The brief nightmare of two-hour audition episodes is past. “American Idol” is down to a well-contained and restrained hour as the show looks for the best talent Deep in the Heart of Texas…
Full recap of the “American Idol” Austin auditions after the break…
8:00 p.m. The episode begins with a really half-hearted apology for Steven Tyler’s behavior last week, which makes no sense, since nobody I know recalls anything even vaguely notably offensive about Tyler’s behavior last week. It’s unclear if somebody somewhere actually complained about something Tyler did, or if “American Idol” thinks it’s edgy to make Tyler appear to be the kind of judge you need to apologize for, like, “Oh, that Steven Tyler. He’s uncontrollable!” Either way, the “apology” doesn’t come across as genuine or funny.
8:01 p.m. And then in walks a guy whose last name is “Muck.” We all know what that rhymes with… Or at least Tyler does…
8:02 p.m. The judges arrive via horse-drawn carriage. This isn’t notable, but Steven Tyler’s floppy hat and shades are pretty fly.
8:02 p.m. This week’s theme? Family! Ryan Seacrest talks to his dad on the phone! Jennifer Lopez’s husband Marc Anthony is in town!
8:03 p.m. That’s a transition into the story of a brother and sister who didn’t meet until they were 14 and 16 due to “parental difficulties” or something. Fortunately, they weren’t reunited through some awkward “Flowers in the Attic” moment and now they’re best friends, the kind of best friends who can only be introduced with swelling romantic music and gauzy visuals. Ick.
8:04 p.m. The sibling auditioning is Corey Levoy, who has to perform with the added pressure of his sister-friend on the judging panel. Corey does a version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” It’s a bit nasally, but it’s another of those “Hmmm… That’s not the voice I expected to come out of him” performances, decent enough despite the guy’s high speaking voice. Corey’s sister calls it “amazing” and says that her brother gives her “chill-bumps.” I don’t want to hear about it and I don’t need to hear about it. Randy was “surprised and impressed.” J-Lo loved the runs and whatnot. Corey gets four votes for Hollywood. Corey ends by surrendering his dignity and admitting that he has what he generously calls “a J-Lo booty.” J-Lo resists the temptation to explain to Corey that every inch of her body is finely toned and that her booty comes from dancing (and genetics) and not from BBQ. Go J-Lo! Restraint!
8:07 p.m. We transition straight to 17-year-old Hollie Cavanagh, a Liverpool transplant. Tyler accuses Hollie of being all over the place, while Randy and J-Lo agree that she needed to get more comfortable on stage. As Randy says “No,” Hollie begins to cry and the judges begin to break down. J-Lo asks Hollie to compose herself and try again. As Hollie’s cheeks redden and her hands flap before her eyes… We cut to commercial.
8:13 p.m. Hollie tries again. She wasn’t bad the first time, but who performs better after they’ve been standing and crying for five minutes? The answer? Certainly not Hollie. She has to stop half-way through her second song. But she picks it back up again. J-Lo puts on her, “I’m empathetic face.” Steven Tyler puts on his “She’s only 17” face. After the second half of her second performance, all three judges reverse field. Hollie’s going to Hollywood, having learned this winter’s most reliable “Idol” lesson: When in doubt, just cry.
8:15 p.m. But the key is to cry when you’re with the judges, not afterwards. Much of Austin’s talent is crying after they’ve already been rejected.
8:16 p.m. Rodolfo Ochoa is being mocked for absolutely no good reason. His version of “Circle of Life” is wretched, but is he being made fun of for reasons other than his blue highlights? Apparently not. He leaves gracously.
8:17 p.m. Never a show to avoid stereotyping, “American Idol” wants to make it clear that Texas is full of people in cowboy hats.
8:18 p.m. Enter John Wayne Schultz, whose parents say they wanted a son who was rough and tough, so they named him after The Duke. And, indeed, J.W. raises cattle, rides horses and sports both a cowboy hat and a giant belt-buckle. But he’s not just a rugged stereotype. He also has a sob story. His mother was diagnosed with cancer and subsequently insisted that her only wish was for her son to try out for “Idol.” But can John Wayne actually sing? Well, first, he has to tell the judges both about his mother and his cowboy skills. J.W. has a nice, understated country voice. It’s not instantly impressive or anything, but he’s chosen a Brooks & Dunn song that didn’t ask much of him. John Wayne almost made J-Lo cry. Randy’s feeling him. And the judges insist on bringing his parents into the room to get the good news. “I don’t think America will be disappointed in him,” John’s mom sobs.
8:22 p.m. Anybody have a clock to measure the ratio of crying-to-singing in this audition episode? Roughly 2:1 so far.
8:28 p.m. Day Two in Austin. And we’re killing time by showing an interview Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson did with a local FOX affiliate.
8:29 p.m. The day’s first contestant is Courtney Penry, a clearly mentally deranged young woman who wants to meet “the Sexiest Man Alive.” Oddly, she’s referring to Ryan Seacrest. “Hopefully I won’t make a fool of myself,” says the young woman who cries at the idea of marrying Ryan Seacrest.
8:30 p.m. Oy. Ryan’s future wife is also 17. She prompts a fight between J-Lo and Randy and, while they’re brawling, she blows a kiss at Steve Tyler. And then, by way of showing her talent, she does a chicken impression. Here’s the weird thing: Courtney isn’t awful. I mean, she couldn’t have had “Freak” more clearly stamped on her forehead. I would describe her whole persona as “Tatiana del Toro-esque.” And if that’s the joke “American Idol” wants to make of itself? By all means. Courtney gets a Yes from Steve, a No from Randy and since that left J-Lo as the swing vote, Courtney gets an automatic “Yes.”
8:34 p.m. Uh-oh. On one hand, I love only having an hour for these audition episodes. But if only having an hour means we only have times for crying people and the emotionally handicapped (there’s some overlap), it’s possible we might need two hours. Can we get one contestant who can sing tonight? Pleeeeeeese?
8:37 p.m. Shauntel Campos is pretty. She’s followed by some horrible over-singer who the judges love and a mediocre Chris Cornell wannabe. These are the representatives of The Best of Austin, apparently.
8:39 p.m. Lots of people were very good! We don’t hear any of them sing. Because why would we?!?
8:40 p.m. On to Nick Fink and Jacqueline Dunford. They’re in love. “I like to think of Nick as being me in boy-form,” Jacqueline says. Nick agrees that their goal is to be the show’s first “power couple.” And naturally, the show makes them audition together. The director is VERY taken with Jacqueline’s rear end. And Steven Tyler seems amused by her silly grace notes, which come after off-key over-singing. “There’s definitely one person in here who loves your singing,” Randy cracks. Nick, who’s got a little retro-lounge-y thing going, is far better. I’m perplexed. Jacqueline was dreadful. Nick was OK. I’m not sure I’d have put either of them through and that’s coming from a guy with ample respect for Jacqueline’s particular aesthetic. And yet both get three “Yes” votes. I have no idea what anybody was hearing.
8:48 p.m. We’re down to 12 minutes left to put anybody on camera with an iota of actual talent.
8:48 p.m. Janelle Arthur says that we have a false impression of “country people.” She says this as “American Idol” does its best to perpetuate the image of “country people” that Janelle thinks she’s going to dispel. It’s very weird. Janelle does a slow song and she sounds great. For no reason, the judges then ask her to sing an up-tempo song and she sounds awful. The judges then laugh and agree to put Janelle through, as if the second performance had affirmed the first performance, rather than casting new doubts.
8:50 p.m. A man in an armadillo suit sets up what we’re told is a montage of Randy becoming increasingly angry. We’re waiting for Randy to go nuts and get constructively harsh. But it doesn’t come. Instead, he calls somebody “pitchy” and begins making occasional catty comments, making the armadillo cry. “It’s more of me wishing they’d see the potential I see in myself,” the armadillo tells the camera.
8:55 p.m. That was another four-minute programming segment followed by five minutes of commercials. It’s been that kind of episode.
8:56 p.m. What? No talented last contestant with a heartbreaking story of overcoming adversity? Wow. “American Idol” will not be returning to Austin.
8:56 p.m. Instead, we close with Casey Abrams, who sports a melodica and a resemblance to a Fraggle, but would prefer to backdoor the idea that he resembles Seth Rogen into the discussion.
8:57 p.m. HA. Casey’s a cartoon, but he’s a Taylor Hicks-esque cartoon. I don’t want to go so far as to call him awesome, but he’s memorable and entertaining, the first person in this entire episode who I’d call either of those two things. The judges give him an enthusiastic and unanimous “Yes.”
8:59 p.m. 50 contestants made it through to Hollywood. Wow. That’s impressive. Because if the 40-ish Golden Ticket recipients we saw were as talented as the “winners” we saw, FOX is wasting a tremendous amount of money on airfare to Hollywood this season.
Worst audition episode ever? Or just the worst audition city ever and the “Idol” producers tried to make the best of a bad situation?