It’s time for another dose of “American Idol,” which you may or may not be looking forward to if last night’s ratings are any indication (although, let’s face it, 21.26 million viewers is nothing to sneeze at). Dan is freezing his butt off at Sundance, so I’ll be handling his “Idol” duties until next Wednesday. Allow me to freely admit that I didn’t watch much of the show last season, as it overlaps with my other Thursday night recapping duties and Steven Tyler’s hat collection scares me a little, so I hope you’ll bear with me.
8:00 p.m. ET We’re in the City of Champions, which, if you didn’t know, is Pittsburgh. So why is this the first time “American Idol” went to the City of Champions, anyway? Ryan has no explanation, but he makes sure we remember this is the City of Champions. And that there’s a distinct Pittsburghian accent and a collective passion for a yellow-and-black sports team (is he not allowed to say the Steelers?). Well, let’s hope Pittsburgh lives up to its nickname.
8:02 p.m. Heejun Han (22) is up first. He seems bored. Depressed. Heejun Han doesn’t think he’s good, or at least not as good as the other people waiting to audition. Heejun Han is so depressed I’m not sure why he doesn’t just pack it in. Instead, he offers odd compliments to people. He thinks Ryan has a face like a small fist, which is a good thing. And the judges look like wax figures. At this point, how can this guy not suck? But lo and behold, he doesn’t. His voice is a little thin, but it’s okay. Randy is impressed. J. Lo likes his tone. Steven thinks he’s great. So, yes, he’s going to Hollywood. I think he may have Seasonal Affective Disorder, so maybe a trip to SoCal will be helpful.
8:09 p.m. Steven asks J. Lo if his butt looks good. This is our brief moment to admire how wacky and playful the judges are. Aren’t they fun? Then, back to work.
8:10 p.m. Reed Grimm (26) has been performing since he was 2-years-old. He will be performing the theme to “Family Matters.” Did I hear that right? He could really sing anything here and I wouldn’t know any better. In any case, his version involves scatting, but it’s kind of brilliant. J. Lo thinks he has the mark of a great performer. Yellow ticket.
8:11 p.m. A quick montage of other talented guys — Aaron Marcellus (27) and Chase Likens (20). Are there no women in Pittsburgh? Ah, wait, the montage speeds up to include other yellow pass winners, some of whom are female.
8:13 p.m. Finally, it’s time to spotlight some girls — unfortunately, they’re just friggin’ weird for no good reason. Patricia Bell (23) is the Pittsburgh Planker, and she is planking her sister to Hollywood. I would like Patricia to return to her seat and shut up, but no such luck. She’s got a shtick and she’s taking it the distance. But there’s a practical reason as to why a planker is on a singing talent show — her sister sings better when she planks. Sure. Finally, Samantha Novacek (19) sings while Patricia planks, which just means she lies motionless on the floor like a dead body on “CSI”. Surprisingly, Samantha has a very nice voice with a certain roundness of tone. J. Lo thought her voice had guts, and Steve agreed. Randy thinks Faith Hill. Someone is going to Hollywood, and I’m guessing she’ll have to perform plankless there. The whole family planks in celebration. Well, now I have my answer to, “Does anyone still plank or is that stupid trend finally dead?”
8:18 p.m. Creighton Fraker (28) is unemployed and wears bunny ears. He wrote a song on the bus ride from New York. And guess what? He can sing, too. He writes terrible songs, but he can sing. Randy is intrigued. Steven wants to hear an actual song. J. Lo can’t figure out who he reminds her of, although she just said Jamiroquai. Steven thinks he’s a beautiful man. He’s bold! Bold! Steven joined “Idol” to tell this guy he’s so Hollywood.
So, I’m finally starting to get the rhythm of this show. The sequence is, basically, one audition, commercials. One audition, commercials. Maybe a montage here or there, then commercials. I am almost awe-inspired by Fox’s ability to jam advertising down our throats and still get impressive ratings.
8:27 p.m. Eben Franckewitz (15) is off with his extremely supportive family to audition. He feels privileged to audition! People say he looks like Justin Bieber, though I would argue he’s a bit cuter than Justin Bieber. He’ll be singing “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I thought it was a little thin and bland boys’ choir-ish, but apparently the promise of nabbing the next Justin Bieber is just too exciting for our judges. J. Lo thinks he was born with “it.” So do Steven and Randy. He’s getting his shot at a lifelong dream! Which he’s had, what, five years? I think it’s a little early to start tossing around “lifelong” when someone isn’t even legal yet.
8:30 p.m. Travis Orlando (17) returns to audition again. He’s singing “Isn’t She Lovely.” J. Lo thinks his voice is stronger, but it’s not there yet. Uh-oh. Travis dropped out of high school, so this is his all or nothing. Cue heartbreaking video! His mom dumped the family, they got evicted, and then he and his father and twin brother moved into shelter. He needs to show his mom he can do something with his life. I think he and his twin brother should be suing her ass for child support. His dad’s on dialysis and things are looking very, very dire for Travis. Oh my Lord, how can they not vote him through, just because? And, bluntly, his singing was quite a bit more polished than Eben’s, who got rubber stamped through without hesitation. Finally, Randy says yes. So does J. Lo. Steven concurs, but he needs Travis to jump out of his shell. I think Travis is one bad break away from jumping off a building, so Steven shouldn’t worry.
Day two of auditions. Because Jennifer is running late, Randy and Steven perform for the crowd. The crowd seems delighted by this, but I’m not sure they should be.
8:38 p.m. Erika Van Pelt (26) is next. She’s a mobile DJ. She drives a lot. She’s also a wedding singer. She’s singing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” which I kind of love. Her voice is low and earthy and husky, and she has a maturity that probably comes from singing “At Last” over and over and OVER again to exhausted newlyweds week after week. Randy likes her low alto. Three yeses.
8:45 p.m. Steven has a red box, which is his “comedy sound machine.” This, apparently, he uses on anyone who sucks. But still, we get a montage of yellow tickets. I’ll admit it — even though it did reach a point of utter cruelty, I’m missing the bad auditions from way back when a bit.
8:46 p.m. Shane Bruce (19) is a coal miner. He’s proud to be a coal miner, but he’d rather be a singer. I’m sure his lungs would rather he be a singer, too. We watch him sing for his fellow miners, who nod their appreciation. Coal miners don’t go in for none of that sissy clapping stuff. He’s going to sing “Hallelujah,” which most people know as a Leonard Cohen song, or maybe a Leonard Cohen song covered by Jeff Buckley and Rufus Wainwright and, seemingly, anyone with a pulse, but Shane informs us it’s from “Shrek.” I can’t decide if this is cute or such marked ignorance he needs to be shaken senseless, but that being said, it’s not terrible. Not great, but not terrible. Steven suggests maybe he’s meant to be a coal miner. Ouch. Randy thinks he needs a lot of work, but he’s glad that he realized he messed up, which is a big deal. Shane is sent on his way but encouraged to come back.To their credit, none of the judges make fun of him. Shane seems pretty defeated by this turn of events, but hopefully he’ll remember he was encouraged to come back.
8:53 p.m. Lots of rejects promise they’ll come back. And cry. We actually didn’t get lot of Contestant Cam, but that’s hardly a bad thing.
8:54 p.m. Hallie Day (24) is a newly married waitress. Music and her husband saved her life. A little backstory on Hallie. She was in girl group called Plum Crazy at 15, but things didn’t go so well. She was in debt couldn’t pay her rent, so she left New York and moved home. Things got worse. Her parents weren’t around. There was a lack of structure and she had no confidence. She tried to commit suicide by “drinking a bottle of pills.” Then, she met the man who would become her husband. He encouraged her to audition for “American Idol.” I have to say, after Travis Orlando, this is a rather feeble sob story. I understand that we need to develop attachments to these people, but I’m not sure I need singers to have faced the pit of hell so that I can root for them, honestly.
Appropriately enough, Hallie’s singing “I Will Survive.” Not the best choice to show range, but she belts it out. Steven wants her to sing something else, because he likes watching her. J. Lo and Randy veto him based on creepiness. She’s going to Hollywood. She’s the last audition of the day, and J. Lo thinks she could win the whole kit and kaboodle. Eh, I’m going with Erika.
8:59 p.m. 38 people got golden tickets, though it definitely feels like many, many more given how this show was put together. Thus concludes Pittsburgh. On Sunday, San Diego.
So, what did you think of Pittsburgh? Anyone you’re rooting for? And were there too many sob stories for you or not?