Before I get to the start of Hollywood week, here are a few observations I had watching American Idol’s audition rounds these past few weeks:
• Maybe we can just chalk this up to the lack of a strong, polarizing personality like Simon Cowell on the judging panel, but this year’s audition episodes seemed to put a far greater emphasis on the good auditioners than the bad ones.
• Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez are far bigger icons in the entertainment industry than Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul or Kara DioGuardi were, which is why I’ve been pleasantly surprised by their lack of self-importance. Some of the previous judges (Paula and Ellen more so than the others) often seemed intent on making the show more about themselves and their personal shticks than about the contestants. For the most part, Steven and J. Lo simply tell these kids whether or not they think they have what it takes, and leave their own careers out of it.
• I love that J. Lo in particular was willing to tell young and clearly not-untalented hopefuls that they should go home and practice and come back in a couple years. Paula couldn’t even say no to untalented people. I was worried after the season premiere that Tyler and Lopez were going to easy on the kids, but over the course of the seven audition episodes, they’ve developed something resembling standards.
• Speaking of J. Lo, nobody in their 40s who’s had twins should look that good. HD is very, very kind to her. Can’t say the same for Steven.
• One more note to the producers: Showing people who think they can sing but can’t is understandable, because it proves a point about how one’s family and friends oftentimes aren’t the best judges of one’s abilities. But 10 years into this, you’d think they would have gotten over the fixation with showing the obvious put-ons, the joke contestants who clearly only wanted to be on TV. The dude in San Francisco with the Transformer costume took it to its logical conclusion. It’s time for the show to go in another direction and stop encouraging these people.
As should be expected without Simon, a lot more people got through to Hollywood this year than have in years past. Ryan Seacrest claimed at the beginning of Thursday’s episode that twice as many contestants made it to Hollywood as usual. It’s a blessing and a curse, because while I liked that they were willing to let through people with unconventional (and not necessarily pop-friendly) styles, it makes it that much harder to make cuts.
15-year-old Jacee Bedeaux is my early pick to win it all, for one reason: Bieber fever. This kid looks like a heavier Justin Bieber and sings like him too. Within the first line of his song, he had the entire female contingent of the audience screaming. He’s going to be a smash with tween girls, and that’s who votes for these things, right?
James Durbin, the final San Francisco auditioner with Tourette’s and the dad who died of a drug overdose when he was nine, could also be a force to be reckoned with, although I thought his Hollywood week rendition of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling” was a bit all over the place. At his best, his voice has power to rival Adam Lambert, but some of those high notes just sort of sprayed out haphazardly. Given his circumstances, I get that this is pretty emotional for him, but if he can rein it in a little bit, he could go far.
Jerome Bell was a favorite of mine in the audition round, and he was successful in reprising his version of “Let’s Get it On.” For all of Idol’s tendency to push sob stories and latch onto current pop trends, Bell is a breath of fresh air: he’s nothing more or less than a likable guy with a terrific voice.
Tiffany Rios, the Snooki clone from the season premiere, made waves before her performance this week by declaring, “I’m tired of seeing all these people pretend to do what I know I can do.” She still can’t sing very well, but the judges put her through regardless. My guess is that they want to maximize the drama for next week’s group day. There’s no way she actually gets through to the audience-voting rounds.
We can probably expect to have the Rob-and-Chelsee subplot shoved down our throats this entire season. They are, remember, the ex-couple whose joint audition, with her current boyfriend present, created the single most awkward moment in Idol history. They both sang well in Hollywood and got through to the group round, and another layer was added to the drama when Nick and Jacqueline, a currently-dating couple, were assigned to be their respective roommates…and then Jacqueline got through while Nick didn’t. He didn’t take it well, begging the judges to let him try again (“For my baby,” of course) and then singing his way out like every audition-round reject you hate the most. It’s virtually a lock that all three of them make it to the top 10 so Seacrest can awkwardly interview Nick in the audience every week. It’s contrived, sure. But they’re all talented, and they head up a class of Idol contestants that’s already more memorable than most of last season’s finalists.