'American Idol': Animals of the Savannah

Let the recapping of American Idol season 11 begin. 

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Welcome back! After eight or so long, cold months in glitterless darkness American Idol has finally returned to us for another thunderful, blunderful, hopefully wonderful season. It was an especially special occasion last night, as it's been a perfect, round decade since the show first premiered, which was a great opportunity to reflect on the past and consider what we've learned. But mostly it was an opportunity to make much of the show's audience feel like broken-down old nightmares.

Yeah, a lot of the episode was spent showing us children who said things like, "I was just five years old when Idol first came on, and now look at me. I'm a walking, talking human being who has feelings and wishes and wants and all that stuff. Isn't that crazy?" And, yes, it is! It is indeed crazy-making! But, I'm sorry, are we supposed to be rooting for you, childling? Is it supposed to make us feel good and cheery and supportive that you are going on national television and basically saying "It's been ten years. Whole children have grown up in that time, and what have you done? Oh, you're still watching American Idol." It was cruelty! Just plain, horrible cruelty. "I was just a gleam in my daddy's eye when Kelly won. And now I'm a sexual being. Isn't that wonderful?" No, no it is not.

Other than reminding us of our own terrible mortality, that someday the babies born the day Scotty McCreery won will bury us in the cemetery, the 11th season's premiere episode was nothing special. You know how these auditions go — It's all ginned up excitement for what is, essentially, a lot of shots of people standing in line. Like, a lot of early Idol episodes is the camera filming people just waiting on a damn line. That's it! So they add all this big, loud This Is The Moment stuff to cover up the mundanity, and, eh, it mostly works. There is a tingle of excitement that runs through this withered soon-to-be-corpse when the camera zooms over the crowd and Ryan Seacrest, our sly and strange head counselor, bellows out his proclamation that the season has begun. But then things settle pretty quickly into the rhythm of the individual auditions. I will say that the producers should be commended for really scaling it back on the disaster singtestants lately. The past couple of seasons they've really backed off of the unending parade of abject loneliness and misery that these early episodes used to be and have shown us a decent amount of good folks. Though, I guess congratulating them for that is like congratulating a kid who has decided to stop firing his SuperSoaker at the cat or, y'know, a guy who stops murdering people. Should we be commending people for stopping doing something they really shouldn't have been doing in the first place? "George, you finally put down the knife and picked up a book. Congratulations." "Nigel and everyone, you finally stopped basing the bulk of two hours of national television on the shaming and ridiculing of desperate, addled people who are just trying to make their lives better, albeit in a delusional way. We should throw you a party." It just doesn't feel quite right to congratulate them, but I do appreciate the change.

Last night's auditions were in Savannah, GA, meaning that Lady Chablis showed up and won the whole thing there was a lot of country music. Just a lot of people twingin' and twangin' away, lotta people with simple aw-shucks stories. The fellow above was one of the better ones of the night, a sort of real-life Matt Saracen — deep-voiced, simply spoken, All-American cute, destined to one day live in my house — who didn't exactly sing country, but it was close enough. He's almost maybe an attractive Casey Abrams? Which isn't to speak ill of Casey Abrams, but if I brought up the topic of Casey Abrams and at one point said the phrase "hair potato," you'd probably pick up what I was putting down. Anyway, before his audition Ryan asked Saracen "So, are you ready?" and Saracen said "I was born naked and ready, they just put clothes on me," or some such hay-bean saying, and you could actually see Ryan's internal organs do a kind of lurching hopscotch at that moment, at that "naked and ready." Oh, Ryan. Another year, another tortured love affair?

Oh, but we haven't even gotten to the real tortured love affair part. Remember Colton Dixon from last season? Oh, heavens do you remember Colton Dixon? He's the kid with the centurion helmet hair who got so close last year, close enough to brush fingers with Ryan, a moment buzzing and humming between them, but then just before the semifinals he was cruelly cut. Well, he's back now. OK, actually, his sister was back last night, singing well for the judges and whatever. But then J.Lopes was like "Hey, where's your brother?" and the girl told her that, oh, poor Colton wasn't auditioning this year. He'd decided not to audition. Oh, had he? What a tragedy! And then what sweet serendipity, what kooky kismet, that he just happened to be right outside in full horse-hair blow-out and music vest outfit! Isn't that so fortunate? So the judges said "Bring him in here," and when the girl went to collect him it was the lamest thing ever. Colton, not a natural born actor, not a speaking actor anyway, don't need speaking for every kind of movie (The Artist, I'm talking about The Artist, sheesh), resisted for exactly no seconds, saying "What? OK" and walking right in. Then he did a whole "I don't know what I'm doing here, this is ridicul— Siiinngggggggggggg." I mean this fool just went right into his audition and it was just like come on, producers. Was there really enough dramatic tension to squeeze out of Colton Dixon (probably best not to talk about squeezing things out of Colton Dixon) that it was worth rigging up this elaborate scenario that was in no way real? I can see doing that for, like, Jennifer Hudson's wild card victory or whatever, but Colton Dixon's second time at the rodeo? The juice was not worth the under-rehearsed squeeze on that one, guys.

Of course, Colton was given a golden ticket and came out saying "I have no idea what's happening" even though he clearly knew exactly what was happening and, once again, poor sis got pushed to the side, left shuffling in the background while Colton — so eerily complicit in this whole charade, it's hard to seem humble when you're, like, doing a little skit in collusion with the producers — the true star of the family, the Head Boy, does his coiffed routine in the foreground. That's probably a strange house to live in, with the poor nice girl all "OK, I guess I'll go along with whatever," and Colton swanning around with his spiky hair and skinny vests, getting mysterious calls on his cellphone from an "RS." Just a strange household.

Speaking of RS, or rather an RS, not necessarily the same one, what would the odds of that be, Ryan Seacrest had an impersonator last night! Yup, there was some sad 26-year-old who showed up in a tuxedo and was doing all this glad-handing outside and speaking in this Seacrestian voice and it was all a little unfortunate, was it not? Like, they brought him and Ryan into the audition chamber and put them next to each other and tried to make this whole thing out of how they were basically the same person. Which, you know, they were. Except that they in no way looked like each other and the kid only passingly sounded like Ryan. Amazing! "You vaguely remind me of someone. Let's do a whole TV segment about it!" And the even sadder thing was obviously the kid was there to actually sing too, and when he did that it was like... It was probably good for the neighborhood, you know? Like probably he's done karaoke with people and they've been like "Wow, Bryan!" (His name is Bryan Heacrest) "You're really good! You should go on American Idol or something!" and he took that seriously. He took some passing, drunken karaoke comment and built an entire life, or at least an entire wish structure, around it. And then there he was in that big moment and he let the whole Seacrest Similarity stuff distract from the singing and then the singing wasn't even that good and it was just... If you look up "botched" in the dictionary, it's just an illustrated account of that guy's day. Of him waking up in the morning and trying to brush his teeth like Seacrest would brush his teeth and putting on his tux and driving down to the audition arena, hands all sweaty as he stares out the window, his mom next to him in the driver's seat quiet but obviously concerned. This meant a little too much to him, she thought. He showed a brief glimmer, a slight flash, of the event's true meaning when the judges said no, but mostly he kept his sunny disposition. But still. This was the day. And it did not go as planned.

Who else, who else. Oh there was one guy who was really determined, so determined that he basically crashed through the set on his way in to audition, and he totally biffed it. He biffed it very hard, during the audition and after. He'd been all Joe Confidence, not in a cocky way, just in a This Is My Day kind of way, and all his friends were there and stuff, and then when he didn't get it, oh man, he just up and started crying like a child. Like a kid born the day Kris Allen was crowned. It was rough. Obviously the cruelty of the judges audition is that they usually happen the day after the regular auditions, so you get to spend a whole night thinking about what might happen, thinking that you just might have a shot. And then, snap, just like that, it's all gone. So, yeah, he let it allll hang out and his friends were clearly uncomfortable with his sobbing, and he was clearly uncomfortable with it too, because he then did the even more embarrassing thing of yelling at the camera man and teling him to get out of his face and, oh boy, waking up the next day was brutal, wasn't it, guy? That swift, cruel rush of deepest embarrassment, the pounding of the emotional hangover. Just the worst.

There was also a girl who lived in a tent in the woods. Yeah, that was her Thing. Some people tap dance, others wear silly costumes, some dress up like Ryan Seacrest and have the most disappointing day of their lives, and some live in a tent in the woods. This is not to make light of the lady's situation, being broke like that is probably terrifying on a daily, if not hourly, basis, but that was just the way the producers packaged her. She's the girl who lives in a tent in the woods. Good thing she sang well-ish. Well enough, anyway, to get one'a them shimm'ry yellow tickets anyway. There were many blonde country music girls, because this show has always been severely wanting for those, and there were a couple of girls who had big crushes on Steven Tyler, the old flop-hat witch who sits in the corner during these things and giggles out hexes and incantations, the stronger the spell the stronger the wobble of her flop-hat. That is one crazy witch, and yet all the gals wanted to hug the witch, grab the witch's behind, do all sorts of things that one is not supposed to do to a witch. But this is American Idol, so c'est la vie.

That was mostly Savannah? I'm sure there are people I'm forgetting — oh, there's an ample-cleavaged NBA cheerleader who made old King Bowser Randy start hooting, "Yo I'm gonna take that Princes Peach back to my castle" and whatnot — but those were the particular highlights of the episode, for me anyway. Tonight is another round of auditions in another city, and on and on we march, not knowing where we're headed. Oh, and speaking of highlights? We should be quiet. We're back at Colton's house, see? All of us. It's last crazy summer again, in old 2011, and it's the day after his big fakeout audition, and he's just gotten a call from this mysterious "RS." So we should be quiet, don't you think? Because I'm sure they have quite a lot to talk about.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.