American Idol Recap: Week 1 in Minneapolis and Seattle

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And so it begins...the tiny number of good, the masses of bad, and a few that were downright ugly.

Let me be "straight up" with you: These early weeks are not my favorite part of American Idol. First of all, hearing bad singing? Not objectively entertaining, is it? Second of all, public humiliation? Also not my idea of a good time. Yes, yes, I realize that most of these folks know exactly what they're getting into...they've watched the show, the loooove Simon because he's a jerk, and sure, they want a little TV face-time. but some of the people seem really deluded and pathetic. Moreover, the way they sometimes go to town on contestants' physical characteristics is appalling...especially when you look at some of the non-traditional beauties, read: Ruben and Clay, who have found quite a bit of success on AI.

In fact, this is the first year I've decided to write about these early weeks. usually I start once we're at the Top 24. But, since I'm covering the reality TV beat here at BlogHer, and since public humiliation is such a part of reality TV, well...I'm giving in to the dark side.

So, how were Minneapolis and Seattle? Come with me on a journey back in time, and I'll tell you.

The opening moments of the very first episode of this season's American idol featured the hypnotic keyboards and bombastic chords of The Who's "Teenage Wasteland." And I thought to myself: wow, you have just opened with a song that is way cooler than anything you'll ever let those poor contestants sing!

We then settle in on Minneapolis, playing Prince's "1999" as the underscoring...again way cooler. (Can we have a Prince week? Huh? can we?)

And here are the judges:

-Simon...who has been overindulging in the Crest White Strips in the off-season. Totally reminded me of that friends episode where Ross over did the teeth whitening, so they glowed in the dark. Scary!
-Paula, who is, I swear, shrinking, and
-Randy...who never changes. Not from episode to episode, not from season to season. He has 10 words in his vocabulary, and he stickin' to 'em!
-Jewel is our guest judge. (Disclosure: not a Jewel fan. Bought her first album because I liked a song or two, but her voice drives me up a wall.)

Contestant #1 in Minneapolis is a Jewel impersonator. A seemingly sweet girl who idolizes Jewel...which is an immediate tip-off that she's not going to be good. but I will say this: she sounded remarkably like Jewel, complete with mush-mouth lack of diction. The fact that they were telling her how much she sucked doesn't reflect well on Jewel either, because she did sound just. like. her.

Conversely, Denise Jackson (16 year old "crack baby"...oh my god, I mean, I guess it's just her story, but didn't it reek of exploitation?) was also an impersonator...of Jennifer Holliday in Dreamgirls. But since Holliday kicks ass, Denise did as well. Not that it wasn't a bit strange to hear all of Holliday's particular vocal tics and turns coming out of this teeny 16 year old. No one mentioned it, though, because she was this episode's assigned one to root for.

Along with all of the other artists selling out to American Idol is, apparently, classical music's Samuel Barber. Sam, baby, letting your music be used for Platoon...that's one thing. letting it be used to underscore the sad tale of woe of contestants who forget their lyrics on American Idol? Quite another.

This segment went on waaaaay to long. Put us out of our misery, please!!

[Speaking of misery: how cruel and manipulative are these guys that they left that left-hand exit door locked no matter how many people slammed into it on their way out, just so they could say "other door" about 100 times over the two episodes. Unlock the damn door you heartless bastards!!!!!]

In Minneapolis we also met:

-Perla, the Shakira-esque cutie...who could retain her likability factor, or could give me cute overload. What's your prediction?

-USS Reagan "Idol" Jarrod, the requisite hunk in a uniform.

-The vocal teacher that got reamed way out of proportion to his mediocrity.

-The woman whose boss flew her to Minneapolis because he believed in her. This was a disturbing segment as randy and Simon carried on with their innuendoes and assumptions, while Paula and Jewel, to their credit, were open to the possibility that it was exactly the innocent situation the contestant and boss claimed. Gee, you think perhaps Paula and Jewel have experience that kind of sexualization in their careers?

-Army reservist Rachel, who sang a wonderful hymn, "Eyes on the Sparrow." She also swung between adorable and overdone. So far, she's cute...will she bug me in the end? Only time will tell.

-Sara, the Katharine McPhee impersonator singing "Over the Rainbow." American Idol is now so big that people imitate the runners-up.

-Including, our rocker dude...who they asked to go out and come back with an Abba song. He came back with "Dancing Queen", and I totally would have put him through just for that!

Thank you Minneapolis, American Idol has now left the building.

On to Seattle: apparently a town that can spawn Pearl Jam and Jimi Hendrix, but not a decent pop singer.

So, in Seattle we were subjected to:

-Way too many shots of people standing in the rain. OK. It's Seattle. It rains a lot. We get it!!!

-An unfortunately nicknamed "The Hotness." You know how in Reality Bites Winona Ryder's character totally freezes when asked to define irony? And she says "Irony...is when something is ironic....well, I know it when I see it." You remember that excruciating job interview scene? Well, Winona would have known irony upon meeting "The Hotness." The look, the attitude, the voice...they left me cold.

-Amy Salgado, the weepy mom with a dry throat. And here's my problem with these early weeks: Amy seemed perfectly nice. She didn't throw them attitude. She just wasn't all that good. Why be so mean to someone so innocuous?

-The "Die, Die My Darling!" guy....Yikes!!!! bonus points to anyone who can tell me if that was a real song!

-Mischa and her photo-negative mom. Again, Mischa seemed perfectly nice...and had some personality, although only when she wasn't actually singing. but that speaking voice...wow! You know how sometimes you think movies like Fargo or Raising Arizona are taking American regional accents to the extreme for comedic effect? They're not.

-21 year old Tommy, who found his third audition really was the charm. I guess sometimes folks really do mature, get more experience, more training, and come back different. (Or, how knows, maybe he was equally good the other two times he auditioned, and they recklessly rejected him.)

-Carleen, the woman with the weird pink fish netting encasing her rather disproportionate arms and legs. Did no one tell her that the outfit was unflattering. I totally know that if Clinton and Stacy from TLC's What Not To Wear had gotten hold of her they would have made her look like a goddess! And we loved, loved, loved her rendition of "Baby Got Back"...we would have put her through on the strength of that alone!! Frankly I would have put her through. She was only average vocal (other than her rapping, that is) but she just seemed really nice and endearing.

-Blake, who made my night by singing Seal's "Crazy", and pretty well too. And afterwards, wasn't he part of the cutest little father/son moment? Simon had a bug up his butt about Blake, but I thought he was talented.

-The siblings, Shamali and Sunjaya. Both talented, both charming. But Shamali gets kudos for the line of the night: after Simon told her he wasn't jumping out of his chair over her performance, Shamali said in the nicest, most sincere way, "I'd be shocked if you jumped out of your chair!"

-Nick Zitzman, the oh so scary salt lake software engineer that they simply spent WAY too much time humiliating. and here's the thing: sometimes the judges are so lazy with their comments...they make these over-the-top sweeping pronouncements, telling someone whose merely mediocre that they're the worst singer ever. And in this case I have to say: it was not that Nick was out of tune. He actually stayed remarkably in tune. With the ugliest vocal tone I've heard in a long time, don't get me wrong, but not tuneless.

-Rudy Cardenas, who sang a boy-band version of Open Arms and ended the day on a high note.

Day 2 in Seattle didn't improve much. by now the judges were getting cranky, so we were treated to scenes like Kenneth being mocked for his bug eyes, which I hate to tell Simon...are genetic and really not his fault. And Kenneth's make-believe buddy Jonathan, who truly seemed a bit touched. (Didn't they do this last year too...find two really strange guys and stage a story about their enduring friendship formed while on line at American Idol?)

We also got:

-6'7" Anna, who yelled out "Respect", but had talent and a nice personality.

-16 year old Jordan, who, I'll agree with Simon here, was far from perfect. She sang "Because You Loved Me" with a machine gun vibrato and too many vocal mannerisms, but...definitely talented, and definitely some great control over her voice. Let's hope she has a better sense of her self than poor Paris did last year, because she has the possibility of going far.

-But hey, let's close on a low note, by spending, again, way too much time with Steven Thoen, or "Red."

In case you forgot that these early weeks are about public floggings!

So, how about you: have you already picked some favorites?

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