American Idol shook things up by taking its auditions to the open water — or more specifically, to the U.S.S. Midway in San Diego Harbor — for a special Sunday-night episode. But there were plenty of constants, too: Producers continued the Season 11 trend of de-emphasizing joke auditions; Jennifer Lopez continued to champion the combination of poofy shorts and high heels; and Randy Jackson was there.
Let’s cut to the chase, shall we?
We kick things off with Melons McHotpants (*not her real name), who presumably was already spending time down by the docks in her ill-fitting red-and-white tube top and denim underpants, noticed the Idol auditions, and figured, “Might as well clamber aboard and do my best Jessica Simpson impersonation.” Alas/thankfully (depending on your point of view), we are not witnessing the second coming of Bikini Girl, which means we’ll have no scantily clad “sing-off” vs. J.Lo (or Steven) at the finale, only some bitter tears of shock and disappointment at the lack of a Golden Ticket. Oh, and yet another failed punch line from Randy: “The problem is, she should’ve worn a red bikini.” (Um, no, the problem is Uncle Nigel should’ve used this oceanic interlude to hurl you overboard and replace you with a real judge.)
Ashley Rhodes is up next, and she’s like a refreshing glass of iced tea compared to the mug of sludge that just made its way off the ship. Ashley is a single mom who works as an insurance account manager and a DJ, and yet producers fail to take the opportunity to play Kris Allen’s cover of “She Works Hard for the Money” in the background. Ashley also makes a strange choice — picking “I Will Always Love You” as her audition number — and shows off a solid instrument that is perhaps 20 percent less impressive when she’s not full-on belting. Even so, it’s hard not to root for an upbeat young woman who responds to Randy’s “where have you been?” by noting she’s spent the last few years being a mom and paying her bills. (The shoes on her feet? She bought ’em.)
The next three Golden Ticket recipients all get the “joke or no joke” treatment, starting with Jayrah Gibson, who tells the judges he’s “an R&B and pop artist” as if that’s what he does to pay his own automobills. (I’d bet everything in my wallet that a check of his tax returns would prove otherwise.) Jayrah tackles Musiq Soulchild’s “Just Friends,” complete with a corny “lady-curves” hand gesture. To her credit, J.Lo kinda sorta manages to point out that the track itself is inherently annoying — telling Jayrah that in the future, she’d like to hear him tackle more “melodic” songs than “rhythmic” ones — but even though he’s not without talent, there’s no way Jayrah won’t turn out to be Hollywood Week cannon fodder, right?
Aubree Dieckmeyer‘s first impression is even less promising, as she giggles and purrs and keeps accidentally looking into the camera and saying she wants to become “a singer and America’s Next Top Model.” Maybe it’s just nerves getting the best of her, but Aubree’s bubblehead persona is unfortunate not just because it’s been almost a century since the passage of the 19th Amendment, but because her rendition of “Feeling Good” is actually terrific, showcasing an airy tone that occasionally drifts into a outskirts of Yodelville, and a unique sense of phrasing that brings the song’s lyrics to vivid life. Too bad her voice will most likely be drowned out by her babygirl antics.
And then there’s Ali Shields, so “unusual” that she got her first two kisses from Mike Posner and Usher while working as a special correspondent for Ellen DeGeneres, so “wacky” that she kicks off her audition rapping to Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now” and fulfilling Randy’s request for a booty-shaking “ghetto dance,” and so “Oh! Em! Gee!” aware of her own persona that I’m not sure I could handle it if she’s ever again on my TV screen. After Ali finally gets around to delivering a servicable but far from spectacular rendition of “Like a Star,” the judges send her through to Hollywood. “You can sing a little!” smiles J.Lo, remembering the exact words of the record exec who signed her to her first major-label deal once upon a time.
Kyle Crews doesn’t just go to college, he’s in a frat, and he fancies plaid shirts from the Kris Allen collection (as well as music from the Anoop Desai Season 8 playlist). Kyle’s cover of Monica’s “Angel of Mine” gets Steven super excited, and in fact has him calling Kyle “the best male voice we’ve heard yet. To my ears, though, while Kyle is among the top 2 or 3 of the San Diego telecast, he’ll need to dial back on the vibrato and the excessively cheesy hand gestures if he wants to be a true contender. Then again, America does love a humble gent with room for a style makeover.
Next up is Jane Carrey, a waitress, mom, and musician who just so happens to be Jim Carrey’s daughter. “Do you remember me? I was one of the Fly Girs?” asks J.Lo, who shared the stage with Jane’s famous dad during her In Living Color days. Instead of playing the flattery card — “Yes! Meeting you for a few seconds backstage is my earliest and happiest childhood memory!” — Jane reminds J.Lo she was only a toddler back in the day, or in other words that J.Lo is actually old enough to play her mother if they ever end up doing a movie together. Jane’s cover of “Something to Talk About” is pretty and in-tune, but it’s not going to make her the next Kelly Clarkson, or even the next Janell Wheeler. J.Lo offers some sage advice to Jane: She needs to stop closing her eyes and up her performance game, and then hands her a Golden Ticket. She’s going (back) to Hollywood!
The evening ends with golf-course mechanic Jason “Wolf” Hamlin, who physically reminds me of Season 6 semifinalist Sundance Head, but with much more impressive hair. Jason proves his good taste by choosing CCR’s “Midnight Special” for his audition, but there’s something a little amateurish about his delivery — like he’s listening to John Fogerty’s original vocal through imaginary headphones, and trying to capture his inflections. To his credit, Steven demands a second ditty, and when the judges allow Jason to pick up his “git-fiddle” (aka guitar) for a cover of “Folsom Prison Blues,” it’s as if the instrument breathes new and thrilling life into the guy’s voice. The wolfman gives good growl, wins over the panel, and performs a limber little jig when he gets his Golden Ticket.
On his way out, Jason makes Seacrest all skittish by planting a kiss on his cheek — something all of his ladyfriends had dared him to do if he got within smooching distance of the dapper host. Maybe water is Seacrest’s kryptonite, but the pas de don’t with Wolfie is just one of several awkward moments Ryan has in San Diego. There’s the “look at what a hot-blooded hetero I am!” way he ogles Melons as she walks up the stairs. There’s the fact that he demands Ali get the third and fourth kisses of her life from Idol crew members, one of whom “has soft lips,” our host insists. And there’s the way Ryan aggressively questions Kyle about the lusciousness of J.Lo’s mouth, prompting the contestant to sigh, “Ryan, you’re going too far.” Indeed, Mr. Seacrest, you can only invoke the “what happens at sea stays at sea” clause if there aren’t a half-dozen cameras there to film your every move.
What did you think of the San Diego auditions? Did you notice a quick glimpse of Season 10 Hollywood Week standout Deandre Brackensick? And do you wish we’d seen more/better from the 53 Golden Tickets handed out in San Diego? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol news, recaps and video, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!