This American Idol season has really only barely started, but it’s already a weird one, convincing Brett Favre to do this and the increasingly grotesque and sad Kara DioGuardi to do this. It’s also the first season in Ellen Degeneres’s reign as judge, and if she’s really going to make up for the gaping void that Simon Cowell will leave next year, she’s really going to need to show some fangs. Last night, it sounded like she’d been judging Idol for years, which is to say she gave the exact same stew of bland encouragement and nebulous non-advice that every other non-Simon judge in history has ever given. And when you’re handed something as downright wack as Haeley Vaughn’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” you need to let the universe know that this shit is not acceptable.
Vaughn kinda broke my heart with her all-over-the-place assault on Beatledom. In the audition rounds, she looked like a possible game-changer; teenage black country singers, after all, are not too thick on the ground. But some combination of inexperience, nerves, bad song selection, and worse wardrobe decisions (so many ruffles) totally torpedoed her, and we probably wouldn’t see her back next week if it weren’t for all the other boring-ass performances last night. Cowell’s made some noise that the show wants to crown a female star this year after a couple of years of male dominance, but chances don’t look too good right now. The early shows are always pretty weak because they have to have all these cannon-fodder folks who don’t stand a chance in hell but who are there to pad out the numbers. Nevertheless, this year it seems like they’ve got maybe five girls who have any sort of realistic shot, which is pretty sad.
This week’s show-closing pimp spot went to terminally adorable 17-year-old Katie Stevens, who did the billionth rendition of “Feelin’ Good” in the show’s history (Seacrest weirdly credited it to Michael Buble in his intro) and basically bored the ever-loving shit out of both the nation and the judges. Seriously, singers of America, stop singing “Feelin’ Good.” The ban starts now. (Also stop singing “Hallelujah.”) Stevens at least had the good sense not to keep a freaky, disturbing rigor mortis smile in place for her entire song, which I swear to god is the sort of thing that destroys singers on these early shows. Half the people on this week kept that creepy smile working, convincing me that they spent zero time thinking about what these songs might even mean.
We did get some interesting moments this week. Best was probably quirked-out jazzbo Lilly Scott, who, we learn, used to live out of her car while busking, possibly because she spent her rent money on making sure her hair was exactly the right shade of unnatural screaming white. She reminded me of the girl from the Squirrel Nut Zippers who reminded me of Billie Holiday, which I guess is a good thing. (I liked the Squirrel Nut Zippers.) Talking to her after her Beatles cover, Randy Jackson said she’s “more like a real indie artist,” which I think is the first time anyone on the show has ever used the I-word. There was also Siobhan Magnus, who sang Chris Isaak and came off weirdly intense and controlled at the same time. Jon Caramanica already pointed out that she dresses like Blossom, but she came off like a stalker last night, and Blossom-stalker is kind of a new thing. Also: Crystal Bowersox, who is Lilith Fair as fuck but who I like anyway because she’s a single mom and her kid is real cute and I’m not immune to this stuff either, OK? It also helps that she seems borderline contemptuous of the show itself and that it’s fun to imagine what she’ll attempt if she’s still around come, say, disco week.
There were a couple of other good professional-type performances, neither of which were anything transformative and both of which were weirdly shit on at the judges’ table. Michelle Delamor did “Fallin'” and the ridiculously hot Ashley Rodriguez did some Leona Lewis song I don’t know. I hope both of them stick around, especially since I’ve already forgotten everyone else who was on the show.