American Idol producer Nigel Lythgoe promised that this week's episodes would involve "four hours of singing," which is sort of like a chef promising that your wedding cake would spend time in the oven. It's just a required step, you know? Including it means including substance and craft, however sugared over; leaving it out means you're left with a pan of junky goo. Pans of junky goo don't go over too well at weddings, right? Nothing's more fun or bodes more well for the future than dipping your spoon into a mass of cloying buttercream and congealed flour, one chunk after another. It's the most enjoyable way not to nourish yourself.
Anyway. That metaphor had absolutely nothing to do with last night's episode of Idol; not only were there four hours of more-or-less uninterrupted talent, we saw the first true breakout performance of the season. Isn't it amazing what singing can do to a singing show? First, though, we've got to get over a bug. An Idol bug. A bug whose buzz sounded a bit like this.
THE HOPELESS: 45-37
45. Hollywood Week: Is actually four days. Apparently "Hollywood Week" is just an expression, like "a New York minute" or "an eternity."
44. The Bettys: (to the tune of “Cold and Fugue Season”) They just want to sing this classy Blu for you, but Cherie keeps sneezing and sneezing, and they keep careening through keys, and I do not think they wrote flatting in the tune. Fetch her the Kleenex out of the prop box, turn on the bathroom cam and shoot us some puke shots, dish out the criticism, hand out rejection -- I’m watching Idol and feeling sick.
43. Six Seven Nine: They just want to sing some even worse Blu for you, but their name sounds like a fast-fashion chain. Idol couldn't even give each member a chyron; we are done here.
42. Ryan Seacrest: His Idol fortunes are such that his script now looks like this: "Some of them went with oh-ohs! Some, yay-yays! Some went with a combination of both!" He had other clunkers. We'll go over them in order.
41. Adam Brock: "It's time for American Idol to have some white chocolate up in here," Adam proclaimed, not realizing that reality shows have thrived on that junk long before the first Krajcik Krajciked. That said, Adam's nowhere near as good as Josh Krajcik. He's more like a certain Danny Gokey--my entire visible Twitter timeline was Gokey-related once he started singing--and the melisma-growl he added to "Georgia On My Mind" (remember that song) has to rank down there with the Gokey Scream. Oh, and he kept his grandfather's hankie in his pocket, the same place he kept the sob-story monologue about same. Of course he made it.
40. Brielle’s Mom: Wearing a coat straight from the closet of either Sarah Palin or Steven Tyler, Brielle’s mom stage mommed her way into several minutes of televised stage mommery. She dry-heaved Idol Bug style anytime someone who wasn’t Brielle did anything, and screamed to the heavens anytime Brielle did anything. Speaking of the heavens, she begs Jesus to let her daughter through so that she doesn’t “have to deal with her.” Avoiding parenting AND gaining camera time? Surely Jesus will understand!
39. Rain Quote 1: After a(nother) montage of lyrical flubs Ryan says, “This rainy weather may have put a damper on a few performances.” Hopefully the judges were decent and factored the weather into their decisions - It’s clearly no fault of the contestants themselves! (Also, amazing “damper” pun, writers! A little rain can’t slow your brains!)
38. Rain Quote 2: “As the rain begins to fall, the pressure is escalating.” Hey, tip: barometric pressure doesn't work that way.
37. Samantha Novacek's Pittsburgh Planker Sister: Remember her? Idol hopes not, because she disappeared with Samantha's singing mojo and without word or recap, abandoning Samantha to a world of angry cops and "Stuck Like Glue." Planking must've been too dated and specific a meme to feature more than once. Imagine that.
For medics, obnoxious kids and Katharine McPhee's mom, click NEXT.
THE HAPLESS: 36-24.
36. Randy Jackson: I would love to be paid this much for doing this little.
35. Jacquie Cera: Was that a Sprite she was drinking? You know, right after she fainted, the bottled elixir in her hand that made her able to sing again? If so, that's the second instance of American Idol turning people's medical issues into straight-up Coke commercials; if not, congratulations anyway, producers, for making a show where this is entirely plausible. Oh, right, Jacquie. She did just OK and didn't make it; we know this because just one month ago, she sang Rihanna in a karaoke bar.
34. A Shot Of The Door Closing: Specifically, that shot as Ryan says, “The door closes on another Hollywood dream.” A+ for editing class. F- for cliche editing.
33. Verbal Amnesia: A+ for effort to the chick who improvised with self-deprication: “I just blew my shot this time! I can’t believe this is happening!” to the tune of “Mercy,” for instance. F- for effort to the chick who started, “Billy Ray was the son of a preacher.”
32. Rachelle Lamb: If you're going to forget lyrics, though, you at least shouldn't forget the ones to Miranda Lambert's "The House That Built Me," a pensive, un-rangy song that rewards interpretation and has no chance for vocal showiness. She takes it remarkably well.
31. This Closing Quote: "What happens in Vegas...will blow you away." So, now we’re above cliches, huh?
30. Female Medic: When Jacqui fainted, Female Medic (prepare yourself for a Male Medic) rushed nervously to her side and yelped “How are you?!” Jacqui responded, “So dizzy,” and FM blustered, “So dizzy, huh?!” That’s all. No wonder folks are dropping like flies...
29. Vocal Coach Peisha McPhee: Her vocal coaching method is to pace outside, shake sheet music with exasperation, and babysit Reed Grimm. This is what a vocal coach might look like in a silent film. (Also, she's Katharine McPhee's mom. No one of Idol note or anything. Did the Smash clause that produced "introducing Katharine McPhee" also forbid Fox from mentioning their introduction?)
28. Area 451: An awesome nickname and Johnny Keyser saddled by a lousy performance; Imani saddled by producer sabotage. We're consoling ourselves by assuming one or both of them named the group.
27. Richie Law: Hey, Richie: If you're going to liken yourself to the baddest Clint Eastwood in the saloon, enforcer of the sort of cowboy democracy you get when only one cowboy's good with a gun, you might not want to wear a black Stetson.
26. Creighton Fraker: We meet him in falsetto medias res, adding about three Adeles' worth of hand gestures to "What a Wonderful World." It wasn't bad, exactly, but Creighton's voice has very specific uses, none of which he's shown yet.
25. Amy Brumfield: And so the country mouse retreated from Idol's catlike cameras and "More Than a Feeling" to the comforting arms and hammock embraces of Mother Nature (or Tent-essee, a pun the producers somehow missed.) One plaintive quote saw her home: "I pushed myself, and I forced myself...for nothing." In case you stopped watching in rage last week, she forced herself through literal sickness, so we're not really seeing much of a net cruelty change.
24. Reed Grimm: He's already gotten a Casey Abrams comparison from the judges, who are just so known for spontaneous comparisons. In other words, he's in. But this kid. This kid is obnoxious. So he wants to sing a cappella, but the producers won't let him do that, so he calls his mom for advice, an act worth a dozen panicked helicopter-parenting articles. His solution is to play about 2 percent of a drum set and to sing "Georgia on My Mind"--which Jen Hirsh, at this stage in the episode, had already rendered catatonic--with the delirious grin. You know, the best possible way to illustrate lyrics like "this old, sweet song." America, when it's your turn to have a say, you know what to do.
For more medics, puns, and NERVES NERVES NERVES, click NEXT.
THE HARMLESS: 23-11
23. Madison Shanley: Daily newspapers did the job American Idol wouldn't, namely showing her name on screen (apparently they showed her face and/or her flirting with David Leathers, Jr., if you remembered that at all.) Anyway, the Room 3 unrest that claimed her was probably edited to Hades, and she seems like a nice enough kid offscreen, so here's her SoundCloud page. It's got a "Marvin's Room" cover, in case the Great Idol songbook has made you forget Drake exists.
22. Steven Tyler: There is no way Steven Tyler remembers the days of his cheer-up speech, those early golden days of playing clubs and being booed off stage and subsisting only on booze and guitar-pick soup, man. His career for years has been Fox's astoundingly-paid court jester. That said, he probably does remember the days of the Gokey Scream, as he sang "Dream On" properly in an attempt to ward off future Gokeys. Points for effort; too bad it didn't work.
21. Mike, the Music Director: “We’re doing it int he key of G. G, for Reed Grimm.” Man, it’s gotta suck for Phillip Phillips hearing that.
20. Male Medic: To Imani, post-faint: “We’re gunna take your blood pressure and keep checking on you.” Unlike Female Medic, Male Medic maintains a constant calm while taking action. Like Female Medic, he is unable to put an end to the Idol Bug.
19. Jennifer Lopez: What is with J. Lo and nerves? By our count, she mentioned them at least three times, during pep talks and apologies and sorta-critiques. Perhaps since she remembers the hour all nerve was severed from the judging panel, she's more sensitive to noticing them in others.
18. The Background Music: Either the closing moments were underscored by a tonally and musically absurd solo piano instrumental track of Rihanna’s “Unfaithful,” or we’ve contracted the Idol Bug and are hallucinating. MALE MEDIC!
17. This Quote: “So it’s good news for Johnny, but tough luck for Imani.” --Ryan. Totally inappropriate timing; couldn’t have avoided rhyming? (See what we did there? Huh? Do ya?)
16. Fine, One More Quote: “Even though Simone recovered from her fall, today she wasn’t able to rise to the occasion.” What use is a medical emergency without a brilliant turn-of-phrase to go with it!
15. Mathenee Treco: We'll give him the benefit of the doubt and hope his "We've been battling sickness because of this one" jab at Amy was out of context, because he was that good.
14. Hollywood Five: Decent voice, decent performances, less decent song--not only is Idol's parallel musical world a world without Drake, it's one where Duffy's "Mercy" hit as much as Adele.
13. Groovesauce: A groovy “Hold On, I’m Coming” that sent the judges into a giggle tizzy, the only thing keeping them from The Flawless is their name. Weaksauce.
12. Imani Handy:: Faints on stage and pleads, in tears, with the judges not to hate her. In return, she gets a lecture and rejection. Kids, if you're reading this: don't accept that treatment.
11. Heejun Han: Sings first for MIT (that's Most International Team, which is either better or worse than what you were expecting), and although his voice is quavery, you probably wouldn't turn down a serenade. Oh, and for the six people invested in the (preliminary ugh) East meets West thing, Richie slaps least international teammate Phillip Phillips on the shoulder post-performance and Heejun Han apologized to Richie for the transgressions he didn't actually do. All of this is the opposite of how things should have turned out.
For decent-to-amazing singers (!!!!!), click NEXT.
THE FLAWLESS: 10-1
10. Shannon Magrane: Took "What a Wonderful World" to church, or at least to 21. Did anyone get the distinct, icky impression that "I just turned 16!" was directed straight at Steven? Like, that this is a thing that an aspiring contestant might plausibly do? Eeeeeagh. Moving on.
9. Phillip Phillips: Goes by Phil now, which we will ignore because A) that name's taken, B) we want to continue typing PHILLIP PHILLIPS. Anyway, he choked during group round, but it doesn't matter because round two let him strum his guitar, yarl and Krajcik, look like Phillip Phillips and softly sing-stutter the last bit of "Wicked Game" in a way that probably launched a thousand dreams. (Counter-opinion: TVLine's Michael Slezak compared a certain part of his voice to "a repressed burp."
8. The Idol Band: Rag on their Songsmithing all you want, but you have to recognize the gigantic leap in quality once contestants got proper backing. Plus, the "jam session" seemed like actual jamming, actually spontaneous--something that, before the live rounds, is sorely lacking.
7. Alisha Bernhardt: I now love Alisha. Anyone who leads her group in synchronized snark, grabs the group moppet in a headlock mid-performance, offers bodyguard services and suspects how extreme her villain edit would be ("does anyone want to tell the story of last night?" delivered in the tone of "does anyone want to explain why I'm covered in ashes?" has to be interesting, if perhaps not super-friendly. We wish her a great future far from Idol nonsense.
6. Colton Dixon: Hair from Adam Lambert, song from Daughtry, piano from the Idol-success playbook: dude's on track for a third-place finish!
5. Imani’s Mom: Not a stage mom. How do we know? Because the phrase “I’ll let her make her own decision” is against the law in Stage Momland.
4. (The Voice of) Reed’s Mom: When Reed makes the much anticipated phone call to his mother, she says, “I love you” and seems to mean it. Having genuine love for this menace is a feat in itself, and you know she’s not a stage parent because she didn’t feel the need to be with the camera -- err -- be with her son.
3. Skylar Laine: Yet another victim of the Idol bug, she supposedly went to the hospital every five minutes (including travel time?) and was cured by "fluid" (what, the sponsorship deal doesn't let you say "water")? But that didn't keep her from resolving to "suck it up for the one minute," the singing equivalent of lying back and thinking of England. Her Reba impression was twangy enough, even if all of that means I expected her to faint after each successive bar. Then she shouts "HEY!" at the end, and it's a cure-all so potent it's a wonder nobody edited her to shout "COKE!"
2. Joshua Ledet: Best R&B singer all season? Between his inspired song choice (possibly the only way "Jar of Hearts" is an inspired song choice), surprisingly beefy voice and victory cry of “I MADE IT TO THE NEXT ROU-U-U-UND,” we love this guy. He could go far--impressive for someone the producers only just now introduced. Who said you needed tailored audition backstories?
1. Jen Hirsh: Made almost no impression for almost the entire episode--including the start of her "Georgia On My Mind," which aimed for silky but came off more like a swaying parody of a cabaret singer. (And we certainly haven't seen any of those this year.) Then she sang the chorus. Then she sang the chorus. Then she soared into falsetto, which turned into a quaver, then into panting, then something else that, for the first time this season, gave us genuine chills. The judges gave her a standing ovation, and it's the most honest reaction they've had all season.