American Idol Houston Recap: Space! Cowboys!

The X Factor‘s opening credits might take place in an animated outer-space hellscape, but Nigel Lythgoe would like to remind you that American Idol is so omnipresent, it beams its audition-episode intros directly from the International Space Station.

At first glance, this might not seem like the finest use of your tax dollars, but think about it: Your life would suck without Kelly Clarkson. Plus, this NASA-Idol alliance could raise the stakes during Hollywood Week: Contestants who forget their lyrics or botch their melodies will be herded like livestock into waiting vans and sent to Johnson Space Center, where they’ll be used in tests on pitchiness in zero gravity. (Spoiler alert: Jacob Lusk is already 250 miles above the Earth, trying to hit the glory note on “Alone,” and generally wreaking havoc on global weather patterns.) Anyhow, back to the episode at hand…

We kick things off with some misguided soul who believes any screentime — no matter how grotesque — is better than none at all. (I won’t name him here, lest he get the pleasure of another Google Alert email.) After defecating on Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart” and getting three “no” votes, he threatens the audience: “You will see me next year, I promise you that.” Chilling as his words may be, it does not excuse the producers’ use of a “gong” sound when this Asian-American contestant attempts to open the wrong door.

Next, it’s “time to get changed and go kill a deer!” That’s right, perky 17-year-old Skylar Laine doesn’t just want to hunt, she wants to kill, kill, KILL! But don’t be afraid of the fact that she’s got the head of Bambi’s second cousin mounted on her wall: Skylar’s just a tomboy who loves her Papaw and her Grandmaw and works at her family restuarant, the intriguingly named Beatty St. Grocery. She cooks up a rendition of Pistol Annie’s “Hell on Heels” that’s actually quite striking — once she dials back on the contrived country growl. This girl has some potential — as long as she doesn’t encounter some doe-eyed Katie Stevens type and take her down with a bow and arrow.

Skylar will certainly have competition in the Season 11 Country Ladies Division from Baylie Brown. I vividly remember Baylie’s first Idol audition back in Season 6, where at 16, she looked like a serious front-runner, and then her subsequent meltdown in Hollywood Week when paired with Jersey Girl on a toilet and her scallywag buddy. Now Baylie’s back — five seasons later — a little older, a lot less pageant-girl behind the eyes, and with an even stronger instrument. Perhaps as a little dig at her old rivals, Baylie chooses Jersey legend Bon Jovi’s “Bed of Roses” this time around, and she’s pretty much flawless, taking her time with the melody and not over-embellishing it the way so many auditioners tend to do. More, please.

Baylie is followed by tattooed beauty Kristine Osorio, a recently single mom who took out a loan to pay her divorce attorney, but then used the money to buy an airplane ticket to get to the Idol auditions. (Will he sue her now, or wait to see how far she gets on the show, and then go after a percentage of her income?) Kristine’s version of Adele’s “One and Only” is a B/B+ affair, although as J.Lo notes, the break in her voice is lovely.

Speaking of J.Lo, we’re then “treated” to an infuriating montage of auditions where the actress who shoulda-been Oscar-nominated for Out of Sight gets vetoed by the legendary lead singer of Aerosmith and Randy. We only hear five seconds of tall drink of blonde Rachael Turner belting “Undo It,” but she sounds pretty solid. Reagan Wilson’s “At Last” betrays a tiny bit of unsteadiness, so I can’t automatically side with J.Lo on that one (not without more information). But Cheyenne James’s rendition of Pink’s “Misery” is fantastic, and as J.Lo notes, she could’ve potentially gone far in the competition, if her colleagues had stopped daydreaming about Brittany Kerr and paid attention to what was happening in front of ’em. “I’m not losing any sleep over that one,” huffs Randy, offering Reason No. 473,211 That Uncle Nigel Needs to Replace Him Immediately if Not Sooner.

To make matters worse, that montage is followed by sexy wannabe Linda Williams tackling Alicia Keys “Fallin'” to the ground, and beating it with an iron pipe. At least I think it’s “Fallin'” underneath all the blood and gore and defiled melody. Steven loves it, or loves Linda, and tells her she’s allowed to pee herself if she so chooses. Randy cosigns that motion, as J.Lo begs her coworkers to “Wake up! Honestly!”

Oh, hey, should we talk about the trainwreck guy who asked the judges to grant him “the power to bring revolution to the world”? No, we should not.

The Texas auditions wrap with a pair of male contenders who have hard-luck backstories. Cortez Shaw, a warehouse worker, college student, and stone-cold hottie, grew up intermittently homeless, but believes that with “hard work and determination,” any dream can become a reality. I’m always predisposed to liking contestants who reference “hard work” (as opposed to a burning sense of entitlement), but Cortez’s a capella dance-remix of Adele’s “Someone Like You” is both creative and masterfully sung. Inexplicably, Randy tries to cut him off before he gets to the chorus, but J.Lo is having none of it. When Cortez senses Randy wavering about a Golden Ticket, he throws a flattery bone toward the Dawg, telling him he’s his favorite judge. “He’s not your favorite judge. Don’t lie!” barks an incredulous J.Lo, displaying the kind of unscripted honesty and intelligence she displayed for about two weeks during Season 10 (before producers turned her into a Lusk-loving, Haley-hating, “baby”-spewing fountain of evil). I’d say Cortez should get safe passage directly to the Top 24, but given Idol‘s abysmal recent history in greenlighting legitimate black male contestants, he’s probably doomed to an unexplained Hell Week ouster.

Things conclude with Ramiro Garcia, who was born without one ear and nothing more than a lobe for the other, and began a long process of corrective surgeries at the age of four. His rendition of “Amazing Grace” is tender and in tune, if not necessarily spectacular, but I can’t argue with the judges sending him directly to Hollywood, without offering constructive criticism or debating if he’s got any real chance at the big prize. There are worse things than rewarding a man’s positivity in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and heck, Ramiro deserves some consolation prize for the unneccessary subtitles that accompanied his emotional dad’s Spanish accent.

To lighten the mood after Ramiro’s three-hankie audition, we close with a shot of a woman accidentally slapping Seacrest upside the head. Expect to see that clip again in next week’s Idology. (And speaking of our humble Web show, catch this week’s installment embedded below.)

Who was your favorite from the Houston auditions? 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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  1. Sara says:

    You make Idol un-boring.

  2. Annie says:

    I hope Cortez picked some songs that suited him during Hollywood week. We need people like him in the competition, but he’s not going to go very far, if he doesn’t pick songs that fit his voice, or shows that he knows what the songs mean.

    I also hope that Kristine Osorio does well. I’ll admit that they hooked me with her sad story.

    • Cy says:

      Hear, hear–Cortez and Kristine were my faves of the night, though Kristine more for her personality and bravery (and for raising what appear to be 3 very well-behaved small children). Cortez is a REAL CONTENDER, though–hawt, great voice, WONDERFUL personality. I’m also a sucker for a youngster who’s seen hard times and still sincerely believes in hope and making his life better. I really hope he doesn’t get cut in Hollywood Week for no reason like Clayton was last year.

      In fact, that’s my overall fear–auditions started out well last year too, but H-Week delivered the MOST BORING set of Top 20 Contestants in Idol History (and not a word about Haley–she was the most interesting of the bunch, but WAY below your typical mid-pack-finishing Lakisha Jones or Anoop Desai in terms of entertainment and talent).

      So I’m kind of terrified that the Pointless Sob Story Blonde Country Teen of the season (that girl from the Colorado audition–I can’t even remember her name–with the stupid, “I’m bipolar and it’s so HARD” sob story) and a bunch of other boring miscreants will get into the Top 20 again and ruin all the potential of the season. Well, time will tell, I guess. But Nigel–PLEASE. NO. LAUREN ALAINA II.

      • Julie says:

        Umm, Season 10 was the best season ever and had a ton of interesting contestants. What are you on?

      • Nat says:

        Its all about American Idol demographic. The Lauren Alaina type of fans are the one that stay up all night to vote. They are the most passionate voters. So expect to see a teenager or a good looking teenage boy win the whole thing. So if I look at this demographic, Skylar Laine has a great chance to go very far.

  3. Ahmed says:

    Well, that promise of a new idol was certainly short lived, and we’re back to highlighting more uninteresting and only marginally bizarre auditions. Wherefore Nigel ?!! Only really pleasant aspect of this episode was JLo’s unabashed coup de common sense. I hope that, unlike last year, she manages to keep clear of Lythgoe’s manipulative influence and continues to sound like the intelligent and assured judge she has occasionally proven herself to be. Hell, even if all she does this season is be openly and explicitly dismissive of Randy, I’ll watch just to see if she can get him to cry. Now that would be good television.

    • Ahmed says:

      Oh. And thank you Michael for always pointing the blatantly racist elements of this show. It’s getting so infuriating!!!

      • David H says:

        Sure, he objects to the gong sound punctuating the Asian contestant’s departure, but then turns around and mocks southerners by using non-words like ‘Papaw’ and ‘Grandmaw’. This is the minefield you tread in when you start down that political correctness path. We’re all way too sensitive about nonsense like this – but if you’re going to call it out, you can’t turn around and indulge in it when you find a target more to your liking.

        • Carol says:

          No, the contestant called them Papaw and Grandmaw, or she might have said Mamaw. Michael was just using the names she used, this wasn’t mockery of Southerners.

        • Born and bred, y'all says:

          I’m a southerner, and didn’t see that as mocking. “Grandmaw” and “Papaw” are what I call my grandparents, so if I’m going to be offended by something, it’s you saying they’re “non-words”!

      • Cy says:

        I agree! Why does Idol have to keep on keeping people down, huh? I understood Ramiro’s dad perfectly.

        Also… was Fong’s audition faked? Like, I almost felt like his blatantly FOB-by accent slipped once in a while…

  4. Sarah says:

    Personally, though I’m a bit biased as she is my roommate, I liked Reagan Wilson’s audition. I thought J-Lo was right in wanting her to go through. So far, though, I haven’t really liked a lot of people. I thought Houston’s auditions were a little lacking and really, as of now, I’m only cheering for the Dixon siblings because I so badly wanted Colton to make it last year and now I’m a fan of his sister as well. If it weren’t for you, Slezak, I would have quit Idol a loooong time ago.

    • rosita says:

      Please tell your roommate Reagan many of think she has great potential, and to audition for X Factor, and for The Voice if she can somehow get on there next year.. And to come back for another Idol audition next season!

      Much luck to her! By the way, at the time her audition took place, did Reagan know Etta James was terminally ill? It was a fitting tribute to air “At Last” after Ms. James’ death last week, too bad they didn’t do any voiceover acknowledging her passing…

      PS. It’s so frustrating that so few of the dozens of folks who do get ‘golden tickets’ are actually shown in these audition episodes, and instead such garbage is shown from auditioners who are awful. I know it’s what Nigel & the producers think makes for good TV, but it’s just so incredibly annoying. Thank god for DVRs to fast-fwd thru the crap and thru the commercials!

      Thanks for another great column, Michael –
      Looking fwd to your next IDOLOGY episode and Jason Averett’s brilliant editing. Please let Jason know that, in addition to Haley Reinhart Got Robbed references, we’re hoping for some Jesse Langseth clips this season! (calls for an emoticon ;-)

  5. Carol says:

    Love you Michael! <3

  6. Kiki says:

    Thank you SO much for adding descriptions to the people’s names in the voting section! I could never remember their names and so a lot of times wouldn’t vote.

    Baylie Brown has STAR written all over her!!!

    J-Lo is the only judge with sense!!!! Like you, I pray she holds onto it.

    • lunakit says:

      I agree about adding the descriptions, Michael. It saved me from needing to refer back to the article about which one they were. Informative *and* entertaining….That’s our Slezak!

  7. Kevin says:

    I was mad at the judges last year when they bombarded Haley Reinhart with criticisms. But I was probably madder at them tonight for turning down Cheyenne, Rachael, and Reagan. At least Haley got a second chance and could rely on America, but Randy and Steven denied those three girls of even having a chance! And then they say that Linda had a great voice?!?! Her voice was okay, but she stabbed that song in the heart, gave it CPR to revive it, and slowly strangled it. Randy needs to be replaced by someone with ears. Possible replacements: Shania Twain, Babyface, Melinda Doolittle…?

  8. Brian says:

    I’m still laughing about the Jacob Lusk comment. If he exits the space ship, does he sing “I just can’t breathe, There’s no air–no air”

  9. Carrie says:

    Did anyone else suspect that Randy and Steven were on drugs during the auditions and J-Lo was sober? They are so infuriatingly useless.

  10. I have not yet watched this season – and truthfully I’m in no hurry to start. I think I’ll just watch your weekly recaps. I’ll take your witty banter over Randy’s banality and JLo’s posturing any day.

  11. Lindsay says:

    Yeah, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually heard a gong, or if I was just hearing things. Hoped I was hearing things. Yeesh. Was also perturbed by the subtitles underneath the perfectly understandable father. If we could have just one episode with no racism, xenophobia, or sexism, that would really be awesome.

    I could hardly stand the sight of J.Lo after last season, but now she’s back to the J.Lo that I loved at the beginning of last season. PLEASE stay that way!

  12. raftrap says:

    Great recap, and on the Cortez Shaw subject, JLo was really on top of her game, I mean, the Randy not being Cortez’ favorite judge thing, and the way she just stopped Randy’s nonsense and said “Listen, you’re good looking, you’re sweet, you have a great voice…yes”. Gotta love succinctness.

  13. Scarlett says:

    You’re kidding, right? All the finalists last year were talented (well, except for Lusk). By talented, I mean “can sing very well.” Even Ashthon, who was terrible in the voting rounds, sounded good during Hollywood week and the finale show. As far as entertainment value, that’s your opinion. They had Durbin, Casey and Paul, who don’t seem boring to me. And if you’re gonna use Anoop Desai as an example, well my opinion is that he was entitled AND boring.

  14. Kevin C. says:

    Cortez has a great voice, but his reworking of “Someone Like You” showed no signs that he understood what he was singing about.

    That’s something that can be worked on…compare how Haley smiled her way through “Fallin'” and “Piece of My Heart” early last season to how she completely inhabited “House of the Rising Sun” and “I (Who Have Nothing)”. But right now I’m sitll not sold on him.

  15. Angela says:

    I’d be keeping the security very close by if weird, creepy people like the revolution guy and the first one who sang “Unbreak My Heart” keep poking through. What in the HELL was that all about? Not even funny. Just…really, really disturbing.

    Thank god I wasn’t the only one who wasn’t big on the girl who did “Fallin'”. She definitely oversang it. And the young girl who had the deer head in her room? Ehhhh. She sounded fine, but teen girls shooting at deer to put them up as trophies in their rooms strikes me as a very strange thing.

    I really liked Ramiro. He was easily the best of the lot, and I liked seeing his family so happy when he came through with the ticket. I know, the “inspirational stories” can get cheesy and such, but his was really quite amazing and has a good new chapter to it. I want to see more of him.

  16. darcy's evil twin says:

    GREAT “Idology”. It’s always good to see Melinda Doolittle. Although, I disagree with both of you on the ‘Indian Giver/Golden Ticket’ question (sorry – I’ll bet “Indian Giver” isn’t PC anymore). I would have yanked Linda Williams’ ticket, assuming “Idology” was taped after she auditioned.

    Wow, funny, funny, stuff…I don’t recall the exact comment but I loved Mr. Slezak’s comment about something being as sincere as J-Lo driving a Fiat through the Bronx.