Tonight, we see the new American Idol judging cadre venture to Milwaukee, I place I don’t consider a real city because I can’t name any rappers from there. (Bon Iver doesn’t count.) We open with Steven Tyler singing an impromptu and stupidly altered rendition of “Sweet Emotion,” with Randy Jackson humming the riff, and it’s great. I’d be a whole lot more into the idea of Steven Tyler as a judge if he spent more time singing “Sweet Emotion” and less time doing all the other bullshit he does.
These audition episodes immediately settled into the same functional trudging monotony they’ve always had, but there’s something screwy going on with the three-judge chemistry. My wife Bridget figured it out: Tyler, with all his incoherent preening and total lack of anything substantive to say, is the show’s new Paula Abdul. Jennifer Lopez, visibly straining to be nice every second she’s onscreen, thinks she’s the new Paula as well, but the show is totally setting her up to be the new Simon. Once she figures that out, there will be blood. I mean, I hope. (As for Randy, he continues to just kind of take up space. Actual thing he says: “A self-imposed opera of a Justin Bieber song.” It didn’t make any sense in context, either.)
There’s another troubling trend this season: The relative lack of untalented costumed loonies during the audition stage. This time, we get a nerd who wants to be a DJ and who is really good at saying “K100.” There’s also a Civil War re-enactor — I didn’t know the upper Midwest had those — who, for whatever reason, sings “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in a cartoonish falsetto. The judges certainly sell both these guys like they’re William Hung, but both of them actually have vaguely OK voices. Neither one should be on American Idol, granted, but both of them could probably hold their own against Emma something, the blond 15-year-old contestant who sings a strained, one-dimensional version of “True Colors” and makes it through to Hollywood after she shamelessly erupts in tears. The really funny candidates are the ones with the shiny faces and the faraway looks in their eyes who evidently believe they can actually sing like angels, and we get a beauty of an example tonight, but only one. It seems America’s once-vast reserves of amusingly horrible singers are running low.
As for the worth-a-shit contestants, my favorite is Naima Adedapo, a representative of the Milwaukee Rastafarian community that I had no idea existed until just this moment. She just wails the living fuck out of a Donny Hathaway song, and the judges love her, but I wonder what would’ve happened if they’d let her husband Sizzla take the mic. (Seriously, her husband looked just like Sizzla. It was weird.) I also liked Scott McCreary, the bottomless-voiced country singer who sounds almost exactly like Josh Turner, a similarity he unimaginatively drives home by singing a Josh Turner song. If this guy can make it through to the top 12, he’ll have a career in country music. Nashville loves guys like him, and they won’t even care that he wears girls’ jeans.
As a side note, a serious question: If Scott McCreary is from North Carolina, why is he auditioning in Milwaukee? Aren’t Nashville and New Orleans closer to North Carolina than Milwaukee is? Scott McCreary is looking at some fucked up maps. But every year, we meet all these hopefuls auditioning a million miles from their hometowns — like the New York, Colorado, and California people who audition tonight. Who are these people? And why are they going so far when they don’t have to?
Anyway, Milwaukee also introduces us to plenty of talented people who I immediately hate. For instance, there’s Scott Dangerfield, a young, floppy-haired oversinger who makes absolutely appalling sincere faces. And then there’s poor misguided Alyson Jados, who says that she wants to bring a rock ‘n’ roll edge to American Idol. (Bridget: “It always works out so well when people do that. I bet she has an asymmetrical bob with a red streak by week three.”) My absolute least favorite is Molly DeWolf Swenson, who just graduated from Harvard and is an intern at the White House. Fuck you and all your self-impressed success, Molly DeWolf Swenson. Even your name sucks.
The final attention-grabbing segment of the night goes to Chris Medina, a decent-seeming guy who’s still staying with his fiancee even after she got into a horrible accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Medina has an OK voice and a tearful story, which means he’s obviously immediately going to make it, and good for him, though I very much doubt he’d make any impression without that story. But we also meet the fiancee, and Jesus. I mean, it’s bad. Her injury is bad. There are lots of degrees of traumatic brain injury, and here’s one where the person in question can barely tell where she is or who she’s talking to. For Medina and his supporters to wheel her all around the audition room cheering while she sort of limply waves the golden Hollywood ticket . . . it really just made me sad. And not heartwarming sad. Sad sad. Even if Medina wins the show, it’s not going to regenerate her brain, you know?
But yeah, that’s it for this week. Oh, and a guy accidentally stomped on a cameraman’s face while he was doing backflips and then laughed at the cameraman. That was pretty funny.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 27, 2011