The centuries-long death march of supposedly-funny bad singers has finally drawn to an end, and American Idol has moved onto the phase of its existence where the focus shifts to people who, ostensibly, can actually sing. The first of this year’s Hollywood Week episodes just ran, and man, I have to tell you, I love Hollywood Week. American Idol’s production team can be pretty useless when it comes to wringing chuckles out of scary auditions from mentally unstable narcissists, but that only means these people are not made out of magic. And when it comes to building a full dramatic arc out of some blonde 16-year-old suddenly forgetting the words to the song she’s singing, these people are absolute gangsters. On one level, it’s all a bit sad; the show hasn’t produced a meaningful pop star in years, and here we have all these talented young people losing their minds about not making it onto the live show. And still, the whole thing always resonates as compelling drama. Maybe I’m just an easy mark.
Tonight, we got maybe the most satisfying Hollywood Week moment I can remember. Victoria Huggins, the petrifying North Carolina perk factory whose New Jersey audition froze my blood, was pretty brutally kicked off the show when her clap-happy pageant routine bricked hard. I hated this girl and her entire family when she showed up on that audition episode, and that hatred grew into outright revulsion when someone pointed out her ghastly website. And the rictus smile on her vile stage mom’s face when she got the boot… I wish I could tell you I didn’t just pause the TV and stare happily for a few minutes, but I’d be lying.
It’s always a bit funny how these Hollywood Week episodes focus so completely on the contestants who have already enjoyed video-package status, treating all the other hundreds of kids at these auditions like absolute cannon fodder. At the beginning of tonight’s show, Ryan Seacrest said that they had twice as many contestants this year, which really just means the judges were a little to quick to hand out golden tickets. But if you had any emotional investment in any of the singers from those early episodes, nothing here probably appalled you. The one big exception for me: Sarah Sellers, the girl who sang the hell out of some Bob Dylan song a few weeks ago, was cut mercilessly; we didn’t even hear the performance that sent her home.
It’s hard to say anything about the level of talent on the show from the 5 seconds of singing we heard from most of these people, but I do get the vague impression that some of these people are going to keep me entertained in the weeks ahead. And some of these voices came from people who I’d already decided I hated, and who I may grow to hate again, like Tiffany Rios, the girl who wore the big clanking metal stars on her tits, or Brett Loewenstein, the red-haired, rat-faced 16-year-old who cried because he didn’t get invited to birthday parties. As far as I can tell, these people can sing! Really well! So can James Durbin, the Tourette-afflicted mohawk whose existence fills me with absolute joy. And the people who’d been prominently featured on old shows and who got sent home tonight — homeless Bronx kid, middle-aged accountant, beauty-queen chick — got sent home because they actually sucked; you could tell it was happening the second they opened their mouths. Chris Medina, the contestant whose fiancee’s traumatic brain injury led to a truly ooky and self-congratulatory video package, still rings big alarm bells for me, especially as he continues to reveal himself as a Christian-rock cheeseball. But for the most part, tonight’s episode got me amped about this season of Idol again. And after that onslaught of shitty audition episodes, that’s some kind of superhuman feat.