For the first time in 10 seasons, "American Idol" hit Milwaukee for an audition round. Milwaukee: Best known for cheese, beer and Danny Gokey. To honor the occasion, I'm drinkin' a brewsky (imported, natch), nibbling on some cheddar, (Cheez-Its, natch) and I don't plan on ever, ever shutting up.
Mr. Gokey returned to "Idol" during Wednesday night's (January 26) audition episode, happily telling hopeful contestants, "In a moment your life can change, you guys!" He's right — it only takes an instant (and a tragic back story) to turn you into the target of "Idol" bloggers' venom and resentment.
Which brings us to Chris Medina, the most polarizing contestant since the Gokester. (I know Julie Andrews says, "Let's start at the very beginning," but she's not the boss of me. I'm doing this blog "Memento" style, starting at the end and working my way back. Deal with it, Maria von Trapp.)
Medina's narrative is the stuff of Lifetime movie legends. Deeply in love, engaged to a Starbucks barista, only to have his life turned upside down when his fiancée suffers major brain injuries in a severe car accident (that briefly put her in a coma) months before the wedding. Intense. (Or campy, if Meredith Baxter Birney is involved.) Now Chris spends his days strapping his soul mate into her wheelchair, making small talk with her caretaker mom and writing painfully earnest love songs to his ailing bride with his band, named — I kid you not — the Able Body.
In other words, when "Idol" producers met him, they said, "Jackpot!"
The story is inspiring, and Medina's dedication to his fiancée Juliana is admirable. Heck, beyond admirable. So why did his audition segment make me feel ickier than a pool full of mucus?
Chalk it up to TV producer manipulation. Did they really need to send a camera crew to Julie's house? Did we really need to see Chris help her down a staircase? It's one thing to see Julie outside the audition room as part of Chris' cheering section. It's another to allow a major TV team into her home so that Nigel Lythgoe had plenty of shots of a trembling brain injury patient to work with in the edit. And it's truly next-level manipulation when Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez ask Chris to wheel in Juliana so that they can say "Hi." (Or, in the case of Steven Tyler, grab her head, close-talk to her, then smother her with kisses like an Italian grandmother.)
At the end of the day, what turned me off the most was that Chris' story was far more impressive than his singing voice. His falsetto was strong enough to get him through the Script's "Breakeven" without embarrassing himself, but the goose-pimples I got were a direct result of Juliana being a pawn in the television game and nothing more. Oh, "Idol" and your increasingly heavy-handed back stories. At this rate, we better hope that that faceless chimp attack survivor doesn't have a 15-year-old daughter who fancies herself a singer.
Speaking of 15-year-olds, they're being shoved down our throats at an alarming rate. (Gary Glitter's ears just perked up. Not in that way, dude.) On Wednesday night, Seacrest shared that every 15-year-old who stepped foot in the audition room earned a Golden Ticket, including Colorado native Emma Henry, a sweet girl with a still-maturing voice who, as Lopez and Randy Jackson astutely pointed out, will get swallowed up by the band should she make it to the semi-finals. They gave her a Golden Ticket anyway, because Nigel Lythgoe wants an all-15-year-old cast, but I didn't mind because she sang Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" and her family was adorable. Good luck Emma!
We also saw Thia Megia's heavily-affected "Chasing Paevments," and to say she looked familiar wasn't just the usual "white guy thinks all Asians look alike" tunnel vision. Thia was on "America's Got Talent" two seasons ago and has since performed with "Idol" pal David Foster. The girl has been around the block a few times (but not in that way, Steven Tyler — cool your jets).
Rounding out the young'ns was Scott(y) McCreery. The Banjo Boy from "Deliverance" hit puberty, visited a dentist and moved to Indiana, where every male apparently has a freakishly deep voice. (Between Scotty's bass and his baseball coach's even deeper bass, I'm convinced that Indiana's state flag has a picture of a subwoofer on it.) Now he's a 16-year-old singing all about getting freaky deaky with the lights down low. It's a family show, you guys!
Tyler tried to get freaky deaky with one of my faves of the night, Haley Reinhart, a curly blond who squeezed out an "Oh! Darling" so ferocious and intense, she nearly went cross-eyed. The beginning of her audition sounded like the makings of an epic casting couch session, or some slow-moving fan-fiction. It went a little something like this:
Haley: What a beautiful sight you got here.
Steven: Nice, eh? I was gonna say the same thing about you.
Haley: Thank you.
Steven: I love your hair, I love the shoes.
Steven: What's your name?
Steven: Haley? Haley, what's it all about?
Haley: This is everything I want.
Steven: Yeah? You've done this before?
Haley: I might have, yes. Once.
Steven: Yeah? And?
You get the wrinkly, unsettling, May/December picture.
Haley apparently auditioned last year but "Idol" didn't bother to show us any clips. (I guess they don't want to acknowledge that season nine existed. Smart!)
Meanwhile, Lopez got her Paula on when she drooled all over Scott Dangerfield, a 22-year-old mop-topped skinny boy who very well could be this season's Alex Lambert. He has geek chic with a smoky, soulful voice. And underneath the unassuming surface, you might find a layer or two of
douchebag arrogance running through his veins. The jury's still out regarding Scott's personality. It's also possible that I'm just jealous of his long locks and cool glasses. (Why do I have perfect vision? WHY?!?)
One thing "American Idol X" is doing well is highlighting African American singers. On Wednesday night, we met Naima Adedapo, a husky-voiced maintenance worker at Milwaukee's Summerfest who longs for her headlining gig there. (In other words, she is Christina Aguilera in "Burlesque." Congrats, Steven Tyler. That makes you Cher. Go sing another Diane Warren ballad!) I loved Naima's attitude, I loved her look (minus the matching yellow halter top and eye shadow combo), and her husky Donnie Hathaway cover showed enough promise for me to put energy into remembering how to pronounce her name.
I also enjoyed Jerome Bell (pictured above), who pays for his space-boots by playing the Bar Mitzvah circuit in New York. "I only sing for little people," he joked to the judges. (The Roloff family's ears just perked up.) But my love for him dried up as soon as he sang — no, shouted — Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." Singing that song in all caps is borderline rapey. They don't say "whisper sweet nothings" for, um, nothing.
The final African-American singer who scored a Hollywood Golden Ticket was named Tiwan Strong. I'm still not entirely convinced that this dude isn't just season two finalist Rickey Smith in a new all-white wardrobe. Regardless, I'm happy that Tiwan is on the show, as long as his Charlie-horse afflicted relative is nearby at all times. Spin-off show, please!
Milwaukee's production mishaps could warrant their own spin-off special, too. First, a ginger gymnast backflipped on to the face of an "Idol" cameraman. Thwack! Then, Randy Jackson accidentally (and obliviously) punched Harvard Grad/White House intern Molly DeWolf Swensen's mouth in a high-five gone wrong. Thwack! (She had the last laugh when her "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" showcased a scrumptious alto voice. Too bad she comes off as a waspy, privileged rich kid. That aura didn't help Ayla Brown in season five, and it's not going to help Molly DeSoManyNames WhiteGirlTown in season 10, either.)
The rest of the endless two-hour episode was padded with the usual parade of the supremely untalented. A Civil War reenactor with an unhealthy obsession with his father's sex! (For Randy Jackson's sake, I hope he's not in the Confederacy.) A Green Bay Packers diehard sang Justin Bieber's "Baby" as an operetta! (I need that like I need a Randy Jackson-patented punch in the mouth.) I also resented that the judges made fun of goofy Joe Repka's sandals, yet Scotty McCreery was sporting similar footwear only moments before (as was the gigantic accountant with Aaron Neville's voice). Other bone to pick? Accountant man (named Steve Beghun) was portrayed as a friendless loser until he won a trip to Hollywood, when all his buddies magically appeared to hug him. Keep your characters consistent, "Idol" producers!
What did you make of Wednesday's Milwaukee episode? Were you moved to tears or to nausea by Chris Medina's audition? What made your blood boil more — when Randy pointed out to outraged wannabe Vernika Patterson that Jordin Sparks, Ruben Studdard and "that first winner" weren't skinny or when Randy called Kelly effing Clarkson "that first winner"? Do you think Danny Gokey met Steven Tyler and do you think Steven Tyler smacked Gokey for his infamous "Scream On" misadventure? Sound off in the comments below, and for tons more "Idol," follow me on Twitter @jambajim.