that Asian people can not only get a high score on the SAT but Asian people can also sing and melt their hearts,” Heejun says.
So he’s chosen “Angels,” which he very nearly pulls off. “You have a voice that’s smooth as silk but I’m not sure that song showed off really how smooth your voice is,” JennifLo says. The other judges follow suit. Seacrest asks about the song choice and Heejun, going off-brand, says he believes every person has an angel. We still believe Heejun will sail through to next week.
Next up Joshua Ledet – “Fantasia.” What? That’s what Randy says some fans have named him, so it’s official. If it’s a reference to Fantasia Barrino from Idol 2004, we don’t get it. If it’s a reference to the 1940 animated Disney classic – we still don’t get it. If it means Joshua is about to perform Moussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain,” we’re turning off the set because we still haven’t recovered from our first, childhood viewing of that part of the flick.
Or, maybe he said “Mantasia,” in which case — nevermind.
Anyway, unfair distraction. The 19-year-old Louisiana native is, in fact, by far the best singer of the guys, powerfully performing Jennifer Hudson tune, “You Pulled Me Through.” He gets a Standing O from the judges. “I just want to punch you!” JeniPez says, strangely. “I try to just minister it through my music,” Joshua tells Seacrest. Hopefully I can help other people out.”
Now it’s time to reveal “which guy the judges have brought back for an incredible second chance,” says Seacrest. “Let’s open the doors.”
It’s Jermaine Jones, “The Gentle Giant” with the smooth baritone voice. Our wish came true! He tells the top of Seacrest’s head how grateful he is to be back, and performs “Dance With My Father Again” very well -- a great choice for an emotional moment like The X Factor Save.
Standing O from the judges. “Thank you for proving to us why we asked you to come back,” says Tyler. “What a beautiful thing.” Seacrest gets Jermaine’s mother up on stage, who hollers encouragement to vote for her son.
Once again Randy reminds America of what a tough choice it is. “We’ve got some of the best in the world up here,” he says. JennifLop advises viewers to “Just go with who moves you.”
“No one is safe, so vote,” warns Seacrest, while the stage erupts in flashes and stray neutrinos bounce off the walls. “Thank you for watching, America. Your local news is next.”