As Melinda Camille sang on last night’s episode, “It’s a new dawn; it’s a new day; it’s a new life for me.” It truly is a new dawn for all of us, as the entire country embraces an Obama-fied appreciation of unity. “American Idol,” never one to miss a trend (or a new cashcow), jumps on the diversity bandwagon by bringing its operation to Puerto Rico. While last night’s episode also highlighted auditions from New York, one wonders if it was really necessary to allude to the Sharks and the Jets at the top of the show – a bit of a stretch. Then again, is there really such a thing as too much musical theatre? Apparently someone thinks so. While Wednesday night’s Mormons offered up hymns, as you’d expect, New York and Puerto Rico failed to deliver in the stereotype department.
The Big Apple disappointed in its lack of Broadway Babies. Even more devastating was San Juan’s rationing of just one Ricky Martin song – a snippet, at that! This being the final pre-Hollywood audition episode, “Idol” claimed that they’d saved the best talent for last – a hefty promise, but one on which they delivered.
AND I AM TELLING YOU ADEOLA WILL NOT MAKE IT TO HOLLYWOOD
The night started off iffy in New York with former bank teller Adeola Adegoke, who had just quit her job to become the next American Idol. It was appropriate in so many ways when she announced that she would be singing “And I Am Telling You” from “Dreamgirls,” and yet it was worrisome too. First of all, it’s a showtune – yay! But this song is the reason why “Idol” alum Jennifer Hudson won the Oscar. And, let us not forget Tamyra Gray’s showstopping performance on Season 1; it positioned her as the one to beat, though she eventually ended up coming in fourth. That being said, it has become one of those songs that you just shouldn’t sing for fear of comparison. And Adegoke definitely could not compare. As she wheezed out the chorus in a heavy accent, it made those of us on the other side of the tv screen cry out, “And I am telling you, you SHOULD go….back to the bank, sister!”
The silver lining in this cloud was that we got to see a kinder, gentler Simon, who actually called Adejoke’s boss and asked him to rehire her. Despite his comments last month that things would continue in the way they’ve always been following Paula Goodspeed’s suicide, Cowell has been noticeably softer on the “aspirational”/trainwreck singers this season. See? He’s sexy AND sweet, in a sarcastic sort of ego-destroying way.
JORGE NUNEZ STEALS AMERICA’S CORAZON
Our first taste of San Juan came in the form of Jorge Nunez, an adorable boy-next-door type with a powerful, commercial voice whose personality wavered between flamboyant and foreign (sometimes it’s hard to tell). And speaking of mysteries, his Spanish language rendition of Sinatra’s “My Way” was virtually unrecognizable, even to those of us who are music experts, until he sang the last line in English – and by “experts” I mean people who frequent karaoke bars and/or were in the high school marching band. Randy told him to just “be who you are.” He’s right; get it over with. Do we really want to question who Nunez “really” is for the next five years? We’ve been down that road before, ya’ll. It’s called Aiken Boulevard.
JESSIKA BAIER FALLS VICTIM TO DOUBLE STANDARD
Apparently, Jessika Baier was not only the winner of the “World’s Most Beautiful Baby Contest” – cut to photo of 8-month-old Jessika crying as she holds her trophy – but she also met Jessica Simpson at an airport once! With a supposed slew of contest victories behind her, Baier was ready to add a Golden Ticket to her collection of trophies. The judges didn’t quite have the same idea. While her rendition of Celine Dion’s “I Surrender” (never attempt Celine, people!) was a bit “yellish” and flat, there was definitely a voice there that could be brought out with the proper training. Refusing to give her a second chance, the judges dismissed her and Paula even had the nerve to tell her to just “take constructive criticism,” of which they gave her none. Telling someone they suck is not constructive criticism; telling them how to improve what they’re doing is. Baier, a chubby girl with questionable taste in eye shadow, had a voice that was workable. There is no doubt that had she been 40 pounds lighter and a little more commercial, she would have made it through. There have already been plenty of attractive girls this season making it through on their looks and not their voices. Adding insult to injury was the fact that Baier had won a Michigan-wide contest that paid for her to audition in the sunshine of San Juan. Incidentally, the contest also paid for 9 family members to fly down and see her fail.
FEELING WEIRD ABOUT MELINDA’S ‘FEELING GOOD’ AUDITION
While some contestants quit their jobs to audition, others never had jobs in the first place. When unemployed Melinda Camille sauntered in – barefoot, of course – you could feel an indescribable energy in the room. Her comments varied in topic, from an apparent “shift in the Universe” (she probably means 2012) to her penchant for dancing nude in front of the mirror. “Dancing naked,” Camille says, “ I feel like my soul kind of just, like, releases. I’m down for any experience that can bring enlightenment or happiness to me.” Wait…. Huh? Is this “American Idol” or “Real Sex” on HBO? Keeping with her sensual vibe, it was only fitting that she sing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” but only after she pictured Randy naked, as instructed by Simon. The guys were turned on, Kara called her a “vitamin boost” and Paula was just happy to have someone who could compete for the “Craziest One in the Room” prize. Golden Ticket, naturally.
JACKIE ‘GILMORE’ GOES TO HOLLYWOOD
Jackie Tohn, who grew up singing with her father (how “Selena!”), breezed in wearing her high tops and proceeded to massacre Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” As if her “Super Bowl Shuffle” moves and crazy faces weren’t enough, there was something as equally strange yet familiar in her vocals. It was hard to put one’s finger on it, but then it came to mind instantly: her voice sounded like Adam Sandler in one of his gratingly annoying parody songs! Add to that the clapping and spastic snapping, reminiscent of your aunt dancing at a wedding reception after one too many wine spritzers, and you’ve got yourself a true freak show. Surprisingly, though, when the judges gave her a second chance to sing, her voice sounded normal –good, really – even though the wincing crazy face continued. Crazy face is going to Hollywood, where we will hopefully get to see some more of her “moves.”
JOEL CONTRERAS: NO, I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP
Puerto Rican Joel Contreras, in a bid for camera time, decided to forego wearing his giant rat costume and instead dressed up as an iPod/GuyPod. While this plea for attention came off as rather pathetic and only a little funny, it must be said that his vocalization of the iPod “clicking” noises was laugh out loud amusing. When Simon called him “excruciatingly bad,” Contreras echoed (sort of), “excruciality bad?” before pulling out a lion hand puppet and belting out “The Circle of Life.” After getting 4 “no’s,” he questioned, “That was no, really?” (“No” sounds the same in English as it does Spanish; I’m sure of this.) He then ran out of the room screaming, “I got a ‘no!’” before inexplicably exiting the audition room in a Superman costume that he wasn’t wearing before and cannonballing into the hotel pool.
BE ‘GENTLE’ WITH MY EGO, SIMON
The most refreshingly odd audition of the show came from Nick Mitchell, aka “Norman Gentle.” Hey, all the big stars have aliases now – Beyonce is Sasha Fierce; Mariah is Mimi. Who could fault Mitchell for trying to adapt? This was a love it or hate it audition. While Mitchell, sporting a sweatband and 80’s glasses, initially came off as a poorly developed “SNL” character, he eventually eased up and seemed to play a heightened version of himself. In between random bursts of flamboyance, he started off singing “And I Am Telling You.” I have been to enough gay bars to know that this song is quite popular with the kimangos. To boot, I have been in love with enough gay men to know that I want to marry Norman Gentle. He won the judges over with his digs on Simon and a voice that wasn’t half bad. Then, in an effort to be more serious, he sang “Amazing Grace,” before turning it into the “Liza Minelli sings at a Baptist revival” version. While Kara said he had “no chance in hell,” she still put him through for his sheer entertainment value and Paula also voted yes, with Simon more or less saying “hell no.” A resounding “Yes, whatever. Whatever, yes” from Randy sealed Nick/Norman’s fate. It will be interesting to see who he turns up as in Hollywood.
MONIQUE GARCIA TORRES GETS A SECOND SHOT
The most memorable thing about 16-year-old Monique Garcia Torres was, well, her 9-year-old brother, Christopher. This kid really worked the room, bringing the judges a seashell and serving as his sister’s pro bono PR consultant. His meek sister could take a lesson from him. While her voice was “pretty” on “You Can’t Hurry Love” and Christina Aguilera’s “I Turn to You,” it wasn’t quite fully developed. The judges decided to give her another shot, though (probably due to her brother). We’ll see her in Hollywood but I wouldn’t get too attached if I were you.
‘MY FAIR LADY’ RETURNS TO ‘IDOL’
No doubt you all remember Alexis Cohen from last year. She was the glitter-faced blond with the foul mouth and “old lady bus driver on meth” demeanor. Last year, her voice was definitely memorable and interesting but it came with a little too much crazy on the side. When she walked in on last night’s show, it was like she’d graduated from “Rock of Love: Charm School.” Her dress was very ladylike and her makeup was toned down. Her whole aura was calm and gracious – that is, until her (worse than last year) singing failed to impress the judges and she flipped them off. “Like a Prayer” with poorly executed vamps was probably not the way to go. Uh, maybe next year?
PAULA’S NOT IN THE MOOD TO DANCE
The last contestant to audition was Patricia Lewis Roman in Puerto Rico, who sang “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which, as Simon noted, is a difficult song to sing (See: Asia’h Epperson, Season 7). While Roman did a commendable job and even looked like a young pre-crack Whitney, Simon “didn’t think it was good enough.” They let her sing a second song but her nerves were noticeably shot, affecting her voice. Shockingly, Paula actually grew an opinion of her own and said “no,” even after Randy gave his “yes.” Though the cameras didn’t show us, Simon and Kara clearly said yes because Roman exited the room, Golden Ticket in hand, as her family surrounded her with tambourines. Randy quipped, “Let’s go join in the parade, Paula and dance with the band!” but Paula must’ve been angry that they let her through at all because she clearly did NOT “wanna dance with somebody….” ANYbody.
Yes, there could’ve been more showtunes in New York. And as disappointing as it was that nobody in Puerto Rico attempted Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs,” it was, overall, a very entertaining episode. The main moral seems to follow this oft-cited but unofficial rule: if you can’t sing Whitney like Whitney, don’t attempt it. If you can’t sing Mariah like Mariah, don’t attempt it. The same goes for Celine, Christina, Kelly Clarkson and Jennifer Hudson. Oh, and if you can’t sing William Hung like William Hung….well, then, you’re lucky.