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American Idol Recap: Oklahoma City Is Burning

AMERICAN IDOL: Oklahoma City Auditions: "Contestant" Steven Tyler on AMERICAN IDOL airing Thursday, Jan. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

The audition weirdness concludes tonight, my friends, and not a moment too soon. We’re in Oklahoma City, and it’s a windy day, which seems unimportant because we’re in a climate-controlled environment, but I guess we have to do something. It does provide a genuinely nearly humorous moment in which an Oklahoman gentleman goes running after a lady’s cowboy hat that has blown off, manages to retrieve it, then tumbles down himself, sending his own Stetson off into the wind. It would be entertaining, but they bludgeon the joy out by cutting it up with shots of the auditioners singing “Oklahoma.” I sigh so heavily that I blow myself across the room.

Our first auditioner is Karl Skinner, who got picked up by this Idol smalltown bus tour they haven’t really explained. Karl is what would have become of Beavis if he were real: He’d have bought a guitar, married a woman twice his size, and shouted his way through a jokey American Idol audition. He has a halfway interesting tone, and although he has no chance of winning, they send him through to Hollywood. This is what our country’s politicians call “kicking the can down the road.”

Nate Tao is the child of deaf parents. I could learn American Sign Language in less time than it takes to explain deafness to the judges. They have questions for days: “So you’re the only singer in the house?” “So your parents have never heard you sing?” “So when there is sound, even, let’s say, the crescendo of ‘One Sweet Day,’ your parents act like nothing is happening at all?” “How have you described the crescendo of ‘One Sweet Day’ to your parents?” It goes on and on AND ON, until they finally take his word for it and let him audition, and you know it’s going to be great, and it is. He’s through to Hollywood, his father signs “Congratulations, I love you” to him, and it’s a potentially tender moment that Ryan quickly defuses by demanding to learn the sign for superstar. He gives it a whirl, and it looks like he’s acting out the digital rape of a skittish starfish, and now Nate’s parents wish they were blind too.

Halie Hilburn auditions with her friend Oscar, a deeply unsettling and eyeless dog puppet who does most of the talking. Halie’s super into ventriloquism, though not into it enough to keep “pretty good” from sounding like “tritty dud.” Oscar says to the lady judges, “Hey, it’s great to be here with you foxy chicks,” for he is a sassy lad, and Halie does that spooky, toothy smile that ventriloquists do. It’s like Jeff Dunham without the racism and pandering, and you know what? Jeff Dunham without the racism and pandering is still hard to watch. Randy eats it the fuck up: “This is WILD. What is this?” Halie finally sings without Oscar, who she leaves in a heap on the floor, in the most stirring visual image this show has ever provided. Yes, Idol, perhaps it is time for us to leave childish things behind. She is through.

Of course, they do a comedy sketch with the dog later. Yes, there are other attempts at hilarity. I’m not going to talk about them. Humor is not what you do, Idol. Particularly when I’m time-shifting the 30 Rock finale to watch you. Just don’t.

Also, Nicki is wearing a pink-and-white-striped referee top and a platinum wig, like a drag queen you would call Lady Footlocker.

Zoanette Johnson is 38 feet tall, she’s wearing a pink dress and Daisy Dukes and a yellow Suze Orman jacket and a fur Sonny Bono hippie vest and red hair extensions that even Axl Rose would tell her to tone down. She puts it out there, is what I’m saying. She made a deal with her family that if Obama won the election, she would sing “The National Anthem but with a flavor.” Which flavor? Every flavor. Nacho cheese, cough syrup, bus exhaust, flan. It’s all in there. It is the most over-the-top vocal performance in Idol history by a wide margin, and though it is profoundly irritating, I don’t blame Zoanette. From Mariah through Christina Aguilera through 80 percent of the contestants on this very show, the virus of oversinging has spread. Poor Zoanette has grown up in a world where better singing can only mean more singing. We don’t interpret songs anymore; we bludgeon them. My only solace is that it literally cannot go any higher from here. With Zoanette, we have reached peak melisma.

Obviously, the judges love it, and she’s through. Roseanne Barr was excoriated for much less.

Oh! Several of you in the comments have mentioned that last night’s Matheus Fernandes was on season one of The Glee Project, and your story checks out. I had hopped off the Glee bandwagon by the time the spinoff got spun off, for much the same reason that I’m losing patience with Idol: The show spends about half its time telling you how noble and inclusive it is and the other half making mean and hacky schoolyard jokes, and the former doesn’t excuse the latter. Ryan Murphy wants to have his cake and watch you eat it, and then make a joke about your weight, and then be like, “Where are you going? I’m gay!” Anyway, it’s weird they didn’t bring it up, because Idol and The Glee Project would seem to have complementary fan bases.

On the meanness tip, Anastacia Freeman is a sweet stay-at-home mom who is overcome with emotion before her audition and falls down on her too-high heels on the way in. She has a charming personality, but oh she cannot sing, and the judges laugh in her face. “Are you laughing at me?” They say no. But they are, and the producers would like it if you would laugh at her, too. So much so that they whip together a “dramatization” of her story about how God told her to audition. Ugh. Here is the show that wants to be a part of the trendy anti-bullying movement, but also sees fit to pump up the hopes of and then publicly humiliate a perfectly nice woman with a bad singing voice. She doesn’t take it well, but her final line, “I heard Nicki Minaj worships the devil, so whatever,” makes me hopeful that she was put up to the whole thing by, like, Cakeboy, the Ooze, and Mandy on the local Morning Zoo and that she’s in on the joke.

Tonight’s #idolinspire is a giant bummer. Sixteen-year-old Kayden Stephenson has cystic fibrosis and a projected life expectancy of 35 years. He’s an adorable kid, he sounds a bit like a young Michael Jackson, and I feel like the worst person in the world for saying this, but I feel like he’s going to get blown off the stage in Hollywood. He’s good, I’m rooting for him, but there were some powerhouses among the ding-dongs this audition cycle, and I’d rather they not waste this kid’s time.

Or mine! So thank God this audition cycle is finally over. That’s it! Nine hours that felt like a lifetime. At last we’re off to Holly ... 

But soft! There is one more auditioner! A frail older blonde sidles into the audition room, and once she hits her mark, we realize: It’s Steven Tyler, the box of your mother’s old scarves that’s been fronting Aerosmith since the Truman administration. He’s in drag, playing some kind of character, who he introduces as — I swear before God — “Pepper LaBeija of the House of LaBeija.”

Okay. For those who haven’t seen Paris Is Burning: (1) What is wrong with you, and (2) the late Pepper LaBeija was the leader of one of the drag clubs the documentary follows through the Harlem vogue-ball scene, events where black and Hispanic gay men met to express themselves through fashion and dance, to be their fullest selves, to find community in a world that has abandoned them. And here Pepper is being referenced by a dissipated straight white rock star on a show that makes billions taking people from the fringes and just ridiculing the living fuck out of them. I cannot express the tone-deafness of this show any better than Steven Tyler does here.

Of course, this is Steven Tyler, so there’s a strong possibility that he made those words up on the spot and this is just an incredible coincidence. 

Next week: Hollywood! Fewer but still too many shenanigans! Stream Paris Is Burning right now. It’s the only way to fix your karmic balance.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX