American Idol Aspen Auditions Recap: Escape to Pitch Mountain

Quick! What did you have for lunch on the second Tuesday of January 2012? If the best you can come up with is “urrmm, a sandwich?” or “something I reheated in a Tupperware dish, maybe with sauce?”, chances are that in a few weeks’ time, you’ll be having similar recall problems regarding American Idol‘s exceedingly pedestrian Aspen audition episode.

In fact, if I close my eyes and don’t consult my notes, my most vivid memories of the episode include the sight of an unfortunate yellow romper, a snippet of Lady Gaga’s “Government Hooker,” and a reference to turkey genetalia. Oh, plus a beautiful, scenic backdrop for the judges.

Which isn’t to say any of the Idol wannabes on display were especially dreadful. But it also means that none of the nine Golden Ticket recipients that were featured (out of 31 total Hollywood-bound singers from the Aspen tryouts) stood out as a potential Season 11 champ.

Alas, we also had a larger percentage of unsuccessful wannabes than in Season 11’s first three audition episodes. There was a girl with the allegedly talented twin who failed to prove she could “be amazing, too” (but should’ve gotten credit for picking a Melissa Etheridge song that wasn’t “I’m the Only One” or “Come to My Window”); there was the waitress who wouldn’t have made it past the cattle call if her restraurant didn’t specialize in Rocky Mountain Oysters (yes, Steven, there really is a turkey testicle); and an obvious jokester named Magic Cyclops (who wins a “poor imitation is the sincerest form of making me look genius” gift basket from Russell Brand). Let’s review the proceedings:

Elementary-school music teacher Jenni Schick kicks things off with a warning: She’s always been “overly energetic” to the point where people have to tell her to stop. In the immortal words of Lucille Bluth, “This does not bode well.” Turns out, though, that Jenni isn’t nearly as annoying as her intro suggested. She amusingly shares that she’s got a list of celebrities her boyfriend has agreed she can kiss (Steven Tyler, Lady Gaga and The Voice judge Adam Levine), and her boyfriend has a list, too (Adam Levine, Lady Gaga, and — say what now? — Seacrest Out). Jenni auditions with Pat Benatar’s “Heartbreaker,” and while it’s fun to see a contestant rock out a capella-style, Jenni’s thigh-high boots are ultimately more interesting than her vocals. But so what if she’s merely Hollywood Week cannon fodder? She gets herself a moderately intense kiss from Steven Tyler, and won’t that be fun to discuss when parent-teacher night rolls around for her kindergarten class?

Curtis Gray, 28, is up next, and he’ll be useful to producers come Hell Week, seeing how he’s unselfconscious enough to park himself in front of a camera at 6 a.m. in full bedhead-y, eye-crusty glory. In a turn of ridiculous that will surprise no one, Randy declares Curtis’ choice of Boyz II Men’s “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” as a “brilliant” example of song selection. (Uff da.)  But while Curtis has got a solid voice, he delivers the ballad in such funereal, rhythmless fashion, it’s kind of hard on the ears. And yet he gets three “yes” votes without the slightest debate or hesitation.

We then get a one-two-three punch of Golden Ticket winners who seem destined to become footnotes in the annals of Season 11: Richie Law, whose servicable Josh Turner cover is most likely shown as a reminder from our friends at 19 Recordings that Scotty McCreery’s Clear as Day is in stores now; Devan Jones, whose rendition of The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” is too affected by half; and Mathenee Treco, who gets a case of the rhythmic jitters while offering a version of “Hey Jude” that’s actually pretty good if you listen with your eyes closed.

Aspen’s two strongest contenders turn out to be a pair of teenage girls whose backstories are a study in opposites: Haley Smith is an unassuming 18-year-old holding down three jobs (cleaning houses, bussing tables, and making sausage — even though she’s a vegetarian) and declaring the local landscape to-die for (“I mean, if you were to die for anything…” she remarks). Shelby Tweten, 17, has battled bipolar disorder most of her life, and plainly disucsses the difficulties of her existence before medication and treatment.

On paper, you wouldn’t expect Haley’s sleepy vibrato and peculiar, folksy phrasing to be a match for Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good,” but she sings the words with a clarity and intent that make you feel like you’re hearing the ditty for the first time. (Except, of course, we all know Jesse Langseth did it so damn well on Season 8’s Wild Card show.) Randy’s not entirely sure of Haley’s choices, but Steven is moved in a way that exceeds his standard knee-jerk “beautiful” critique. “I’m honored to be here listening to your voice,” he says, and he looks like he might be misting up a little.

J.Lo gets teary-eyed listening to Shelby’s rendition of “Temporary Home,” which is as unadorned as a brown paper bag. There’s something inherently pretty and soothing about Shelby’s tone, and yet at the same time, it’s not particularly distinctive. Plus, Shelby gives off the disconcerting impression that her happiness and emotional well-being are entirely tethered to how far she can take her Idol dreams. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to her Hollywood Week run.

Speaking of ambivalent feelings, I’m a little surprised Jairon Jackson gets unanimous passage to the next round, too. His audition to the original track “So Hard” draws a “beautiful” from Steven, a “real artist” critique from J.Lo, and Randy’s declaration that “it’s a good song,” but I hear a rambling melody delivered with excessive vibrato and intermittent pitch problems. You’ve got to admire a guy with the gumption to write his own music and perform it for a panel of judges on national television, but it doesn’t make him next in line to inherit Scotty McCreery’s sash and crown, does it?

The final Golden Ticket goes to Angie Zeiderman, who might as well be wearing a flashing neon sign letting the world know she’s “wacky” and “edgy” and willing to go where no Idol contestant has gone before. (Won’t she be disappointed when she goes to YouTube and searches the name “Rachel Zevita“?) Angie’s purple and black floral dress matches her hair perfectly, notes J.Lo, but her song choice ,”When You’ve Got It, Flaunt It” (from The Producers) clashes badly with the goal of the competition. In fact, there’s something a little desperate about Angie’s performance. Is she going for comedy with the goofy lyrics and exaggerated Swedish accent? Is she trying to arouse the male judges by writhing on the ground in her “constricting” dress? Is the whole audition her idea of a joke? Or does she actually think that putting on this slightly grotesque spectacle will make her the next Kelly Clarkson? Randy immediately dismisses the existence of show tunes, but when J.Lo expresses her love of Broadway, Randy backpedals and says the song brought out a vibrato in Angie’s voice that was like “fingernails on a chalkboard.” (God forbid the judges have a true difference of opinion on anything ever.) Angie then shifts gears and delivers a haunting version of “Blue Bayou” that almost seems pitched too high for her voice, until she nails the big note and confirms her vocal chops. “That really changed my mind, actually,” says Randy and much to my dismay, I’m forced to agree. And on that note, I’m gonna crawl into bed with a bag of chips and try to regain my will to live. (If you’re suffering from similar “Agreed with Randy” malaise, cleanse your brain by watching Idology — embedded at the end of this post.)

Who was your favorite from the Aspen auditions? (Take our poll below!) Was there anyone whose Golden Ticket should be revoked immédiatement? Anyone else ready to get to Hollywood? Sound off in the comments section, and for all my Idol news, interviews, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

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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33 Comments
  1. Pedro says:

    That whole episode gave me cabin fever.

    Except the bipolar girl. I love both of her.

  2. sandi says:

    The auditions this year are spectaculary boring. I haven’t seen one contestant that stood out. I have to say, the auditions for both The Voice and X-Factor showed the talent of the artists.

  3. Owen says:

    Oh, man up, Slezak. Jeeze.

  4. rahrah says:

    I am sick and tired AND offended when someone like Randy Jackson is sitting on his fat ass and attacking people who sing in musical theater. Believe it or not, Randy, it takes talent, training and discipline to get up in front of an audience night after night when you are performing in a musical. And not everyone in musical theater sings with that vibrato you were whining about. And, btw, aren’t many former Idol contestants appearing in musicals?

  5. t.t says:

    pretty bad episode doubt anyone of them will make it to the top 10.

  6. T_T says:

    No one has really stood out for me. I’m actually quite concerned about Shelby Tweten. I’m afraid that she might have a mental breakdown or something from the pressure, and if she won’t make it to the top. O.O

  7. NikkiQM says:

    Great recap. To be honest I have no clue what people are talking about when they say they feel there was better talent on the X-Factor or The Voice. Despite some of the ridiculata of the Idol auditions I feel there crop of singers are way more talented already than what I heard on both those other shows. Aspen was probably the worse audition episode so far but there was undeniably talented people in the other 3 cities featured.

  8. chantooz says:

    I’m not getting the Haley love. I thought her voice was pretty ordinary, albeit on pitch. But Shelby was great! And she’ll do just fine during Hollywood week as long as she stays on her meds. According to her description, she has Bipolar II (mainly depressive, but with “hypomanic” episodes), which can be well-controlled with meds. It is a far milder disorder than Bipolar I, with its full-blown manic episodes. The ups and downs of Bipolar II are not nearly as disruptive or severe.

  9. Keithroma1 says:

    Why isn’t anyone telling the truth here today? The Magic Cyclopes man,was by far the most entertaining act of the night. Maybe the best audition of this season so far! The rest????

  10. Toto says:

    I’ve seen spoilers on the top 42 names and Ashley Robles isn’t on the list. Does anyone know what happened?

  11. sari says:

    i totally thought i saw a shot of bailey brown in the “golden ticket” recap at the end???

  12. Word Money G says:

    Best part of Idol now is J-Lo’s thinly-diguised disgust for Randy. She looks at him like the dopey brother-in-law who needs to have life explained to him. He didn’t get the underrated Magic Cyclops James Buffet joke. He mocked musical theatre, even though Gaga-wannabe didn’t get close to the melody of “Flaunt It”.

    By the end of the show, the looks on her face were priceless.

  13. RTW says:

    - The best part about last night was Randy Jackson not getting the Jimmy Buffet (pronounced Buf-fay) joke. I think I have a mark on my forehead for slapping it so dang hard! That and the “Bring in the Kraken” reference. I wonder if he’s forced to sit at the kids table during Thanksgiving.
    – I’m concerned for the girl with Type II Bipolar. Wasnt’t the girl who got married at the chapel last year during Hollywood week (and almost quit overall) bipolar too? I can’t remember exactly, but that was pretty uncomfortable to watch.
    – I actually kinda liked Richie Law (Scotty 2.0) because he was Scotty but better. It’s a shame though because I don’t need another Scotty, even if he is an upgrade.
    – Haley is an original no doubt, but it’s hard to root for someone who shares the name with the best AI contestant ever. Plus, I feel Crystal Bowersox already covers the Americana genre so well…poor Haley has two unintentional strikes against her.
    – Sheesh, my post is kind of a downer. I guess it just wasn’t the greatest episode last night.

    • Lizza says:

      You might have another Haley to root for- Haley Johnsen, who auditions in Portland and makes the Top 24!

      • RTW says:

        Another Haley who’s talented?! Sheesh, life’s not fair! :)
        Oh yeah, Michael, I forgot to ask, can you please change your intro in Idology from “Baby, lock ‘em doors…” to “Bring in the Kraken, it’s time for another episode of Idology…”?

      • tara d says:

        pleas don’t post spoilers here! maybe some people want to know, but i certainly don’t and i bet i’m not alone. if anyone wants to know who is on these leaked lists, let them go find out for themselves. thanks :)

        • Lizza says:

          Yeah… I didn’t look at a leaked list, I’m related to Haley j. Support her!

        • Lana says:

          I am so with you on that tara, I hate spoilers let me enjoy the show as it unfolds, I’ld rather think there is a chance with any of my favorites and find out on the actual show than find out now. It makes enjoying Hollywood a bummer if you know the person you are watching and enjoying is not going to make it. I want to be suprised, delighted or disappointed at the same time as the contestants are during the show. That’s part of the fun, if you know why bother watching? Leave us to enjoy our ignorance!

    • Delirious says:

      “Wasnt’t the girl who got married at the chapel last year during Hollywood week (and almost quit overall) bipolar too? I can’t remember exactly, but that was pretty uncomfortable to watch.” -> Actually, as soon as they started the Jenni Schick part, she totally reminded me of the girl you’re talking about. Seeing no-one else said it, am I the only one?
      Oh, and about Haley, her singing style reminded me at times of Jeff Buckley, with the raspy vibrato she displayed at times – which is a definite bonus for me…

  14. Rick says:

    Haley Smith was the only one worth seeing this episode, and she apparently doesn’t make the Top 24. So we’ll probably never see her again.
    How boring is Idol this year? Even the bad auditioners aren’t funny…

  15. Aprilcot26 says:

    I thought this week’s auditions (and this year so far) have been spectacularly boring. I’m also concerned for young Shelby’s well-being throughout the course of the show. Hopefully, if she stays on her meds she’ll be strong enough to weather the competition.

  16. lynn says:

    very boring episode! Hopefully not too many ( boring) episodes left before Hollywood!

  17. brandy says:

    Please don’t insult Rachel Zevita by comparing her to Angie Zeiderman.

  18. Kelly C. says:

    Who was the Haley that was the best AI contestant ever? Because the Haley from last year sang like a drunk, drugged out prostitute.

    • Tusk says:

      Must suck to be so bitter and so wrong.

      Makes one wonder why someone that hates it so much comes back to ‘enjoy’ Slezak and Jason still referring to her in every other Season 11 review, 1 year later in their videos.

      Hope you find something that makes you happy, but until then, best not to keep returning to a place that makes you so unhappy :(

  19. AJ says:

    Not surprising that none of these guys make the top 24, they were all mediocre at best. Too bad too cause I’m from CO and I’d like to see a home state contestant get far.

  20. Lauraholt says:

    I can’t tell if it’s because I’m getting older or I’ve just seen too many seasons of too many singing competitions but I find myself becoming more Simon-like. Often I hear someone sing and I think So what or Who cares?

    I’m not seeing anyone that is distinct and on point with their craft; furthermore a lot of these kids don’t seem to have a concept of what their singing about. It reminds me of that overweight kid form last year that had a super clear pretty songbird voice but sand Sitting on the Dock of the Bay with ZERO soul or comprehension.

    What’s even more frightening to me is that if they can’t be special in the initial audition when no ones interfered with them then they are unlikely to soar during the live shows.

  21. Name That Tune says:

    If these auditions are so boring why in the heck are you watching them Come back in March when it means something!

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