Wednesday night’s “American Idol” made me so happy I didn’t know whether to raise the roof or put my pants on the ground. There was big talent, big laughs and a big elevator that made me think producers were holding auditions in the Tower of Terror.
But alas, we weren’t at Disney World. Instead, the second night of season nine of “Idol” plopped Randy, Paula, Kara and Simon in a giant hotel in Hotlanta. Mary J. Blige stepped in to keep Paula’s chair warm, and unlike Tuesday night’s waste of (very little) space Victoria Beckham, Ms. Blige was an engaging addition to the panel. She talked back to feisty contestants, used words like “anointed” and laughed in the face of several bad singers. Now that’s a diva who isn’t afraid to look like a mean-spirited millionaire on television! Bonus points to “Idol” producers for using that shot from the “Just Fine” music video where it looks like Mary J. Blige farts doves. (No really. Look.)
The episode was bookended by two goofy original compositions: Dewone Robinson’s duet “Lady We’re Not Together Anymore,” which Simon deemed one of the worst songs ever written (he’s wrong) and General Larry Platt’s, “Pants on the Ground,” a rap ditty that blasted thugs who hate belts, love gold teeth and wear sideways hats. I hear Soulja Boy is already hard at work on a response track called “Old Man on the Reality Show.”
Platt’s “Pants” wasn’t the only star Wednesday night. Miss America veteran Keia Johnson was rockin’ some loud pants, too. The wild-haired singer showed up in tight neon green leggings that were so intense I was worried my HDTV would come to life and threaten, “If you don’t turn down the hue, I will shove a million pixels up your nose.” Keia’s awesome R&B-tinged “My Heart Will Go On” more than made up for her sartorial misstep (as did her sparkling personality). I’m in love. (I was also in love with the fact that “Idol” used Allison Iraheta’s excellent song “Pieces” after Keia scored a Golden Ticket.)
Speaking of beauty pageants, as soon as the caked-on makeup of BFFs Carmen Turner and Lauren Sanders appeared on my screen, I instantly thought of a potential direct-to-video Rick Moranis sequel, “Honey, I Blew Up the Baby Pageant Queens.” Simon called them “Annoying annoying annoying,” Kara called them “The Ditzies” and Mary J. Blige called them … well, she said nothing, but her stank face said it all. Yet Turner had a decent enough voice for a Golden Ticket, leaving makeup twin Lauren behind, although Simon mischievously noted that he didn’t think the Ditz Sisters would be separated for too long.
Cartoonish characters with good-enough voices seemed to be a trend in Atlanta. Antonio “Skii Bo Ski” Wheeler cracked me up with his misprinted custom shirt and a high-energy monologue about being a “package deal” and “like the dollar store.” While I don’t think he’ll make it past the first round of cuts in Hollywood, his energy could be a fun foil to the intensity those episodes bring.
I didn’t find Holly Harden (aka “The Human Guitar”) to be as charming. She showed up in a Halloween costume that was part guitar and part French maid uniform. Unfortunately she lacked the commitment necessary to elevate the look above gimmickry. If she had cited Warhol and refused to smile, she could have been the next Lady Gaga. Instead, she giggled like a 10-year-old girl at a David Archuleta Christmas concert. Randy, Kara and Simon liked her country twang, but I’m with Mary J on this one: “I don’t get it.”
I did “get” Jermaine Sellers, the church singer who takes care of his ailing mom. I thoroughly enjoyed his Ne-Yo-esque take on Joan Osborne’s “One of Us.” What’s more, I relished the spontaneous hood accent Kara DioGuardi randomly adopted during Jermaine’s audition. Who does she think she is, Justin Timberlake?
And then there was the cop from Virginia. First of all, I would have never guessed that season five’s Kevin Covais (aka “Chicken Little”) would have grown up to be a police officer in the South. Oh, the po-po’s name was Bryan Walker? I knew that. Walker rocked a pair of wire-rim glasses, a bald Mohawk (a bohawk?) and a surprisingly soulful imitation of Ruben Studdard’s “Superstar” cover. As my colleague Gil Kaufman pointed out, there was something Michael Sarver-y about Bryan. Here’s hoping he lasts longer than season eight’s roughneck.
Before his audition, Lamar Royal appeared to be a mild-mannered fanboy, nervous to meet Mary J. Blige while also eager to hear constructive criticism from the panel. You know where this is going: Lamar shouted Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” as if he were passing a kidney stone (or imitating season eight’s Von Smith) and then refused to listen when the judges gave him less-than-glowing reviews. We’ve seen this formula a million times, but there was something really poetic about Lamar screaming, “I wish Paula was here!” to Kara’s face before getting escorted out by “Idol” security.
If I had to pick one small town girl to throw my weight behind, however, it’s Vanessa Wolfe. She comes from a really small town, actually: Vonore, Tennessee. Population: 1162. 1200 if you count all the vampires living there. (You know they do.) Apparently the only thing to do in Vonore is jump off bridges (for fun), hang out on your mom’s porch and shop for clothes at the dollar store.
It was hard not to root for the humble country girl who, moments before facing the judges, told America, “I don’t want them to look down at me, or nothing like that.” Now why would Vanessa think “Idol” might act superior to a naive singer from the rural South? (Oh, right! Because less than five minutes later, producers did just that in cheap dramatizations of Alabaman Jesse Hamilton’s life, complete with mullet wigs, beer cans and banjo music. Stay classy, “Idol.”)
It was a big relief when Vanessa settled into her audition song and showed off a quirky, awesomely old-school country warble that’s more Loretta Lynn than Taylor Swift. The judges responded positively to her diamond-in-the-rough potential. Who doesn’t love a makeover? Considering she walked the streets of Vonore with a guitar, I’m hoping Hollywood Week will let her surprise us with even more talent.
My one big fear with Vanessa is that she’ll be tempted to play up the “I’ve never been on an aero-plane” shtick. Don’t do it, Vanessa. What endeared me to you was you, not your quaint background. (Also, you responded to Simon’s compliment by exclaiming “Are you cereal?” without even the slightest hint of self-awareness. Let’s be friends.)
But what did you guys think of Wednesday night’s show? Did you, too, cackle when the girl had to face her massive cheerleading squad without a Golden Ticket? Were you surprised Ryan Seacrest didn’t make a “What’s the 411?” joke during the package about delusional “411: The Show” TV host, Christy Marie Agronow? And what kind of crack were the producers smoking by only giving us 30 seconds of Tisha Holland’s jaw-dropping audition? I want more!
Make your voice heard in the comments below, and be sure to follow me @jambajim to keep up with all my “Idol”-related ranting!