American Idol: Season 12, Episode 2 – Chicago Auditions
Last night’s Idol premiere took place in New York, and for me, it didn’t illicit much in the way of sympathy. It was filmed too long ago to get any endearing post-Sandy sob stories, so my overall impression was one of schadenfreude whenever someone would get sent packing: yeah! Take that, you stupid living-in-the-center-of-the-cultural-universe asshole! Back to Yaphank with you! Tonight’s show, however, comes to us from Chicago, my beloved home for 15 years — and the place where I lived when I first encountered a scrappy little televised singing competition called American Idol. Of course, the association between Idol and Chicago isn’t entirely pristine; the only winner to emerge from the area to date has been Mount Prospect-born paint salesman/man-boner Lee DeWyze. (It’s also the home of Claire Zulkey, America’s finest Idol recapper.) But the place still has many sweet connotations for me, which I felt confident Idol would honor, instead of just opting for the same three predictable songs and some cheap jokes about the “Windy City”.
But first, a few notes and corrections from last night:
1. I apparently spelled everyone’s name wrong. I am sorry about that, but not sorry enough to make a correction.
2. One of the most adorable things about the burbling Nicki Minaj/Mariah Carey feud is the way the former speaks in a fake British accent just to crawl straight up the latter’s ass. This led Mariah, at one point, to ‘retaliate’ by doing a British accent of her own; naturally, it was straight awful, but I think Mariah thought she was great because after all, she is an actress.
3. The more I think about Rozanna Shindelman, the more bizarre her parents seem to me. They were like every parody of a cartoon Yiddish couple Woody Allen has ever left out of a screenplay for being too broad. Her mother says things like “So beautiful, our daughter, like an angel she is”, and her dad looks like he works at a 19th-century pickle works; and that would be fine if either of them were older than 55, but they clearly are not. These people were born in the 1960s. Why do they act like extras from the original version of The Jazz Singer? We may never know.
4. I have been reliably informed that Mariah Carey might still be a nursing mother, which would explain the forbidding mystery of her tits. We’ll see. We’ll just see.
5. Finally, it turns out — and I missed this because I was busy teaching medically complex children how to sign “I LOVE YOU” to puppies, so don’t judge me — the girl who claimed she was fat even though she wasn’t fat used to be fatter. She is haunted by the ghosts of her vanished fat, like Europe was once stalked by the specter of Marxism. This explains her otherwise inexplicable terror of being judged as the resident fatty-pants, even though her pants are currently low-fat. I’m glad we got that cleared up.
We open tonight with a Price is Right fakeout, because this show loves cheap reversals like I like hot dinners. I see from the credits that producer Cécile Frot-Coutaz is still on board, which means the Best Name in Hollywood Award is sewn up for another year. Nicki Minaj is dressed up like an admiral in the leopard Sea Org, and we get “My Kind of Town” out of the way right from the get-go. The first contestant is Mackenzie Wasner of Tennessee, or, as I intend to call her, the Bright Orange Dork from Lipper’s Fork. Her dad has a job playing piano for Vince Gill, which may be why she has the tragic hair and errant makeup of someone on a trajectory towards amateur porn. She’s a real comer, though; Keith Urban loves her, and she can really sell the country stuff. She needs a little polish, but she could definitely go places, albeit not places I would want to accompany her. (I was just kidding about the amateur porn. Mackenzie says “oh my goodness” and is probably going to Heaven.)
Austin Earles, a lifetime shake machine cleaner with Johnny Bravo hair, is a write-off, but he gets Nicki started on a delightful new tactic for annoying Mariah: pretending she likes crap singers so Mariah will have to say something mean about them. I’m really starting to dig on Nicki. Next up is Kiara Lanier, a tall drink of water from the old home town who got to sing for Mister President Man; she initially pisses off Nicki for sucking up to Mariah (a common theme on this episode), but once she gets going, no one can stay mad at her because her voice is just killer. She’s got a soft and controlled tone, but she shapes like an old-school gospel singer, in that big rangy way, and she impresses me more for sheer poise and vocal talent than anyone we’ve seen so far. Kiara is the kind of singer who is better than everyone else but never wins, so 2013 could be the year of the Great Kiara Lanier Betrayal.
Stephanie Schmiel works at a lingerie store in Milwaukee, so there’s really no point in my describing her appearance. The male judges embarrass themselves because the word ‘lingerie’ makes them jump in the air and hit themselves in the head with dinosaur bones, but Mariah correctly sizes her up as “a pretty girl, but not star power, nothing extra”. She is mostly notable for the fact that she sets off a huge bitch-off between Nicki and Mariah which ends in a TKO for Ms. Superbad of Trinidad. Melissa Bush is a massage therapist who shows up in a wonderful Wonder Woman-disco tramp outfit; Nicki seems repelled at the possibility that she might be related to “former President George W. Bush”, which she enunciates as if she is about to send someone to the big house. Despite trying to bribe Randy with a t-shirt, Melissa is terrible; after she leaves, the boys say something dirty about her. We are not made privy to what it is, but it leads to an accusation by an improbably haughty Mariah that they are “vulgar”.
Apparently, there is a new and deeply misguided Idol “initiative” called the American Idol Small Town Tour, and it vomits forth a hearty lad in Wal-Mart jeans and Harpo Marx hair who shall henceforth be known as ROCKER GABE BROWN. He does that Joe-Cocker-in-a-wind-tunnel thing that passes for male rock vocals on this show, but lest anyone get too excited about that, let me remind you whose else that shtick belonged to: that’s right, the walking, talking, singing mistake that is Taylor Hicks. ROCKER GABE BROWN isn’t that bad, but there are two things that will likely keep him from being the token rock guy this year: he’s fat, and he can’t seem to tone it down. Nicki helpfully dubs him “Curly” instead of “Fatty”, but just in case we forget that he’s fat, the Idol cameramen helpfully shake the camera up and down when he runs out to announce he’s going to Hollywood.
Tonight’s featured ‘let’s laugh at people who are deep into the autism spectrum’ candidate is Kevin Nabity, a kung-fu tweaker junkie made of animated denim. His bo stick falls into Lake Michigan. Then Idol rips off the ‘bad lip-reading’ gag when he sings, because they want to prove for the 927,823rd time that they are really bad at humor. After Kevin we get a crying montage, because this show hates all that is decent in the human soul. Stay out of Iowa, Idol; it is not the place for you. Redeeming this segment slightly is the appearance of dowdy-shirted, mature-looking 15-year-old Isabelle Parrell, who duets on the beloved date-rape anthem “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Keith Urban. I was prepared to hate Isabelle, but she’s got a solid voice and is pretty charming and composed for someone her age. Perhaps infuriated that he was forced to sing without being paid, Keith leaves Chicago to perform his Las Vegas saloon act.
With Keith gone, Nicki and Mariah grow ever colder and more distant, and hapless Randy is forced to stop thinking about cheeseburgers and assume the role of frank-speaking dick. We are exposed to a montage of pretty-boys meant to establish that Nicki Minaj has an active vagina, and it ends with Griffin Peterson. If Nicki plans to pull a Paula and get it on with one of the contestants, I think she’s barking up the wrong tree with Griffin; he is a Jesus-jumper and will not permit her to sully the divine purity of his God-gifted wingwang until they are married by a duly appointed Earthly representative of our Heavenly Father. (I’m not sure why there’s such a preponderance of these ‘praise music’ dingbats in Chicago; the only people I met there who believed in God were genetically Catholic.) Mariah lets Griffin get through to the next round, though, in an attempt to break Nicki’s spirit. Curtis Finch Jr., the next candidate, is a teacher from St. Louis who talks a good game but may be punching above his weight. By which I mean he is gay. No, wait, fat. Oh, I don’t even remember any more what cheap joke I was going for. Anyway, Randy blorps out that he has “crazy vocals”, which I cannot deny is true; he’s got that soaring gospel tone that I am a total chump for. Afterwards, Nicki ranks out Mariah so hard that Mariah resorts to her ‘angry mom’ voice.
This evening promises one sob story after another and Mariah Pulice’s is a pretty good one: she’s a recovering anorexic. She’s making progress, but let me tell you, young lady, blue fingernails are no substitute for a non-dysmorphic body image. She makes it through because Keith is not around to keep the panel in line, and she gets so completely hysterical at how great it is and how happy she is to have turned her life around and how this is the culmination of all her dreams and aspirations that it pains me to say that Idol is immediately going to stop talking about her when it turns out she’s not that great, so we don’t remember feeling so sorry for her. I am sorry to say this because anorexia is a serious issue but my job here is to be a capering clown and anyway, Idol hates Asian people. Good luck in Hollywood, Mariah (yeah, she probably just got through because of that name, if I’m being even more of an asshole); try to stay away from Umami Burger.
Day Two: “Sweet Home Chicago”: two for two on the zero-effort Chicago songs! Nicki has changed into a rhinestone-studded outer space brain surgeon suit, and a wig which I can’t even muster any comment about because I believe it to be a creature of myth which will be drawn to me if I speak its name. Next up: Brandy Neelly was adopted. Is this supposed to be a sob story? Jesus, I was adopted, and I am the living worst. Anyway, I’m not a huge fan of her voice or style (there’s far too many jean vests this year), but she does have a lot of personality, and that goes far on this show. Mariah thought her song choice was “A-plus-mazing”, and Nicki gives her “a thousand percent yes”, which is the yes of ten entire people. Josh Holiday, from the nowheresville of Celeste, Texas, is a “caregiver”. That has to mean gay, right? That’s what it means? Come on, kids, you can tell me, I’m hep! Anyway, he’s got fancy runs, but I don’t think he’ll go too deep, although he does inspire Nicki to use her fakey British accent again, and that’s just fine.
Courtney Williams is a belter in lime green pantaloons who leaves some notes hanging in the air for so long they’re probably still there four months later; she could be a fun one to watch. Ditto Andrew Jones, who soul-croons “Knock on Wood” and gets his tap on. Not so, though, with Clifton Duffin from the less-glamourous-than-it-sounds Country Club Hills; his gimmick is that his parents have never seen him sing, leading Nicki to call him a “secret squirrel”. He’s a little shouty, but not terrible; but the judges send him home. Mariah says she “enjoyed your journey” and his song “hit her heart”, but she doesn’t mean in an awesome, fatal, karate way. Ieisha Cotton is a stripper (sorry, “dancer”) who bears a striking resemblance to Shardene Innes from The Wire, only a worse singer, and I say that without ever having heard Shardene sing. Sorry, Ieisha, back to selling $95 bottles of flat champagne for you. Johnny Keyser is a hunk-papa from Florida who has that Wally Cleaver chunkhead thing going, and wears too much eyeliner; the vocals on his eminently Caucasian version of “Try a Little Tenderness” are okay, but he gets his golden ticket mostly on account of Nicki and Mariah like his abs.
The less said about the parade of the horribles in the Les Misérables parody, the better; the only thing worse that their singing is the jokey framing device Idol comes up with. Next up is Kez Ban, who is a “fire performer” — why do you keep making me learn all these stupid new words, Idol? She’s a hipster singer-songwriter type, on the older side (27!) and with that ‘I don’t really give a shit whether I’m on this show or not’ demeanor that can be fun for a while but quickly grows wearisome (c.f. Crystal Bowersox). She barely makes it through, but provides some entertainment, as she seems to represent the Idol crew’s first-ever encounter with irony. Ashely Curry is a musical theatre major from Flossmoor (WHAT WHAT), but she’s a little sketchy on the ‘musical’ part as she keeps belting out the loudest version of “Mama Knows Best” that has ever been made. Her voice sounds like someone running around your front yard swinging an axe in both hands. In a desperate attempt to keep her from singing any further, Mariah and Nicki suggest that they engage in an improvised acting scene, but thank God Ashley just starts hollering again and this does not happen.
Finally, they bring in Lazaro Arbos, who they’ve been hyping all night as the paragon of sob stories. Not only does it turn out that his big sob story is that he has a stutter, but he wears a bright purple satin bow tie and works as an ‘ice cream scooper’. It’s the biggest letdown imaginable given that they’ve been yapping for two hours about how inspirational and weep-worthy his story is. I thought at least he’d have cancer or an ugly baby or something. The judges express amazement at the actually quite commonplace phenomenon that he stutters when he talks but not when he sings. I know I am a terrible person, but not only did I find his story hugely less inspiring than I was obviously meant to, but, well, not to put too fine a point on it, but given what a tyrant Ryan Toothpaste is about getting the show in on time, I pretty much guarantee that we will never, ever hear from Lazaro again.
I hope you’ll join me next week for the Idol auditions in North Kakalaka. This was where the notorious TMZ-leaked gun battle between Mariah and Nicki took place, and where their deep, intense, cleansing hatred for one another really began. Will Idol sit on it, or exploit it for all it’s worth? Stay tuned!