American Idol Season 12 Review “Auditions, Part 1”

Well, it’s that time of year again, when hopes and dreams are smashed or taken to the next level over the course of a single audition. This… is… “The Voice”! Oh, wait…it’s the other one, right? I kid, “American Idol,” because I love.

From the get-go, it was clear “AI” was doing some serious rebranding, while at the same time, reminding everyone that they were, like, totally here first, you know? (Or wait…there was this little number. And wasn’t a certain spotlight-stealing diva formerly on that show, where she famously lost? The worm turns for thee, “Idol,” oh yes- it’s kismet, I tell you!)

Still, the numbers are undeniably impressive: 200 million records sold (most frightening factoid of the night: so has Mariah, single-handedly!), 371 #1 hits… you get the idea. But that’s not why you came, is it? Oh no, you came for the showdown in diva town, right? Well, if you did, you could not have possibly been more richly rewarded. After the internet nearly self-immobilized when Nicki Minaj threatened to go all Brooklyn on Mariah’s booty, expectations were high that this iteration of “AI” would be something to see, a vertible celebrity death match. Boy, was there ever!

Butts were barely even warm in their seats before the diva-lution began in earnest. Nicki came in, dressed like the most crunk member of a marching band ever, complete with a sizable headdress.
Sayeth Mariah: “I didn’t know accessories were allowed. If I had I would have brought my dog.” (Nice to hear MC has such high regard for animals.)
And we’re off to the races!

The first sacrificial lamb…er, contestant, was one Michael Buonopane, who came loaded for bear. Too bad the judges’ table came strapped as well. (Okay, maybe just Nicki did, but still…) Mikey B. was a virtual iPod of musical selections, but the judges weren’t having it. Though Randy hit the nail on the head when he referred to Mike as the musical version of Robin Williams, I thought the guy had some talent. If he could channel that into something funny- less Williams, more Galifinakas, or better yet, something like this– he might just be onto something. That said, when I saw he was a shuttle driver, I could see where that kind of thing would get old sooner than later. Four no’s later and his fate was sealed. Next stop, Nowheresville!

That out of the way, the sky was clear for a landing, and Tenna Torres pulled a Denzel and landed that sucker, despite the horrors she must have experienced at Camp Mariah. The tortures of the damned, I tell you! Imagine it for yourself: an entire camp full of people trying to do vocal gymnastics for days on end, likely many of them completely off-key. Myself, I can think of another camp I’d rather go to and take my chances: this one. It’s in Jersey, right? Just a hop skip and a jump from NYC: close enough for disco.

Torres, thankfully, nailed the audition, with an impressive rendition of Carole King’s “You’ve got a Friend,” which she dramatically slowed down for maximum budding-diva effect. Mariah, who actually seemed to recall the girl when she produced pics for her perusal- Torres once sang for the mistress diva herself back in the day- naturally put her through, but I liked Nicki’s comments: “Z formation snap, snap!” as she did precisely that. Can I just say: loving her already. Tenna got a pass and the “Idol” machine rolled on.

I would have liked to seen more of the old-school Lenny Kravitz-ish guy in the scarf seen in the montage, but alas, “Idol” waits for no one when it can get to the next self-deluded train wreck. This one was named James Bae, and he looked more like a DJ, which I think confused Mariah, because she went onto suggest precisely that line of work. Last I checked, just wearing headphones as an accessory didn’t make one instantly possess DJ-ing skills, but I guess MC was still fixated on the fact that she didn’t get to bring any accessories herself.

Bae did a perfectly awful version of a Bieber song, but then, any Bieber song is pretty awful, so there was nowhere to go but down, anyway. (Sorry, Beliebers, but I’m not a tweenage girl, so I’m afraid I don’t Beliebe in the Beeb personally. Let your hate mail wash over me while I laugh maniacally.) Nicki, though, showed a surprisingly caring side when she refused to join in the typical heckling shenanigans of Randy and let the poor guy down easy. Who knew Nicki would end up being the nice one, overall? Yet, it happened time and again over the course of the show. Go figure. I’m really starting to gain a lot of respect for her, not that I had a problem with her before in the first place, but still. You go, Nicki. I’d ride in your bus shuttle any day of the week. One ticket to the Nicki Express, please…I’d like to be the backseat, if you don’t mind. (See what I did there?)

Next up, Christina “Isabelle”…um, why the quotes on her last name? Just curious. What she proved dubious on in punctuation, she more than made up for in singing ability, so we’ll let it slide. She was also someone who’d struggled with her weight and being bullied and the like, so there was definitely a sympathy element to the judges table in light of that, I suspect. Yet she didn’t need it: the girl had skills. Turned out those skills were honed in college, which led to the best Mariah quote of the night: “I didn’t go to no school. (You don’t say!) I went to the school of MF life.” You tell ‘em, MC! We don’t need no education!

Christine- or was it “Isabelle”?- got the nod and it was onto to the next one. Enter one Evan Ruggiero, who has one of those back-stories that are so heart-wrenching that you pray they will be good singers. I would hate to have to deliver more bad news to someone that has beat cancer- much less more than once and lost a freaking leg! All the same, once you’ve done that, I’m guessing having a bad audition pales in comparison. The judges let this one down easy, but commended him on his effort, as well they should have. On the bright side, I got the distinct feeling that Evan will be just fine. He’s made of much stronger stuff than the likes of what any reality show can throw at him. Good on ya, Evan. Keep doing what you do.

Next up was a new feature, in which a contestant was selected via online submission out of Lord knows how many entries. Though the winner, Jessica Rose Kartalis, wasn’t a total wash-out, she was clearly caught off guard- her mom submitted the video without telling her, so the audition came as a total shock and she was a bit of a nervous mess, not helped by blowing the guitar part of the song she opted to sing. She pleaded the panel to point her in the right direction, but as that sage truth-speaker of our time Nicki put it, “Idol can’t do it all for you.” The girl’s only 19, she’s got plenty of time to hone those chops and figure out who she wants to be. Hopefully, she’ll return when she does, because there is some talent there. Nicki continued dispensing the wisdom when she pointed out that people needed to not take this audition as the end-all-be-all of their potential career. “It’s not your only shot,” indeed. Well said.

We got some fun info for a hot minute- Ryan confirmed that his non-stop work ethic is taking its toll after all; “I’ve been tired for ten years,” he confessed. Paging Dunkleman! We also discovered the love the girls have for that classic of our times, “Mean Girls,” aka the last good movie Lindsay Lohan made that anyone can remember. It seems that Nicki has taken to calling Mariah “Regina George” (aka Rachel McAdams’ character in the film) for her superior attitude, which is hilarious. Or should I say fetch? (I will make fetch happen single-handedly if I have to! Long live Gretchen Weiners!)

Next on the chopping black was Israeli contestant Shira Gavrielov, who has already had a #1 in her native land, so “AI” can suck it! She endeared herself to Nicki in particular who adeptly assessed that she’d picked the perfect song for her particular tone, which was right on the money. She did the Zutons’ classic “Valerie,” best known for the version performed by Amy Winehouse, which is the version Shira did. Her original material sounded pretty good, too, as evidenced by the clip shown, with Shira’s music firmly in the Singer/Songwriter mold, a la Fiona Apple or the like. She might be one to watch, to be sure.

Frankie Ford was next, and it seemed like he was going to have a Jessie Rose-style meltdown at first, but he course-corrected and proceeded to knock it out of the park with a sweet, soulful rendition of the Eurythmics’ classic “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” which he wrung every ounce of angst out of- much more so than any other version I’ve ever heard before. This subway busker may not be plying his wares on trains for much longer, because as MC wryly put it: “Frankie goes to Hollywood!” (Cue “Relax” and be sure to fade out before the dirty part…d’oh! Somebody just got fired!)

Nicki showed a bit of her Diva side with some commentary on whether maximum “beauty lighting” had been achieved, trying to lay it at MC’s feet, but she wasn’t having it, and this time I defer to her, as Nicki didn’t have to bring that up on camera. But then neither did MC have to lay into the snark with Nicki right at the jump, so we’ll let it slide for now.

Enter Benjamin Gazy, straight outta…Penn State? As “AI” brought back fond memories I never realized I’d had for Shabba Ranks, “Mr. Lover Man” brought his “D”-game, complete with a ridiculous curly-haired wig that assured he’d never be taken seriously and-what’s this?- a old Halloween costume of Michael Jackson’s red jacket circa the 80s? Um, no. Keith rightfully ducked for cover, perhaps the first time I noticed he was there, so I suppose that was an effective move on his part- or acknowledgment he might as well not be there except to serve as a buffer zone between the dueling divas.

After nearly giving Nicki a heart-attack by inserting her into a verse of “I’ll Make Love to You” (dream on, pal) and then shooting a suggestive pelvic thrust her way, which nearly drove her insane-yay-yayne, it was clear which way the wind was blowing, and it wasn’t towards Ben, unless it was to blow him out of the building. Yep, it was the “End of the Road” for Ben- see what “Idol” did there?- but not before Keith finally got off a good one. When Ben said he’d dressed like he did to pay homage to his own idol, Keith said: “You obviously love Tom Jones” and I LOL’d. Well played, Keith. Well played, indeed. There may be hope for you yet.

More bad auditions followed, with the Olivia Munn-like Roseanna striking out and another cold cutting a fart mid-song. Mercifully, “AI” didn’t reveal his name, but I hope he’s ready to become a viral sensation, because you just know that’s going to happen. Just like fetch, dammit!

Upstate NY Blueberry farmer girl and RV enthusiast (you can’t make this stuff up) Sarah Restuccio was brought in to restore some semblance of order, with a lovely version of “Idol” alum Carrie Underwood’s equally lovely Mama’s Song.” Keith like-y. But then she threw everyone, myself included, when Randy requested a second song and she proceeded to bust out…Nicki’s own “Super Bass.” Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up. Nicki was justifiably impressed and I almost fell off the couch. If Karmin ever calls in sick one day, my friends, we have an understudy.

Randy didn’t know what to think of this, but she got through nonetheless, with Nicki once again busting out the knowledge, pointing out that iTunes and iPods and the like had leveled the playing field for good, as kids these days have all sorts of cray-cray mixes of different stuff on their playlists. True enough. I’ve got everything from T-Swizzle to Mr. Bungle on mine at the moment, and that’s some diversity, let me tell you. It’s also not uncommon in the slightest. People just don’t seem to make the same distinctions these days, and that’s a good thing. Go iGeneration!

Albert Chang was the second Asian off-key warbler- am I sensing a theme here? Let it go, “AI.” No man shall surpass the genius that is the Hungster. Nonetheless, this toneless NY native went from deadpan to a sound only dogs can here on the drop of a dime, and dear God, my ears will never be the same. I think he might have had the same effect on me as a Scanner. Please make it stop.

There was a hot minute there when it seemed as if Nicki was doing an Asian parody accent that would make Mickey Rooney blush- or even Chelsea Handler– but it revealed itself to be her infamous British accent. Either that, or she realized what she was doing just quick enough to save her considerable booty from a PR nightmare. Still, I’ve heard her do it before time and again, so it really is a thing for her, in her defense, but it sure seemed like she was going rogue there for a moment, didn’t it? Either to drive home the point that it was, like, totes intentional or because MC would not be outshined, next thing you know both the girls were sporting more bad accents than Mary Poppins.” Let’s hope this doesn’t become a thing.

The next contestant, Angela Miller actually was tone-deaf, but she didn’t let a little thing like that impede her. She belted out a version of Jessie J’s Mama Knows Best that was pretty sweet. Yeses were doled out accordingly, as well they should have been. Brett Holt was next and “Idol” proceeded to go all meta on us, as if the show had turned out to be a Seacrest fever dream brought on by all those long hours. (If Ryan bows out, can I have dibs on Julianne?) We saw Holt give a great audition, only for it to be revealed he was “asleep” and imagining it all. Then, he woke up and failed in real life, and if that wasn’t wacky enough for you, he went back to sleep, perchance to dream of passing the audition again, which it then showed a second time! I won’t deny it was fairly clever by Idol standards, but isn’t a little mean to make someone film a successful audition- much less twice!- after they bombed theirs for reals? Kinda “Mean Girl”-ish there, “Idol.” Let’s get Regina on it, stat…oops, I mean Mariah.

More wackiness ensued with, I kid you not, a colorfully-turbaned man by the name of Gupreet, aka the self-described “Turbanator.” Thank Allah for small favors it wasn’t “Idol” that came up with that moniker, but you best believe they ran with it. “Terminator”-style robot graphics ensued, plus the movie trailer guy (!), as Gupreet set our beloved “Dawg” in his sights. Not the “Dawg”! (Or should I say “The Dog,” as the very unhip graphic spelled it? Um, no. He’ll always be “Dawg” to us in the pound, “Idol.” You better recognize.

Thankfully, “Idol” stopped short of him faux-blowing stuff up, but the red eyes they overlaid onto his eyes probably made a few paranoid NRA members cradle their best friends a little tighter that night as they ran in fear of “The Turbanator.” Myself, I thought he had charm to spare, and love the colorful sense of style he brought to the table, which Nicki appreciated as well. No fool he, he promised to hook a sister up with some stylin’ turbans if she helped put him through to Hollywood. Done and done, and he was through to the next round. I like old Gupreet and he might could just do for fellow “Turbanators” what Matisyahu did for Rap-N-Reggae loving people of the Orthodox Jewish persuasion, and I’m down with that completely.

We closed out the show with another heart-warmer contestant by the name of Ashley Felciano. Ashley was an adopted 20-year old that lived with her foster parents, who made it a point to adopt “medically complex” children that others didn’t want. Honestly, that may be the nicest thing I’ve ever heard. Once again, I wanted to put her through solely on back-story alone, but thankfully, she could sing, too. And with her passing the audition, “Idol” came to a close.

The audition madness continues tomorrow, so I’ll see you for more recap goodness then. Stay fetch, my “Idol” peeps! And be sure and sound off below in the comments section!