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American Idol Recap: Welcome to Portlandia

AMERICAN IDOL: Portland contestant Jessica Phillips performs in front of the judges on AMERICAN IDOL airing Wednesday, Feb. 1 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. Jessica Phillips's sad story was harder to bear than Steven Tyler's awful jokes on American Idol.

Have you ever tried describing a Portlandia sketch to someone and then realized how much you sound like you’re improvising a parody of a Portlandia sketch? Like: “They’re eating figs and they’re wondering whether the figs are organic and locally sourced, and they go to find out, and it takes a long time, and then I guess they’re old,” or “Their fair-trade coffee truck breaks an axle and then they go to a club and the D.J. is playing the sound of the broken truck and all the kids love it but then there’s a backlash”? Anyway, tonight’s audition episode takes place in Portland, and every singer’s story sounds like I’m making this recap up, even the really heartbreaking story at the end, which I’m already dreading writing about. So first let’s make fun of some jerks.

Tonight’s show starts with Britney Zika, a bespectacle-and-fedora’d young gal who once dreamed of doing a duet with Sara Bareilles. I can’t even get Sara Bareilles into my head when I am looking at and hearing her, so I will admit that I’m impressed. Even better, like St. Elizabeth, she took her dream as a sign and started planning, which in this case meant showing up to a Sara Bareilles show with a PLEASE SING A DUET WITH ME sign. And it worked! She trips on her way into the audition room, and Steven Tyler reacts thusly: “Did you fall for me? Oh, I’m much too young to be this old.” It’s a one-two punch so quick and so embarrassing that it evokes both Sugar Rays. Anyway, Britney oversings some song and all the judges love her and Sara Bareilles could not be reached for comment.

By the way, I don’t know how he manages it, but tonight Steven Tyler looks like all of the regular female cast members of Six Feet Under.

Tonight’s homosexual laughingstock is Ben Purdom, who is suffering from a cold and doing that thing where he puts a tissue over his index fingers and plunges them knuckles-deep into his nostrils. (Quick note to people who do that thing: Tissue notwithstanding, you are picking your nose in public. Stop it.) He sings “Born This Way,” changing “in the glass of her boudoir” to “in the glass of her bourgeois,” which frankly doesn’t make a whole lot less sense. It’s awful, though, and while the judges could have dismissed him quickly, Randy chooses to drag it out, because HA HA GAY WHAT! You’re a prince, Randy Jackson.

Jermaine Jones is 37-feet-tall and has one of those Jacob Lusk–y kind of voices that the judges love. He’s so nervous he manages to pit out a thick woolen sweater, but he makes it through. I look forward to being annoyed by you, Jermaine Jones.

Day 2 gets off to a late start, because Jennifer Lopez has misplaced her black tights and refuses to judge singers without them. That must have been a fun morning for the hundreds of non-J. Los who work on this show for a much lower wage: No, we can’t start, because the person whose top third is the only part that is visible wants her lower half to look perfect.

Once the tights are secured and applied, the day begins with newly single mother Britnee Kellogg, who just divorced the father of her two sons. Her initial presenting symptom for the breakup is that he “didn’t support her dream,” but then just at the end of her story, she sneaks in the fact that he cheated on her repeatedly. But it’s good to know that in her mind, the greater crime is in not constantly telling her she’s a star. She sings “You’re No Good,” because she understands the importance of personal branding, and makes it through easily, because there is no other way to make it through in season eleven. Britnee asks Jennifer, “What’s it like to be a mom in this business?” as though her experience and J.Lo’s would be anything alike.

Sam Gershman has spirit, yes she does. She leads electric slides in the waiting room. She references her breasts, which — even gay boys got to shout — are perfect. She even makes a little in-joke about her surname that sails right over the judges’ heads. It goes like this:
Sam: My name is Sam Gershman.
Randy: Gershwin?
Sam: No, Gershman. But my grandfather’s name is Ira!
[Literal cricket sound effects.]

So yeah, the people who listen to music professionally and made more this week than I will in ten years don’t know who Ira Gerhswin is. Anyway, she’s too Gershwin-y and doesn’t make it through.

David Weed is a nerdy guy who sings Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and proves that Rush is as popular with guys who look like David Weed now as they were when I was in high school. The judges laugh right in his face, even though he isn’t really all that bad. Put him in front of a band and he could actually kind of bring it, I bet. He says his real dream is to be a stand-up comic, and Randy — because he is the worst — says, “Tell me a joke.” It goes exactly as well as it always does when someone is put on the spot that way. 

And then we get what Idol considers comedy, which is Ryan walking past the window behind the judges with a potted tree. It’s as hilarious as it sounds. But at least it goes on for a very long time.

Romeo Diahn grew up in a Liberian refugee camp and sings some Bob Marley and has kind of a Sean Kingston thing happening. The judges let him through, with Randy offering this trenchant insight: “Dude. Refugee camp. I mean, I don’t even know, man.”

The parade of losers goes in this order: tiara, ascot, cartwheel, ring-over-glove, gold lamé pants. For a moment, I totally agree with the judges.

Ben Harrison looks exactly like a young Benny Hill and pairs a too-sunny disposition with a voice that is too bad-sounding. He has not mastered basic singing, but still throws in a bunch of vocal tricks, and his failure provides a teachable moment: First, learn to sing the regular old notes. Then — if and when an accredited musicologist outside of your immediate family confirms that you are able to sing those — you may add all the runs and tricks and curlicues. If you must. Think “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music. (Quickly, before Christina Aguilera mounts a revival of The Sound of Music, at which time I will blast off for President Gingrich’s Moon Colony.)

And the ominous music suggests we’re at tonight’s sob story, which oh my God is a dooz. Jessica Phillips’s boyfriend of five years suffered a stroke a year ago, and though he is on the road to recovery, he is having to relearn how to walk and talk, putting this lovely young woman in the role of caretaker. Oh, it is heavy stuff, and she deserves to be on a better show. She sings Faith Evans’s “Again,” and of course she is wonderful, and if she doesn’t make it to the top 24, I don’t know what’s going on in the world. (Though I do know who Ira Gershwin is.)

Tonight, the auditions conclude in my hometown of St. Louis, which has already suffered enough this year by having been the setting for ABC’s Work It.

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