American Idol Recap: Milwaukee's Best!

Tonight’s episode of American Idol — straight from the cheesehead state of Wisconsin (city of Milwaukee, to be specific) — played out like a light and breezy Jennifer Lopez rom-com with 15 minutes of harrowing emotional drama (think Requiem for a Dream or Precious or Winter’s Bone) grafted on at the end.

Yeah, okay, as Michael Stipe (and yes, reality TV scholars/Idoloonies, Lee DeWyze) would have us believe, everybody hurts. But not all pain is equal, as we learned from meeting 26-year-old Chris Medina, a curly-haired fella whose fiancee, Juliana, suffered a traumatic brain injury and was confined to a wheelchair just months before their wedding date, and Emma Henry, 15, (along with her hair, 47), who wept openly at the prospect of being withheld from her destiny of becoming the female answer to Justin Bieber.

Oh, Emma, this is exactly why Idol shouldn’t have lowered its minimum age limit to 15 this year, but instead raised it to 18. (And this is why I give a slow clap to J.Lo for being the only judge brave enough to give you the gift of “No.”) You see, Emma, life is hard. Sometimes it’s downright brutal. And while your “True Colors” had a sandpapery beauty to it, until your understanding of the human experience expands beyond what you picked up in the latest copy of Weekly Reader, until you realize that the world doesn’t owe it to you to redeem coupons containing the words “but I really want this to happen,” you should not attempt to become a recording artist, a reality TV star, or anything other than the child you currently are. You want something to cry about? Chris Medina (pictured, top left) can give you something to cry about.

Because whether or not you appreciate how Chris’ back story was handled — I’ll admit I have mixed emotions, and I’m sure you’ll be sharing your own opinion in the comments below — it was impossible to not be moved by it. This is a man living out the most painful possible twist on “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,” a man who refuses to walk away from a love that may have to sustain itself on memories alone.

What’s haunting to me is the way Idol‘s producers kept hidden the full extent of Juliana’s injuries. That the beautiful young woman suffered severe physical effects from her 2009 accident was clear from one glance: The larger question, of course, involves her mental state. How aware is Juliana of her surroundings? Did she knowingly consent to the Idol cameras capturing her in this fragile state? I’m temped to guess “yes,” but it could just be the optimist in me wanting to believe Juliana was knowingly waving Chris’ Golden Ticket in the air as they exited the audition room, that she did indeed whisper to him that she knew he’d get that trip to Hollywood.

In any event, thank heavens for Steven Tyler, whose genuine warmth — leaning into Juliana’s ear and telling her “that’s why he sings so good, ’cause he sings to you” — came right through my TV screen and neutralized the creepy way the judges had been pumping Chris for information just moments before. Idol‘s bottom-line message may be that the cost of possible dream fulfillment is making your private pain a very public one, of not just telling the world that your fiancee is confined to a wheelchair but making sure the cameras let the viewing audience see it for themselves, but Mr. Tyler made the moment about pure human connection. Well played, sir!

But enough about Chris’ back story. An audition should be rated on vocals, and I’d give the guy a solid B/B+ for his cover of The Script’s “Break Even.” I appreciated Chris tackling a number with a little bit of rhythm, and J.Lo was spot-on in offering up a silent-but-enthusiastic clap for the guy’s lilting falsetto. The problem is that now, after a few hours have passed, I remember the details of Chris’ tragic past far more than I do his actual voice, and that lack of distinctiveness could well plague him the rest of the season.

Chris and Emma (and her Amanda Overmyer hair) weren’t the only study in opposites tonight.

NEXT: Grown-ass women FTW!

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. antpitta says:

    “I want this so bad”-there’s an easy retort-“There’s always next year”! I wish the judges would remember that once in a while instead of making us subjected to more TV time with substandard performers who will indeed get ‘eaten alive”.

  2. Bob says:

    Emma did not deserve to get through to the next round. Hollywood week is tough emotionally and physically. It’s no place for a girl who cries when she doesn’t get what she wants. Overall I’m liking the judges this year but with singers like Emma, I miss Simon’s blunt honesty. One of the judges needs to rise to the occasion and be the clear voice of reason and sanity even if it means crashing a few people’s dreams along the way.

  3. Bill says:

    Steve Beghun was not only the most surprising audition of the night, but also the best. Molly Two-Names was likewise a shock and a delight. Neshana (?), aka Carmen Miranda reborn, was terrific, as was Sam Cooke redux with “Twisting.” And Chris Medina cannot be denied. But Emma and the judges’ cave-in on her were obnoxious. There are simply too many mediocrities being sent on to Hollywood. Cowell would never have allowed it. Otherwise, however, he is not missed. The vibe is pleasanter, more loving, and more entertaining. Steven and Jennifer are marvelous additions.

  4. Kim says:

    Steven Tyler is so genuine. I can’t get over how real he is and I will include Jennifer Lopez in that as well. Tyler can make me laugh. In fact, I have laughed more during these audition rounds than I ever had with Simon Cowell on the judges’ panel. The best thing about it is that not one of those laughs are at the expense of those auditioning. Randy Jackson hiding behind his paper to stifle laughs seemed so childish compared to Steven & Jennifer who obviously thought the singing was atrocious, but were able to keep a straight face and let the auditioners down with gentle honesty. It’s a kinder, gentler and far more informative Idol, and not once did it lose the humor or entertainment factor. Steven Tyler made the last segment palatable. Those simple heart-felt words left me reeling. You just knew he meant every word he said to Juliana. I’ll give the judges an A-, only because, in my opinion, Randy Jackson hasn’t shown me anything new.

    • Babblonia says:

      I agreed wholeheartedly. We can ONLY HOPE that Steven is able to translate all of this to the live shows. And stop flirting with teenagers before then.

  5. Bill says:

    There’s also something so lame about a 15-year-old–or for that matter a 19-year-old or a 24-year-old–crying that “I’ve always wanted this sooooo baaaaaaad.” We all want something.. You don’t always get what you want. (Where have I heard that before?)

  6. Vivian says:

    I hate sob stories. I really do. And most of the time they can actually turn me against a contestant. Especially one’s that have no hope in them. They are just sad and depressing. And I have mixed feelings about the way Idol exploited Chris Medina’s girlfriend by wheeling her out. I hope she was aware enough to enjoy meeting JLO and Tyler. But that’s not for me to say.

    What I did like about this story was that it was about unconditional love. That young man choosing to stand by his girl was impressive, positive and loving. And Steven’s response to the girl was so gentle and beautiful that it took my breath away. Who new a Rock god could have such heart and display such gentleness.

    I checked out some of Chris Medina’s music on youtube and he is actually quite good. I hope we see him in the finals.

  7. Babblonia says:

    SLEZAK IS BACK!!!! The only thing I will miss is the exchange you would have inevitably had with your erstwhile partner-in-crime Kristen Baldwin about how Chris Medina is about to get GOKEY-IZED. I bet she is so pissed off right now.

  8. ChristineOH says:

    Yes Michael– more “on the fence” auditions would make the show more interesting. The 50something dentist with the toothbrush… huh?

    And I thought Steve Beghun was likeable AND amazing. His downfall may be too low key of a personality.

    I really enjoyed last night’s show, and people are definitely talking about it.

  9. Niix Starkyller says:

    My final thoughts on Chris Medina and his lovely Juliana:

    Say what you will about how crass the Idol produces were but that segment engendered such a wellspring of compassion that his musical love letter to his wife has gone from a few hundreds of views to almost 30K. As well, the family and foundation have received thousands of dollars in donations in less than 24 hours and (doubtlessly) celebrity support and further television appearances will reap further financial rewards — which they sorely need. At the end of the day, Idol did something good, and for that I applaud them.

    I also applaud S. Tyler for his humanity and sensitivity (I can hardly believe I’m typing this), and his inherent lack of inhibition which served to show us he has a soul behind all the rock star chic.

    I applaud Mr. Medina for his nobility and his unwavering heart. Such loyalty, such selfless love, such strength of character are usually reserved for fictional heroes. Here it resides in a real person.

    Most of all, I applaud Juliana. It is easy to fall into despair and shy away from the daunting, arduous task of recovery. From what I can tell — and admittedly much of it comes from the claims of those around her — she is the most courageous of them all. Not just to put herself on national TV, but simply to get up every day and keep trying to live a full life despite all which has befallen her. (sorry for the diatribe, but I hadda get that out of my system)

  10. Katie says:

    Thia Megia was on America’s Got Talent a few seasons ago….One reality show to the next… Are her parents serious?

  11. sherimoonzombie says:

    Oh Slezak – words fail me. How can I express my sheer delight and unabashed envy over your ability to string together words like “more runs than an IBS sufferer at Taco Bell”? Best description of overwrought melisma ever written. EVER.

  12. Paisley Quinn says:

    Best audition show ever. Love Steven Tyler. Miss your recaps at EW but will happily follow you here. Oh, and I nearly spit out my cough drop with your “more runs than an IBS sufferer at Taco Bell!!” Slezak FTW!!!

  13. NedPepper says:

    Not only is Slezak doing his recaps….we have a new WEB SHOW! With subtitles. So, so happy! As for Idol…it’s weird how much I really like Steven Tyler and J.Lo. Steven Tyler is giving this show a rebirth. It’s fun to wach. (If only you could get Kristen to call in on Skype, Slezak, everything would be perfect.)

  14. Bill says:

    I agree that Emma had no place getting a Golden Ticket, but as for her being eaten alive immediately, all I can say is: Remember Mikalah Gordon!

  15. Helene Fina says:

    I wonder if most of the AI audience realizes that most aspiring singers or singer/songwriters or lead singers in a current local band would NEVER go the American Idol way. They are our country’s true singers… singers who will or will not make it.
    They don’t want to sing ‘Micheal Jackson Week’ or ‘Rock Week’ etc. to prove themselves.
    Many of them I feel are the true awesome American talent. They could be living close to you, struggling, but staying true to themselves.

  16. KWise1 says:

    BTW, Slezak, I agree with you 100%: we need to see more auditions of people who are on the fence, borderline. In particular, I want to see a few borderline contestants who do NOT get chosen. It seems like every time the judges are on the fence about someone, the person inevitably goes through. I want to see a few such borderline contestants actually receive a “no.” To me, that is more gripping and dramatic and entertaining than seeing the bozos carrying toothbrushes.

  17. betty says:

    the bariton country guy– Scott McCreery– was unbelievable! i can’t wait to hear more and more of him! he and jordan dorsey are my faces so far.

  18. Ladyhelix says:

    Randy feels awkward and disingenuous to me, and it gets worse with those “on the fence” tryouts. I feel uncomfortable whenever he speaks – or when we’re waiting for him to speak. It’s painful.

    Could J.Lo and Steven just do this without him? It would make my evenings SO much more pleasant – and I don’t think any of the contestants would complain either!!

    Would you?

  19. MzCuda says:

    I’m luvin’ me some deep country bass (voice). I’d love to see Scott McCreery go to finals. I’m not particularly a country music listener, but I think he’s going to be versatile enough to make it to the finish.

    No one else (yet) has captured that “whoa” moment for me.