Tonight’s final audition episode comes from my hometown of St. Louis, the land of toasted ravioli, long flat vowels, and emotionally repressed Jonathan Franzen characters. The cold open is some shaky home video of Carrie Underwood’s legendary 2004 audition road trip to the Lou from her home in Winkin’ Hobo, Arkansas (I might be making that up), which ends with the super “Aren’t YOU glad she made the trip?” This seems like it was for 19 Entertainment internal usage; certainly they’re glad she made the trip, as they get 98 percent of her gross income in perpetuity. I myself have heard “Before He Cheats” exactly three times, all in Southern gay bars, and I’m pretty sure she would have found her way to a recording contract some way or another. But I guess it’s good to remind the audience that Idol isn’t all Lee DeWyzes. (Incidentally, did you know Lee DeWyze’s album has been out for a full year and a half? Are they trying to keep it secret? Does Lee reveal Simon Cowell’s ATM PIN number on it?)
The show begins with many shots of auditioners singing along to the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie,” a song that — though it undeniably contains the name “Louie” — is not the kind of thing we sit around singing all day long. There are also the de rigueur shots of the Arch, and it all reminds me of the single most offensive element of the disgraceful recent ABC sitcom Work It. See, the show was set in St. Louis, and there were framed photos and posters of the Arch everywhere: three in the main couple’s living room, too many to count in the bar where the guys hung out, one massive one in the lobby of the pharmaceutical sales place where they worked. Coastal television executives, please listen: While St. Louisians do indeed live in the Midwest, they don’t, like, forget where they are and have to check the walls for visual cues. The Arch is there, we acknowledge it, and we move the fuck on.
Anyway. What I am doing is called vamping, because there is about four minutes of show in tonight’s hour-long show. These auditions are really limping across the finish line, and now even the judges and editors are just trying to get through it. So let’s do this.
Our first auditioner is handsome John Keyser, who hails from Pompano Beach, Florida, and makes me wonder why he didn’t just go to the Miami auditions a couple of weeks ago. But whatever! He looks a lot like the guy from the new version of Knight Rider that you just remembered happened, and he sings “A Change Is Gonna Come” in a way that almost makes me believe that handsome straight white guys have to struggle for things. He makes it through, of course. (And I must remember to consult Yo, Is This Racist to determine whether that was an acceptable song choice.)
Have you seen The Artist yet? I know it feels like homework, being a silent film and all, but it’s actually really lovely and compelling. And now they’ve done a parody of it on American Idol called “The Contestant,” so you’re officially too late. See, it’s about a contestant who’s so bad, they don’t want you to hear him! And the judges reject him in old-timey silent film language (the kind of language they really don’t use in the movie)! And there is a dog, who says the audition is “RUFF!” Oh, Idol — intentional comedy is not who you are. But still, see The Artist. (And try not to think about Billy Crystal green-screening himself into it and yelling “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” in the Oscars opening sequence. Sorry.)
Quick question for those of you who aren’t watching Idol this season: Is it because it hasn’t reeked of ponderous self-importance enough? Because they totally address that problem in tonight’s episode. “American Idol is where this generation comes together,” says Ryan Seacrest, with an apparently straight face. Can you handle this? Can you also handle the auditioner whose parents auditioned in season four? Can you also handle that we’re halfway through this episode and have seen one audition? Is anyone’s heart in this tonight?
Rachelle Lamb is yet another hopeful who got a divorce because her husband didn’t believe in her talent. She tells the judges that she had dreams of stardom and her ex-husband “just took all them dreams away.” She does this in front of her daughter, just as Britnee Kellogg did last night. This show has been around long enough to know: Just what are the long-term effects on children of televised parental American Idol–related infighting? Not that this kid, in her “Momma’s Biggest Fan” T-shirt, had a chance of escaping Narcissistic Parent Disorder (which is a disorder I just made up that also exists). It’s all like some Kirk Cameron–produced Steel Magnolias sequel and she gets through and won’t someone think of the children?
Walter the cab driver is a running gag through this show. He can’t believe how much congestion there is downtown because of all the auditioners. “20,000? I wouldn’t want to hear that many people!” Which of course he doesn’t, because you can’t, and as even children must know, the judges don’t. So how exactly does all this work? Who sees these people first? Tell us the truth, Idol. We can handle it.
Reis Kloechener has one of those long German names that St. Louis isn’t famous for, but trust me, they’re everywhere. He was bullied for being different, and struggled in school until he found the choir and made some friends (who, judging by the pictures, are all very dramatic girls, by which I’m not suggesting anything, I’m just saying). He sings “Lean On Me,” and it really is beautiful. Steven Tyler says, “You made me all crazy inside,” which is great because now that matches his outside, which looks like a Sid & Marty Krofft villain. Reis makes it through unanimously. So look forward to spending the next few months with an obviously gay kid for whom Fox will move mountains to convince you he isn’t.
Steven Tyler for some reason goes out to the waiting room to give a pep talk to a nervous hopeful … and again, how would he know? How does this work? Why must they gloss over the important stuff? Ethan Jones takes Tyler’s words to heart and enters the audition room with confidence. He plays in what he calls “one of St. Louis’s biggest bands” with his father, who is currently in rehab for living like he’s in one of St. Louis’s biggest bands. He sings Edwin McCain’s “I’ll Be,” which we almost got through the audition episodes without hearing, and he’s got one of those Idol-friendly rock voices that actually sells records. He makes it through. And during the commercial break, I Brenda Starr the situation; a quick Google search reveals that the Joneses play in a band called Well Hungarians, who are indeed renowned in the Lou. And Steven Tyler is absolutely kicking himself for not having thought that name up first.
Day two begins with a visit from Fredbird the Redbird, the Cardinals’ mascot! Fredbird’s signature move is putting your whole head in his beak, which sounds horrifying, but take it from me: Children live for that shit.
Mark Ingram is our first auditioner of the day, and he’s also the auditor for the hotel where the auditions are happening! The whole staff accompanies him to the room, where he does Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” and ... oh dear. It’s too loud and too tricky and he breaks all over the place. Rough stuff. Now, here is a place where someone who knew music and was able to, say, judge the singers, might say, “Try again and don’t push so hard.” But instead they laugh at him, and he replies, “I think I know something that could change your mind,” and then does “Part Time Lover” in the exact same way and it does not change their minds. They reject him unanimously and rudely, and he takes it much better than they give it to him (even though, I will remind you, it is taking place in front of a dozen people this man will have to face every working day). And then there’s a whole jokey thing where they pretend his big dumb loud voice is echoing all throughout the hotel. Yeah, this guy seemed nice and wasn’t quite there; let’s mock him with lame comedy. Keep trying, Mark Ingram. (But also try less.)
Last and maybe least, but who can tell anymore: 22-year-old wedding singer Lauren Gray. She really shouts up a storm on Adele’s “One and Only,” and though she displays about 2 percent more control than Mark Ingram, it’s the crucial 2 percent. She’s through!
And the auditions are over — thank you, Jesus. Ryan confirms that these have been “the most successful auditions ever,” but fails to cite a reference to back that up. Who cares; a montage reveals that someone falls right off the front of the stage in Hollywood week. Aren’t you glad someone’s about to break their collarbone?