Midway through tonight’s Nashville-set American Idol audition show, there’s a mid-montage moment where some big gumpy white guy is singing “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” and all three judges are singing along at the top of their lungs. When he gets done, they all tell him how great he was and put him through to Hollywood, and it’s like: How do they know? How could they possibly hear this dude over their own godforsaken racket? That shit would’ve never happened if Simon Cowell was still on the show.
Another thing Simon Cowell never did: invite everyone’s family into the audition room whenever they have any sort of sob story. This particular group of judges is so wooden and so unable to make their emotional moments look even the tiniest bit real that, two weeks in, these audition shows are already just excruciating. Every time someone has a story that the producers want to highlight, one judge will ask a question so obviously engineered to get that story going, and the end result couldn’t possibly look any faker. And, seriously, they’re running out of sob stories. Someone’s cousin had cancer? Get the fuck out of here with that shit. If it’s not immediate family, you don’t get to cry on TV. That’s the new rule.
As it turned out, the girl whose cousin had cancer was one of exactly two bright spots on this endless episode. Lauren Alaina is a brassy blonde 15-year-old country singer with a gigantic blaring voice and a trailer-park confidence that reminded me of Kellie Pickler. The show is already pushing her hard, and they’re obviously thrashing out desperately to get that Taylor Swift money. But the girl appeared to have actual serious talent, so that works for me.
The other singer I liked was Adrienne Beasley, who has another big, heartfelt country voice. Her plot twist: She’s black, with white adopted parents who look like extras from The Straight Story. It’s presented as this heartwarming example of a family overcoming its internal differences, but I don’t know, those parents sort of look like assholes. When she calls her dad to tell him she got through, he first asks who’s going to pay for her trip, and then the best enthusiasm he can muster is “I’m tickled.” I can’t say I’d be jumping up and down if my kid was on American Idol either, but come on, show something.
We get plenty of other spotlight moments for singers I already don’t like. There’s a Miss Teen USA named Stormi Henley whose dad has frosted tips and who seriously spells her name “Stormi.” I guess the Miss USA pageant doesn’t have a spelling-bee portion. There’s Matt Dillard, a grown adult who wears overalls and brags that his family has had 700 foster kids, which makes me think they’re running an underground organ farm. When he makes it through, he whoops that he’s going from the country to the hood, and I have absolutely zero idea what hood he thinks he’s talking about. There’s a crappy blonde-chick blues singer with a boyfriend who looks about 82; Seacrest seems genuinely shocked when they kiss in front of him. And there’s a guy who sings “Maggie May” and sounds like Devendra Banhart.
But even if most of the supposedly good singers are straight-up dead weight, we do get some vaguely entertaining nutcases. I especially liked the girl who sings in dolphin sounds and who was convinced that Steven Tyler liked her when he very plainly said no, as well as the girl named Latoya something who was absolutely convinced she was already a star and was totally unwilling to accept a no from the judges. Oh, and there was a crypto-racist biker guy who sang Skynyrd and actually sounded sort of OK; he was played for laughs, but I’m not sure how that was supposed to work.
The squirmiest moment on the show, though, came from two people who actually made it through: an ex-couple who still live together even though the girl is dating someone else now. And it was even worse because the girl is both way better looking than the guy and a way better singer. The dude was a total sad sack, and Seacrest towered over him, but the judges kept telling the ex-couple that they were going to get back together. (They auditioned together. That’s how sadistic this show is.) And when both emerged from the audition room with Hollywood tickets, the girl had a swarm of family and friends there, and the guy had nobody. I’m looking forward to the Hollywood Week moment when she makes it through to another round, and he cries when he gets cut. Those moments are always fun.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 28, 2011