American Idol: Chicago Auditions

Last week’s American Idol auditions in Atlanta gave us a reminder of how bizarre things can get when DVRs, Twitter, and YouTube mix with the nation’s collective impulse to latch on to a single cultural moment, no matter how asinine. It also demonstrated, much to the delight of Fox and the Idol producers, that people are paying attention to and talking about this season in the early going. Within minutes of “General” Larry Platt’s “Pants on the Ground” performance, hordes of dorm-boys around the country rushed to their guitars and camcorders to be the first to have a Dave Matthews-style “Pants on the Ground” cover up on YouTube. By morning, thousands of people had changed their Facebook statuses to “Pants on the Ground”, the most number of spontaneous status updates since Obama won. The next night, Jimmy Fallon performed a sober version of the song as Neil Young, and by the time Brett Favre sang it in the locker room after thumping the Cowboys on Sunday, the joke had run its course and “Pants on the Ground” fatigue had started to take hold.

Surprisingly, there was no mention of the General or his song on tonight’s episode, the third auditions show, this time from Chicago featuring guest judge Shania Twain. Thankfully, Twain was a much more constructive critic than previous guest celebs Posh Spice and Mary J. Blige. She didn’t yield to the temptation of a summative “That don’t impress me much” although she did tell one contestant that he had “a beautiful bottom end”, and you could sense Mutt Lange armageddoning it at home. The singer in question was an 20-year-old Asian undergrad named John Park, one of the few hopefuls worth a damn tonight, and even he was fairly lifeless.

Chicago was, for the most part, a parade of jokesters, sideshow acts, and delusional ne’er-sing-wells. The worst of these jokes, which was subsequently the one the show felt compelled to air, was Brian Krauss, a morbidly annoying former soldier, who settled on Tiny Tim, complete with tiptoes. Brian insisted that his audition wasn’t a joke in hopes that his phone will start ringing. I hope it doesn’t. Other crapola included Amy Ryan, who pretended to faint hard to kick off her noisy version of Aretha’s “Dr. Feelgood” and otherwise failed to impress the judges with her boob flex, and Harold Davis, an Usher wannabee who cried and walked slowly away pre-K style when the judges gunned him down.

The nightly montage of weeping was given a City of Broad Shoulders twist of belligerent cursing and flipping people off. And the tragedy quotient was less dramatic than the earlier episodes, as childhood asthma and recent divorce were the hot-button issues—not laughing matters, but the producers are straining to find human-interest stories among the humdrum hopefuls.

Three singers who have a shot: Katelyn Epperly, a teen with Carole King hair, who’s cute enough to gain some fanboy traction despite a hideous tattoo on her shoulder. She sang Duffy’s “Syrup and Honey” in a soft, fluttery vibrato. The judges moved her through, even though Simon remarked that it seems that her “lights are off”. Charity Vance is just 16, which means she’s been watching Idol since she can remember with her parents, both in-house hairdressers, which explains Charity’s platinum locks. Her version of “Summertime” was quiet and sweet and competent enough for four yeses. And Angela Martin is back, having been an an also-ran in Seasons 7 and 8, dropping out last year to answer a warrant over a traffic violation, pretty lame as Idol dropout scandals go. She sailed through with a take on Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine”, but not before Randy warned her to “pay them tickets” this time.

Overall, however, if Chicago is any indication, genuine talent is shockingly hard to find, and not necessarily a result of the judges ratcheting up their standards. Take Paige Dechausse, for instance, who sang a pedestrian version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”. Despite its mediocrity, Simon was the only judge to give her the thumbs-down. Randy also wanted to pass on her, but Shania and Kara leaned on him, literally, to give the kid a break. What’s a dawg to do?

Next up: Tomorrow night in Orlando.