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Paul F. Tompkins Recaps American Idol’s San Francisco Auditions

Welcome to the final night of auditions! The judges have their work cut out for them tonight, as we are in San Francisco, America’s most nonjudgmental city! (Provided you do not live anywhere outside of San Francisco.)

The show begins with a fake-out cold open that’s supposed to be hilarious, but isn’t. It’s gross and dumb. I cannot bring myself to put into words what I saw, partly because I have dignity and I’m assuming you do, too. But I also want to punish people who tell me they read these recaps without watching the show. I don’t care if I am getting paid $15 a word, you don’t get everything handed to you.

The first singer by the bay that we see is Inessa Lee. She’s from the Ukraine and is introduced with a racy clip package of some “music videos” she stars in. The whole affair feels like it should end with Inessa cooing, “So call me. I’m waiting … for YOU.” Inessa projects that special something that prompts my wife to ask, “Is she 40? Or 12?” She claims to be 22. Inessa does not make it through because she can’t sing so good. Watch for Inessa spilling out of a cargo container on season two of The Wire.

And we’re into our first commercial break after only six minutes! Man. Idol wrote the book on milking it and must be rereading that book on a rainy day.

When we return, there’s a quick montage of people who can sing just fine, then we stop and visit with Stefano Langone. Stefano’s nice enough, like if Turtle from Entourage were likable. Not too long ago, Stefano was in a horrible car accident and OH MY GOD, THEY ACTUALLY HAVE FOOTAGE OF THE ACCIDENT! Hold on. I‘m sorry. It’s just B-roll of flashing red lights and a stagehand’s upper arm in a fireman’s coat. That did seem to be too good to be true. Stefano sings “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” with a slight Cajun accent and gets through.

Next: Clint Jun Gamboa wears Mickey Rooney’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s glasses and sings some song I’ve never heard of about becoming a billionaire. What is this song? Does it actually contain the PG expletive “frickin’,” or is Clint Jun cleaning it up for us? Is it an update of an older song about being a “fudging millionaire”?

Some quick hits of more bad people singing! This show did not need to be an hour and everybody knows it! We linger a bit on Drew Beaumier, who auditions in a Transformers costume. I mean, it’s a robot costume that transforms into a car costume when Drew kneels down, rendering him a robot … in disguise. But there is no more than meets the eye here, because Drew is not a good singer. But in the split second after he kneels down and “turns into” a “car,” I actually begin fantasizing that Drew would have a beautiful voice, and some angelic, Jeff Buckley–level singing would emanate from that plastic heap on the ground, revealing him to be a perfect insane genius. One enjoyable thing to watch was J.Lo’s genuine delight whenever Drew “transformed.” Not that she thought he was actually a robot turning onto a car. I think she was tickled that he was committed to doing it and had gotten reasonably adept at making the change. Am I going out of my way to compliment J. Lo here? DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Commercial sidebar: Is the Big Momma’s House sequel using pre-Klumps fat-suit technology? This saddens me.

When we return: Julie Zorilla and her family had to flee Colombia to escape guerrillas. And now, here Julie is, entering a singing contest. I don’t claim to be an expert on such things, but is it possible her presence here means Julie has lost too much of her fear of the threat of guerrillas? I am only saying that if I were in her position, I’d be thinking, Much as my heart yearns to express the joy of freedom, I must never sing. It attracts guerrillas. If I sing too loudly, guerrillas could sneak up on me. Julie sings "Summertime" and gets through; in the process, we learn that Steven Tyler has a working knowledge of the word “unequivocal.”

Emily Anne Reed's intro package tries to tug at my heartstrings, but has been doing too much cardio and not enough weight work, because I feel nothing. Her house burned down. Well, not her house exactly. The house she rents, with a roommate. Sure, she lost a lot of stuff, but she’s in her twenties. This is all stuff she’d be throwing away in a decade’s time anyway. Emily Anne, calm down. You didn’t OWN that house. You can find another apartment. Maybe don’t get a fourth tattoo and you can replace your Sonicare. Emily Anne has a fairly affected “old-tymey” singing voice. All the judges like it and feel they haven’t heard anything quite like it before. This is because American Idol debuted after the heyday of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Emily is through to Hollywood.

Our final aspirant, James Durbin, has Asperger’s, Tourette’s, and a modified Ed Grimley haircut. One of these things is his fault. He is having a tough time, being jobless with a wife and child at home. Best possible solution: Singing contest! That seems to be a recurring theme this season, and forgive me if it’s a recurring theme every season. I wish the Idol cameras were there to capture the moments when this plan is being unfolded: “ … so once I win that national televised singing contest, all our problems are solved! Sure, the baby’s hungry now, but in just a couple months, she’ll be eating caviar! Hey, why are you getting the suitcase out?” James blows the judges away with his amazing range and crying abilities. He’s in.

I am thrilled to announce that this episode concludes the auditions phase of the season. Now we get into the actual competition, which will include somewhat more subtle displays of mental illness. Please stay with me. I … I need you.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX