“Congratulations, you’re going to Hollywood!” But not quite yet, Idoloonie Nation. First, you’ll have to sit through the Dance of Diminishing Returns, in which a cherbuic 28-year-old guy “entertains” you by shouting “I’m adorable!” and screeching his way through “Somebody to Love”; a cable TV salesguy belches, coughs, and blows his nose for the cameras; and Ryan Seacrest waltzes with a ficus. Heck, as a sharp-eyed TVLine reader noticed, American Idol couldn’t even bother to correctly spell the word “audition” at the start of its Wednesday-night show.
It’s episodes like these — when you realize Uncle Nigel is holding back on the stellar auditions, and you find yourself hoping for something as daft as “Pants on the Ground” just to break the crushing weight of your ennui — that it’s hard not to wonder why, 11 seasons in, Idol doesn’t cut back to two weeks of auditions, expand its Hollywood Week offerings, and extend its live rounds by blowing out the Top 12 to a Top 16.
But what do I know? I’m just a humble recapper. So let me get on with the business of revisiting an episode that only featured two contestants in the first 17 minutes, and managed to flash the face of The Glee Project‘s Emily Vasquez in its end-of-episode Golden Ticket montage without so much as an I.D. or 10 seconds of singing.
We kick things off with what appears to be an extended advertisement for a New Girl spinoff. Brittany Zika is wearing a fedora, suspenders, and gray rubber boots, and declares herself “tripster the hipster” after she stumbles into the room with a big, dorky grin. (Cue laugh track here.) Brittany has got an adorkable story about going to a Sara Bareilles concert, holding up a “Will You Sing Gravity With Me?” sign, and ending up on stage in duet heaven. Surely, her three male roommates are waiting outside to continue the wacky hijinks. Au contraire. Brittany’s audition turns out to be no joke, and her cover of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” is as sweet and refreshing as a glass of lemonade. Honestly, I could listen to her a capella covers for the next hour without any complaint whatsoever. J.Lo tells Brittany she has “one of the prettiest voices we’ve heard,” Steven gives her an enthusiastic “yes,” and Randy chews his finger and asks her to take off her glasses, hat, and boots. Ugh. Randy just has to go and ruin everything.
Next up is guy with a cold who sings “Born This Way” and “Super Bass.” (And yes, I wrote that sentence with all the care and enthusiasm said audition deserves.)
Thankfully, gentle giant Jermaine Jones is up next. Dude sits on the porch with his mom and talks about how this is his now. In fact, mom had a church service and concert the night Jermaine was born, so his career in music literally began in the womb. Jermaine’s rendition of “Superstar” swoops and soars like a barn swallow, but it comes with a warning label: Scrutiny by the judges may cause shaky hands, copious sweating, and a deep-rooted sense of terror. J.Lo smiles sweetly and advises Jermaine to “loosen up a little bit” for his future auditions, and even though there’s no way the guy will survive Hollywood Week, it’s hard not to share his joy when the judges unanimously decide he’s Golden Ticket-worthy.
Britnee Kellogg enters next, and appears to be auditioning for VH1’s Basketball Wives or maybe a special episode of Dr. Phil. Britnee(eeeeeee) (sorry) used to be married to a pro baller, and she tells us that not only did he “decide to go and pursue other women,” but “he held me back from doing what I wanted.” Which is apparently sobbing uncontrollably on national television? J.Lo gives girlfriend a perspective check: She has two lovely children and a big opportunity in front of her. And so Britnee tells the judges she’ll be performing “You’re No Good,” by Linda Ronstadt. “Perfect, right?” she says with a rueful laugh, and suddenly, Britnee transforms herself from Weepy McKnockitoff to a grown woman with an actual sense of humor — and one with a controlled, powerful voice that’s clearly informed by the blues. J.Lo can’t help but sing along. Steven gives his “mmm-mmm-good” face. And an army of blonde people wearing “I Heart Britnee” t-shirts swarm the audition room and carry the latest Golden Ticket recipient back to the hive. “Look at that,” says Steven, pointing to the back of Britnee’s mom’s shirt. “‘My daughter’s the next American Idol!'” J.Lo, possibly reading the cue card Uncle Nigel is holding just offscreen, raises her eyebrows in response: “By the way, she just might be.” (If Britnee makes it past Hollywood Week, you know we’ll see that clip 4,400 times between now and mid-April.)
If Britnee got you in the mood for talented singers, you’re out of luck. Vibrato queen Sam Gershman manages to hit most of the notes on “I’m a Woman,” but her singing-into-a-fan tone is borderline repugnant, which the judges mistake for “Broadway.” Someone in the Idol editing room clearly has a little more respect for the Great White Way, though, because when Sam winkingly tells the panel that her dad’s name is Ira, it’s met with dumbfounded stares — and the classic “crickets” sound effect — by Steven, J.Lo, and Randy.
Sam is followed by David Weed , whose voice isn’t nearly as bad as Randy wants it to be. But what’s the dignity of a polite fast-food restaurant worker worth when there’s a marijuana joke to be made by the lead singer of Aerosmith. Yes, Steven, it’s a good thing David’s parents didn’t name him Smokey. Now go back to sleep.
Portland concludes with three more Golden Tickets:
* Romeo Diahn survived several years in a refugee camp after his family fled the Liberian civil war. He shows off an interesting tone and captures the laid-back rhythms of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love,” but his voice seems too unpolished to make him a legit threat for the Top 24. J.Lo clearly feels the same way, but finds herself unable to get more specific than giving Romeo a “little tiny yes” and worrying about where Romeo will go next, musically speaking. Nevertheless, Romeo’s Portland audition provides a great excuse to show his massive friend Junior sizing up Ryan Seacrest ans asking, “So who are you?”
* Naomi Gillies covers Aerosmith’s “Cryin’,” and despite her histrionic delivery and creaky tone, gets three enthusiastic yeses from the judges.
* And finally, Jessica Phillips shares a heartbreaking story about how her young boyfriend D’Angelo suffered a massive stroke, a catastrophe that changed her role from partner to caregiver. It’s hard not to get a little teary eyed when the plainspoken young woman talks about how she’s experiencing “a different kind of love” while trying to nurse her man back to health, but she channels all her pain into a soaring cover of Faith Evans’ “Again.” What Jessica lacks in vocal perfection, she makes up for with genuine feeling, which is a better formula than the reverse, no?
What did you think of the Portland auditions? Are you ready to fast-forward through the rest of the tryouts and get on to Hollywood Week? And who were your favorites from the City of Roses? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol news, commentary, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!