Ratings for American Idol are in free-fall this season, and the Internet is abuzz about the reasons why. There are too many similar shows, some say. Others insist we’re fresh out of good singers after ten seasons. I’d say the answer is much easier: These early episodes are snooze city and we all know it. They’re long, there are too many of them, and if we happen to dig up a singer with an interesting, tragic backstory (abusive dad, club foot, dropsy, whatever), that story will be repeated over and over again once the show really gets going. There’s no reason to spend one hour this way, much less two, much less four. Here’s how much of a waste of time these early episodes are: My friend Richard loves American Idol and knows about it more than anyone on Planet Earth; he literally wrote the book on it. I asked his opinion on last week’s premiere, and he told me: “Ah, this year, I’m sitting it out until Hollywood Week.” So there it is, Idol producers: You’ve lost Richard Rushfield. This is the theme-park version of LBJ losing Walter Cronkite’s support during the Vietnam war. Nice job.
Oh, but tonight’s episode is set in Aspen, so even if it gets boring immediately, it’s fun to speculate on the countless Steven Tyler cocaine jokes that didn’t get past Standards & Practices. One wonderful comment they’ve left in: Steven looks out at the beautiful autumn mountainscape and says “It’s God’s paintbrush.” It is, Steven? Not God’s painting, but His paintbrush? Which he would then use to paint other things? Hey, you’re the rock star (who’s dressed like the lead in Kenny Ortega’s remake of Amadeus), so whatever.
First up, spunky, pansexual Jenni Schick. She and her boyfriend each have a list of celebrities they’re allowed to smooch; hers includes Adam Levine, Lady Gaga, and, conveniently and improbably in equal measure, Steven Tyler. Her boyfriend’s list is ... Adam Levine, Lady Gaga, and — wouldn’t you know? — Ryan Seacrest. See, Ryan? See the kind of fluid, joyous, adult sexuality that has bloomed over the last decade while you’ve been making junior-high gay jokes? Do you understand how much fun this party is, and why you’re not invited? Anyway, she makes it to Hollywood and gets to kiss Steven, to which Steven responds “Holy SCHICK,” and Randy says “WHAT! OHHHH!”
A quick note: There is a part of me that wants to rush Randy Jackson into an introductory improv class, just to get him over the desire to be funny, to get him listening, to show him that sometimes less is more. But then I thought about it, and I think that no matter what you tried to teach him, a scene with Randy would go like this:
You: I think this milk is expired.
Randy: That’s not milk, that’s dildos. We’re lesbians. It’s the future. Here come the Titty Martians!
So never mind.
ANYWAY. Curtis Gray is up next. Curtis Gray looks like what would happen if Gisele Bundchen went Chaz Bono. Right down to the neck beard! He is the kind of dreamboat-in-the-rough this show uses as fuel. He is of course sent through to Hollywood.
Montage time! We are sped through auditions by Scottier-than-Scotty Richie Law, Broadwayish Devan Jones, and best-name-having Mathenee Treco. They all make it through, it is always unanimous, and Richie’s family carries signs saying “HERE COMES THE LAW,” which is not a thing that people say.
Tealana Hedgespeth is trying to get out from under her more-talented twin sister’s shadow, a desire she animates by talking constantly about her more-talented twin sister and nothing else. She promises to rock it, she breaks her promise, I think it’s a subtle joke, and she manages to get it over on Idol because Idol does not understand subtlety.
In voice-over before the commercial break, Ryan promises controversy at the judges’ table, but “one audition will bring them back together.” And that audition is the very first thing we see after the break, and there is never, ever controversy at the judges’ table. Haley Smith is a hippie nature child who longs to be free (and does not understand that she is auditioning for slavery). Her audition is Joni Mitchellish and her affect is Edie Brickellish and although this is the wrong place for a beautiful soul like hers, she makes it through and will totally be in the top 12. You watch.
Alanne Spare looks like a prairie Lara Spencer, and she works in a restaurant that serves Rocky Mountain Oysters, which you already know is bull testicles. You also already know how Randy Jackson takes the news. Her audition is not great, and the producers cut it up with the sounds of mooing cows, and there is no reason for any of this to be happening. May I play outside?
And then there’s the girl who can’t wait to tell you she’s bipolar. Shelby Tweten says one of the most upsetting things I’ve ever heard on television, which I swear is exactly this: “American Idol has given me a reason to stay on my meds.” She describes her hypo-manic episodes, wherein she shakes, stutters, and cannot control her body, so what’s the worst that could happen if we put this girl in a high-stakes live-television singing competition? Her audition is really gorgeous, though, and there is no way she won’t make it to the live shows, and now I have a whole new stranger to worry about. Which television show will remind me to take my Xanax?
There is a loser montage which I won’t go into because you’ve seen it, except one guy opens his mouth very wide and seems to have three rows of teeth. Have you seen that Napa commercial where the guy sings “N-n-n-NAPA KNOW-HOW” and you get a really good look at the underside of his tongue? It’s a bit like that. Let’s re-examine our approach to mouths, television.
Jairon Jackson makes it through and I think he has a nice voice but I’m not sure because he has the juiciest Jheri curl I have seen since Coming to America. He jumps for joy upon receipt of his golden ticket and breaks an overhead light, and through it all, I am thinking about his moist and supple curls. Delicious.
At last we see the controversy we have been promised! Angie Ziederman is a self-described vintage glitter queen, who wants to be a star because she “like(s) to sing and dance and have the outfit.” Your story checks out, Ms. Ziederman. She sings a show tune, which Randy rejects because “Show tunes bring out that vibrato I don’t like.” Oh, you mean that thing that skilled vocalists do? You don’t like that thing? There is brief disagreement and then she sings another song and everyone likes it and sends her to Hollywood and there’s your controversy and you have got some fucking nerve, American Idol.
The show ends with Magic Cyclops, which is some terrible dude’s attempt at a comedy character. He has a cape, see, and a rotten British accent that comes and goes. Oh, it’s awful. The judges ask his age, and he says “A lady never tells,” to which Randy replies: “A LADY! WHAT! THIS IS CRAZY!” (Because, you see, Magic Cyclops is not a lady at all, but rather a gentleman!) He sings something or other and I can’t hear what it is because there is hot blood coursing furiously through my ear veins. It is the least entertaining thing I have seen on television in decades, and I’m not kidding, and American Idol has lost a quarter of its audience and if they keep this up they deserve to lose the other three. Shut up, all of you.
Tomorrow: more of this! May I borrow a cup of bourbon?