So about American Idol, my favorite hyper-manipulated talent cotillion: It’s the best. Every season I find a singer worth defending (season 10’s Didi Benami!), another to dread (season 8’s Danny Gokey!), and a huge machine of obvious bias. I’m always outraged and panicked and hooked, and this year is no exception. I’ll be recapping the eleventh season from here on in, and I’m dying to get to Top 24 week when the real blood flies, the feeble acoustic princesses shatter on live TV, and Ryan Seacrest responds to it all with a moon-colored TV grin that only the flawless alien mothership that created Seacrest could love.
In this first episode of Hollywood Week, 300+ auditioners lined up for a quick cleanse. Judges Steven Tyler (or the waterlogged mugshot of Mickey Rourke that calls itself Steven Tyler), Jennifer Lopez, and Randy Jackson preside, and their opinion barely matters to me. The contestants sing individually — not in groups; that segment comes next week — and on last night’s telecast, I found five performances worth noting. But I do have real feelings about them? Do I have feelings at all? These are both questions that can be answered with incessant American Idol reportage. Let’s delve.
Johnny Keyser: “Dreamin'” by Amos Lee
He’s pretty cocky for a dude who works under the Gateway Arch in what might be an Olive Garden, wouldn’t you say? Johnny Keyser is the kind of auditioner who takes pride in announcing how un-nervous he is, so from here I already perceive a deeply unlikable crooner and a potential sociopath. Hooray! Is he single? His rendition of Amos Lee’s “Dreamin,'” I’m ashamed to say, didn’t fall short in any detectable way. It was downright restrained and cool, in fact, even if J-Lo yipped and moaned too hard during his perfomance. Heejun Han’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You?” is a treat too, except it’s a Michael Bolton song that you should stab with a scalding pitchfork and toss to the wildebeests. Yikes.
Hallie Day, Aretha Franklin’s “You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)”
Nordic, scarlet-cheeked vision Hallie Day is talented on her own, but I dig her for a reason that’s almost too bizarre to name. I assume I’m in safe company. Ready? Ahem: She looks just like Kristen from the woefully under-watched fifth season of ABC’s The Mole. Here, dammit. Proof. Hallie Day is like Kristen minus the overpowering influence of Daryl Hannah. Gay math. Enjoy.
Jen Hirsh, Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain”
Just one minute, Jen Hirsh: You can’t storm in here with your nervous laughter and pretend not to know that Crystal Bowersox owned “Up to the Mountain” during the season 10 finale. Oh, you did know that? You just… went for it anyway? Oh, fine. Oh, gawd. But credit where it’s due: Hirsh’s sweet bleat made for my favorite audition of the night, and even if she didn’t measure up to Crystal’s pained confessional, she sold me on her balladeer chops.
Adam Brock, Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis”
I’ll save Symone Zaire Black’s sensual, evocative “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” for tomorrow’s recap since tonight’s episode ended on a cliffhanger after she fell off the stage and producer Nigel Lythgoe rushed to her side like some sort of feeling organism. Ambulances, medics, the whole nine. Glamorous suspense, Hitchcock-style. In the meantime, Creighton Fraker, whose name sounds like a racist anagram, pretty much dry-humps Queen’s “Somebody to Love” with his hipster Jason Mraz trill. White vests are for people who die at my hand, but I’ll forgive Creighton because he loosened Glee’s stranglehold over Freddie Mercury’s super-hit and gave it back to the nation. You’re a noble scamp, Creightz.