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American Idol Recap: Free at Laz

AMERICAN IDOL

Tonight the top six becomes the top five! The judges have one final chance to use their save! The whole world kind of wants one person to go home, and he seems to want it pretty badly himself! Tonight’s going to be weird, can we agree on that?

Ryan certainly can; he talks us through the rules of the night from behind the judges’ table and says “Hi everybody” to them three different times. It seems egregious, until you notice that each judge is staring directly forward with a fixed smile, never once acknowledging one another. This is one awkward-ass panel when you try to address it as a collective, and at least Ryan is making an effort to break the ice.

We begin the music portion of the show with a Bachrach/David medley, because what could be more relevant? Janelle opens with “You’ll Never Get to Heaven,” carefully descending the Stairs of Death in precarious heels. She can’t commit fully to the song, because she’s constantly shifting her attention between the camera and her feet, clearly terrified she’s going to eat it. Finally, she makes it to the bottom, gets her confidence back and struts to center stage, where I briefly fantasize she’ll be crushed by a falling piano. Alas. Angie does a moment of “I Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” like a person who is not aware of the White Stripes version, because that’s exactly what she is. Kree does a snippet of “Always Something There to Remind Me,” but starts it “I walk along the streety-streets,” and I will grant her that those are much better lyrics. All of it is fine, but any of it could have been done in 1966; there is no acknowledgement that these songs can work in a more contemporary context. Only the styling places us in 2013, and even then it’s just because everyone’s legs are shiny.

And then we get to Lazaro, whose task is “This Guy’s in Love With You.” Oooh, brother. I would say that it is “all over the place,” but that might give you the impression that one of the places it passes through is the correct place, which would be false. I’m starting to feel for Lazaro; the guy’s nerves got the better of him about three weeks back and he’s just never recovered. He’s over this. It is a thing we all have in common.

Tonight’s Ford Fiesta Mission is to play some kind of car soccer, wherein they try to nudge giant inflatable soccer balls into goals with their bumpers. Janelle reassures us: “We knew we were competin’, but in the end, we’re all friends” — just in case you were wondering whether the stakes of this foolish and meaningless forced promotional contest would rend them asunder. Afterward, Ryan gushes, “Nice skill!” Sometimes, American Idol feels like it’s been translated from German.

And then it’s time for Jimmy to talk us through last night’s show in a concise and sensible way. His takes are correct, by which I mean he agrees with me completely. He says that Kree gave a great performance but didn’t give her songs enough personality; Angie was competent, but it’s not enough to beat the belters; and Lazaro has gotten far for someone who isn’t a trained singer (except he is a trained singer, right? And also don’t constant rehearsals with vocal coaches and Jimmy Iovine count as training?), but that last night was a stinker. Jimmy concludes, “I’d put him tenth,” to which an incredulous off-screen British producer protests: “But there are only six singers left, Jimmy!” Jimmy says, “Yes. I know.” Jimmy Iovine has gotten far for someone who isn’t a trained sketch-comedy actor.

Ryan puts Kree, Angie, and Laz at three different points on the stage, and Laz smiles as he goes. Ryan asks, in an oddly accusatory tone: “Why is that smile on your face?” Laz replies: “I thought Jimmy’s comments were funny, so I was laughing.” And yes, it comes off a little passive-agressive and peevish, but you know what? Lazaro has trouble communicating, and I cannot imagine how frustrating that must be, and neither can you. To struggle so mightily just to express your basic needs — and to be heard by the world like you’re Skyping through a shoddy WiFi connection — that has to be exasperating, isolating, and heartbreaking at all times. So maybe he does have a shitty attitude. Maybe we would, too. Maybe when all of this is over, we could just listen to his story, the way he chooses to tell it. I bet he’s a nice enough guy.

Scotty McCreery is back! Did you know Scotty McCreery is a full-time student at North Carolina State University? Wouldn’t you be much more interested in a Scotty McCreery who put his American Idol experience on his college application and went to Brown? Shouldn’t he be somewhere with no curriculum, an active PETA chapter, and solstice festivals? Alas. His new single is “Girl, I Gotta See You Tonight,” and in any other hands — ANY other hands — it would sound like a booty-call song. But since he radiates zero sexual maturity (and since nobody at NCSU is going to challenge him into any kind of emotional or sexual awakening), it sounds like an invitation to come over and watch some Tosh.0 DVDs. It’ll sell 11 million copies.

Back to Jimmy; he says Janelle’s not interpreting songs the way she used to. (Ryan sends her to stand with Angie.) He says Candice can do anything with any song, and that if he signed her, he’d just send her songs until she said the album is done. (Candice goes to stand with Kree.) And finally, Jimmy doesn’t know why America doesn’t get Amber. I don’t get how Amber holds it together when she’s told, week after week on live television, “The people of America do not enjoy your face and/or voice.” She is sent to stand with Lazaro. Now, obviously we are meant to think that Laz and Amber are the bottom two, but I have doubts as to whether that will be the case. It seems too obvious.

Kelly Clarkson is also back! The name of Brian Dunkleman is invoked, as we look back at her first audition, which she did in a truly hideous dress she made out of an old pair of jeans. I choose to focus on Dunkleman, who, while Ryan converses with a 2001 Kelly Clarkson, casts blasé glances around the room. I’d always felt a little bad for ol’ Dunkleman, getting Dunklemanned off the show in such a public way. But looking back, it seems he Dunklemanned himself.

Anyway. Kelly. Kelly is all in Day-Glo black-light body paint, like a Ke$ha who maintains a clean vagina. It’s a cute effect, though Day-Glo lighting is harsh on the skin, and the song is catchy, though Pink has already recorded it fourteen times. Afterward, Kelly wants to meet Mariah, which is a coincidence because Mariah wanted to make the moment all about herself.

So. Anyway. We have three pairs. Kree and Candice are the top two, which is not surprising. Angie and Janelle are also safe, which makes Lazaro and Amber our bottom two. And in an American Idol first, they’re going to keep the cameras running in a corner of the screen while the commercials run. Aaaand this American Idol first is almost entirely a crane shot of the whole stage, so you can’t really tell whether anything is happening at all. (There is one nice moment when the cameras catch the top four getting their makeup refreshed backstage: Angie is talking soundlessly to her stylist, and it’s fun to imagine that the audio of the AT&T commercial that’s playing is what she’s actually saying. Just talking and talking about the island made of candy she’s going to buy.)

Lazaro is on the bottom, and he sings “Feeling Good” as his please-don’t-save-me song. For the first time in months, there are moments of promise, hints of why he’s come as far as he has. And for the first time in months, his brow is bone-dry; he knows he won’t be saved, he knows this idiotic ride is finally over, and it is. No save. We are all finally free. Wear your bright sportcoats in good health, the Spanish Redneck Guy.

Photo: Ray Mickshaw / FOX