American Idol Recap: Better 'Later!' Than Sooner

nate tao american idolAmerican Idol‘s Season 12 audition episodes came to a close tonight with a stop in Oklahoma City, and the giddiness was palpable.

Ryan Seacrest bumped chests with a contestant. Nicki Minaj was accused of worshipping the devil. And seemingly everybody got a Golden Ticket to Hollywood: Plushies, ventriloquists, a ginger-haired guy who performed a marginal song of his own composition, even a woman named Zoanette Johnson whose catastrophic rendition of the National Anthem made Keith Urban fall off his chair. (Suddenly, it’s sounding more like a Weekend Update segment starring Stefon than an episode of Idol, no? “The password is: Seeeeeacrest OUT!“)

Anyhow, I suspect the Idoloonie Nation is giddy tonight, too, but for a different reason: Next Wednesday, Season 12 moves on to Hollywood Week — and the serious business of finding the 2013 answer to Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, Scotty McCreery and their ilk begins in earnest. And after tonight’s miserably stingy display of talent, that shift in focus cannot come soon enough.

I won’t belabor what went down tonight with long and cranky critiques, but instead try to break it on down in a Twitter-esque 140 characters (or a close approximation):

Karl Skinner, “I Feel Good” (plus a snippet of an acoustic original) | Graduate of Idol‘s small-town auditions bus did a decent James Brown side-slide, but his voice was more “yellow school” than “luxury tour.” An incomprehensible use of a Golden Ticket.

Nate Tao, “For Once in My Life” | Self-deprecating cutie with deaf parents — “What if Nate sucks?” he imagined them asking — showcased effortless range and an airy upper register without too much embellishment. Best vocalist of the night had to endure Randy telling him he looked like did taxes for a living, y’know, ’cause he’s Asian and all. Ugh. Randy is just The Worst!!!

Halie Hilburn (and Oscar), “I Wanna Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”/”More Than Anyone” | I don’t care for ventriloquism, but was nevertheless impressed when Halie got her dog puppet Oscar to yodel on “Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” Alas, though, that gimmick (and Oscar, left for dead in a dumpster!) might come back to bite her.

Zoanette Johnson, “The Star Spangled Banner” | “That was a wreck,” sighed Mariah, after listening to Zoanette do possibly irreparable damage to the National Anthem with a combination of wayward sharp notes and blunt-force overconfidence. “Come on, I got a lunch date,” Zoanette implored the judges as they tried to make up their minds about her fate. Oh, wait, scratch that last sentence, because it implies the judges were using their minds in the first place. Because nothing short of a frontal lobotomy explains how this woman walked out of the Oklahoma auditions with a Golden Ticket.

Kayden Stephenson, “I Wish” | Ridiculously cute kid with cystic fibrosis and a life expectancy of only 35 stretched his thin, reedy voice to hit most of the notes of a tough Stevie Wonder song. Instead of giving him a Golden Ticket, though — since, if we’re being honest, he doesn’t have the requisite horsepower to last more than a week on the live Idol stage — I sorta wish Mariah had followed her “let’s go make the record now” comment and whisked the kid back to her studio to cut a track or two for iTunes release. To quote one of the lady’s first big hits, “Make! It! Happen!”

Ohhh…also there was Steven Tyler arriving in drag to “audition,” then ripping off his wig (and still looking like a crazy old lady) once the judges had made him.

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of the American Idol Season 12 Oklahoma City tryouts? How do you feel about the quality of contestants overall? And who was your favorite Golden Ticket recipient from tonight and from the last three weeks? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Idol-related news, recaps, interviews and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!