“American Idol” returned on Wednesday (January 7) night to somewhat tepid ratings and with a one-hour episode that was almost entirely devoid of likely breakout talent.
FOX posted the first episode online for critics and then wisely posted the second, which is airing tonight. The move was wise because, as you'll soon see, Thursday's episode is much, much better. There are three or four contestants who appeared on Thursday's episode and seem like plausible Finalists.
So click through and follow along as I recap the highlights and lowlights.
[Key Warning: It turned out yesterday that the FOX-provided screener for the premiere wasn't exactly what aired. It was mostly what aired, but apparently I saw some singing viewers didn't get. And vice versa. So take this recap, especially the time-code, with a grain of salt. Hopefully the people I liked will make it to air.]
00:00:00 Is it my screener or are we starting with some righteous “Inception”-style bass? I guess that adds some drama to the reminder that “Idol” makes stars and that it's about the kids, not gimmicks or judges. But really, it's making me believe that “Idol” is all about the bass.
00:02:00 We're beginning again in Nashville. The judges want to find a superstar. Don't we all know that the “Idol” judges have nothing to do with the cattle call audition round? Isn't that established by now? Then why is Ryan Seacrest's voiceover pretending that while the judges are deliberating upstairs, contestants are “downstairs on the stadium floor”? These things happened weeks apart. Everybody knows this.
00:03:10 Alabama's Andrew Annello has no nerves. He's confident that the judges are going to fall in love with him. He has a “positive personality,” which he admits is probably ADHD. He's going to be himself and we'll see what happens. He enters with high energy. “Can you match that entrance with a performance?” Harry Connick Jr asks. Andrew has a decent voice mixed in amongst some awful mannerisms and affectations. “It just felt like it was a caricature of a performance,” Keith Urban says. Harry dubs it “silly” and asks for 10 seconds without silliness. Andrew responds with a fair-to-middling 20 seconds of “My Girl.” Harry votes “Yes.” Keith tells Andrew not to underestimate his vote and votes “Yes.” Apparently they've booked all these tickets to Hollywood and if they don't use 'em, they lose 'em, so Andrew is going to Hollywood. He is not the next American Idol. But… his mother is very excited for Andrew and very excited about everything. Me, I wish we'd started the episode with somebody better. [Returning to screener discrepancy, I hear last night's episode started with somebody different from the person who started the cut I saw.]
00:08:45 Mother in tow, Loren Lott has traveled from San Diego. She's an actress and you can, indeed, tell that she's unnervingly polished. For the second straight episode, piano man Michael Orland gets an on-screen ID. Loren has a thin, nasally voice and cruise ship stage presence. If she's lucky, she could work a theme park someday. “You're an actress. You sound like an actress who is singing,” Harry says, asking Loren to sing something that sounds like her and not an interpretation as an actress, something that sounds like how she'd sing if she did the dishes. Keith insinuates that J-Lo doesn't do dishes. Harry insinuates that he KNOWS J-Lo does dishes. I have no clue if “does dishes” is meant as double-entendre or not. After rolling her eyes back into her head, Loren tries to sing a song as herself. The judges laugh, but Loren's much better. She's still not good enough for “American Idol.” But she's definitely good enough for Six Flags. Keith votes “Yes.” Harry praises Loren's star quality. “I think we've gotta stop saying it's a singing competition,” Keith says, breaking with 14 years of “American Idol” official dogma. Harry votes “No.” It's down to J-Lo, which means Loren is going to Hollywood.
00:14:30 White Guy With Guitar Trevor Douglas is trying to relax. He's a 16-year-old street corner musician who likes to play outside of venues after big artists. If music doesn't work, he has a much more interesting and realistic goal: He's a huge science geek and he wants to be the next Bill Nye. I expected Trevor to be rather awful, but instead, he's vastly more musically interesting and personality-filled than I would have expected. I don't think there's anything all that authentic about what he's doing, but it's certainly not boring. He's got a Busking Clark Kent thing going for him that I like. J-Lo likes his quirkiness and “cool geeky” quality. Trevor's going to Hollywood and he may be the first person we've seen this person who could go a long way in the competition, if he doesn't become irritating.
00:19:20 Keith tells us you can't judge a book by its cover. J-Lo likes discovering stars and editing suggests that brassy belter Piper Jones might be a star. I don't know if she's an “Idol”-style star, but she's got a great voice and sells her personality well.
00:20:30 One singer who's sure to get as much exposure as “Idol” can possibly give her is former “X Factor” auditioner Kelley Kime. Even if 23-year-old Kelley isn't necessarily a star, her four-year-old daughter Hope could become a permanent “Idol” fixture. Hope's rendition of “Let It Go” pretty much reduces J-Lo to quivering tears with its adorableness. “You were amazing,” Harry says, while Keith tells her to work on her melisma. Or was it vice versa? I can't remember anymore. Hope gets a ticket to Hollywood and gets to sit on Jen's lap for the rest of the audition. As for Kelley's audition? She's definitely good and she couldn't be more commercial, in a stunning Valley Girl kinda way. Kelley's intriguing, because she's got the kind of looks that normally young, female “Idol” voters reject. But if she can keep performing with Hope either in the audience or waiting in the wings, she could overcome the haters. Fortunately, the judges let Hope give her mother a golden ticket, or else there'd be crazy awkwardness.
00:25:00 “I feel like my dreams are crushed,” says a teary Cammie Lester, before we have the chance to hear her sing. From that point of in medias res introduction, we flashback to Cammie's blundered audition, that included at least one restart. “I started the song off-tune and I kept doing it and I just went along with it,” Cammie says accurately. She's 15 and her father correctly tells her that there's always next year.
00:26:30 While Cammie's dreams were shattered, several other singers are talking about their dreams as well and they're not crying. “Not everybody has what it takes to be a superstar,” Harry says. And just like that, all of those people whose names we never learned are sent packing. Farewell, people without names, especially that guy with the baby. Come back when your baby is Hope-sized and able to perform.
00:28:00. Accompanied by his father is Garrett Miles, who wears a black cowboy hat and black sunglasses. He's blind and his father has always encouraged him to go after his dream. “I'm his roadie,” Garrett's dad says. Huh. “My family can't sing a note or play a note. I don't know where my talent came from except God Almighty,” Garrett says, launching into fine very “Proud Mary.” I don't know this arrangement, but I've never heard so much effort put into enunciation and meaning on the lyrics. It's not brilliantly sung or brilliantly played, but it's honest and I'm not saying that in a condescending way. Keith raves that Garrett makes the song sound like his song and Garrett proves the point by doing an honest, clean country cover of the Selena hit “Como La Flor.” J-Lo loves his accent and the whole performance. “You've got confidence and it's justified,” Keith says, coming over and giving Garrett a hug.
00:32:30 After a slow start, suddenly this episode is coming on strong.
00:33:00 Keith Urban is playing with the house band at a Nashville club. This has nothing to do with the episode, but I assure you that Keith has a ticket to Hollywood. Oh. There's the connection. Keith tells us that the next American Idol could be performing on the corner of Broadway and… Meet Clark Beckham, a busker who does a mean cover of “This Is a Man's, Man's, Man's World.” He's bluesy and passionate and if you squint your eyes just right, he's got a tiny bit of Phillip Phillips about his twitchy, wincing, studiedly uncomfortable demeanor. Harry praises him for the way he hits notes. J-Lo worries that Clark ran out of breath on the upper notes. Keith liked the vocal control, but didn't feel the intensity. Uh-oh. I liked Clark. Keith votes “Yes” anyway. But Harry doesn't think Clark is ready and votes “No.” J-Lo says “Yes” and Clark is off to Hollywood, where he will find many a street corner upon which to play, assuming he's prepared to fight off a guy in a Spider-Man costume.
00:39:00 Sporting a “cajon,” or a “lucky egg,” Gina Venier is a one-woman band. She started on the drums and came late to the singing thing. Gina's very good at… something and whatever she's good at isn't anything we've seen before on “Idol,” which is largely because it's not “America's Next Great Street Musician,” which would be an awesome show. Gina got a ticket to Hollywood. You'll notice that she was carrying a guitar when she left the room. I assume that's because the judges said, “Show us what else you can do” and she did, but “Idol” wants to surprise us.
00:40:40 Looking like a scruffier cross between Henry Cavill and Robert Pattinson is 19-year-old Alex Shier. He had longer hair last year and he was clean-shaven. This is an improvement and J-Lo thinks Alex has been through the wilderness and found himself. Alex says he's played 200 shows since last year and he's more season. He's going to Hollywood, taking his White Guy With Guitar mojo. Harry has no memory of Alex from last year, but J-Lo swears she does, or at least swears that the sheet in front of her says that she saw him last year.
00:43:00 Hey look! Another White Guy With Guitar. It's self-described singer-songwriter Cody Fry, who also likes rock-climbing and gardening. Cody over sings the heck out of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” To me, there's something smarmy about Cody, but the judges are all grinning at him like he's a falsetto-singing messiah. Maybe if I close my eyes? Yeah, there are some nice moments if I'm just listening. “I like the way you look. I like your vibe. I like you,” Keith says. J-Lo liked his folk-y vibe. Harry likes Cody's timing in the musical landscape. He's going to Hollywood.
00:47:00 Trivia! Keith had one shirt on display at the Country Music Museum.
00:47:30 Cosmetologist Hector Montegro grew up in a family with a bunch of women, so he made it a career. He offers his services to J-Lo. “She has a hair stylist for each one of her hairs,” Harry tells him. A Latino Guy With a Guitar, Hector is fine. Harry likes his voice, but not his presentation. Keith calls him “naturally a great singer.” The judges all vote “Yes” and Hector is off to Hollywood… Florida. Or so he says.
00:51:00 Time for a Montage of Disappointment. Not only has “Idol” stopped showing any freak auditions, but they're not identifying a lot of performers. You could almost just cut them out entirely, eh?
00:52:00 Auditioning for the fourth time is Sarina-Joi Crowe. I remember Sarina-Joi from seasons past, though I don't remember her well enough to remember if she's better now that she's showing her personality more, or now that she says she's showing her personality more. She's definitely strong in that R&B belter mode that only sometimes plays well on “Idol.” Harry's sure she was better than last time. According to my notes, we saw her audition in Season 12, but last year we may only have seen her in Hollywood in her previous auditions
00:54:40 I'm fine with nanny Alison Peritakos. Jake Black is like the reincarnation of Alex Preston, mixed with Blake Lewis. Steffi Ledbetter has a good regional theater or cabaret voice. They're all going to Hollywood.
00:56:30 I totally remember Savion Wright from last season. He did an original and it was good! He also dedicated a song to his late brother, according to my notes. I was pissed off that he didn't make the Top 30. He thinks he's better for that negative experience. The judges are happy to see him, even if they don't notice that he got his braces off. OK, Savion is great. If he doesn't make the finals this season, “Idol” can go suck an egg. He's got a super voice, a good look and he does nice things with the guitar. J-Lo thinks Savion was calmer and more comfortable this time. He's going to Hollywood. Savion wants genuine advanced advice from Harry, who tells him to learn every chord, not to skim over them.
01:00:40 We're off to Kansas City on the bus tour. I'm not sure what that means for the judges. Oh. OK. So they went on a bus tour to 11 cities and took the best from that group to Kansas City and the judges. Gotcha!
01:01:30 Our first Kansas City audition is Zach Kaltenbach, who hails from the same high school as David Cook. Zach has an OK voice, but he's almost totally devoid of stage presence. “You're a cute guy,” Harry tells him. J-Lo agrees and Zach asks her out after. J-Lo giggles nervously. Harry calls it a flat audition. J-Lo likes his look and even sees star quality. Harry says “No.” J-Lo says “Yes” and Keith agrees. Yawn. Whatever. Harry is incredulous.
01:04:40 Bringing an amusing nerdy energy and a self-described “squishy face” is Naomi Tatsuoka, who likes to joke that she's looking forward to meeting J-Lo, because she loves Jennifer Lawrence. Naomi inexplicably starts singing from her knees, which chokes up her voice. As she stands up, suddenly her full voice comes bursting out. That was not especially pleasant to listen to, but I feel like I'd want to see more of her. J-Lo felt like she tried to do too much, but sometimes it worked very well. Keith thought she relied too much on dramatic effect. Harry thought it was impressive. Naomi's going to Hollywood. She's not the next American Idol, but she's a hoot.
01:08:30 Origami-distributing Jhameel also has some intriguing facial ink. He's extremely OCD. It reminds him to live with things asymmetrical, but balanced. Jhameel is interesting as he does an acoustic T-Pain cover. The judges agree that Jhameel is entertaining more than he's a great singer, but they send him to Hollywood. Harry gives a freaky drunk voice to his origami turtle.
01:12:40 “Have no fear, the star is here,” squeals Jasmin Pinela, who is also from the Bronx. “Well… Represent,” J-Lo says awkwardly, perhaps hoping that Jasmin won't have any follow-up questions about favorite locations. By the standards of the people we've been hearing since “Idol” did away with the on-camera freaks, Jasmin is just awful, a shrieking mess. “I promise you guys, I have it in me,” Jasmin says, blaming the audition on excess practicing. The judges are kind, but critical. “My voice gave out,” Jasmin tells her mother.
01:15:40 Oh my God. I want KC ribs more than anything in the world.
01:16:00 Former competitive dancer Lovey James — Not her real name — has stage experience. Lovey's the oldest 16-year-old in the world and she enthusiastically explains the origin of her name while Keith and Harry talk to each other and ignore her. She sings a song by Frankie Grande's sister and I think she's OK, but whereas with some 16-year-olds you think, “Wow, if this person just trains and practices they'll be great,” I kinda feel like this is who or what Lovey is, for better or for worse. J-Lo thinks Lovey's voice matches her stage name. Keith then asks the origin of her stage name and Lovey smiles politely as J-Lo feigns “This is what I go through every day” exasperation. Lovey's going to Hollywood, where she can be asked about her name.
01:19:00 J-Lo is praising Lovey's 16-year-old freshness as a very sad contrast to the strained and stressed out Jess Lamb. Everything in 28-year-old Jess' mannerisms screams, “This is my last chance.” She's playing the piano, calling Harry an inspiration. This could have been sad and desperate. Fortunately, it's not. It's mature and seasoned. Maybe it's the floppy hat or the piano or the raspy voice, but I'm getting an Elise Testone vibe from Jess. And Elise Testone finished sixth back in the day. Harry calls Jess “the definition of creativity.” J-Lo calls her an artist. Keith says that Jess would hold his attention at a bar or club. Jess is going to Hollywood and she jams with Harry on the piano. On one hand, Harry plays circles around her, but you can tell this is pretty much the highlight of Jess' life, which is fun. Harry's going to Hollywood.
This was a much better episode than the premiere, wasn't it?