Last night Ryan Seacrest got on his big, bejeweled fanboat and whirred on down to the bayou. American Idol was headed to Louisiana! Land of swamps and alligators, of hanging moss and old, muddy history! Last night, though, it was all about song, about a bunch of youngsters squishing their feelings out of their mouths in musical form and hoping that the judges would like them for it. And for the most part? They did.
This was kind of a sleepy episode, wasn't it? I suppose that's to be expected. It's hot in Baton Rouge in the summertime, so nobody wanted to work too much. There were some good folks and some bad folks. The judges said some silly stuff, but nothing wonderfully so. And Ryan did his giggly Ryan thing. At least there weren't any staged fights between Nicki and Mariah for once. That was good. We've had too many of those already, and this is only our second week. (Our second week of three hundred.) Yeah, it was mostly a ho-hum, okee-doke kind of episode, but it was not without its highlights.
Probably the most memorable of the night's contestants was a young lad rather perfectly named Charlie Askew. He was a weird skinny beanpole of a kid with big bushy hair and an awkward way about him. His mother said that no one really knows what makes Charlie different, but that he just is — socially, mostly. He sings and plays guitar and generally loves music; he doesn't have many friends so tunes keep him company. It was all very quirky and uplifting and of course when he sang (he chose "Nature Boy") he had a big booming voice that impressed the judges. But let's be honest. He was bit too big and too booming, was he not? I mean, I get that he was nervous, that maybe he's always nervous, and that the pressure of lights-and-cameras-and-celebrities-oh-my might make a lad go a tad overboard, but it didn't really sound that good, did it? Much like Charlie himself, it was askew. But that didn't matter for the purposes of this show. His is a fine story — awkward teen sing-blasts his way past the awkwardness — and so he was put through to Hollywood. He went out and hugged his dad and said something about kicking ass, and then he was off, back into his weird Charlie world for the time being, playing his guitar, croaking at frogs, chirping at crickets, a nature boy at home in the world. I don't imagine that Hollywood will be too kind to him, but let's not think about that just now.
As he's done every episode, Randy kidnapped someone last night. This time it was a girl who was singing on the street in New Orleans. Her sneaky grandmother had signed her up for the show, and when Randy burst out of the crowd holding the burlap sack and lasso, she understandably began to cry. "I always knew it would end this way," she wailed, "Make it quick, Randy," she said, kneeling at his feet. "No, no, dawg," Randy chuckled nervously. "You're gonna audition for American Idol!" So, she was relieved, and she ended up doing well. She was a tiny thing, kinda boho'd out in dorky glasses and a thrift-store dress, but she had a big voice. Like Charlie Askew, the audition was a little much, but again there were external factors affecting that — nerves, lights, cameras, crew, sneaky Grandma waiting outside wearing a crown and throwing glitter at everyone. She was actually doing that. She's one of those Fun Grandmas, who surprises her granddaughter with an American Idol audition and throws glitter at people. She's not a Mean Grandma, who cackles at you coldly from her chair when you try to sing, who says, "If they're lookin' for something to scare crows away, you'd be a fine fit." No, we're talking Fun Grandma. Mean Grandmas would never sign anyone up for American Idol. Mean Grandmas walk up to you, joints groaning in their sockets, and hand you a sack. "Fulla kittens. Go drown 'em before they start to claw their rotten way out. Go on, Keith, shoo," they say, smelling of brine and something else, something chemical. That's what Mean Grandmas do. And other people. Certain wives. Certain Oscar-winning wives waiting for people named Keith back at certain Tennessee farmhouses. That's what they sound like too. "Dumb Keith," they say, walking away and shaking their head, holding the sack that you handed back to them after saying you couldn't. "I'll just take a cleaver to 'em then. Makes no difference to me but the mess. Thought I'd avoid the mess, but Keith says no..." Poor Keith Urban, guys. Poor, poor Keith Urban.
Who else? There was some sort of beauty pageant girl who had been in "an accident" a couple days previous and had a leg infection and was on crutches and was due in surgery but went to her Idol audition instead. She said she'd let the thing fall off before she'd miss her Idol chance, which... It might fall off! Post-"accident" infections are very serious! More than your leg could fall off, too! Yikes. That is dedication, I guess. Really crazy, weird dedication. She sang very well and was sent to Hollywood, but at what cost? What if she shows up during Hollywood Week and has a pegleg? Was it worth it? What if there's just a title card at the beginning of a future episode that says "RIP Beauty Pageant Girl, died of Legfalloffosis"? I don't know. Infections are serious business. I also really want to know what this accident was. I mean, I think we all know what it was. What is the most common American Idol accident? That's correct: ATV accidents. American Idol is built on a foundation of ATV accidents, so I think we can assume that's what it was, but we may never know for sure. I mean, when we read her obituary, after she dies of Nolegitis, we'll know, but not until then. Oh, well.
There was a sexy doctor who everyone seemed pretty excited about, but I don't get it. He's a sexy doctor! What does he need singing for? Just go be a sexy doctor, sexy doctor! But, that wasn't cutting it for ol' Sexface M.D., so he had to audition for Idol and, wouldn't ya know, he made it. So did the sexy fireman. Why are all these sexy professionals jeopardizing their perfect lives for American Idol? Don't sexy doctors and sexy firemen and, like, sexy veterinarians already have all anyone could want in life? Must they have even more?? We are a nation of greed, America! Sexy, sexy greed.
They saved a guy for last who I think we were supposed to feel really excited about, but like much of this episode, it was hard to muster that much enthusiasm. I mean he was good and he has a good story. He's a Hurricane Katrina refugee and at one point his grandma described him as a "lil tot" (Fun Grandma!), so it's hard not to want him to succeed. And succeed he did. He, rather surprisingly, sang "I'm Here" from The Color Purple, which is Celie's big song, and was perhaps made most famous by Idol winner Fantasia Barrino. So those are big, gospel-y shoes to fill, and he filled them nicely, but I wasn't blown away like maybe I was supposed to be. That's probably because I had general blah-fatigue from the episode, or maybe I'm just that subconsciously loyal to Tasia, but it didn't blow my skirt up the way I'd hoped it would. Ah, well. This kid will likely do well in the competition, so I'll have time to get to like him the way I ought to.
My favorite contestant of the night was definitely a springy sprite thing named Paul Jolley. I laughed and laughed when I saw Paul Jolley (and heard his name), because it is just very strange that Ryan Seacrest had a dream about having a best friend and then somehow that dream came to life! Paul Jolley almost certainly sprung, Athena-like, from Ryan Seacrest's head. And oh what fun they'll have together. They'll go rowboating and play hopscotch and ride big scary rollercoasters. Ryan and his jolly friend Jolley! How grand it will be! Jolley sang well and made his grandma (she was a Sad Grandma, because her husband had just died) very proud and Ryan was glad to see it. He beamed his big Seacrest beam and everyone felt warm, because Ryan was happy. Absolutely everyone. Two weeks into auditions means we're getting there. And things are shaping up. We've got some good people in the roster so far, some tough competition, and there's still more to come. And Ryan's got his jolly Jolley. Nothing to feel bad about at all! The world is bright and new!
Though, of course, things aren't perfect everywhere. Why, just there up in the Hollywood Hills, in Ryan's sprawling house. There behind that door, down at the dark end of a long hall, the door with chains and bars in front of it, runes of protection written on the walls, there is a low growl. Then a thump. And another thump. And another thump. And then, today for some reason, who knows why, perhaps Paul Jolley's bounding into this world has shifted some kind of balance, perhaps because it was simply time, perhaps because if Ryan was honest with himself he didn't pull the chains quite as tight as he usually does, the door, after all that thumping, has begun to give way.