This evening poised quite a theological conundrum. On the one hand, American Idol is only an hour long, which seems to be evidence that God loves me and wants me to be happy. On the other hand, the reason American Idol is only an hour long is that Glee is back, which is an equally convincing argument that God hates me and wants me to suffer. I guess we’ll just have to split the difference and go with “there is no God”.
I originally thought that tonight’s episode was taking place in the wonderful city of New Orleans. Why did I think that? Because the internet is a liar and not to be trusted. It turns out that in fact, these auditions will be transpiring in Baton Rogue, which, it is pointed with a curiously boisterous pride, is where Randy Jackson was born — that is to say, it is “the home of the Dawg”. I am not down with this thing where we call Randy “Dawg” all the time, because the perfectly good word “buffoon” is just sitting there waiting for us. Randy’s makeup is done by self-professed “beauty school dropout” Mariah Carey, and wardrobe equips him with a shirt made out of a soiled Wonder Bread bag. Keith Urban is showing off his chest tattoo in a way that would get him called slutty if he were a woman, and Nicki Minaj has become the leader of a marching band comprised entirely of Oompa-Loompas.
Our first contestant is former Miss Red Stick Megan Miller, who sports a ’70s-style headband and a blue leg brace, which does not match her temple-prostitute clothes. She does have some vocal talent, though, and tons of charm; she puts plenty of sass into her performance, and even sings into her crutch as if it were a microphone, prompting Nicki to say that “you used it; it didn’t use you”. Okay then. Charlie Askew is next, and he is suffering from what his parents call “Charlie Askew Syndrome”, known to the rest of the world, at least for now, as Asperger’s. For some reason, Idol decides that he is charming and admirable and inspiring, which might come as news to the five hundred other obviously autistic people they have made cruel sport of this season alone. Initially, the panel is kind of mean to this bird-calling, Little-Rock based man-child, but then he sings the entirely too on-the-nose “Nature Boy” by ur-hobbit Eden Ahbez, and everyone loves him. Keith calls Charlie’s voice “not of a gender”, which he assures us is meant to be a compliment. The whole thing has a fun aura of ‘let’s see how uncomfortable everyone can be’, and the judges all call Charlie “mysterious”, which I think is like when you call a black guy “articulate”.
Maddie Assel is a nominated local who triggers an embarrassing montage of New Orleans’ shittiest tourist traps. She sings “Oh! Darling” by low-budget Liverpudlian trad combo ‘The Beatles’ in that jazzy, breathy, up-and-down sound that sometimes works on this show, but more importantly, she’s the kind of mousy girl who turns out to be super-hot in all your favorite Disney Family Channel shows. That means she will “improve”, or at least look different, which the judges always love. Keith pays another backhanded compliment by asking Maddie what her influences are and then saying she doesn’t sound like any of them.
After a commercial break in which a Russian woman claims America’s capitalist system made her fat but Weight Watchers gave her “the butt”, we see a cheap, shitty True Blood montage in which bad singers are compared to hog callers and which may be the crummiest, laziest thing Idol has ever done. Then Paul Jolley arrives. He is a handsome, slightly twinky fellow whose own personal idol, his grandfather, recently died. “I want to be half the man he was,” Paul says, betraying no false ambition; he then reveals the old man was an Army First Sergeant, meaning, I assume, that he wants to be a Half Sergeant. He sings a Rascal Flatts song. Stop happening, Rascal Flatts. Still, it’s a lock for this guy and his turquoise shirt, who are off to Hollywood.
Tonight’s high-larious comedy contestant is a tubby homosexual with dexedrine instead of blood named Chris Barthel. Nicki decides to call him “Mushroom”, after which he has a small heart attack. Calvin Peters, a doctor who deals in the muscular-skeletal issues of disabled people, is all “fuck you sick-ass bitches” and decides to be on a televised singing competition instead. He sings a Maxwell song and Mariah decides she wants to make the sex with him. Then we get a montage of successful auditions with slightly awkward names, including Breanna Steer and Danielle Hotard. Finally, Nicki gets her own chance to start riding some dick when coon-ass fireman hunk Dustin Watts arrives. He sings a Garth Brooks song that gives Nicki the feelings; Keith eyeballs him like he’s the competition. Dustin is boring, but at least he’s polite. He heads back to the fire station to announce to his buddies that he’s made it to Hollywood; they all high-five him, then they head off together on a firefighting call AND DUSTIN IS KILLED, oh no! That’s just a joke, folks, work with me here.
I’m a total chump for Katrina survivor stories, and Burnell Taylor’s is a heartbreaker. His family lost everything in the storm, and he’s never been able to get a job, and is unemployed and living with relatives at 19. It’s a story that hits pretty close to home; when Ryan Toothpaste asks him how he overcomes something like that, he says, bluntly, “It ain’t happenin’. You just have to live with it.” He even comes into the audition looking like he’s down to his last outfit, in a plain white tee and a truly unfortunate pair of mint green shorts, but once he opens his mouth, it’s all over. He’s got a simply gorgeous tone, beautiful control, and a thick gospel vibe that is far and away the best I’ve heard from any of the male contestants so far. Keith says his voice could convert an atheist; Mariah can’t stop crying; and he gets the most ringing endorsement of the season from the judges, to which he reacts with refreshing humility and gratitude instead of entitlement: “I’m speechless,” is all he can get out, “but I’m thankful.” If this kid doesn’t go deep, I just don’t know what.
Next week, Idol chronicles a trip to my home of San Antonio, for auditions I wanted to go to but was probably too drunk. Another thing I have in common with Paula Abdul. Join me, why don’t you?
Mirrored from LEONARD PIERCE DOT COM.