Okay, we’re three episodes into season thirteen of American Idol, and I’m having a problem: It’s really, really enjoyable. “But how is that a problem?” you ask. “When you’re going to be spending three to four hours a week for the next four-and-a-half months watching something, shouldn’t it give you pleasure?” In theory, yes. But I’ve grown so accustomed to the lazy way I’ve been watching this show, this sick combination of hate-watching and suspense, that I don’t know any other way.
I know how to tell you I wish Randy Jackson would shut up. I don’t know how to clown something I actually enjoy.
Like you at the end of Bright Lights, Big City, I’m blinking and trying to catch my breath, confused and exhilarated at the dawn of a new day.
I will have to learn everything all over again.
Let’s do this. Please be kind as I get my bearings.
We begin with an auditioner who looks exactly like the Latina receptionist from The Crazy Ones, but probably isn’t. She is but the first in a mega-montage of young hopefuls, who look right into the camera and tell you they’re doing it for Detroit. This is good! This is also probably not enough to be doing for Detroit! I might have read this wrong, but I think you can buy Detroit’s entire football stadium for, like, $4,000 right now. Anybody wanna go halfsies?
Our first proper audition comes from Keri Lynn Roche, who is a waitress, and whom I believe we will come to know as “a clean Crystal Bowersox.” She has a guitar and a big bag of sass, plus the confidence to fly by the seat of her pants and change her audition song to Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive.” It’s powerful, it’s dynamic, and it’s the first time I’ve ever heard this song outside of a Crossfit gym. Unanimous yeses to TidySox!
Harry tells Julian Miller, who is 18, that he’s too young to have experienced the Motown years — but at 47, so is Harry. Not that it matters; he sings a version of Cobra Starship’s “You Make Me Feel” that, if nothing else, will cause the words soulful and Cobra Starship to appear in the same sentence for the first and last time.
So then we get to one of those multiple-audition packages that under the last regime would have been stultifyingly predictable. We meet three young hopefuls with the delicious superstar names Paris Primeau, Olivia Diamond, and … Samantha Furtwengler. They each do their thing for the judges, and each one is perfectly competent but not dazzling (save for Ms. Diamond). And then I just go ahead and type “They all get through,” because that’s what this show has trained me to expect. But they don’t! Paris makes it, Olivia makes it, but Miss Furtwengler is sent home to wengle her furts. These new producers are keeping us on our toes.
You know who’s going to be fun to watch this season? Malaya Watson, that’s who. Malaya plays the tuba in her high-school marching band, and she looks exactly like someone who would play the tuba in her high-school marching band. She’s dorky and her limbs are all over the place and her glasses cover half her face like she’s the old-fashioned lady from those nineties Old Navy commercials. If she didn’t have a killer voice, you’d look right past her. She’s the reality of the Rachael Leigh Cook character from She’s All That. But of course she DOES have a killer voice, as the season progresses and the stylists get a hold of her, she’ll turn into a knockout. (And Freddie Prinze Jr is 37, just in case you needed to freak the hell out about the passage of time.)
Bryan Watt is 29, so this is his first and last shot at American Idol glory. And he is a stone dreamboat, so he just might get it. He’s our first Cute MAN With Guitar. He’s also got a beautiful clear voice, which he uses to great effect on Carrie Underwood’s “So Small.” Harry tells him, “I’ve figured out why that was so good: You’re Superman.” It’s possible. Off to Hollywood he goes. (And besides being a superhero, he’s also a nonprofit director, so … what social ill are we indirectly promoting by sending him there?)
Khristian D’avis has an Italian accent as phony and affected as her last name. She’s currently performing with a band, but she’s tired of performing for 30 people; she wants MORE, MORE, MORE. She is the very picture of a disaster audition, but she looks like Paula Patton, so even when she opens her mouth and bad noise comes out, you’re not quite sure which way it’s going to go. A mixed verdict brings it all down to Harry, who almost loses his lifetime pass with me by sending her through, but not before telling her to get to work and to stop being irritating. She agrees, in a voice that is suddenly all Michigan.
And then a young guy comes in while Jennifer is tucking her microphone cord into her shirt, and says, “That’s okay, girl — fix the tits.” Harry says, “Way to talk to a lady,” and we don’t even get to know what his name is or what he sounds like; there’s basically a person-shaped hole in the wall after two seconds. You’d better brush up on your Emily Post before you face Harry Connick Jr.
The March of the Children begins with 17-year-old Jena Asciutto, who gives us our first “Rolling in the Deep” of the season. She doesn’t sound like Adele, and doesn’t seem to be trying to, which is good news. Melanie Porras is 19, and her birth seems to have derailed her father’s rock-and-roll dreams. But now she’s performing on her own, and serving a Didi Bonami kind of a thing. She does “Fever” with her guitar, then “Wanted Dead or Alive” without, when the conventional wisdom would suggest the opposite approach. Liam Newberry looks like Joshua Malina from Scandal in blue Bonobos, and he does “The Way You Look Tonight” like he’s auditioning for a college a cappella group. And though you want to root for a kid who makes a bold pant choice, there’s no personality behind the voice (and the voice is shaky). He’s the only one of the three who doesn’t sail through, and he doesn’t take it well. He stomps out of the building, with his mother tiptoeing and quietly thanking the crew behind him. This is not the first time this has happened.
Jade Lathan is 20 and has a salad on her head and sings Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” and even though she’s not old enough to legally grab anyone’s Stella, she sells it well. Harry tells her, “I don’t want to patronize you, but you’re absolutely adorable,” and we all agree, and that’s that. Sydney Arterbridge does Minnie Riperton’s “Lovin’ You,” and anytime anyone sings that song, it just becomes a countdown to finding out whether they can nail the big super-falsetto moment. Sydney can, and is going to Hollywood. So is Maurice Townsend, a 26-year-old father of four, who is apparently married to the Guinness World Record holder for Most Indulgent Spouse.
A few past-season favorites are back! David Oliver Willis went out in the Vegas round last year, but he’s been doing some work in the last eleven months. Brandy Neelly from a couple of seasons ago has returned, with a new haircut and such a distracting amount of foundation, we’re basically watching RuPaul’s Drag Race all of a sudden. (Too bad we aren’t really; those queens would read her to filth about her blending.) Both of them are in.
Cute Boy With Guitar Ethan Harris is 20 and looks half that. He seems nervous at first but settles right into Keith’s “You’ll Think of Me,” and crushes it. I will hereafter refer to him as “The Boys in the Band Perry.”
Three-fer time! Leah Guerrero is eerily confident in her version of Rihanna’s “Stay.” Doughy gay Zach Gray treats “You Know I’m No Good” like it’s the theme song to “Planet Unicorn.” Symphony Howlett sings in a way that’s so fluttery I can’t even recognize what she’s singing; seriously, it’s like Dolores O’Riordan from the Cranberries singing into a fan. Harry finds her tics incredibly annoying, and I thank God for that. But they all get golden tickets!
Ayla Stackhouse has a take-charge kind of voice, a funky look, and a winning attitude. The judges love her version of Little Mix “Wings” (or “Little Wings” by Mix or “Little” by a Mix of Wings — I’m honestly not sure). She’s unanimously through! So is 27-year-old Kansan Eric Gordon, who does a blessedly guitar-free take on John Mayer’s “Perfectly Lonely.”
Wee Ryan Nisbett went from being over 300 pounds to the teeny-tiny hipster we see before us this evening. He doesn’t go into the details of how he did it, but his curly mustache indicates it was somehow artisanal. And wouldn’t you know, he has the voice of a lil barrista angel. As if to underscore this fact, he sings Sarah MacLachlan’s “Angel,” and it’s such a gorgeous, falsetto-y, unique performance, I almost don’t think of sad shelter puppies. Jennifer calls him “Sui generis,” which means “of its own kind,” and it’s right on the money. (It also reminds me of my favorite New York Times correction; long ago, someone called Rush Limbaugh that in an interview, and it ran as “Rush Limbaugh is sweet, generous.”) Plus Ryan has a cold and won’t even complain about it! Keep an eye on this one.
We end as we began the whole season, with young African-American Miley Cyrus Marialle Sellars, who we all know made it through, but it’s nice to see it again.
Nice. You’re giving me lots of nice, Idol. And I don’t know what to do about it. How dare you entertain me?