American Idol limped to Orlando last night, giving viewers some paint-by-numbers talent and inviting anyone who valued their sanity a reason to flip off the TV and hum to him or herself (or, more likely, surf YouTube for treadmill-accident videos). The fourth episode of this season started out promisingly enough: The guest judge was Tony Award–winner Kristin Chenoweth, who played Glinda in Broadway's Wicked, but, more important to Fox, had a recent guest spot on Glee: synergy! Chenoweth and Kara got along like long-separated sorority sisters, much to Simon’s ire. Their incessant high fives and freestyle harmonizing didn’t cooperate with the hangover he appeared to be nursing.
That bottle flu might have been responsible for the usually discriminating Simon giving the thumbs up to some bland crooners who sounded more like Captain and/or Tennille than Usher. For instance, while it’s true that the 28-year-old Seth Rollins sang an updated version of Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me,” his idea of modernizing the song was peppering it with icky, indulgent R&B flourishes. (But really: His autistic son was wailing for him right outside the door. You say no to Seth.)
Similarly sub-par was golden-ticket winner Cornelius, the descendant of stripper stock who tore his jeans doing splits while singing a power-karaoke version of “Proud Mary,” Ike and Tina–style. While it was hilarious and charming that he continued with the “doot-doot-doot-do’s” before caving in and announcing, “My pants done ripped,” this guy has nothing unique going on vocal-wise. (Also, he referred to the song as “Rollin.’” How can you not know the name of a song you audition with?) Still, he got full judicial approval despite his performance not even matching that of SpongeBob SquarePants’s “Ripped Pants” song.
Another questionable pass was given to sisters and BFFs Amanda and Bernadette, two New Joysey residents who insisted on trying out together, and gave each other the kind of devoted sibling support not seen since Angelina Jolie attended the Oscars with her brother. Of course one was better than the other, and of course the judges had to milk that for all it was worth, but truthfully, the best shot either of these sisters has at reality-TV stardom probably involves cold-cocking Snooki.
The night’s biggest no was awarded to nasal Jared, who whined “Amazing Grace” so poorly it sounded like Jerry Lewis doing an impression of a paper shredder. Kara didn’t even bother hedging her criticism of the lad, which for some reason caused him to launch back into “Amazing Grace,” informing the judges, “I cannot leave.” Apparently Idol-dom wasn’t in God’s plan for a wretch like Jared, though, because he was dragged out in cuffs.
Speaking of the wrong side of the law, one of the Orlando hopefuls had a shockingly intriguing backstory — and not the garden-variety family heartbreak or disease-survival tales. At 15 years old, Matthew Lawrence, in search of "adventure," robbed a bank with a BB gun and spent four years behind bars. Come again? Yep, he robbed a bank. With a BB gun. Four years. Sadly, his version of Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble,” while a perfectly adequate soundalike, was little more than that. It was enough to give him the golden ticket, but not enough to leave a lasting impression. Simon was right to say, “It feels like you could have written that song,” but that’s simply because “Trouble” is, quite frankly, a detestably boring song with no real life to it.
The best performance of the night was Jay Stone’s beatbox-laden version of “Come Together,” complete with D.J. scratches and Blade Runner–esque ambient noises spitting out of his mouth. But this guy one-upped Blake Lewis by simultaneously beatboxing and singing (cheap thrills, but why not?). Following this novelty display, Kara asked him if he could actually sing and he obliged with “Ain’t No Sunshine.” The judges seemed to be barely paying attention as he showcased his real pipes; they were more interested in beatboxing themselves. But as Randy and Kara did so, Jay actually changed tempo mid-song to match them. Sure, he was a total goofball, but you can’t fake that kind of talent. Simon wasn’t convinced, but thankfully, Jay is going to Hollywood anyway.
Next week’s auditions take us dangerously close to the real competition (they’re in L.A.), and they feature guest judges Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry. But please, for the love of God, if another person auditions in a full chicken suit, can the producers please let us see the whole thing?
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak was actually thrilled with last night's episode, calling it "a tunefully terrific hour of action."
MTV's Jim Cantiello noted that "Kristin Chenoweth's proximity to Kara DioGuardi turned Kara into a hyperactive eight-year-old child with Sapphic tendencies."