Fact: Tuesday night's San Diego audition episode was the best "Idol" audition episode ever. It featured the perfect balance of disasters and discoveries, a brilliantly edited music montage and a healthy sense of unforced humor, all wonderfully showcased with a zippy, snappy pace. Plus, the starting-to-get-boring "nice" side of "Idol" slipped away into hiding with Melinda Doolittle thankfully bringing Simon and the show back to their old wicked selves.
Which brings us to our first award of the night ...
Best Sneak Preview of "American Idol" Circa 2052: The two old coots who opened the episode
By the time "Idol" turns 50, Paula will be extra mellow thanks to her medical marijuana prescription. Randy's facial hair will have taken over his face like some lost member of the Whispers. Simon's love of caressing his man boobs will be depressing once the dementia sets in. But most importantly, Dunkleman will be back on the show as co-host, and he and Seacrest will look a lot like the pair of crazy codgers who delivered the episode's opening line, "Welcome to 'American Idol,' San Diego, California!" And, like present-day Seacrest, they'll need two takes to get it right. (Remember last year's "Idol Gives Back" snafu?)
The Leah Labelle Award for "Eastern European Chick Whom America Will Definitely Detest and Vote Off Immediately": Tetiana Ostapowych
Tetiana's husky rendition of "Someone to Watch Over Me" may have been good enough to get her to Hollywood, but Simon hit the nail on the head when he said she was "good, not great" and "obnoxious." Not to mention that America will never be able to spell (or say) her last name. Even if she pulls a Mandisa and drops the surname, we "U.S. Americans" will still take issue with the way her first name is spelled. Besides, we already have a pop star named Tatyana.
The George Huff "They Must Sound Better in Person" Medal: Perrie Cataldo
It wouldn't be a night of "Idol" without a sob story, and single-dad Perrie definitely played the role Tuesday night. His son, Evian, was priceless. (As Paula mumbled, "I just wanna squeeze him!") And Perrie had a passionate go at Boyz II Men's bedroom staple "I'll Make Love to You." Personally, I did not "get" his vocal stylings, which sounded a lot like a cow begging for a good milking. The judges, however, flipped over him, saying his voice was "terrific." I guess my TV needs new speakers? One other thing worth noting: His name is Perrie. His son's name is Evian. Discuss.
The Phil Stacey "Way to Make Us Hate You Right From the Get-Go, Buddy!" Slap on the Forehead: Michael Johns
No, it's not because an Australian is trying to become an American Idol. We're a big ol' melting pot, right? And he's not an absentee father à la Phil Stacey, as far as I can tell from his audition. But apparently, this guy used to sing in a band called the Film (back when he went by the name Michael Lee) and soon after splintered off to form a new group called the Rising. According to a Web site charmingly named TheRisingSucks.com, Michael Lee/Johns stole some Film tracks and claimed them as his own when recording with the Rising. VoteForTheWorst.com already has it out for this Aussie. And besides, we've already had a foreign-white-guy-who-sings-like-a-black-dude pop star.
The Ayla Brown "Satisfying Comeuppance" Plaque: Valerie Reyes
This is what these early "Idol" shows are all about. An overconfident, entitled diva gabs to Seacrest about how she sounds just like her idol, Mariah Carey. It gets even better when she admits to thoroughly enjoying the show's audition episodes because of all the hilariously bad singers. So imagine her surprise — and our delight — when (gasp!) the judges hated her hilariously bad audition. Valerie's moment of realization in that weird post-judging confessional (which my wife is convinced they tape in a bathroom) was meta enough for Charlie Kaufman to appreciate. "Oh, my God! Now I'm gonna be on the rejects [episode]!"
The Patch Adams Honorary Enema Bulb for "Least Desirable Health Care Professional": Monique Gibson and Christopher Baker (tie)
Which was more offensive: the singing nurses' foul language or foul singing?
The Julia Damato "Most Likely to Be a Bitch" Shellacked Blow-dryer Prize: Samantha Musa
Whether it was the lame "Simon Cowell is sexy" shtick or the "I'm-way-older-than-20" hair and makeup, something tells me that this girl is going to be trouble come Hollywood Week. I hope I'm dead wrong, because Samantha has a solid set of pipes and an awesome sister, who ended up sitting on Simon's lap and pretending to be a fourth judge. (Hey, she was way more insightful than Olivia Newton-John. Sorry, Sandy!) My favorite moment came when Simon read the sister's paper-airplane fan letter declaring that he was one of three celebs she wanted to meet in her life. The other two? Oprah Winfrey. (Duh.) And "Ohbuma"? Ah, apparently Simon is just illiterate and hates politics. Good thing he can't vote! (On second thought, how is he different from most of this country?)
The Dina Lohan Sash for "Creepiest and Most Orange Stage Mom": Blake Boshnack's mom, Leslie
Blake "Statue of Liberty" Boshnack is back (for his 10th audition?!) and unspectacular as ever, but this year we got to meet his whackadoo mom, Leslie, who depressingly declared that her life goal is to make her son an "American Idol." I feel bad for Blake. It definitely looked like he was just doing this to make Stage Mom proud. But maybe he should try out for a different reality show, like "Moment of Truth," where he can hook up Mommie Dearest to a lie detector and ask, "Do you feel empty inside?"
The Elisa Jimenez "Loveable Kook" Distinction: Alberto Hurtado
America had a delightfully loopy introduction to "Idol" fanatic (pun intended) Alberto, who picked flowers, played with a spinning doll and talked about living in his imagination. And then there was that immense fan that he used to reveal himself to the judges in the most impish way. The guy exuded positive energy ... until he opened his mouth and sang the original song "Live," which featured the word "tragedy" many, many times. Simon called him a "storm cloud on a sunny day," and after giving Paula a special fan, Alberto floated out of the room like a geisha. But it wasn't long before he soared ... like an eagle!
Graduate of the James Gandolfini School of Heavy Breathing: David Archuleta
Sixteen-year-old David Archuleta is no stranger to reality television. Not only did he win "Star Search" a few years ago (hosted by Paula's buddy Arsenio!), but there's a YouTube clip of then-12-year-old Archuleta serenading Kelly Clarkson, Jim Verrarrrarrarros, Justin Guarini and Christina Christian in an airport. This kid was literally born to be on "Idol." Sadly, his journey turned tragic (ahem, Alberto) when a nasty bout of bronchitis paralyzed one of his vocal chords. This season's Fedorov is fully recovered now, apparently, except I couldn't help but notice his ridiculously loud gasps for air while he was singing John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change." Bad habit or unfortunate side effect? Either way, he should embrace it and start studying Tom Waits' catalogue, stat.
President of the Andie MacDowell/ Gerard Depardieu "Green Card" Fan Club: Carly Smithson
OK, OK. It's detestable that I'm insinuating that Carly married her tattoo-covered husband simply to get a green card, but any reason to make "Gerard Depardieu + MTV" a Google search result is a good one.
Let's get to the real scandal with this audition. "Idol" told us that Carly tried out back in season five but had to drop out when her visa fell through. But what "Idol" forgot to mention is that when Carly said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean, she said hello to Atlantic. Records, that is. Yep, Carly Hennessy (her maiden name) had a huge record label pushing her debut album back in 2001, yet it sold fewer than 400 copies. (To put it in perspective, even K-Fed's rap album sold over 1,000 CDs.) Now label-less and inked, Carly's back for another "Idol" go-'round, and the judges seem pleased. Will America be as welcoming to a girl who's been passed around the music industry so much? So far, I'm skeptical, but more because of her hideous over-singing than her professional past. Full disclosure: Even though her audition left me unimpressed, I just plunked down $2.98 (including shipping) for a used copy of Carly's flop of a record, mostly because I found out that Greg Alexander of the underrated '90s rock outfit the New Radicals wrote most of the tunes. I guess that means Courtney Love ain't gonna be making any "Idol" guest spots this season. (Nor will Beck. Nor Hanson. Nor Marilyn Manson.)
What do you think, faithful readers? Should Carly get a fair shot despite a failed past with Atlantic Records? Did you enjoy Tuesday's episode as much as I did? Wouldn't you have loved to see more of Sarah Long's Nell-ish (or "Hung"-ish, according to Randy) audition? And, most important, did anyone else notice how jealous Paula looked when Samantha Musa's sister sat on Simon's lap?