So, the ratings for the first two Season 11 episodes of “American Idol” last week were not ideal, and Fox is hoping for a big number after the Sunday night football game. The good news is that the playoff game’s thrilling overitme ending likely has a ginormous audience. However, that means an hour-delayed, 11 p.m. start time on the East Coast, so there’s no telling how many people still want to be awake, or how many New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers fans have resumed normal breathing patterns.
Ryan Seacrest and the Judges — a pretty good band name if Seacrest decides to stop creating cable channels and go that route — welcome us to the San Diego auditions, held aboard the deck of aircraft carrier the USS Midway. It’s a great backdrop, except for the constant roar of planes and boats nearby. Good thing that being able to hear properly isn’t too important during singing competition auditions.”What are we doing here?” Jennifer Lopez wonders for us all. Another good question is why Steven Tyler feels the need to dress like an old-fashioned pilot, but with Steven Tyler, it’s better not to ask questions.
This brings us to the first contestant who we will refer to as Bikini Girl 2.0. Remember Bikini Girl? Who talked back to Kara DioGuardi when Kara DioGuardi was a thing? Bikini Girl captivated Simon Cowell and made it through to Hollywood, but this gal — wearing a tiny strapless red and white striped top and blue denim short shorts — doesn’t have such luck, no matter how much she goes for the “patriotism” angle.
Bikini Girl 2.0 is Jennifer Diley, 19. She charms Steven (”Don’t you know it’s against the law to be that cute?” he simpers), but J-Lo is not impressed. BG2.0 warbles “With You” by Jessica Simpson, but without Jessica Simpson’s vocal talent. Steven says her voice lacks the power of her outfit, and J-Lo snaps it wouldn’t have mattered if BG2.0 came in wearing a muumuu, her voice isn’t good enough (in so many words). BG2.0 leaves, without a golden ticket, or her dignity.
Single mom Ashley Robles, 26, has a devastatingly adorable five-year-old daughter who tags along on the audition. That, combined with Ashley’s impressive growl on Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and telling the judges that she sings J-Lo’s “On the Floor” to her daughter, makes her golden ticket a no-brainer. The camera cuts to Ashley’s daughter doing more cute things. We predict Ashley will go far.
Someone on the “Idol” production team has a lot of fun with TV graphics as we get an on-screen diagram to follow the thoughts of Jayrah Gibson, 26, who rambles on nonsensically for a lifetime about his goals. Jayrah pulls himself together for Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends,” and Randy Jackson remarks they haven’t had a good R&B singer in awhile. Jayrah is going to Hollywood, and celebrates the moment by struggling through a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” golden ticket metaphor.
Aubree Dieckmeyer, 20, accidentally gushes to the camera about her dream to be America’s Next Top Model (and not realizing her mistake until a producer corrects her). Aubree does a bluesy rendition of Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good,” and Randy notes that while she struggles with her high notes, she has natural talent. Aubree sails through with a golden ticket.
In the most random audition, Ellen “Worst ‘Idol’ Judge Ever” DeGeneres gets a shout-out. Nineteen-year-old Ali Shields got her big break by posting a video on YouTube singing a song about how much she loves Ellen. Not only did Ali get an invite to Ellen’s syndicated daytime talk show, but Ellen sent her to be a red carpet correspondent at the American Music Awards. On the red carpet, Ali’s clever co-correspondent told all the celebrities that Ali had never been kissed, so lucky Ali got to smooch Mike Posner and Usher.
To sum up, Ali has no shame, so she raps Chris Brown’s “Look At Me Now” for the judges and busts a move at Randy’s request. When she finally gets serious and sings “Like a Star” by Corinne Bailey Rae, her voice wobbles, but isn’t terrible. “You can sing a little!” exclaims a shocked J-Lo, winning the line of the night. Ali’s going to Hollywood.
This episode has been heavy on the female contestants, but Kyle Crews — a 19-year-old frat guy from University of California, Berkeley — shows up and shares that he sings all the time in his fraternity house to woo the ladies. Kyle croons Monica’s “Angel of Mine” in a very college a capella style. He does a few too many runs, but the judges give him a golden ticket anyway. “You sound nothing like you look,” says Randy, who must know by now that’s not a compliment.
We see a montage of contestants in the middle of singing for their lives, like poor 26-year-old Joanne Childers, or passionately telling the camera about their hopes and dreams — only to be drowned out on the USS Midway by airplanes, boats, and at one point, a cannon. On the plus side, the “Idol” crew can use the boat honking sound to bleep Steven Tyler’s comments. “I went through four hours of (HONK) hair and makeup to listen to this (HONK)!” he screeches at one contestant.
Now, we’ve seen some sob-worthy back stories on “Idol,” but the San Diego auditions bring a truly affecting tale. Jane Carrey, 24, takes a deep breath and says, “My dad...is Jim Carrey.”
Wow, okay. “Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls” and the like. We get it, and we feel for you, Jane. Tell us more. “It is difficult growing up in the shadow of something and trying to find your place in the world, underneath this huge shadow,” she says. Okay, we’re going to need something better than that. “The last name definitely helps and hurts,” Jane sighs. “I feel like there’s this pressure to maybe be better because if I make it somewhere, I run the risk of people saying, ‘Oh, you only got there because of this.’ Sometimes that actually makes me worse because I’m too nervous to be good.”
Alright, Jane, you’re going to need to stop talking.
Jane meets the judges and gets quite the reception, especially from J-Lo, who fondly recalls her days on “In Living Color” with Jim Carrey and meeting Jane as a baby. “Do you remember me? I was one of the Fly Girls,” J-Lo asks earnestly, tying herself for line of the episode. But Jane is sweet, and even better, she powerfully belts Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About.” The judges offer gentle critique about working on volume, and do you think they’re going to turn down Jim Carrey’s Daughter? Especially when Jane dials up dad right after her audition, letting the camera hear him on speaker phone? We think not.
Finally, a 24-year-old mechanic named Wolf arrives. Wolf’s real name is Jason Hamlin, but he bears a striking resemblance to the creature, or at the very least the guy from “Teen Wolf.” Wolf started singing when his father gave him a guitar, and he tells the judges that even though his dad passed away, he knows he’s with him in the audition room now. Wolf has a very pure tone as he sings Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Midnight Special,” but Steven isn’t convinced. Wolf takes to his guitar for Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” with a lot more passion than he brought just singing, and the judges reward him with a trip to Hollywood.
We say goodbye to the USS Midway and San Diego, where 53 people got golden tickets. And we leave you with one last thought. Can someone truly, in good conscience, judge a singing competition if only hours earlier they sang the national anthem at an NFL playoff game like this?
Last week: Auditions continue in Pittsburgh
Interactive: “American Idol’s” decade of hits and myths