Thursday, January 25, 2007

Seattle Auditions: American Idol or American Cripple?

C. Crumpet Swank weighs in...

The much ballyhooed "freaks in Seattle" that we've been hearing about for the last few weeks of American Idol promotion came to full fruition last night. The promises trumpeted on the radio were more than kept. Indeed, where on Earth does one begin with this motley crew?

Why not with the fear-inducing? Steven Thoen (a.k.a. "Red") and Nicholas Zitzmann were downright scary in a serial killer sort of way. I envision them joining forces, as part of an Idol-rejectee pact, with Red as the brawn and Nick as the brains--a demented duo terrorizing greater Seatlle in a series of dastardly murders a la Saw.

Nicholas is probably pretty harmless, but he had a weird intensity and was clearly a social cripple of sorts. It didn't help that he all but obliterated the charms of Unchained Melody, ulullating his way through it like a near-asphyxiated llama. Red was tuneless, but likewise intense, and clearly without much intelligence. He also had an awkward, defensive posture--you could hear his hinges creaking as he approached that state of being known as unhinged. Again, these are the types of characters that lend the audition sequences, for better or worse, a carnivalesque feel in the earliest stages of the competition.

After last night's cavalcade of kooks it appears that as far as the producers are concerned the motherlode of all footage is atrocious singing coupled with homely looks and lack of social awareness. How can we not conclude this when, once again, the auditions we saw were far more weighted towards the inept than the talented? I suppose one could argue that bad auditions far outstrip the good (which is why out of 100,000+ contestants only 125 or so are invited to Hollywood), but then again, we are tuning in for a talent competition, not a no-talent competition, right?

There is a proverbial line to be crossed, however, and last night it might very well have been breached, namely in the extensive footage of Kenneth Briggs and Jonathon Jayne. These two boys bonded in the green room (a camaraderie seemingly encouraged by Ryan--perhaps with ulterior motives?) and we were privy to their poor auditions in their entirety. Visually, Kenneth's chances were hampered from the get-go; he looked like had some sort of birth defect. It was hard not to dwell on his mis-shaped skull, protruding ears, and buggy eyes. Matters were not helped by his lame rendition of Tearining Up My Heart. It was almost poignant, though. His well-thought out, but sad-sack choreography; his spirited, but pathetic vocal; his alarming looks--this guy is the closet thing to William Hung, since Mr. She-Bangs himself. Perhaps Kenneth will be able to parlay his abject failure on Idol into something lucrative as well. He certainly has an optimistic outlook. When Simon focused a bit too much on the unenviability of Kenneth's appearance, the young man stood up for himself and it was a moment of self-gallantry that was a joy to behold.

Turns out my suspicions about birth defects were true (Kenneth suffers from Aarskog Syndrome), which begs the question--should the producers parade such woebegone contestants in front of us for our mirthful appreciation (or is that disdain)? In a way it's an insult, the producers baiting us, so sure are they of our willingness to deride contestants like Kenneth. I think the laugh will be on the execs, however, because I think they are underestimating the character of the viewing public.

It is this underestimation that most probably fueled the decision to air Jonathon's footage. Portly Jonathon, who doesn't look fat, but rather looks like he's wearing a fat suit, operated in and out of the audition in a glazed, lisping fog that at worst is mild retardation, at best Asperger's Syndrome or some like autistic state. For my money, his audition should never have been shown. Even though the judges were polite, and Jonathon accepted his dismissal calmly, the damage was done in terms of the show's credibility as regards its intentions. Why show us this type of encounter? To what good? For what insight? Perhaps the producers are testing the water and plan a spin-off called American Cripple, where the physically and mentally disadvantaged compete in skill areas that are beyond their abilities?

The producers need to realize that there is a difference between encouraging us to snicker at the Jonathon/Kenneth's of the world vs. the likes of Jennifer Chapton. You do remember, Jennifer, right? The one who looks like the misbegotten love-child of Liev Schrieber and Miss Edie, the Egg-Lady of John Waters fame? Jennifer's voice wasn't terrible--it was perhaps serviceable--but it was trapped in a needless tangle of poorly executed melismatic riffs that she thought made her sound Mariah-like. Yet what made her so damn appalling was the pure hideousness of her manner. Now, lest you think I am being cruel, I will preface my venom with an aknoweldgement that Jennifer, for all I know, may be the sweetest girl in the world--a principled dove, generous and golden-hearted. Trouble is, all we saw was a crass, harshly-painted, poorly-spoken harridan of girl. A guttersnipe, if you will.

Big tits, little tits, I don't care what size you have--I have no preference--but forgive me for laughing when you are a member of the little-itty-bitty-titty-committee and you bosom your way around the room as if you work at Hooters. If your large, ungainly nose comes perilously close to touching your upper lip, don't exacerbate the problem by garish lipstick and thick lip-liner. Also, learn to accept criticism graciously, whether you agree with it or not. This rule goes hand in hand with, Do not sputter grammatically horrendous refutations, e.g., "You dough no nothin' 'bout music," ad nauseam, until you have to be told to shut up. Do not confuse an A&R exec's skill with his singing ability; they need not correspond ("Simon, you nevah cut a record!"). Do not assert, unironically, that your nickname is The Hotness, when you are, quite unanimously, the furthest thing from it. This girl was so full of herself with so little reason, it was truly astonishing. She was vain, ugly, dumb, and aggressive. Certainly no idol of any sort, and one can only hope, not intrinsically American. It was hard not to want to kick Miss Chapton in the face and hope for a better outcome.

And so I found myself delighted by Darwin (oh the irony!) Misha Reedy who was a total fruitcake, but a decidedly sweet and delicious one at that. Darwin (like her namesake) seemed to be operating on a different mental plane than anyone else in the room. She was totally goofy in appearance, speech and sense of humor--a prime target for a make-over, but the more I have thought about her, the more I like her just the way she is, unaplogetically herself--owing, no doubt, to her Mom, whose similarly discombobulated psyche and appearance we were likewise treated to. Darwin's voice was not good, but her spirit was great!

[Her lack of a bra, however, was a serious offense. When one's pendulosity factor is on par with a well-endowed 74-year-old, one mustn't walk around with one's continental shelf left to its own devices. No one wants to see the hanging gardens of Babylon resurrected and we only end up feeling embarassed for you (especially when you clumsily smack your contestant number to your breasts, like a label to a side of ham). Mom Reedy, get your girl to Bloomingdale's. They will do a professional brassiere fitting for free.]

And now, some parting glances--

ANNA KEARNS, a.k.a. Amazonia. I liked her moves a lot, but her voice, although good, wasn't anything special. I'm hoping she can rev it up in Hollywood. And why didn't they show us for more than a millisecond (in the commercial preview) of Anna and Paula standing beside each other? I'd use that as wallpaper.

BLAKE LEWIS, a.k.a. Beat Box Boy. He had a lot of charisma and was an impressive beat-boxer, but his voice was good and not much more. Can he bring more to the table than what we saw in the first audition?

MELISSA "CARLENE" STAVROS. Baby definitely has some back (and much elsewhere!), but did all appendages no favor by sausaging them in pink hosiery. Instead of Carlene, I wanted to call her Kielbasa. Nevertheless, I thought she was totally charming. She was clearly having a good time, and I admired how when Randy requested Sir-Mix-a-Lot, she didn't hesitate for even half a second, launching in to a lusty, swivelling rendition of that most famous "ass" song. You go, girl! Moreover, I thought her voice was decent; certainly not the voice of a finalist, but at least as good as Blake Lewis's. Further proof that looks count more in the assessment of the female contestants.

JORDIN SPARKS. Everybody seems to think she's all that and a bag of chips, but I didn't bite. Her voice was strong, but unexceptional, and her look for me was of that pleasant and non-descript ethnically-vague variety that gets chicer by the day. Plus, she loses major points for that deliberate misspelling in her first name. There is no "i" in Jordin, honey.

Until next time, may your house be full of juicy dog noses...

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