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Time to go from 24 to 12. This week four will lose the will to live, your lack of votes returning them to their former state of fame-deprivation, possibly for the rest of their lives. The other 20 will then pretend they never knew those guys. And there are three episodes this week, one for the men, one for the women, and one for Fantasia to guest-star and sing on so she can plug that new CD that you, America, all of you, have failed to go out and purchase in numbers necessary to guarantee she remain more successful than Ruben Studdard.
Tuesday: The men sing badly...
I'm finally going to give you their complete names and ages as well as their little press-release bio (that'll be in italics so you know I didn't write it) and anything else I can pick from the weird publicity buffet that is each contestant's "personality reel." I have no idea what the actual TV name is for the little get-to-know-them clips they show before each person sings, so that's my name for them for the duration of the season. It's where they highlight one thing about the person's life and emphasize it, no matter how insignificant it is to their actual existence outside the show, and then they make that the one thing you'll take away from watching that particular contestant. This one's got a baby, this one's shy, this one won't put on a frigging pair of shoes...
Seacrest introduces the judges. Randy's got on a giant silver crucifix and a paisley blouse. Paula's hair makes her look like a tiny little Kip Winger, and Simon is dressed in black like he always is, massaging his own neck, with that stupid hedgehog haircut he refuses to change. Paula, even with her should-be-fired stylist's regular serving of awful choices, consistently comes off looking better than either of them.
Anyway, first up is:
1. Rudy Cardenas (28) -- Currently lives in North Hollywood, CA, but grew up in Denver, CO. Cardenas was born in Venezuela and has a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Northern Colorado. The most memorable thing I learn about him from his personality reel is that he eats a lot of ramen. He kicks it off with "Free Ride." He's wearing a T-shirt with a bull's-eye on it, which will help when the animal control people come in with tranquilizer guns, and he sings like an alternate universe Steve Perry with a serious aversion to consonants. It goes something like, "the moun' ain is 'igh, the (v)alley is 'ow..." and it's completely awful, but that doesn't stop Paula from telling him he's "fantastic." Randy and Simon disagree and tell the truth. For his part, Rudy thinks everyone listening to him had as great a time as he did singing. And if you read these recaps last season, you may remember my fond wish for a future technology that would allow me to reach inside a TV screen and smack the most deserving person. I still wish for it, and in this moment it would come in very handy so I could let Rudy know that he's wrong about what kind of time I just had.
I'll get to the other people in a second, but I decided to watch all the commercials too, because even though I have TiVo and I don't have to watch them, I'm still super-fascinated by the new Sandra Bullock movie coming out about time travel and preventing someone's death, which is totally different than the Sandra Bullock movie from last year about time travel and a mailbox and making out with Keanu Reeves in the...future, was it? Maybe the past. I forget. Anyway, this movie is coming very soon, as is the series finale of The O.C. I think I might watch it even if that show never did live up to it's threegie-having, coke-snorting pilot where one of the main guys uttered the all-time-great character-establishing line, "Suck it, queer."
Back in Coca-Cola Lounge, where Seacrest pretends to chill with the 11 men yet to bite it on live national television, Chris Sligh of the Chubby Little Hands, the one contestant on this show to ever make it this far and still retain a sense of smirky, ironic detachment from the proceedings, makes an ironically detached and smirky comment about how all the men look so pretty tonight. This puts the ball in Seacrest's court, and because he's constantly threatened by any hint that he might not be all about the ladies, he drops that ball and says, "I'm glad you're on that [other] couch." Strangely, however, for Seacrest, this places him squarely in Type 2 Gay territory [a concept I explained in last week's recap, one that posits four varieties of gay, Type 2 being synonymous with something really lame and stupid--go back to last week's installment, archived here, and find it; I have a lot of work to do and I can't be repeating myself all the time for latecomers].
2. Brandon Rogers (29) -- From North Hollywood, CA, but spent six years in Dallas. Rogers has been singing for as long as he can remember. He works as a voice coach, wedding singer, and background singer. His mother is a published songwriter. He's toured with Timberlake and Christina Aguilera, and he's got a baby with Usher. Kidding. He sings "Rock With You," and you can tell he's nervous, but who cares, that's no excuse. And his jeans are dumb, all whitewashed down the front. He's off-key and he oversings. But, much like Chris Sligh just said, he's pretty. That still kind of counts when everything else is going down the toilet.
3. Sundance Head (28) -- Currently lives in Porter, TX, and is the son of Roy Head (who had a No. 1 song in 1965, "Treat Her Right"). His life has been centered around music and he can play five instruments. Meanwhile, his pointy goatee always finds magnetic north. They cut back to his audition, where he sang "Stormy Monday" and made everyone love him. It's a visual clue to what he's about to do with his dumb hands. He's a hands-singer, always holding them out to the audience, kind of like how Taylor Hicks used to do when he had to slow it down and not monkey-dance all over the place. Hicks became The Waiter, offering dopiness as refreshment. Well, Sundancehead (that's the one-word version of his name that the residents of this particular Idol -watching household have adopted) has decided to fuck up "Nights in White Satin" tonight and present a dessert menu of sharp and flat notes. Worst of all, none of this bothers me as much as the hair gel. If I could vote against that gel, I would. The judges express disappointment. Simon says, "I don't like you tonight." Sundancehead is dejected. He looks like he might cry. Poor Sundancehead.
4. Paul Kim (25) -- Currently lives in Saratoga, CA, and is working as a pool maintenance technician. He grew up with a love of soul music and enjoys gardening. Unfortunately, he doesn't love shoes, and I don't love that. I know that for some people, being barefoot makes them feel free or whatever, but fuck them. Dirty, uncared-for feet are the scourge of this formerly great nation. Everyone's wearing stupid sandals all the time, putting toe rings on, making me miserable. Put on shoes, people, because unless you're a foot model and you can legitimately lay claim to objectively beautiful feet, you probably don't deserve to expose them to the public. And of course he sings "Careless Whisper," just so he can sing the line "guilty feet have got no rhythm" and point to his cold bare toes. What a tool. And oh, check it out, he ruins the falsetto high note too. Dang, this sucks. The judges all hate it, and Seacrest comes back onto the stage, showing off his own freakishly long skateboard feet. I need some antinausea medicine right now.
5. Chris Richardson (22) -- Currently lives in Chesapeake, VA, and is a supervisor at a restaurant. He was born in Belgium into a military family and performs at local clubs. He's very bouncy while he yell-sings a bad Gavin Degraw song. But he's got a cuddly hip-hop honky vibe about him. Randy and Paula think it's fantastic. Simon calls it a bad vocal and he's right.
6. Nick Pedro (25) -- Currently lives in Taunton, MA, and made it to Hollywood last season. Pedro has performed at talent shows and is an account executive. His personality reel explains that he was too dumb to learn the lyrics to last year's song during the group round of Hollywood week and so he voluntarily dropped out in shame. But now that he's back he's ready to be wicked awesome! I have no idea what song he's singing this week. Not that it matters, because it sucks. Seriously, we've gone through six guys and they've all crapped all over everything and the best thing the judges can usually say is that they all were so good during the original auditions. Simon, however, thinks he was decent. So yeah, buckets of crazy and awful are just pouring over everything tonight.
7. Blake Lewis (25) -- Currently lives in Bothell, WA, and began "beat boxing" in his senior year of high school. Lewis was a member of a youth choir group that traveled to Europe. This is Beatbox Boy. And he reads gayer and gayer all the time to me. The spiky hair is gone, replaced by a Morrissey-ish super-coif, he's singing Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," and he's not only ruining the high notes but he's smiling all the way through what is a desperately sad song. And he holds the microphone like it's a penis he hates. But he's little and cute and vanilla cookie-ish like a human snickerdoodle. And who doesn't love those?
Commercial Time: Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? premieres next week. I will absolutely be watching that show. Because I totally am way smarter than a fifth grader and I will beat up any fifth grader who says otherwise.
8. Sanjaya Malakar (17) -- Currently lives in Federal Way, WA, and comes from a family of singers. He spent four years in Hawaii performing with the Hawaii Children's Theater. He just got his GED. Why? What was that about? Explain that to me. You're 17. Why not just be in high school? I'm sitting watching this episode with people who think GED is code for "gay," as in "I got the shit beaten out of me in high school because I am that much of a soft boy." Even Paula calls him a "sweet soul." I don't know what this kid is, but I do know that watching him made me think of Phoebe Snow singing "Poetry Man" on an episode of Midnight Special. Except Phoebe Snow would shoot herself in the face if she were ever this dull. Simon calls it "dreary" but says that America will like Sanjaya's hair. "Oh, thank you!" snaps the young Malakar, "I'm sure they'll like yours too." So...um...OK...yeah...this kid is probably on our team.
9. Chris Sligh (28) -- Currently lives in Greenville, SC, and is the son of missionaries. Sligh spent 10 years with his family in Germany. Since attending Bob Jones University, he has traveled and performed with a band. Now, I don't know what kind of band this is, but I've got my suspicions. See, Bob Jones University is a Christian school. And before you get your hackles up and think I'm anti-Christian, hear me out, because I'm not. Because Bob Jones U. is not just any Christian school. It's hard-core crazy there. Like they don't let you watch TV. Women can't have short hair. They didn't admit unmarried African-American students until 1971. They banned interracial dating until the year 2000. Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps went there. Will someone please ask Mr. Sligh questions about the university he attended and what it all means to him? Because if there's another Mandisa in the house, I think we all have the right to know. But so far he's been nothing but pretty awesome, so I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt. He sings a song called "Typical" that I've never heard before. After doing some digging, I found the band, Mute Math, on MySpace and then found out that they are a band whose members are all Christians. They have performed at Christian venues and at Christian music festivals. In fact, they sued their label, Word (a Christian label) because the parent company, Warner Bros., allowed their album to be released and marketed in traditional Christian venues and the band wanted a more mainstream push. So that's the band that makes the songs Chris Sligh sings. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. It just is what it is. I'm still giving him the benefit of the doubt because I really dig what he says to Simon after the performance. Simon isn't pleased by the song. He calls it a "student gig," something that makes no sense. Seacrest chimes in, asking Simon what the hell he's talking about. Simon retorts by calling Seacrest "sweetheart" and they get into more wacky gay-baiting. But back to Sligh, who takes this opportunity to diss Simon for Il Divo and the Teletubbies. For the record, Cowell created Il Divo from some ash he had shipped in from hell itself, which he then formed into lumps of pop-opera singing clay and then debuted on Oprah to their target demographic. He also produced CDs of songs by the Teletubbies. These are facts about Simon Cowell. The former is one he likes to talk about. The latter is one he doesn't. When Sligh throws the latter in Simon's face, the man becomes speechless with something resembling simmering rage as Randy and Paula cheer and do the Cabbage Patch. Simon's comeback? To call Sligh fat. Seriously. He jumps on the Teletubbies comment, emphasis on the tubby, as an insult. That's the best you got, Cowell? Really? Oh yeah, here's another fact about Cowell. He once turned down the opportunity to sign hugely successful British boy band Take That because he considered their lead vocalist too fat to be a star. Yes, really. Fact checking is kind of a blast right now.
10. Jared Cotter (25) -- Grew up in Kew Gardens, NY, and currently lives in West Orange, NJ. He has a degree in business management from Five Towns College, Long Island. And that's the first time you've ever heard of Jared Cotter. They gave him seriously short shrift in the early episodes, so really, we're meeting him for what is essentially the first time. He sings "Dick in a Box." OK, lie. He sings some boring-ass Brian McKnight song with counting in the chorus that is exactly like "Dick in a Box." It's not a smart move on his part.
11. AJ Tabaldo (22) -- Currently lives in Santa Maria, CA, and has been singing since the age of 5. He is a supervisor for a shipping service. He sings a proficiently bland version of Luther Vandross's "Never Too Much." He is also even more gay-acting than Beatbox Boy or Sanjaya. How did this many seemingly homosexual men get through to the top 24? I thought the producers had gotten better about screening them out. I haven't seen this many potential cake-boys since the Kelly Clarkson season.
12. Phil Stacey (29) -- Currently lives in Jacksonville, FL; however, he grew up in Cincinnati. Stacy has a degree in vocal performance and is a singer in the Navy. He is married with two children. I'm freaked out by his appearance. I hate to admit that, because I think of myself as a not-shallow person, but he's got a Nosferatu thing going on that weirds me. He's going to kick ass if they do a Midnight Oil week, though.
Wednesday: Women beat their men...
Seacrest moves down the row of ladies complimenting them on their necklaces, earrings, and highlights. He's a sly one, that Seacrest, always dancing around the homo signifiers and then engaging in gay-panic banter with Cowell and male contestants at the drop of a soap. But let's not dwell on that. Time for the chicks to wipe the floor with those deadbeat boys.
1. Stephanie Edwards (19) -- Currently lives in Savannah, GA. Edwards sang at the famed Apollo Theater when she appeared on "It's Showtime at the Apollo." She has won every singing contest she has ever entered. And after watching her get down, whoop it up, drop to the floor and toss off buckets of sass, I can see why. I like the no-weave thing she has happening too, short and easy. Paula, on the other hand, as a color-matched muskrat affixed to the back of noggin tonight. It's mesmerizing, really.
2. Amy Krebs (22) -- Currently lives in Federal Way, WA. Krebs has been singing since she was a small child and attended the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City. She is fluent in German and lived in Germany for three years. Krebstar goes for it by butchering a Bonnie Raitt song, "I Can't Make You Love Me." And with her thin little nasal voice she is abso-friggin-lutely right about that. Paula offers a mush of nonpraise in the spirit of trying to be nice. Simon says she has the personality of a candle.
3. Leslie Hunt (24) -- Currently lives in Chicago, IL. Hunt is a dog walker who is studying to become a dog trainer. She also plays the piano. She also moves around the stage like...like I don't even know what...like a person in need of a coach of some kind. Is there such a thing as an anti-awkwardness trainer? Someone who can break a young woman of doing that thing with her arms where it looks like she's watched too many Gwen Stefani videos and overfantasized about rolling through town while standing up in the front seat of a convertible flanked by her posse of hip-hop girlfriends? Can someone begin doing that for a living, please? Because if this person made it through to the top 24 and is doing it on national TV for me right now, that means millions more people are afflicted with the same heretofore silent killer. Simon calls her "ungainly." Yeah, that's the word I was looking for. By the way, she sings "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman." She sucks at it too. There's this one background singer they keep cutting to who has one finger in her ear to make sure she's got the pitch down because it's got to be hard backing up someone who doesn't.
4. Sabrina Sloan (27) -- Currently lives in Studio City, CA. Sloan attended the Northwestern University music and theater program and has performed across the country with the touring production of "Hairspray." Whoa, what's new, Pussycat Doll? She's a Valley Girl, so she dresses in that young Los Angeles hooch style that I barely even notice anymore when I'm out in public, so pervasive and saturated is the Los Angeles cityscape with that look. Tonight she has on a horrible sleeveless, high-frilly-necked blouse that's also a dress, over jeans. Yuck. She does, however, knock Aretha's "Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)" around like a mouse she's about to devour but isn't quite yet ready to murder just yet. It ain't bad at all. But it's also kind of Broadway-ish. I'm not convinced. Simon tells her that she's the best person they've heard tonight and--yes!--the camera cuts to a not-especially-amused Stephanie Edwards, who looks around for anyone who's got her back on this one.
5. Antonella Barba (20) -- From Point Pleasant, NJ, Barba attends Catholic University in Washington, DC, pursuing an architecture degree. She began singing in sixth grade and once toured with the Monmouth Conservatory of Music in England. But "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing"? Really, Meadow Soprano? She's not making it happen. At all. And her belt makes her look like she's got a tail growing out of her lower back. Randy tells her it was bad. Paula calls her an "amazingly beautiful girl." Meadow nods her head just a little, like, "Yeah, yeah, I know that already." Simon tells her the song "ate [you] up" and that it was the moral equivalent of Seacrest was trying to do the news. I can't add anything more true to that statement. So I'll let it go.
6. Jordin Sparks (17) -- Currently lives in Glendale, AZ. Sparks began singing when she was only 18 months old. She won the "Arizona Idol" contest. Her favorite band is Something Corporate. Ew, Something Corporate? Oh, well, she's 17. What are you going to do about that? She juices up a Tracy Chapman song, "Gimme One Reason," into something that Tracy Chapman wouldn't go near, ever, and that's kind of awesome. She's got lots of teen energy, somehow looks good in the same kind of dumb long blouse/minidress over jeans that Pussycat Doll wore just a second ago, and has the intriguing audience support of a person who looks to be a very butch lesbian. Or maybe it's her fem brother. Hard to tell.
7. Nicole Tranquillo (20) -- Currently lives in Philadelphia, PA, where she is a vocal major at the University of the Arts. Tranquillo began taking voice lessons when she was 12 years old. She reminds me, in the face at least, of the new SNL cast member, I can't remember her name, the one who plays the crazy Target employee. Nicole sings an old Chaka Khan song. I forget the title. It's too much for her, though. What sort of all-white high school do you go to where you're the most soulful-sounding girl in Swing Choir and everyone tells you that you are just like Chaka Khan and you believe them? It's a sad bit of slow-cooked delusion that needs ice cold water fire-hosed all over it to save it from itself.
8. Haley Scarnato (24) -- Currently lives in San Antonio, TX. Scarnato, who recently became engaged, has been performing as a freelance singer since she was 15 years old and considers Celine Dion her hero. That's right, Celine Dion is her hero. Because of all the heroic rounds of golf she plays in Las Vegas with Rene? Who can understand this? "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" is her choice of song, natch. She's doing the Great Lady thing, standing stock-still and prepared to wow you with her force-of-nature-ness, kind of how when the mother of the bride decides to stand up and sing at the reception, so proud in the moment. But Idol producers, please hear me when I say that I think it's time for a skinny-white-girl intervention. It amazes me that these listless creatures can even hoist a microphone. So y'all gotta step in and tell them to get on their game or it's over immediately. If it were up to me, I'd just send them all home right now.
9. Melinda Doolittle (29) -- Currently lives in Brentwood, TN. Doolittle is a graduate of Belmont University in Nashville and has a bachelor's degree in Commercial Music. She is a backup singer on stage and in the studio. And she reminds me Gladys Knight, that's how awesome she is when she sings "Baby Sweet Baby" or whatever that old Aretha song is called. Suddenly, the hunching shoulders and the invisible giant hammer that keeps bonking her on the head and pushing it down into her torso seem suddenly adorable. Go, No-Neck, go!
Commercial Time: An ad for that 300 movie about the Spartans and their oiled-up chests, biceps, and abs, a masculine adventure movie conceived by the ghost of Allan Carr and starring that dude from fuckin' Phantom of the Opera.
10. Alaina Alexander (24) -- Currently lives in West Hollywood, CA, and has been singing all her life. Her favorite artist is Mariah Carey. She has been pursuing a career in music but almost gave up her dream until she made it on AMERICAN IDOL. She asthmatically wheezes her way through "Brass in Pocket." It's...holy shit...I don't even have the words for how barfy this is. And my forearms are starting to feel carpal tunnelish. Fuggit. Oh, wait, now Ryan is coming to her defense, so now Simon is accusing Seacrest of trying to date her. Alaina scrunches up her face at Simon and goes, "What?!" Seacrest looks mildly annoyed. I love it when the judges and Seacrest get all fighty. But ouch, my arm. Five hours of this show this week is going to be the death of me.
11. Gina Glocksen (22) -- Currently lives in Naperville, IL, and works as a dental assistant. Glocksen also performs in a cover band. She tried out for AMERICAN IDOL last season and made it to Day 4 of the Hollywood Round. She's the one with the streak of red in her hair and she sings "All by Myself." OK, just cut to her cute, doughy boyfriend or brother or whoever it is. She sings fine, whatever. There he is. Thanks, cameramen, for stoking my lust. Oh, shit, they cut back to him and he's got a streak of red gimmick dyed into his hair too. I can't get with that. Sorry, dude. It was fun being sexually attracted to you there for a second, but now I'm out.
Commercial Time: I like the one with the opera-singing stick of gum. I'd chew it just for that. Unless it's sugar-free. That shit's full of freaky chemicals. I just went backward in TiVo to check the brand. It's Extra. Sugar-free. No way.
12. Lakisha Jones (27) -- Grew up in Flint, MI, and began singing at age 5. Gospel is Jones' favorite type of music but she has trained formally in classical music. She gets right down to it and brings the mountain to Muhammad instead of waiting for someone to bring him to her and she attacks "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Now, do we blame her for this? Is it too on the money? Or do you let her use what could be her limited time on this show to really bring the noise? Because, frankly, for me, I would ban the most obvious choices. I'd rather that Chris Sligh tackle this song, you know? But I'm in the minority, obviously, as the camera cuts to little AJ Tabaldo, sitting in the "dawg pound" row, waving his hands in the air like...well, let's just say like he's a big fan of Dreamgirls. I pause the TiVo in mid bellow for gay commentary about the faggot-impact of this particular song. One of my friends, Aaron, the one whose dad wanted to know about Paula's possible dalliances with chemicals a couple of week's ago, says, "You know, three months ago I had never even heard of this song. And now I've heard it 500 times. How did that happen?" Meanwhile, my husband/partner/whatever-you-want-to-call-him, says, "I wonder when they're going to start using it in commercials, like 'And I Am Telling You I'm Using Tide!"
Anyway, she finishes and everyone goes ape-shit. Randy bows to her. Simon tells her she's in a different league from everyone else on the show and that the rest should book their plane tickets home. HAW HAW HAW HAW HAW, other contestants.
Results Show. Last season I called it "Chopped and Screwed" night, but the screwing and chopping trend in hip-hop has already sort of come and gone and I have to keep it fresh. And seriously, my hands feel like they're about to fall off, so I'm going to keep this brief.
1. The whole bunch comes out and group-sings that awful Tears For Fears song "Sowing the Seeds of Love."
2. Fantasia, star of the greatest TV movie ever made, Life Is Not a Fairy Tale: The Fantasia Barrino Story, shows up to announce that she's about to go star on Broadway in The Color Purple. Then she sings one of the songs from the show, hollering up a storm, reminding everyone what a real singer sounds like, and being incredible. I love her. So does Quincy Jones, sitting in the front row, who tries to speak at one point only to be cut off by Seacrest.
3. Going home are Daniel No-Shoes Kim, Amy Krebstar Krebs, Rudy All-Vowel-Sounds Cardenas, and Nicole Crazy Target Lady Tranquilo. Best of all? The tradition of forcing the recently cut to sing through their tears is back and better than ever. Here's the song you failed to sing! Sing it again now that we've eliminated you! It's really a wonderful tradition, even more awesome than the upstart humiliation practice of "Other Door." The "You're Dead" montages (the ones they show of each ruined hopeful's journey to their final destination), however, because they have to cover four people at a time, are not as poignant as they'll be once they're down to chopping one person a week. Once they pick a new "Bad Day" song to accompany those bits, there'll be no stopping the pathos.
"I don't like you