Tonight's audition episode of American Idol continued the theme established last night of Being Nice. Oh, sure, you had your costumed freaks and your pitchy types, but they were pushed to the side for the most part in favor of Good Singers and filler material. (We got to meet Randy Jackson's football coach! Can you feel the excitement?)
So let us discuss Brett Loewenstern, a 16-year-old from Florida with a gorgeous red mop atop his head (thank you, Idol producers, for leaving in the discussion of his haircare regime) and a feeling that he Just Doesn't Fit In, which was highlighted by his parents talking about the rough time he was having and a music-video-worthy bit of footage where he's standing in the middle of a high school hallway with his guitar as a crush of students rushes by him. That he had a good voice—and balls that made Steven Tyler proud, as he decided to audition with Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody"—was apparent from the way his intro package was edited, and it was something of a treat; if he makes it past Hollywood, he could definitely become a Jason Castro-like cult hero.
More importantly, Brett's whole audition arc, which felt like a prologue to an It Gets Better video, made it obvious that the show is taking an anti-bullying cue from its Fox sibling Glee, which isn't beating it in the ratings but which is giving it quite the public-consciousness whupping. (Even though it's poorly written and its characters make cardboard cutouts look like realistic humans and its musical numbers use enough Autotune to make "TiK ToK" sound like it's an MTV Unplugged outtake. But I digress.) That "Be Nice" would be more of an unofficial show motto in the absence of Simon Cowell was a given, but the idea that American Idol, which has trafficked in raking in ratings for ridiculing the oddballs during its first nine seasons, would embrace the outcasts is definitely a sea change for the show's overall tone.
This isn't to say that the inexplicable meanness is wholly absent; when Steven doppleganger Gabriel Franks performed a version of "Bad Romance" that wasn't perfect, but was just as pitchy as some of the other singers who have sung less-fun songs and made it through these past two nights, he was hooted at by the panel. Is it because he's a dude? Does this mean that Steven is going to take over "gay jokes with Ryan Seacrest duty" from Simon once the live episodes start? Also, isn't this show supposed to be getting more contemporary now that Jimmy Iovine is in the creative driver's seat?
GOLDEN TICKETS DOLED OUT: 37.
RANDY JACKSON'S VAGUE COMPLIMENT OF THE NIGHT: "Great football coach, guys." Jackson said this in response to the special guest brought in by the decent country-ish singer Jacquelyn Dupree: His high school football coach! It was also uttered in the same way that many people say "Cool story, bro," to someone who did not tell that cool of a story. Good to know that the Idol passive aggression is still alive!
NEW JUDGE JUDGING: It was apparent that Louisiana native Jovany Barreto would make it through based on the rapturous compliments he doled out to Jennifer Lopez and her husband Marc Anthony. (OK, OK, he had a smoldering voice, too.) This bit of Lopez love and last night's "OMGJLOILUVU" opening gambit, though, made me wonder if Jennifer had some sort of "on-screen compliment quotient" clause written into her contract, and if that was a sticking point in last summer's drawn-out negotiations.
AWKWARD CALLBACK OF THE NIGHT: The show started with Ryan Seacrest flashing back to season four, when he was unable to pronounce the unofficial New Orleans motto "Laissez les bon temps roulez." Perhaps the fact that the producers had to go this far back into the archives to find usable footage should have been a sign that the hour-long format for the audition episodes was wearing a bit thin? Well, if that wasn't, the subsequent segments about Ryan's ability to speak Cajun should have been. They also should have been replaced by Adam expand=1] Sandler cameos. (Hey, they'd be better than his forthcoming rom-com.)
THE ONLY 15 FACTOR: Last night's diamond-in-the-rough find was Jacee Badeaux, a chunky 15-year-old who looked way younger than his age and who sang a sweet, pre-voice-change version of "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" that could very easily be mistaken for a Justin Bieber cover of the Otis Redding track in a blindfolded listening test. It had the panel swooning; the fawning was so pronounced, in fact, that it was hard to not think the show was very strenuously trying to find its own Susan Boyle, the singer who has a beautiful voice in a package that doesn't quite fit the mainstream idea of a "pop star." And who better to appeal to Boyle's target demo of mature women (who buy CDs!!!) than a kid with a golden voice and endlessly pinchable cheeks?
SPOILER ALERT: Sarah Sellers was a geek archetype from Texas who was fussed over because of her plump lips, which the panel thought were very Steven-like. (I didn't think they were all that outsized? And the gloss she chose was sort of unflattering.) She sang Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" and sounded OK enough to be put through. But warning, warning—she's a blogger! And she sent out this tweet last month, when the show was making its Hollywood Round cuts:
Was this message designed to send people off the scent? Stay tuned!
SAD STORIES GALORE: Tonight's episode ended with an audition by Paris Tassin, a single mom from New Orleans who got pregnant as a teenager and who had some complications that resulted in her baby being born with hearing loss. "I'm singing for her," she said before launching into Carrie Underwood's "Temporary Home." The version wasn't perfect—she at one point even made an "I screwed up" face after an unfortunate note—but no matter; she got Jennifer's waterworks going, and the camera gave itself over to multiple close-ups of the new judge crying big, fat tears. "Look, everyone!" the editing seemed to be saying. "Jen's real, people! Pay no attention to those expensive album covers in her past!"
Despite the missed notes Paris unanimously made it through, and the show ended with a very obviously staged "chance meeting" between Jennifer and Paris and the baby, with Jen telling the baby some inspirational something about her mom. So for the second night in a row, the show ended on a "follow your dreams" note.
Next week the traveling audition road show hits Milwaukee, which I hope means that everyone is forced to sing the theme from Laverne & Shirley.