Two live shows into the season, and something’s becoming apparent: Judging is a problem this year on American Idol, especially since it’s Simon’s last year. This season, they’re trying some kind of goofy thing where Simon doesn’t talk last whenever someone gets done singing; instead, everyone takes turns going first, except no one can ever remember whose turn it is to go, and the resulting confusion just adds a whole lot more awkwardness to an already awkward show. The real comedy comes when Simon talks first and then everyone else just dutifully falls into line with whatever he just said. Everyone’s afraid to be a dick unless Simon’s a dick first, and we don’t get enough of those priceless moments where Simon listens to everyone else talk and then just swoops in and makes them all look like the bumbling chumps they are.
Ellen Degeneres still has yet to really tear into anyone– which, I mean, she’s a comedian, right? Isn’t that what comedians have to do, eventually? But she at least comes off like a sentient human being. Kara and Randy give just hilariously awful advice, like when they told steamrolling yarler Lee Dewyze that he should sing Kings of Leon. On top of that, there’s Kara’s absolutely risible need to be at the center of attention. (Most gallingly, there was the matter of laid-back McConaughey/Fabio type Casey James, who would be a perfectly OK contestant in most situations but who’s basically just become a foil for Kara’s over-the-top drooling instead. Kara made a big show of pawing the air and fanning herself after he got done and even while he was singing, which made it tough for dude to keep a straight face and provided the first example I’ve ever seen of a contestant actually fucking up because of a judge’s uncomfortable attention-hog schtick. As for Jones, he seemed happy enough to play along, but what else is he going to do?)
Another issue: How did most of these contestants even make it onto the show? Are we running out of decent singers in America? Because I’ve now seen 24 singers, and maybe five of them total were ready to be on TV. A lot of that was opening-night nerves, sure, but for a lot of last night’s show I was wishing for a gong or a Sandman stage-hook. John Park: wobbly dinner-theater crooner with emo hair who oversang the living hell out of “God Bless the Child”. Alex Lambert: Looks like the main girl’s nonthreatening male friend in a high-school movie. Tyler Grady: A deeply sad wannabe Daltry clone who admits to copping his moves from “rock DVDs” and has this weirdly shiny face that makeup can’t altogether mask. Tim Urban: One of the straight-up worst Idol performers I’ve ever seen; there’s nothing else I can even say about that one. The judges rightly tore into all these fools, but why were they even on TV in the first place?
The show-closing pimp spot went to hyped-up early favorite Andrew Garcia. He’s sort of a mess, but an interesting one: A guy who turns upbeat pop songs into weird jazzbo coffeehouse things. But, I mean, at least he likes upbeat pop songs, you know? His “Sugar, We’re Going Down” was all over the place, but in a fun way. All over the place but in a less fun way was Jermaine Sellers, who dresses like Kid Cudi and who I really wanted to like, but who left the whole carrying-a-tune thing completely behind.
So I can only think of three real bright spots for the night, and even those are pretty conditional. Todrick Hall turned “Since U Been Gone” into a weird jazzy synth-funk track, and it didn’t altogether work, but it was fun to see someone display some actual swagger. (My wife pointed out, absolutely correctly, that his ad-libs are Bobby Brown as all hell.) Aaron Kelly is this sad-looking spiky-haired high-school nerd who, it turns out, is pretty great at conveying sweeping country goop. And Lee Dewyze, who looks like some schlubby dorm-room stoner whenever he’s not singing, turned Snow Patrol’s “Counting Cars” into a barreling grunter; he couldn’t quite handle the chorus, but I like that he tried.
But yeah, dispiriting episode all around, and one where I found myself actually getting angry way more than was reasonable. A quick parting shot: Hulking Michael Lynche, who gets a whole lot of camera time mainly because of what we’re told is a great story. The story is this: While he was in the auditions’ Hollywood rounds, his wife gave birth to their first kid, and he talked to her on the phone when it was happening. But what I can’t quite fathom is the thinking of someone who gets that call and then doesn’t jump on a plane right away. He skipped it so he could sing a silly, nasal version of a Maroon 5 song on TV and then maybe get voted off a week later? And that’s an inspirational story? At this point, Big Mike can only do one thing to win me over: sing “Havin’ Thangs”.