It is the penultimate audition show before taking to Hollywood and weeding out the golden tickets, and it is clear that the process, both in the audition room and the editing booth, is starting to run on fumes. This episode had little in the way of either memorable performances, freakazoids, or sob stories. The judges agreed to send 26 total singers from Denver on to the next round, but we saw very few of them. Instead, the show spliced together more montages than usual—of quirky audition preparation rituals, of pissed-off rejects being hounded by American Idol cameras, of the upbeat yes-fest from Denver, and of the zany costume gimmicks.
To stay consistent with the general mendacity at this point, Denver saw the return of Victoria Beckham, heretofore the most reticent of the guest judges, who in this round was far more talkative, approaching outright astuteness. She was able to level that criticism first on a paunchy wiseacre named Mark Labriola, a guy who thinks he looks like Jack Black so he tries to act like him. His personal history offers some drama; his mom was a fugitive mother, hiding little Mark around the country since he was four-years old. Mark, now a father himself, sang Squeeze’s “Tempted”, which was passable, so all that backstory wasn’t in vain.
Even the abysmal auditions were less interesting than usual, although one contestant who scatted gibberish gave rise to Simon’s best line of the season: “That was like having Paula back on the show”. Beyond that, the trainwrecks were particularly tame or otherwise boring. When Mario, a fella with a nervous laugh who limped through “Jailhouse Rock”, or a dude in a bikini counts as entertainment value, the show is grasping pathetically for filler where it badly needs to move on. Slightly compelling was the case of the long-snapper for the Colorado Buffaloes, Austin Paul, whose 42nd biggest dream is to get a golden ticket on Idol. Paul has no musical talent to speak of, so that dream will have to fester over, and I’m going to go ahead and pile on by blaming Paul for the Buffs’ 3-9 record last season, worst in the Big 12.
Perhaps the most indicative of the AI culture among tonight’s auditions was Kenny Everett, only because he’s one of those guys who morbidly overrates his own abilities. Kenny is the guy yelling in the subway thinking that people are enjoying his public service, and it’s a contestant like him that you don’t mind seeing Simon crucify. Tonight, Simon told Kenny that he sounded like he was “being punched”. When the rest of the gang gave him the no-brainer thumbs down, Kenny, quite genuinely, said, “You’ve got to be kidding me”. Even if this kid could sing he would have fallen victim to the insidious demon of modern R&B singing: melisma overkill. There’s plenty of blame to go around over the last 20 years for this abuse, and Mariah Carey certainly has blood on her larynx; however, American Idol itself is a major culprit, and now these judges judges are reaping what they’ve sown with some of these intolerable auditions.
So who were the keepers? Kimberly Kerbow, maybe. She wasn’t much of a singer, but she showed up with her cute five-year-old daughter (they wore matching dresses), and she ad-libbed a line about buying Rogaine for Simon if he ever goes bald. After she left, golden ticket in hand, Simon theorized that Kerbow was wearing a wig. Only Randy disagreed. How’s that for a cliffhanger?
The evenings’s nailbiter came in the form of Casey James, a hunky 27-year-old Texan and taciturn country singer with a pleasant but non-descript voice. Simon rightly called it a boring audition and voted no, but the girls liked him and coaxed him into letting his hair down and taking his shirt off. Randy sided with the girls, following a trend we’ve seen several times already.
How far do you suppose Tori Kelly will go? She’s a sunny, 16-year-old California high schooler who brought out her little sister; she had drawn pictures of each of the four judges to soften them up, a stunt that worked on all of them except, predictably, Simon. Again, the girls liked her and Randy fell in line. All of the judges liked Haeley Vaughn, another high schooler, who wants to be the first black female country singer of note, despite a distracting lisp.
Then we met the singer with the best rock-star name of the bunch, Nikki Nix—she got the looks that kill!—a girl with a speaking voice like Robin Williams when he does that baby impression and who flew 14 hours to get to the audition, presumably why the judges were so nice to her despite a mediocre performance. Finally, we may have found this year’s rock chick, a Seattle cover-band singer, Danelle Hayes, who took on Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One” in a convincing rough wail. She was emotional at the audition, after have grown tired of the cover-band circuit. Simon told her, “You may have come in here just at the right time”, alluding to the burnout that was about to do Danelle in. Funny, you could say the same thing about these auditions.
Tomorrow: Thankfully, the final audition show before Hollywood.
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 where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.