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American Idol Recap: TV Show of Dreams

AMERICAN IDOL: L-R: Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson on AMERICAN IDOL airing Thursday, Jan. 19 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

If I told you that an early audition episode of American Idol got through one whole hour without making a single joke at a mentally challenged person’s expense, would you believe me? Would you also believe I kind of miss it? 

First things first. Have you guys seen that trailer for the 3-D rerelease of Titanic? I know we’re excited to give James Cameron twenty more of our dollars to see which props are in front of which, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. The one thing that sticks out for me is Gloria Stuart’s voice-over: “They called the Titanic THE SHIP OF DREAMS, and it was! It really was!” Did they? Did people talk like Bachelor contestants 100 years ago? This seems apocryphal. And gross.

I get that same hinky feeling from the first moment of tonight’s Idol, in which Ryan Seacrest tells us, “They call Pittsburgh ‘The City of Champions.’” Do they? When did this start? Then Randy Jackson harangues the line of contestants thusly: “You only get ONE SHOT AT FAME.” Do they? Is that remotely true? Idol, you are mad hyperbolic tonight.

Our first contestant is Heejun Han, a sweetly goofy Korean-American whom the producers try desperately to turn into an Asian stereotype. He foils them with a startlingly soulful take on Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You,” the judges send him to Hollywood, and then he bows to each of them. So it’s kind of a draw, racism-wise.

Steven Tyler — who is your mom and your mom just started dating a juggler — opens the second act with an attempted limerick that starts like this: “There once was a man from St. Pauls.” That’s not a place. It would be so much more efficient for Steven Tyler to simply look at the camera and say “BALLS,” wouldn’t it? And it’s not like he can’t; the Modern Family baby can say fuck now. It’s the future. We don’t have to rhyme our swears anymore.

Anyway. Reed Grimm was raised onstage with his parents’ band, which is an adorable way to say Reed Grimm is a victim of child abuse. But he’s grown into an engaging adult, and if his Tourette’s-y take on the “Family Matters” theme song is two solid layers of things I hate, I can’t help but like him. He’s through!

Do you know how I know that planking has been over for seven months? Because American Idol just got to it. Samantha Novacek auditions — in a singing capacity — with her big sister Patricia accompanying her on the plank. It is exactly as hilarious as it sounds. She’s going to Hollywood! So is the sister probably! They cannot help but milk this kind of thing!

Creighton Fraker’s story is scored to Doves’ “Black & White Town,” which almost offsets the fact that he shows up for his audition dressed like an extra in a Quiet Riot video. He sings an original song about the judges, so you may blacken the center square in your American Idol Bingo card. The judges give him another chance, which he uses to sing an adenoidal version of “Who’s Lovin’ You.” There is a white-drugs feel to Creighton Fraker. He makes it through.

Everyone makes it through. It’s that kind of night.

Eben Franckewitz is 15 years old. That’s pretty much all you need to know. He has a lovely voice and a sweet face and he’s going to Hollywood, which is a shame because he will be so much better in three years. I know cookie dough is delicious, but sometimes you gotta wait until that shit is cooked all the way through, you feel me?

Steven Tyler has bought himself one of those little boxes that makes sixteen different noises, like a raspberry or a screaming lady or a New York cabbie saying, “You gotta be kiddin’ me!” The kind of thing you would get at Spencer's Gifts in 1988. And he loves it. You know how Michael Jackson lost his childhood and spent the rest of his life chasing it? I think Steven Tyler lost that chunk of his forties when he gets gag gifts and listens to Morning Zoos, and now he’ll be there forever and ever, pressing fart buttons and cackling.

Remember the guy from the projects last year? Travis Orlando? Guess what, you guys: He’s back. And his sob story is now 25 percent sobbier. Since last year’s shows aired, his mother took off with a new guy, he dropped out of high school, his family has moved into a shelter, and that swinging pay phone receiver from his intro package last year is still off the hook. But he makes it through, because charity is tonight’s theme.

At the beginning of day two, Steven leads a sing-along of Aerosmith’s attempted classic “Pink,” but he can’t remember the words, and the crowd doesn’t know where the beats should go. It’s a disaster, and this episode needs one. I mean, besides Steven’s outfit, which I call “Bonnie Raitt Let Her Niece Dress Her.”

Erika van Pelt is a wedding D.J. who is exactly the kind of person this show is for. Goofy backstory, velvety voice, unflattering lip shade. Her take on “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is genuinely revelatory. I like her! She’s through.

Shane Bruce is a 19-year-old coal miner, which I thought there was some kind of law against. He’s one of those guys with way too much gel in his hair and hoop earrings that are way too thick and he thinks “Hallelujah” came from the movie Shrek, so I’m shocked by how sad I am to see him botch it. The judges let him down easy, and he takes it like a gentleman, and for a moment I think it might be more humane to disappoint the mentally challenged. Get ‘em next year, Shane Bruce! (And please know that Leonard Cohen came before Mike Myers.)

Our grand finale is Hallie Day, who ran away from home to join girl group Plum Crazy (the Plum Crazy!) in New York, which somehow didn’t work out too well, and then she became some kind of addict, and then I lost interest, but it ended with her being blissfully married to some chunky dude. And she really can sing. Jennifer loves her and leads the judges’ song of praise. She’s going to Hollywood! “You’re going to be a star, Hallie Day,” says Jennifer. Of course she is. Everyone is. Everyone is going to win.

The show will return on Sunday! The day of dreams and champions. See you then.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX