Eleven thousand hopeful Los Angelinos filled the Rose Bowl to audition in front of Randy, Kara, and Simon, plus the wizened gaze of guest judge Avril Lavigne. It may be the City of Angels, but Avril showed up in a devil-horn hoodie, which fit her giggly, sneery ridicule of the contestants. Perhaps it was her snaggletooth, but Avril’s mean streak apparently rubbed off on the rest of the judges, who turned in their rudest performance of the auditions so far. At this point, the show misses Paul Abdul, if only because she was often the only one with the decency not to humiliate people to entertain the home audience. Ellen Degeneres will likely be helpful in this regard although by the time we get to her, the worst of the singers will have already been laughed off the stage.
Indeed, Avril is too old for this type of giggling (or the hoodie), and she’s also too young to scoff at some of these hopefuls. The worst it got was the reaction to A.J. Mendoza, an Adam Lambert wannabe—they are, predictably, out in droves this year—who made the unfortunate choice of singing Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality”. Mendoza badly oversang, yes, but he seemed like a nice enough guy and claimed to have gotten some encouraging feedback from Lambert himself, which gave him confidence going into the rehearsal. The judges did their best to deflate him with a blast of snickering ridicule, even though Mendoza was trying to listen to them for genuine criticism.
The evening included a black and white montage of Old Hollywood footage of star-seeking history, which paralleled the aspirations of the thousands of dreamers who auditioned. This was followed, of course, by the requisite clip of bawling rejects, which continues to be a source of morbid curiosity. Yes, the judges are often mean-spirited, but it’s no less pathetic that these kids are weeping as if they’d just lost a family member.
One contestant tried to take destiny-making to a new level. Neil Goldstein is a passionate teenager who summarized himself with one word, “hope”, and sang Meatloaf’s “Rock and Roll Dreams Come True” although he broke down after a single line. Goldstein seemed excruciatingly nervous and sweated profusely, but when Simon tried to get him to accept the reality check that he’s terrible, Goldstein tried to stand down the judges and to will himself to the next level: “There is no reality but what we make for ourselves, and I…am…going…to…Hollywood”. Simon would have told him not to let the door hit him on the way out if Simon hadn’t already hit the kid with the door earlier.
There were plenty of other terrible auditions, of course. Jason Greene brought an unfunny gay routine, hitting mercilessly on Simon and Ryan. Damien Lefavor is an odd martial artist who choked trying to hit his high note, which he earlier described as his “nemesis”, although he couldn’t sing any of the other notes either. My favorite trainwreck of the night was Austin Fullmer, who did a Mick Jagger impression, that would be a hoot at karaoke night, mostly because it was generally awful. All of this raises the question, how many more of these do we have to endure before the actual competition begins?
Midway through the show, a second guest judge arrived, a grouchy Katy Perry, who, in a nice turn of events that eventually got old, tried to deflate Kara by hazing her comments every time she spoke. You can imagine Kara’s diatribe about Katy once Kara got back into her helicopter for the ride home. Sometime in the process, the show threw us a few bones by offering a preview of some contestants we should expect to be around for awhile.
Jim Ranger is a hirsute father of three and a pastor by trade. He sang an original song, never a good call, but his Bo Bice-y country growl was enough to do the trick, although Kara considered how Ranger could balance his demands at home with the competition, as if that’s part of the judging criteria. Ranger is 27 years old, and the older contestants have ruled these auditions so far, a fact punctuated tonight by a montage of kids who hang around the waiting rooms rooting for their parents. One of those mommies was Mary Powers, who looks like Stockard Channing in Grease and sang “Love is a Battlefield”, about the fifth time we’ve heard a Benatar song this season—who knew she was so popular among twenty-somethings? (Pat, it’s time for that comeback album.) Powers has an eight-year-old daughter who likes Simon because he’s the “only negativity one”.
Andrew Garcia in another singer to watch. The child of parents who ran with gangs in Compton, Andrew has avoided those traps and is now a good father himself. He’s also a good singer, with an impressive, raspy range and solid instincts. Also strong was Chris Golightly, a 25-year-old who lived in foster care since he was 18 months old, one of the heart-tugging stories that will likely turn him into a favorite. My darkhouse pick, though, is Tasha Layton, a personal assistant and minister, who sang a crisp, adroit version of Joss Stone’s “Baby Baby Baby”.
Next up: Another round of rehearsals, this time from Big D.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.