Last week, I praised American Idol for keeping the awful auditions to a minimum. This week . . . sigh! It felt like we were seeing more hideousness than awesomeness in the three hours of Idol programming Fox presented. A part of me wondered if there had been a drastic re-edit by Fox after premiere week boasted the lowest ratings for the powerhouse in about eight years. It was interesting, though, to see the development of the judges between last week and this week. J. Lo is a little bolder about saying no, going against the consensus of the judging panel a couple times this week. Steven Tyler's thoughtful critiques continued. (When he told Randy last night that "you can't tell someone they're bad", I nearly swooned with joy. Friends, I think I am falling in love with Steven Tyler. Truth!)
The sad truth of the matter is that, despite some changes, Idol is still falling back on its tried-and-true formula for success -- a mixture of hideous, self-deluded singers and genuine talent with a sob story to tell, finish it all up with a story that's sure to make us cry and voila! Idol gold!
My cynicism, though, felt a bit overly cynical as I watched Wednesday night's episode. That is the night that Idol painted its masterpiece in terms of telling a story full of heartbreak, inspiration, and triumph. Wednesday night was the night the world met Chris Medina. Chris was engaged to marry a lovely young woman named Juliana (see the picture) and then, two months before their wedding day, Juliana was in a horrible accident that left her in a coma. When she emerged from the coma, she had suffered severe brain damage. Chris and Juliana's mother provide care for her as she is confined to a wheelchair and clearly struggling with communication and motor skills. Chris looked at the camera and said, "What kind of man would I be if I left her?" Cue the tears.
But it got better.
After Chris's lovely performance of the Script's "Break Even" (a current favorite of mine), the judges asked Chris to bring Juliana in. The kindness and compassion that the judges showed towards this young woman was absolutely inspiring. I lost it when Steven Tyler bent over, kissed her on the cheek, and said, "He sings so beautifully because he sings for you. You know that, right?" Who knew Steven Tyler could have a heart so huge? Zing went the strings of my heart!
An incredibly powerful moment that will probably live in Idol history, especially if Chris does well in the competition. I'm not going to lie, though, that the inner cynic went to work pretty quickly. I mean, suddenly Danny Gokey's dead wife didn't seem so bad, right? How many times will the producers cue up footage of this young woman to remind us of the stakes involved for Chris? How sick will we get of seeing her in the audience should he advance to the top 10?
I'm a bad person.
Chris Medina was definitely the most memorable audition this week, though. Looking back through the auditions, there were a couple that seemed to have potential. The judges loved last night's closer, a 15-year-old named Lauren Alaina. (Seriously, that chick is 15? Okay, and I'm 21.) I thought she was pretty good, and I'm sure she'll go pretty far if only because she's got that Idol glow about her, but I wasn't nearly as floored as the promos seemed to promise I would be. I far preferred Adrienne Beasley (the black girl with the white parents) and Jackie Wilson (the chick with the really old boyfriend). I also really liked the divorced couple, Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oakes. Who else foresees it coming down to a choice between Rob and Chelsee to create ultimate drama?
Outside of Chris Medina, the Milwaukee auditions didn't seem to have a ton to offer, although I have to admit I found tremendous joy in seeing a Packer fan look like a total idiot in front of the judges. (Yeah, I can't always be gracious in defeat. Stand strong, Bear Nation!) Actually, the problem with Milwaukee is that Chris Medina kind of made us forget everyone else. Looking back through the auditioners who appeared, there were several I did like, especially Naima Adepapo (the one who works maintenance at SummerFest) who presented a really awesome, marketable look and a tremendous voice. Molly DeWolf Swensen (the White House Intern) and Jerome Bell (the wedding singer) also showed promise, but I am not sure we'll see much of them beyond Hollywood. I was not a fan of the two fifteen-year-olds Milwaukee showcased. I kind of hated the affectation in Thia Megia's voice on "Chasing Pavement", and Emma Henry's "True Colors" was really kind of weak. Putting Emma through was probably a disservice, but the panel was clearly swayed by her crying and pleading and imploring them that this was the most important thing in her life. (Seriously, you're 15...get over it!) You have to wonder about the parenting skills of Steven, J.Lo, and Randy that they would cave so quickly in the face of a couple tears. WEAK!
It's time to put my teacher hat on here for a second and really question the choice to lower the eligibility age to 15 this year. I work every day with 15 year olds. They are immature, uncertain, and in constant need of guidance and attention. They need time to grow and figure out who they are. Yes, I know that Justin Bieber has worked it out, but he's also missing a huge chunk of life that he will never be able to get back. These kids need to be going to football games and sitting in class and trying out for school plays and getting busted for texting in class, not packing onto a bus to tour the country and sell records. Let the kids be kids, Idol. If they're good, they'll be back and be even easier to market at 18 because you can sex them up without it being criminal.
I've spoken my peace . . . everyone have a good weekend.