"American Idol" packed up its dysfunctional dog and pony show and headed to the heartland Tuesday night, on its virgin voyage to Omaha, Nebraska (not to be confused with previous "virgin voyages" this season, thanks to "Abstinent and Pretending to Love It" contestants Bruce Dickson and Amy Flynn).
Omaha was overrun with lady wrestlers, a jet-lagged judge and — gasp! — could it really be the show's first-ever openly gay contestant? In other words, tons of fun material worth giving awards to. Chop, chop.
Proof That "Idol" Is a Uniter, Not a Divider: "Four Winds"
The opening of Tuesday night's show featured a song by the fiercely independent (and extra-liberal) group Bright Eyes. As my co-worker (and personal American idol) James Montgomery furiously BlackBerried me, "How/why did Conor Oberst, Mr. 'I'm Not Gonna Play This Venue Because It's Owned by Clear Channel' license his song to the network owned by Rupert Murdoch?!?!" Good point, James. I wonder if this means Oberst will finally let Mike Huckabee (mis)use "When the President Talks to God" as a campaign theme.
The Kimberly Caldwell "There's Always the Red Carpet" Consolation Prize: Chris Bernheisel
The first audition of the night featured a gift-giving, hand-standing Kelly Clarkson super-fan hoping for a "life-alternating change." Alas, no Golden Ticket. (The kid destroyed "Since U Been Gone" worse than Top 40 radio did back in 2005, when it played the song every 10 motherloving minutes.) But Simon hooked Chris up with a red-carpet correspondent gig at a local Fox affiliate for this year's "Idol" finale. (You'll be receiving talking points from the White House shortly, kiddo.) That Cowell is such an agent at heart. You just know he'll hunt down this Chris kid in six months and demand to be paid his 10 percent fee.
The Baylie Brown "Pretty Farmer Most Likely to Get Booted for Forgetting the Lyrics" Certificate: Jason Rich
Part-time farmhand Jason Rich tried out with "When You Say Nothing at All," an appropriate song title considering the dude fell silent three (three!) times during his audition. But Simon must have heard (or seen) something he liked because he generously gave Jason a fourth attempt — and some help with the lyrics — before extending an invitation to Hollywood week. Jason better get his nerves in check, or else it's back to the corny life.
The Alan Ritchson "Um, the 'American Gladiators' Auditions Are That-a-Way" Award: Rachael Wicker and Sarah Whitaker
Rachael "I spell my name like Rachael Ray so deal with it!" Wicker is a six-time arm-wrestling champ who sings like every other country artist, which means she yodeled a lot. Sarah "Lady Morgue" Whitaker is a Cheshire Cat-grinning, Seacrest-smacking, former professional-wrestling goth force to be reckoned with, and sang like she just took a huge hit of happy gas. Only one of these tough ladies made it through to Hollywood. Which one do you think it was?
Most Unexpected Tribute to Robert Altman: Samantha Sidley
In the midst of a (kinky?) role-playing game where Simon asked Ryan and Paula to switch jobs for a minute, home viewers were treated to a cacophony of voices as the three judges and Seacrest argued with one another, overlapping their dialogue Altman-style (or, for the less cinema-minded, like "The View" when Rosie was still on it). The kerfuffle was all about Samantha Sidley. She had zero stage presence and sounded like Norah Jones with a head cold, but there was something there that Simon liked, and once he set sail on the S.S. Overpraise, the other two judges (and TV host) followed suit.
The Jim Cantiello "You Watch Way Too Much Reality TV" Decorative Plate: Elizabeth Erkert
We only caught a glimpse of Elizabeth in a montage, but I saw enough to know that she is a kindred spirit. "I can't wait to get to Hollywood and prove Simon wrong," she said as she left the stadium, Golden Ticket in hand, "that I am America's next top model. Oh ..." I hope I get to interview her one day, even with the pit stains.
The Matt Sato "My Parents Don't Hug Me Often" Trophy (Shaped Like a Pink Razr Covered in Tears): Angelica Puente
We've heard the "I'm estranged from my parents" story on "Idol" before. Just last year, 16-year-old Matt Sato tugged at the heartstrings (then ripped them out and threw them on the damn floor) as he made increasingly desperate and depressing phone calls to his disapproving mother. This year we have Angelica Puente to play that part. (You better work those tears, honey!) Basically she's got some vague, unnamed daddy issues that are in the midst of being worked out (Dad did, after all, pay for her trip to the "Idol" audition). Despite mimicking Celine Dion to a fault, we'll see Angelica again in Hollywood, but I can tell already that this isn't going to end well. Either she'll end up weeping on the phone after she gets cut, or she'll get to the semifinals, where we'll be treated to some ridiculously awkward family cutaway shots.
Best Dressed Rocker: David Cook
I'm super-excited to see David advance in this competition. He's like Daughtry 2.0. The new and improved version doesn't sound constipated, actually has a personality and comes equipped with a bitchin' argyle sweater vest and a Mohawk. Here's hoping he has something prepared for Standards Night.
The Best Hangover (I Mean, Jet Lag) Cure: Johnny Escamilla
Paula seemed awfully ... tired ... throughout the entirety of the episode (that is, once she arrived) and displayed some kooky behavior not seen since "Hey Paula" premiered last summer. Abdul giggled her way through an arm wrestle, slurred "1 million bajillion drillion yes!" and bent herself over a table without warning as if wanting to be spanked! But the biggest eyebrow raise came during Johnny Escamilla's bedazzling audition. While Simon chatted up the oddball teenager, Paula let out a monstrous hiccup that registered on the Richter scale in California! Simon's priceless "disgusting little pig" slam was just one "rude" short of an Alec Baldwin voicemail message. And say what you will about Johnny's energetic-but-hopeless "Shout" — by the end of the audition Paula's hiccups were gone! He should bottle that.
The Ellen DeGeneres Medal for Breaking Barriers on TV: Leo Marlowe
It's season seven and not one contestant has ever spoken freely about his or her homosexuality while on TV's biggest show. (A handful of singers have opened up during their post-"Idol" careers, while some contestants — i.e. ones named Clay — still refuse to talk sex at all.) But Tuesday night Leo Marlowe changed all that when one of the first things out of his mouth was "My mom always said she raised the perfect homecoming queen. Too bad it wasn't one of her daughters." Granted, that line is more tired than Liza Minnelli on a StairMaster, but I'll cut him some slack for busting through the "Idol" closet with grace and gusto. Sadly, judging from his so-so vocals, I don't know how far he'll make it this season. But for now Simon thinks he's a good, honest kid; Paula thinks he's a "touchdown!"; and Randy said he was "rockin' the bells," which sounds vaguely homoerotic. Fingers crossed that Leo continues to be himself during his "Idol" journey. On a side note, Perez Hilton should study this kid's appearance. If P-Nasty dropped 150 pounds, he'd look exactly like Leo.
What did you think of Omaha's offering? Did you notice Paula's zany behavior too? And forget Barack and Hillary's potentially history-making campaigns: Is America ready for a gay "American Idol"? Comment me!
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