American Idol Recap: The Big Easy Does It

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sob-Story Idol, that maudlin little show-within-a-show that rudely injects itself into the early weeks of American Idol. For starters, it takes up valuable time during which I could be forming unreasonable attachments to unknown, unheralded vocalists based on 30 seconds of a cappella singing. It’s not that I don’t feel for folks who’ve overcome hardscrabble backgrounds or unspeakable tragedies — or that I’m trying to thwart Ryan Seacrest from using his somber Ann Curry Delivering Tragic News Voice ™ — I just don’t think said hurdles make these kids any more qualified for/worthy of becoming singing superstars. Or, putting it in the poetic form of a Paula Abdul lyric: “I’m just here for the music.

On the flip side, though, I understand Nigel Lythgoe & Co. aren’t merely in the business of discovering the next big Billboard chart-buster. They’ve got a TV show to produce, they need to take us on an emotional journey (ugh…I just said “journey”), they know that in order to appreciate the thrill of victory, we must occasionally contemplate the agony of defeat. And you know what? Every once in a while I have to sedate my inner cynic with a couple Big Carls worth of Trade Joe’s Sauv Blanc and buy a ticket for the Great Idol Manipulation Tour.

There are worse rides to take, after all. Just ask Jennifer Lopez, who tonight conjured up some of the dewiest tears ever captured by a reality TV camera — she is, after all, a movie star — during Paris Tassin’s gut-busting rendition of Carrie Underwood’s “Temporary Home.” Paris (pictured, lower left), who could easily be mistaken for a young Courteney Cox, entered the audition room after sharing with the Idol cameras an emotional tale of how, at the age of 18, she decided to go against her doctor’s advice and not terminate a complicated and risky pregnancy, then eventually became a mother to an adorable daughter who is plagued by hearing problems. “When you sang it, I felt it,” J.Lo declared at the end of Paris’ performance, and I nodded my head in agreement, ignoring the fact that toward the final third of the audition, the brunette beauty’s vocals skidded like a Mini Cooper hitting a patch of black ice. (Weirdly, the contestant herself seemed to be the only person in the room aware of the pitch problems, apologizing to the judges after her final note.) Yet Paris had something even more important than technical proficiency on her side: She was able to not only emotionally connect with the song, but to use that connection, those deep reserves of feeling, to help her audience connect to the material, too. And therein lies the difference between someone who’s actually telling a story, and a person who’s just reading words on a page.

Still, I’m left wondering the following: If J.Lo hadn’t known that Paris was the mother of a special-needs child, if she didn’t (as I suspect) have a dossier in front of her explaining the girl’s toughest moments, would the performance still have moved her to tears?

One could ask similar types of questions about Brett Loewenstern’s audition package. Granted, the redheaded teenager (pictured, upper left) immediately won me over with his opening food metaphor, explaining that by third grade, he realized he was “a red apple in a pile of green apples,” and that he’d been pretty much picked on by bullies ever since. And oh how his sweet, supportive parents made my heart swell. But a few weeks from now, I suspect what I’ll remember most about Brett is his stellar, subdued take on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a song that typically brings out the histrionics among Idol auditioners. (Yep, sometimes it does pay to be a green apple.)

By comparison, bespectacled blonde Sarah Sellers (pictured, upper right) got a far less dramatic edit during tonight’s show, save for a peculiar bit of flirtation spurred by Steven Tyler that ended as soon as Randy seemed to suggest that the Aerosmith frontman could be Sarah’s biological father. (!) “You had me sold from the second you laid eyes on me,” Steven cooed, after the upbeat marketing analyst launched into a cover of “Make You Feel My Love” that currently ranks as my favorite audition of the entire season. I loved the varying textures of Sarah’s instrument, the way she took her time with every word of the Bob Dylan ditty, the way her voice transitioned from the prettiest whisper to the meatiest growl. I know at 28, most record labels would consider Sarah too “old” to gamble on, but lest they forget, girlfriend is still young enough to be Susan Boyle’s daughter. Can we send her straight to the semifinals — whatever that round is going to resemble in season 10?

Lucky for us viewers, Sarah, Paris, and Brett weren’t the only talented folks on hand in New Orleans. Let’s see of we can dish each of ’em Twitter-style, in 140 characters or less.

* Jordan Dorsey (pictured, bottom right) | Idol‘s usually so unkind to vocal coaches, but not dishy Jordan, who made “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” sway, then swing.

* Jacquelyn Dupree | Her grandpa coached Randy in high school, but she tackled “I’ll Stand By You” with a little too much force. Penalty flag down!

* Jovany Barreto | This is not America’s Next Top Stripper, it’s American Idol! Not that you’re going to take home the crown in either competition, dude.

And last, but certainly not least…

* Jacee Badeaux | You’re 15; Ryan said U looked 12. Ouch. Still, Aerosmith guy declared your “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” was “art.” Fair enough tradeoff?

What did you think of tonight’s Golden Ticket recipients? Seeing how Ryan said 37 folks from New Orleans are headed to Hollywood, do you wish the producers had shown just a few more than seven? And how about Steven Tyler’s quote of the night: “From my melodic sensibility, it was very delicious.”? Amazing, no? Sound off about these topics and more down in the comments.

What’s more, if you have some strong thoughts or opinions on anything you saw this week on Idol — pertaining to judges, contestants, trends or conspiracy theories — and you’d like to share them on the premiere episode of TVLine’s new Idol-related Web series, Idoloonies, email a paragraph or two to (and be sure to include a contact phone number). We’ll be selecting a handful of readers each week to join me in cohosting the Webcast via Skype or video chat on Fridays at or around 3/2 c. We’ll also be choosing a Twitter Question of the Week, so don’t hesitate to fire your best shots to me @MichaelSlezakTV. Be sure to tag it #Idoloonies!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Danika says:

    I agree, Jennifer would likely not have been crying if she was just listening to Paris Tassin without the context of her hard life. I was not that impressed with her vocal performance at all. I do wish they had shown a few more of the other people who got through. I really liked Brett Loewenstern he is quirky and unique. Steven Tyler is hilarious he is a really great addition to the show.

  2. Carlito says:

    Way too many sob stories. Instead of showing us shots of the swamps show us another singer. My money is on Jordan Dorsey to be a serious contender for the AI crown. Can’t wait for the Idoloonies webcast. Slezak you’re the greatest!

  3. emma says:

    jordan has the best potential, hands down. the boy can sing, is a musician, has great tempo, can dance, and– is very handsome and young (but not too young). i know i am not a music expert, i am one of those who love the show and i could never be into someone like sarah. if someone does not have much charisma, musicality and dance moves i will only listen to them if they have an amazing voice and/or great lyrics. sarah’s voice is nice but her voice would never stop me on my tracks had she sang in the streets or a subway station. so, i hope she is a great writer and/ or dancer cuz her charisma is not strong.

    • Georgia says:

      “if someone does not have much charisma, musicality and dance moves i will only listen to them if they have an amazing voice and/or great lyrics.”

      Sigh. Really, Emma? So dance moves and charisma trumps “an amazing voice?” Goes a long way in explaining how there are so many mediocre (at best) “artists” in our culture. Silly me, I happen to be a sucker for pure talent instead of sexual writhing on stage, slutty outfits, backup dancers feeling each other up, and lip-syncing to mask what’s really missing…but hey, I’m old school.

      • lola says:

        I am old school myself and I love great voices. I actually do not listen to current popular music because it’s so processed and empty. But let’s face it– Idol is a TV show! and when someone is on stage i want to enjoy a SHOW. dance is a relevant art (admittedly, my favorite form of art), and charisma is important even if u r a high school teacher, let alone a performer. There are tons of great singers out there, in order to succeed u need to have something else. So my point is– if u want to compensate for mediocre performance skills u need to have a HUGE voice or have another strong anchor. Sarah is a good singer but she is not an AMAZING one and her performance skills are average which means that AI is simply not her platform. I can’t even remember what she sang and I listened to her audition twice. She would do better by building herself in the relevant clubs with her relevant target audience but she will never get enough votes on AI.
        i am usually good at picking up talent at any field but I never believed that Kris Allen will ever make it to the top 10. So, might be wrong here as well…I still vote for Jordan though…

  4. Tygrl says:

    So far, 2 great nights of television. Simon who? I was actually looking forward to having a life this year, but apparently not. I’m hooked. (and happy to have your recaps again Michael.)

  5. Jen says:

    I still liked Robbie Rosen (from Wednesday night) the best so far. Check out his version of “Down” on youtube…he’s the real deal.

    I agree with all the other comments regarding the sad back stories. Enough. The contestants should be picked on their talent alone, not their hardships. Keep up the good work, Michael!

  6. danny says:

    While we contemplate whether there is life for Idol after Simon (and Tyler is making a very strong case that there is) it is undeniably true that you, Michael, are vital to the success of the show. I am so glad to have found you again! Can’t wait to read the recaps in the coming weeks. You are the best!

  7. Kim R says:

    I like the new judges. Jennifer is acutally my favorite female judge they’ve had…ever. My only “caution” would be regarding Steven Tyler, who if he’s not careful, is going to offend some parents out there when he inappropriately makes comments dripping with sexual innuendo to these young girls. It is dancing on the border of being a Law & Order episode! Just my 2 cents. :)

  8. Michele says:

    So far I like what I’m seeing and I love that they are airing mostly the talented singers. I never watched the audition episodes in the past because I can’t stand all the weird costumes and catterwalling just to get air time. I don’t miss Simon at all and I agree that they could lose the sob stories. I’ve always hated those and I do think they influence the judges perception of the singer. Fortunately the sob story can only take them so far. Great to have you back Michael! Watching Idol wouldn’t be the same without you.

  9. Sue says:

    I find this panel of judges refreshing. I also think that the people that are not watching the show because Simon is not on it would be pleasantly surprised. I don’t miss Simon at all. Would someone like Brett go through unscathed by Simon? I don’t know. But would Steven Tyler put someone through just because of their voice and looks be damned? Most probably.

    What I am even more curious about is how Jimmy Iovine is going to be used.

  10. I’m offended that you implied Courteney Cox was old! :)

  11. Michael says:

    I’m concerned a bit about these kids. Jacey sang well, but he may start puberty in the middle of one of the shows. I’m not a big fan of children’s voices or their histrionics.

  12. Charbarred says:

    Already stopped watching it

  13. Kristy says:

    I have to admit that I was not looking forward to Season 10 but I have really enjoyed the first two episodes. They have toned down the mean spirited vibe that the auditions usually have and concentrated on the talented singers.I also think that the new judges are doing a nice job. Steven Tyler is hilarious.Should be interesting when they go live.

  14. cookie love says:

    Yeah, Simon would not have been influenced by the backround stories, as all the new judges apparently are. That’s what’s lacking here in Season 10. We need someone to focus on the music, the marketability, and not emotion..

  15. Titina says:

    I am enjoying so much this season 10. Really the new judges are a breath of fresh air.
    Even though AI lost soe viewers because of Simon, he´s not missed any more. I bet after a while the rating will go up again.
    WIth these judges and GREAT talent this season will be a success! I am so excited to see what happens!
    STEVEN TYLER is the greatest. I´m always looking forward to watch what he has to say.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    I have to say I am missing Simon. Granted, Steven Tyler & Jennifer Lopez are doing better than I expected, I think many contestants they are letting through to Hollywood, Simon would have scoffed at and said they don’t have ‘star potential’.

  17. ChristineOH says:

    While I LOVE that the focus so far is on the good singers, and not the deluded no-talents or the I-just-wanna-be-on-TVs, I would like to see some critical discussion of contestants instead of unanimous, enthusiastic yes votes. And some talented singers who just don’t make it through. I think it’s good to show just how hard it is to make it to Hollywood.
    But overall, I like the new focus. Maybe there won’t be so many “stealth” contestants who show up for the first time in the top 10/11/12.

  18. John Berggren says:

    I hope Brett does well, because his story is important to me :)

  19. the real wendy says:

    I did not watch the first night… I watched this one. Its actually pretty good. Did you notice that when JLo started crying, she looked surprised that she was actually crying. I agree they should show more of the ticket getters!

  20. AprilD says:

    I figured out why after 10 seasons I still hate the audition rounds. This is a completely different show than the one that whittles down contestants week by week. We’re being fed here. We’re seeing what producers want us to see. Most of these stories aren’t going to matter in the least bit 3 weeks from now, let alone late in the season. Which makes me wonder why time is spent on them. In the past it was the terrible auditions that drew in viewers. People love to watch some good crazy. But that’s not this year and it seems more wasteful to me. I don’t want to see some kid’s bully story if he’s not going to make it to top 24. Where’s the Allison’s they’re hiding back there?

  21. anned says:

    I loved the dynamics of Simon, Randy and Paula. I have missed that dynamic the last two seasons until now. Steven Tyler is amazing as a judge. My favorite contestants so far are Brett and Jacee. I hope they make it too the finals. I recorded the show and had to watch Brett sing twice he was so good.

  22. Scarlett says:

    Simon was great and his cut-to-the-chase attitude is missing this season. People are making it thru that I wouldn’t put thru. However, Simon frequently put too much emphasis on the physical, often in an unfair way. At least this year it seems that everyone has a better chance to get to Hollywood, even if they aren’t a beauty queen. Steven Tyler has totally surprised me. I watch for his reactions. As someone else said, I love that he actually pays attention to each audition. And I love that both he and Jennifer are putting people at ease, encouraging the contestants, and talking to them like human beings. Simon put the fear of God into everyone who walked thru the door. This is different and fun. I’m giving Season 10 a chance.

  23. Bill says:

    Totally agree that Sarah Sellers was the find of the night. But Jennifer’s tears shouldn’t be discounted; the back story was moving and the rendition solid enough.

    To backtrack–Ashley Sullivan is the most annoying contestant in years and years. The new panel should be fired just for sending her through. Just kidding about the panel–I really like Tyler and Lopez and Randy–but not about Sullivan. Don’t know which I hated more–her Britney Spears love or her “Gimme Gimme” rendition.

  24. Cy says:

    I’m with you! Sarah Sellers was my favorite audition of the season so far too. There’s something truly interesting about her… there’s an alert, intelligent person under that politely reserved exterior, plus she’s got the vocal goods to back it all up. I really hope she makes it through Hollywood!

    I love Jaycee too–all talent, no pretension, and NO SOB STORY! I agree that Paris’s sob story was actually relevant to her music/audition, so it’s fine that Idol covered it. But if they keep doing contrived backstories like that kid in NJ who had cancer when he was 5… or that girl whose dad had throat cancer… those are the types of sob stories that are so manufactured and so obviously exploitative that it makes me want to run straight to Vote for the Worst and help get this diseased behemoth of a show to an early grave. And then a good night like New Orleans turns up and makes me remember why Idol was once so great and might still be worthwhile. I hope this season really heads more in the latter direction and ditches the manipulative junk.

  25. Bill says:

    Yes! Jacee was definitely right up there with Sarah. And agree that Sarah seems really bright and sensitive–and more important, that her intelligence and sensitivity translated into her singing. She’s potentially an Idol finalist and one of the best. Here’s hoping.

  26. Katie says:

    Thank you, Michael, for continuing your web series at your new home! Love the title, can’t wait to watch. When I heard you were leaving EW, I thought my Idol experience would be sorely lacking.

  27. lola says:

    hey guys, i am not from the u.s. and no one here understands how come a legend like steven tyler had agreed to be a judge (but ye, we know– he was drinking tea and the ford center and needed a day job). the man loooves music, is compassionate, fun, i found his remarks to the girls only boosted their confidence and if not for the editing would have come across as nothing but funny friendly. he gives good critiques and all in all– he definitely boosts the show’s credibility.
    as a panel– randy looks more in his element, ryan is nicer again and in general– it looks like they brought the fun back!

    as for the talents— in the past 2 episodes one guys had impressed me: jordan dorsey. if i was younger, i would have been head over heels in love by now. he got the whole package and if he continues like that, he can be a relevant recording artist.

    • Teresa says:

      I absolutely agree about Steven and the comments to the girls. To me he just seemed fun and friendly and more like he was trying to put the girls at ease and flatter them than anything. He wasn’t once vulgar or inappropriate like Gene Simmons, when he was a guest judge. The producers made a point of stringing together a bunch of flirty comments to make a “lecherous rock star” package and get tongues wagging, because anything that gets people talking is great for them. I thought his rapport with the girls was cute. And I’m a mother of a girl that age. My child would have been tickled to death if Steven Tyler had flirted with her like that. Harmless.


    New webseries. Thank’s web pagan gods.

  29. lola says:

    selzak– loving your recaps. notice that they are shorter now. here’s hoping for good idoloony (or how is the new idolatry is called?)

  30. @spunkybean says:

    Always seems no matter what Idol does, there’s someone who wants the opposite …more singers, more stories, or more crazies. I don’t know if there’s a perfect way to make these early auditions meaningful, because they can’t predict who will make an impact later. Basically, they need another “Pants on the Ground” guy. -Don

  31. sherimoonzombie says:

    After the first two shows, the one audition that is sticking in my head is Sarah Sellers. Understated but very intriguing. Which of course means she’s doomed to go home early……

  32. PinBox says:

    I don’t like the sob-story format either. I especially didn’t like Paris Tassin’s sob-story. Sorry, but I believe it is the most selfish thing a person can do to intentionally bring a special needs child into this over-populated world. Yes, this child is loved and adored, but that will not change the fact that she will suffer a lot in her lifetime. On top of her back-story, I didn’t like Paris’ singing all that much. I wish the sob-story would be eliminated entirely. Save it for the winner to disclose to the media after he or she has won this singing competition – based on singing, not pity votes.

    At least the freak show and manic acts acts have been kept to a minimum. I hope that continues. Love Steven Tyler, he is spot on and really funny and weirdly sexy. Jennifer Lopez is a pleasant surprise as I didn’t think she would be nearly as good as she has been so far. Randy is as non-committal as in previous years.

  33. Nat says:

    Is it weird that as soon as I saw Sarah Sellers’ audition I thought “Slezak is going to love her!” :P I love her too though dawg, my fave audition so far!

  34. Sandy says:

    First, I’m pleasantly surprised at the positive feel of the comments so far. From other blogs, I’ve come to expect mostly negative comments about how American Idol is the most evil creation ever, etc. . . Nice to see fans just talking about what they like and dislike about the show.

    Second, I think having guest judges during auditions in past seasons has made most of us comfortable seeing new people on the panel (not to mention the switches in the last two seasons). It didn’t take long for me to accept Steven and Jennifer as judges. Although I actually liked Kara (don’t shoot me), I have to say the three-judge dynamic is so much better than four.

    I usually lose interest in the auditions after the first week, but this season, I’m starting to look forward to them again. It’s nice to see more good singers and less bad (although I like those too). It’s the first time in years that I’ve picked favorites this early in the season. (Like Mr. Slezak, Brett’s apple analogy won me over. If they skipped the story and went straight to the singing, I still would have liked him.)

  35. malc b says:

    So far I am not missing Simon like I thought I would. Steven Tyler is a hoot. Aside from his occasional lapses into inappropriate flirting, he has been awesome. And J-Lo I think will only get better as the show goes on. I find my main problem with the judges now to be….Randy! And I must concur with Sandy who said three judges are better than four. I agree “one hundred million bajillion percent.”

  36. Jill says:

    I have a whole new respect for Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez; they really impressed me. I thoroughly enjoyed these first two episodes. Still not digging on the sob stories, but did dig the fact that the embarrassing train wrecks were kept to a lesser amount. And the interesting thing about the Orleans auditions – did those who were told “No” seemed to accept it quite graciously? Or did I drink too much wine drink last night? ;)

    Glad you’re still around Slezak; I’ll admit, when I didn’t see you on EW, I felt a panic attack coming on!

  37. JayK says:

    Yes, I definitely would have liked to have seen more than 7. No swamps, no sob-stories (although Paris speaking about her daughter actually touched me), and I’m sorry, but I do not care what LA’s state bird is. My other pet-peeve is the COMING UP NEXT bits. Honestly, they must spend at least 8 minutes of air time on COMING UP NEXT. I am fully in love with JLo and STy. And what kind of d-bag randomly takes off his shirt. Gross.

  38. Teresa says:

    If I could have one wish for this season, it would be that Randy would just chill. He seems to have a great desire to be the new Simon. He seems to just want to be mean for the sake of being mean, just throwing out unnecessarily harsh and rude comments, and egging Steven and Jennifer on, trying to get them to make fun of contestants. Fortunately they are not taking the bait. I hope he’ll quickly pick up on the fact that nobody else wants to play that game, and dial it back. The judges do need to be straight with contestants when they don’t have what it takes, and offer constructive advice on how to improve when they can be improved. But to just ridicule them and bully them should not even be allowed by the producers. Somebody needs to talk to him.

  39. Suncatcher says:

    I think S9 was such a disaster because:

    – Simon was so bored doing the show, he didn’t care WHO went to Hollywood – and it showed.
    – Randy was the same, probably worse. Last year he barely spoke, had no excitement in his words, nada. This year he is totally revived.
    – Paula and Kara were just themselves.
    – The result: the pathetic band of 10 – and with their pants on the ground.

    This year is already more exciting than last. GO BIG AI!!!

    • Suncatcher says:

      CORRECTION: I meant “Ellen and Kara”. Sorry!

      PS – This year we also will not miss Kara’s need to be the center of everything – and in a black bikini.

  40. Jean says:

    I didn’t see the first two episodes, but I will try and watch this week. I love reading your recaps (Congrats on the new endeavor!) but it doesn’t make sense to read them if I haven’t seen the show!

    I’ve heard good things about Steven Tyler, so I’ve got to check it out. J-Lo usually gets on my nerves, but someone has to.

  41. jojo says:

    Oh Slezak, please don’t get too wrapped up in Sarah Sellers. She’s got Jesse Langseth written all over her!

  42. Slezak, can we have videos like you did back in Idolatry? Can we have some kind of multimedia experience that shows your cunning abilities to judge the judges and idol?

    Would be much appreciated and as a webmaster I have no problem in bringing traffic to ya’

    Fernando Vivanco