American Idol Season 12 Review “Auditions, Part 3”

Media- and Ryan Seacrest apparently- start your engines! After a small mountain of hype and rampant media speculation, the episode of “American Idol” that caused the internet to implode was finally here, and the results were…zzzzz. I’m sorry, did I nod off there? Did I miss the BIG showdown to end ALL showdowns? Because I must have blinked and missed it, as it WASN”T THERE.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve seen the footage, as have many of you reading this, no doubt. Did Nicki Minaj cross a line? Did Mariah? Who can say? As evidenced by the footage seen in tonight’s episode, I’d have to say that this wasn’t even as big a deal as some of the arguments we’ve seen on the previous two episodes. The girls have been at each other’s throats way more than seen at any given moment in this episode, including the lead-in to the big “incident.” Indeed, had they edited the leaked footage into some of those confrontations, I might have been more convinced that something major had gone down.

As it stood, though, it seemed to me that Nicki had her feathers ruffled and needed a break from everything, so she walked off the set. She wasn’t even raising her voice when she said she was leaving! In fact, it was oddly muted for a confrontation. I can’t help but feel like the footage was either heavily edited or simply overhyped to the point that the real thing couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. In short, either way it wasn’t that big of a deal, quite frankly. I’ve seen much worse- on this season of the show, even. I honestly don’t think it was a big deal, overall.

In fact, I kind of agreed with Nicki to a point. Why should all of the contestants fit neatly into a given box, be it country, pop, rock, or whatever? Why shouldn’t they be able to genre hop with ease, much like the girl last week who brilliantly segued from country into one of Minaj’s songs? She was impressed and so was I. Isn’t that what you want on a competition like this, someone who can handle whatever you throw at them? I can understand how someone who colors outside the lines more often than not like Minaj could get upset with this narrow-minded approach of each person fitting into a neat slot frustrating, to the point where she needed a break.

Maybe she could have handled certain aspects of the show better, most noticeably her constant baiting of co-judge Carey. I’ll give you that. But you can’t deny that Carey gave as good as she got, and was often passive-aggressive to the point that you can’t blame someone as outspoken and brash as Minaj for getting a bit fed up at times. But Minaj does have a point even if her flair for the dramatic lessened its impact.

Moving on, despite all the build-up and self-aggrandizing on display, this was actually a pretty straight-forward and relatively docile show. They went easy on the, shall we say, more creatively-challenged auditions, which was one of my main complaints last time around, so kudos on that. Even so, with 37 people making the grade to go to Hollywood, you’d think there would have been a little more talent on display. Maybe we’ve finally reached that saturation point where most of the great talent has already been sown and all we’re left with is a bunch of moderately talented individuals that are solid, if unspectacular. That’s not so much a knock on “AI,” as it is on the fact that I don’t think anyone would argue that there are an awful lot of similar shows out there at this point, and only so much talent to be had, IMHO.

That said, there were a few decent people worth mentioning here and there. Haley Davis, a pretty blonde with a raspy, distinctive tone, did a unique take on Roy Orbison’s “Crying”; Brandy Hamilton was a personable Navy siren that did a solid take on Etta James’ “All I Could Do is Cry”; rocker chick Taisha Bethea tackled both Alanis and Johnny Cash, wowing Nicki in particular; another cutie, Ashley Smith- aka “Blondie”– did a surprisingly soulful take on Carrie Underwood’s “Cowboy Casanova”; and former Dollywood employee Janelle Arthur did a nice medley of country songs that wowed the panel. The latter led to one of my favorite moments of the night, when she returned to the floor to greet her family and found a locked door waiting for her. Said Ryan: “I’ll only open this if you have a golden ticket.” Said Janelle, sweetly, without missing a beat: “Well, honey, you better open it up.”

Biggest wows of the night: Candice Glover, a return customer to “Idol” who got clipped previously during Vegas Week last time out, and who knocked it out of the park this week, showing pretty much everyone who came before her how it’s done. There were also two contestants with nice, heartwarming back-stories and the voices to back them up: Rodney Barber, a formerly homeless man who had opted to pay it forward and help out those who still were, now that he was in a better place; and Seretha, a mom whose boyfriend and baby-daddy had a accident that had kept him in and out of hospital for eight surgeries and counting. Seretha did a charming rendition of, of all things, the theme from the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” That should have gotten her a pass alone, given the creative arrangement that was better than it had any right to be, but another tune sealed her fate and she was rightfully voted through to the next round.

Beyond that, there was nothing much to get that excited about, including the lead-in to the big Nicki pseudo-storm-off, Summer Cunningham, who did a somewhat twangy version of “Lean on Me.” Randy and Mariah thought she should go with something more country-oriented, but Nicki thought she should simply follow her muse. That was about it, really. I think that Nicki probably just needed a time-out, and if only thirty-seven got through over the course of all the auditions, then I can see where that would get tiring, as that means an awful lot of, well, awful, came their way.

It was all pretty uneventful, if you even want to call the “incident” an event in the first place. I liked when Nicki, who at one point was dressed like a psychedelic cop from the 60s, told the contestant “My hair is edible.” Her “Nickinames” were cute as well, with “Booby Trap,” “Chicken Lady” and “Finger Licking Good” among my favorites, especially when you saw the contestants they referred to. Also, when Nicki Minaj says that “something about that was scary,” you should probably take note. My heart broke a little when one contestant told the judges: “Please don’t fight- it makes us sad.” Aww.

All in all, a surprisingly mellow episode, given all the hype behind it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it wasn’t that big of a deal, but here’s the thing: if you’re going to promote it that way, make sure the proceedings live up to the buzz. Otherwise, you’re only setting yourself up to fail. This wasn’t a bad episode of “American Idol,” just a mediocre one, and who wants to draw attention to that?