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!