Last night's American Idol was the final audition episode of this seasonyes, the producers smartly (mercifully?) lopped an entire week of tryouts off this year's schedule, foregoing the "Best Of The Rest" episode and combining the San Antonio and Long Beach tryouts into a single show. Ryan Seacrest, the judges, and the producers were in Oklahoma City last night, and while the hour didn't have many standout contestants, taking it as a whole with the other audition episodes provided a couple of tea leaves for the coming weeks and months.
1. Nicki Minaj is going to throw a ton of wrenches into the process of dissecting the contestants' abilities. Putting Nicki in as a judge seemed like a good move when it was announcedshe gave the show youth and pop credibility. But watching her over the first six episodes, during which she's been unafraid to speak her mind and essentially upend a lot of the assumptions the show is based on (particularly the pigeonholing of unformed young singers into particular boxes), has made me really excited about the prospect of watching her live and in real time. Maybe she'll even get to mentor the contestants one weekor at least give them makeovers (complete with new nicknames)?
2. Mariah Carey will start singing along with a contestant during one of the live shows, and it'll be An Important Teaching Moment for both contestant and judge. During the auditions, Carey was shown lip-syncing along with a couple of contestants, and this was edited. If the producers decide to do Jacksons week, watch out! Although seeing her blossom into Singer Mariah would probably provide a heart-warming moment.
3. Someone who wasn't shown at all last night, but who auditioned in Oklahoma City, will make Top 5. Last night's episode started with a tribute to Sooner idol Carrie Underwood, but curiously, the city's most promising country hopeful wasn't shown. Kree Harrison, who has a lovely voice and a pretty sizeable Facebook following already, has had a fair amount of buzz around her despite the semifinal goings-on being under official wraps until next week. She's got tons of potential, though; this song, "You Would've Wanted That Way," is a gorgeously plainspoken ode to a departed mother (who, if the YouTube comments are any indication, was Kree's mom):
4. If one of the judges has to take some time off, Steven Tyler is totally around for fill-in work. Last night's episode concluded with the former Idol judge acting out his old hit "Dude (Looks Like A Lady)," dressing in drag (complete with massive chest and blonde wig) and strutting his stuff for the new judges. While Nicki did not look all that happy, the fact that he and Idol's producers still have goodwill is certainly notable. (I doubt you'd see Jennifer Lopez or Kara DioGuardi prostrating themselves in front of the panel for giggles. Paula Abdul, maybe!)
5. Zoanette Johnson will be a star, even if she doesn't get past Hollywood. The 19-year-old was the talk of last night's episode, her booty-shaking antics leading into an octave-scaling version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that she dedicated to Barack Obama; that was followed by her having quite the repartée with the judges, giving as good as she got. (She also referred to herself as a Barbiei.e. a diehard fan of Minajwhich probably influenced her initial presentation.) Lost in her brightly hued presentation and devotionals to the president was the fact that her voice was... actually pretty good? She hit the high notes on a notoriously difficult song and her lower register (well, relatively lower register) was strong. Now that she's made it through to Hollywood, watch her get laser-focused on mowing down the competition for as long as she can. Which probably won't be until the end, because...
6. Despite the producers' deepest wishes, a white guy with a guitar is probably going to win anyway. Sorry, everybody, but the episode kicking off with Karl Skinnerwho opened with a jokey, choreography-assisted version of "I Feel Good" but who charmed the judges when he strapped on an acoustic and did a song of his ownwas almost like a portent of The Guys With Feeling To Come. Maybe if the producers spotlighted more female singers with slightly imperfect voices? It's not like you need to be a big belter to be a woman and have a massive pop hit these days. (And hey, isn't that Phillip Phillips at No. 9? Finally, pop radio is catching up with Idol's voters)