"Final Judgment," Night 1. It sounds so biblical, as if Tartarus would open up beneath unsuccessful auditioners' feet, when really, the only thing opening up for them is oodles of YouTube hits, name recognition and the consolation prize of getting potential future front-runner status like Baylie and Colton. But never mind that--judgment! Smoke! Spotlights! Dramatic walks! The hardest eliminations ever, except for the upcoming ones! Leaping right into snippets of "yesterday's performances" that made us hit Google in a writer's panic, sure we missed an episode and a recap.
We did not miss an episode and a recap. We did, however, miss out on about 10 potential breakout moments, both good and horrifying. This is where we'll point out that the useless drama-night episode could've been scuttled to show us full performances and make our ranking more useful than individual note analysis; this is also when we'll move on to get to...
THE HOPELESS: 38-31
38. Jennifer Lopez: If it’s fair for Jennifer to make fun of Erika’s weight, it’s fair for us to make fun of Jennifer for skinning a endangered sequin crocodile.
37. Holding Room: “After hearing the good news, she headed down to celebrate with the rest of the holding room” --Ryan. Contestants love NOTHING more than celebrating their decreased odds!
36. Caleb Johnson: A "rocker," in the sense that blatantly screwing up on stage, looking like Elton and saying "Can I start over? I think I messed up... Yay? Nay? Can I get some water?" is rock, which is to say--no sense. Equally senseless: Idol not making this a big, dramatic moment.
35. This Numerical Quote: “With five singers through already, spots are starting to fill up!” In related breaking news, with 25 minutes in, we have 95 minutes to go!
34. This Other Numerical Quote: “Tonight, the competition shrinks from 42 to 24.” False. Tomorrow, the competition shrinks to 24. Tonight, we were lied to.
33. Blaire Sieber: Actual conversation on Twitter, well before the show:
Blaire: I hope Nigel recognizes the great performer in me and shows my song!
Us: Not cool. (This was not part of the conversation before. It is now.)
32. Reed Grimm: Oh, it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing, and bop bop bop-myself-on-the-head sputter twitter sputter elsihuktesjt gimmick contestants quirky charm typecasting obvious songs "I think that... with the drums... I think that showed more of... my drumming... and playing... abilities..." Steven looking for a singer and Reed is that singer and somehow nobody said "adorkable" and everything I just typed was more coherent than a typical Reed Grimm performance. Was Ryan's "turning him over to America" comment a challenge? Please accept it.
31. Creighton Fraker: Sang "What a Wonderful World" and "New York State of Mind" except chipmunked like a motherfuckeeeeer, with Slinky-like melisma, and with a large gulp at the end of the latter. But don't worry--he has a "rock and roll background," which means he wears purple goggles sometimes. (This is also Steven Tyler's rock and roll present.) He sings like his name sounds. It's not bad, exactly; it'd just lose a quirk-off to Reed and a sing-off to anyone else.
For stage moms, fantastic names and a cliffhanger that isn't, click NEXT.
THE HAPLESS: 30-21
30. Randy Jackson: His go-to compliment: “You’re one of the best singers we’ve seen.” At this point, that’s a given, no?
29. Steven Tyler: Purple top, paisley pants and permanent pout: business neither on the top nor on the bottom. He escapes the bottom category solely because despite last week’s warning, we have not seen his bare butt.
28. Neco Starr: His performance had the consistency of a moist towelette. Bruno Mars would call it soppy. Bruno Mars, incidentally, is the gaping void in the judges’ pop knowledge, as they didn’t put him through despite him being a near-exact clone, starry name and all.
27. Idioms: The liberal uses of “best of the best,” “cream of the crop,” and “push comes to shove” really ruffled our feathers, made our blood boil, and got our danders up!
26. This Quote: “Next up is one girl who wanted to make it to the next round.” --Ryan. Oh yeah! She’s that one girl in this competition who distinguishes herself by being interested in winning this competition. Thanks for the clarification!
25. Richie Law: Q: How can you tell whether the baritone cowboy singing "Ring of Fire" before a Western soundtrack is going to make it? How do you tell whether he'll be Richie-Richie, lucrative Scotty successor and lover of hugs, or The Law, the stern person who talks up his accomplishments like he's at an annual review? A: Check the Stetson color.
24. The Walk to the Judges: In order to get to the judgment room, the contestants had to walk down a hallway engulfed in endless spotlights and mist. Surely a nod to The Phantom of the Opera, as the judges are the contestants’ angels expand=1] of music. Particularly Steven.
23. Camille Von Hugel: Ryan asks how Brielle’s (stage) mom stays so tan (he’s ruthless for hot tips) and she talks up her “tan out of a can.” When Brielle make it, she declares to the holding room of nervous contestants, “I love youz! All youz!” Then, we imagine, under her breath, “When my daughter is succeeding in show biz.”
22. Chelsea Sorrell: She twangs so good, it doesn't matter how many lyrics she forgets (too many), and no judge was ever going to mention that during her judgment. Why? She's a female country singer, which means--in Randy's words--"top 24! top 24! top 24!"
21. Adam Brock: We’ll save you the crumb of suspense and tell you he makes it. This isn’t a cliffhanger. It never even came near the cliff. Nevertheless, Adam Brock’s segment brought us joy. That is, Adam didn’t bring us any; his performance Krajciked not one bit, nor did the white (nope) chocolate (.avi) melt (ugh). Instead, he was tossed into a sterile jazz petri dish, shuddering stark against glassy backup singers. And then, wonder of wonders, we heard this: “You still have to figure out who you are. The jazzy, sort of loungy arrangement of that didn’t show off who you really were. It felt all over the place.” Sure, it’s sticky with sugar and assumes a Danny Gokey clone is something anyone wants to hear. But the experience of mentally formulating critique, then having the judges formulate the same critique, is something we’re honestly not used to on Idol anymore. Don’t worry, though; it’ll never happen again.
For prettiness, "get it, girl" ladies and ghosts, click NEXT.
THE HARMLESS: 20-11
20. Lauren Gray: So many unanswered questions! Did she “get inside her head” while performing Etta James? Was performing Etta James a little more noteworthy now than a year ago? What snuffed the torch of her torch song? What about the performance failed to ring the judges’ internal Next Adele Bell? Could she have been a contender? After such a short snippet, we’ll never know. This is a great argument against Hollywood Week.
19. Baylie Brown: Ryan describes her as Chelsea’s “country counterpart,” which has to be a note from central casting that leaked out into his script. She’s just as savvy; when Steven began his “it doesn’t give me great pleasure to say this...” fakeout, she just grinned, both because speaking to a woman has never failed to give Steven excessive pleasure and because as a former Idol auditioner, she has to know the game. Next step: making her notes stop wavering.
18. Ryan Seacrest: Ryan pats people on the back like most people breathe. He says "get it, girl" like most people say "um, okay."
17. This Quote: “We’ve arrived at the prettiest hotel I’ve seen in my whole life,” says one contestant of the Wynn Hotel and Casino. Somewhere up the strip, the Aria Hotel and Casino from last week is sad and confused.
16. Jessica Sanchez: Bad signs: Ryan literally reads her name off a sheet of paper, pageant footage is shown, she mentions her mom "spending so much money" on her (a statement equally applicable to devoted mothers and stage moms), and her ballad is a half-buttery, half-quavery confection suited more to Thia Megia than anyone who got much farther past her. There are also tears. Good sign: The fact that said ballad lasted longer than a few successful auditioners combined. She could have a future in singing, mind you. It's just a few years into the future, and in theater, not pop.
15. Cirque du Soleil: The stage for Cirque show La Reve didn’t not look like a vulva (surely to represent the birth of a star!) The stage was surrounded by a moat. In La Reve, it’s used for acrobatic diving. In American Idol, it’s used for less graceful punning (“Will she stay afloat?” etc.)
14. Death: We keep hearing phrases like “sing for survival” and “another casualty,” yet the judges keep insisting on these dead contestants “coming back next year.” Coming next year to Fox: Ghost Idol.
13. Brielle Von Hugel: The producers play Taboo, deploying every possible way to tell us Brielle has a stage mom without using the words “stage mom.” This means I liked her throaty, blowsy, “Killing Me Softly” a lot more than Idol probably wants me to.
12. Haley Johnson: Has progressed from college student who plays her little guitar in coffee shops to Idol student who tears up her 15 seconds of fame, which is... sort of an improvement? For those DVRing at home, notice Heejun’s reaction to her.
11. Jen Hirsh: “Winery worker” is such a mellifluous-sounding occupation, isn’t it? It’s like shellacking a cellar door with milk and honey. It’s not like her performance, which panted and shrieked like someone doing a parody of Haley Reinhart based on Vote For The Worst writeups, but her high note rescued that, and her great track record and genuine-seeming smarts rescue her.
For gigging, thrash metal and where has this dude been our Idol lives, click NEXT.
THE FLAWLESS: 10-1
10. Phil Phillips: A sleepy-eyed, drawl-voiced, pale-skinned machine through which R&B songs are pureed into acoustic bluegrass confections. Idol nevertheless tried to convince the world he'd ever be kicked off the show onto Vegas's boulevard of broken dreams (seriously, this was a metaphor). Randy said he wasn't sure how his gimmickry would play out for America, which is possibly the most fantastically short-sighted statement on Idol; honestly, at this point we're more unsure how he'll do with a song played straight.
9. Colton Dixon: Colton, if nothing else, functions as an excellent way to test your cynicism. Does his dedication, and the camera crew’s dedication, to his sister make you go “aww” or think of VC Andrews? How mercenary did you find J. Lo’s comment about his dedication: “I am glad that you used that to do what you just did”? Are you heartened or disappointed by the prospect of Adam Lambert fronting Coldplay instead of Queen?
8. Erika Van Pelt: Her a cappella performance was spellbinding, and the audience agreed--well, at least we're extrapolating from the one second of the start of a standing O we saw. (A standing arc?) We love her. We do not love what J. Lo said to her. And we are side-eyeing "Already Gone" as her victory song.
7. Heejun Han: Ryan asks him what he’s sweating, and Heejun responds “mostly water, which is probably a literal-mind gag but also totally fair, because based on Idol's sensitivity record, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the showrunners think there are racial differences in sweat. He sings "New York State of Mind" with enough smoke (in his voice and on the stage) to set off fire alarms everywhere, and the judges' Jedi mindfuck fakeout doesn't even pretend to work. We'd have bumped him a few spots if he'd gone for the hug and the kiss like he promised the camera.
6. The Soundtrack: “Hey Jude” plays after Heejun. Apparently the music coordinator enjoys a good pun as much as we do! (Note: It might have also been fun to play “I Fought the Law” when Heejun was fighting with Richie Law. Just sayin’.)
5. Famous Fathers: "Flotsam and Jetsam": sea life, Ursula's eel minions, a metal band whose lead singer fathered Creighton Fraker. At the very least, this season of Idol could produce fa spin-of buddy sitcom with Jim Carrey.
4. This Quote: “I’m trying to convey every emotion I have” --Elise. Elise Conveys an Emotion! And we did some research. Apparently there are 48 classifications of emotions. We’ll have to keep a tally during live week!
3. Backstage Crew Member: If you have a DVR, go to 1:33 in the episode. A backstage crew member in a red shirt makes eye contact with the camera, looks absolutely stunned, drops to the floor, and slithers out of the frame. If you don’t have a DVR, how do you survive?
2. Elise Testone: Idol is missing a major monetization opportunity here; I would lay down at least a twenty to hear the full version of her “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” and maybe an extra five for her the knowing smile on her last line. This is known as “interpretation,” Idol test-tube kids. It’s the sort you learn from ten-gig-a-week work. It’s the sort of performance that justifies the quote “I feel like I’m going to explode whenever I sing.”
1. Joshua Ledet: That LeAnn Rimes audition was the breakout moment he never had. That gender-flipped, righteous "Hit 'Em Up Style" performance was the other breakout moment he never had. His ripping the roots out of "Up to the Mountain" was worth roughly six breakout moments. Why, Idol? Why? Was being a preacher's kid not enough backstory? Was his infectious joy after he made it somehow invisible, despite his twitterpated hugs toward every single judge? You better reward him with about fifteen last-singer slots in a row to make up for this. (Psst: it'll help ratings, too.)