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!

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