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Paul F. Tompkins on American Idol’s Nashville Tryouts, Singing Exes and All

It is night four of what I’ve come to think of as Simon Fuller’s March to the Sea of My Emotional Well-Being. I’ve yet to comment on the cold opens this season, where they show a brief snippet of one of the more … detached contestants being unhinged in a way that we’re supposed to find funny. Right after tonight’s little vignette of Schadenfreude, and once the opening credits are dispensed with, the next thing we see is a heavyset girl whom we know will not be great at singing because her brief interview is set to tuba music. Yeah. They really did it. The tuba. Playing behind a heavy person. And the current year starts with a "2."

The first serious contestants are Chelsee Oaks and Rob Bolin, and they have a story. They used to be a couple, but Chelsee broke up with Rob. Look, when you’re a lady with a high-class alternate spelling going on in your first name, don’t you deserve the best? The judges are touched by Chel-ob’s tale of endful love and command the exes to sing together, like this is Medieval Times or something. The peasants oblige and harmonize nicely. Rob is being a real sad sack about the breakup. And the judges are sorta subtly rooting for them to get back together. Well, maybe she was right to dump this dude, you don’t have all the facts. Maybe he was a cokehead, who knows? Cokeheads can be sad. It doesn't mean they deserve to get their girlfriends back. Also, I'm kidding around for satirical purposes and he's obviously not a cokehead, so please nobody sue me for jokes. To avoid off-with-their-headedness, the two sing separately, as the judges have decreed. Chelsee’s just okay, but Rob can really sing and blows Chelsee off the stage. I bet that felt great, maybe even as great as doing coke. After they leave, J.Lo mutters, “They’re gonna get back together,” and we’re taken outside to see Chelsee’s current boyfriend glare at the unstoppable emotions that emanate from the producers’ editing of this footage.

Former Miss Teen USA Stormi Henley pretties onto the stage and sings a bland song, blandly. Randy and Steven say yes, both for presumably creepy reasons, but hey, it’s a TV show. Whaddaya gonna do? They can’t all be Susan Boyles. But. Stormi’s audition caused a moment to happen that we all knew was inevitable but that I did not expect to happen quite this early into the season. Jennifer Lopez — JENNIFER LOPEZ — says, to Stormi, “I think you’re gorgeous, but the voice is not strong enough for me.” Alllll right. Let's go to YouTube right now and search for “Escapémonos Grammys 2005.” Keep in mind, Jennifer Lopez did not have to audition for anyone to record any of her record albums, much less on national television. She just had to be famous first. At her second career. Out of Sight was a great movie, wasn’t it? It was clever and funny but also really hot, right? It’s fun to remember things.

Let’s reminisce later! Because now it’s time to meet Adrienne Beasley, the African-American daughter of white farmers, a sort of gender-bending reverse Navin R. Johnson. She tearfully makes it though. What occurs next will most likely be my favorite moment of the entire season/series: Adrienne calls her father to tell him she’s going to Hollywood, and his immediate response is to ask, “Who’s gonna pay your way?” Who’s worse than parents? Anyone you can think of? You don’t have to answer right now; we’ve got the whole rest of the recap.

Jackie Wilson (a young, alive white lady; not the black, dead singer from the sixties) belts out a song with great brio and confidence! She passes, with actual applause from the judges! Then she goes outside and is kissed by her boyfriend, who looks like a retired astronaut in a porkpie hat! He is old. Not J. Howard Marshall old, just obviously much older than Jackie. The reveal of their relationship is handled strangely. Like, when everyone’s hugging, the old fella goes in for a kiss and they slow the footage down. So we at home can go, “Whaaaaaaaaa?” Then Ryan Seacrest (whom I just realized I have not even acknowledged for the past three episodes; Ryan Seacrest also appears this season) expresses his surprise, and then we moveonasquicklyaspossible. Hold up, American Idol, why did you call my attention to this if you’re so freaked out by it? What am I supposed to do with this knowledge now? Do I like that Jackie has father issues or do I despise this Splenda-daddy (he didn’t really seem rich)? It’s almost like the producers don’t know what to do here, either, but they want to leave themselves room to exploit it later. “Hey, if we hit a slump mid-season, we’ll play up the old dude and whatsername. Oh, you’re not comfortable with that, huh? Take a look at this mug. It says ‘American Idol,’ it don’t say, ‘Mother Teresa Contest.’”

Husky Matt Dillard wore overalls and sang a Josh Groban song. I almost fell asleep typing that sentence. The judges tried valiantly to play up this mind-boggling dichotomy, but it stubbornly remained a non-moment. Matt could carry a tune but really shouldn’t have gotten in. But he was wearing overalls. And his parents have taken in thousands of foster children over the years. Thousands, they said! That’s too many, right? Could their house be a front of some kind? A … child-laundering operation?

Finally, Lauren Alaina (another 15-year-old! She could be a Bieber! A SHE-BER!) tells us all of her biggest supporter, her cousin Holly. Who had cancer. But now is fine! But still, let’s cry. I guess this is the new thing, established Wednesday night and echoed here — the contestant hasn’t faced some sort of life-altering challenge, someone the contestant knows has. The contestant has overcome the challenge of someone else’s overcoming of a challenge. One more makes it a pattern! Lauren passes handily, and we celebrate the way we always do now, with the entire family coming into the theater and crying. Am I weird that I’ve never brought my entire family to anything, much less a job-interview-type situation? All of these contestants seem to be accompanied by their every last blood relative. I always wonder if the whole family wants to go, or if there are a few siblings or aunts who are there under duress. I mean, those auditions? That’s a loooong day, and if you’re not the person who’s going to sing, my GOD it must be dull as dirt. “Great. My phone’s dying and I forgot my charger. Do you think anyone else here has a Credo?”

And yes, there were some awful people who auditioned and didn’t make it. You don’t really need me to talk about them, do you? Come on. They really are all the same, except some of them wear costumes. As far as I’m concerned, they already got the attention they were looking for on television, a much wider stage than I could ever provide for them here. Congratulations, gang. Negative attention is still attention! God bless us, every one!

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX