'American Idol': Bury My Heart in Aspen

Last night's American Idol took us away from the busy, bleating cities, out of the smog and smoke to a crisp and clean and, most importantly of all, monied place that the locals call Aspen.

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Last night's American Idol took us away from the busy, bleating cities, out of the smog and smoke to a crisp and clean and, most importantly of all, monied place that the locals call Aspen. The non-locals call it that too, but the the locals, or rather the seasonal locals, say it in a much richer way. But yeah, Aspen. That's where Idol went last night.

It seemed like a strange choice. I mean, sure it's fun to change it up once in a while and avoid the Phoenixes of this nation, but isn't Aspen kind of hard to get to? Like, you have to take the small plane there? That makes it pretty hard on all the contestants, and maybe even keeps some away. That's probably why last night's episode showed such a lackluster display of dopes and weirdos. All the really good singers or the really crazy people were like "Oh wait, it's where? Aspen? No, I'm not getting on the small plane, screw that. I'm just gonna wait right here in Phoenix until they come to me." Aspen. Whose idea was this? Ryan's, probably. Ryan wanted a little romantic mountain retreat. Ryan wanted to sit out in a hot tub in a soft evening snow and drink a glass of wine and just chill the f out, you know? Before all this craziness really got started. And I guess we can't begrudge him that, can we? Ryan needs his Ryan time. Let Ryan have his Ryan Time. And if that Ryan Time happens to involve some strapping young "friend" in fur shawl and little else, well who are we to say anything. This is still America, after all.

But yes, Aspen was a bit dull, dear Idolfreaks. But there were some highlights! There was a little young wood nymph with crooked teeth who sang a sweet "Tell Me Something Good" by Chaka-Chaka Khan. Yes, a sweet version of that song is possible. It's possible when you're a "person" who's been whittled out of a sprig of a birch tree and put in hippie clothes and taught to be a log cabin-dwelling free spirit. Which is what this girl was! Jennifer Lopez said she sounded like Joni Mitchell or something like that, some reference to Joni Mitchell, which was vaguely surprising in a "Jennifer Lopez draws comparisons to Joni Mitchell?" kind of way. And she wasn't wrong, really. I mean, we're still talking about American Idol here, so the comparison I would draw would be Crystal Bowersox more than Joni Mitchell, but yeah, sure. An interesting singer not terribly concerned with sex appeal. If it takes Joni Mitchell to reach that conclusion, then so be it. I like this little twig, like her hippie shrugging at the weird Colorado irony of her being a vegetarian who works in meat packing, liked her long haired boyfriend who was shown escorting her across some kind of wooden bridge somewhere in the woods. And I liked her mom, her regular old mom with big-framed glasses and a triangle of brown hair, waiting for her daughter in an old Talbot's houndstooth jacket, something she picked up once after work, feeling free and fizzy one spring night in 1987, and still drags out for special occasions. "Did you see?" she said one day not too long ago, poking her head into her daughter's room. "The magazines say houndstooth is back. Now who's cool with her jacket, huh?" And the singing sprig shrugged her shoulders and said "That's great, ma," and Ma smiled and said "Chili's on in a little bit," and that was one evening.

There were lots of floppy, stringy blonde-haired girls on this episode. There was one who showed up with an embarrassing Avril streak of pink in her hair, and dressed like Maureen from Rent if Rent was set in Vancouver, who said she was a music teacher. She did some shtick about hating the sound of the recorder, which she is not wrong about, but she did it in this lame showy way that was just really unpleasant. She also was one of the I Have A Crush On Steven girls, who are getting awfully tiresome, aren't they? At least this gal changed it up a little bit though, saying that she and her boyfriend have a List, you know a List, from Friends, of celebrities whom they are allowed to "kiss" (she said kiss, but obvs she meant something a little more) should they meet, and Steven Tyler is on that list. Ryan, ever the probing interviewer, asked her who else was on the list. Music Teacher McGee replied: "Steven Tyler, Lady Gaga, and Adam Levine." So, OK, some bisexuality, even if only hinted at and jokey, on American Idol. Awfully progressive! Then Ryan asked who was on her boyfriend's list, and McGee replied: "Adam Levine, Lady Gaga, and you." Soooo it actually got kind of interesting there, didn't it?? Miss music teacher, I think your boyfriend might be an Oscar Wilde-reading, disco-dancing, Streisand-ticket holding... well, bisexual maybe. Acquaintance of Dorothy, perhaps. Ryan's face did a weird little dance across his skull and it took all he had to not say "Oh yeah, and what's he look like?" But he didn't! He didn't! Anyway, he had someone waiting for him back at the chalet, why should he be worrying about this music teacher's weird boyfriend? He shouldn't, he shouldn't. He let the girl go in and, wouldn't you know it, despite all her stupid mugging, she actually could sing and made it through.

There was another blonde girl, this one from Minnesota, like real rural Minnesota from the looks of it, who was 17 years old and suffered from what sounds like pretty extreme bipolar disorder. She said she has hypomanic episodes where she can barely control herself but that singing usually helps her calm down. So this is one of those tough-luck tales that Idol often trades in, one that follows someone back to their windy, barren home and then rescues them, or at least provides the TV sense of rescue, by putting them on a jetplane to Hollytown. This ailing girl sang a sweet countryish song and J.Lopes made water in her eyes and even the Tyler witch ceased her pun-heavy (so many puns last night!) yowling and listened to the sweet, white notes coming out of this small, chicken-boned creature. Good for you, girly! Good for you that you don't have to wander what looked like a pretty bleak MinneSNOWta (her expression, not mine) farm this winter, but instead get to go to H'wood in this cold old winter and do a little more singing. Yay for senior year!

Oh, groan, ick, there was this one girl last night, also blonde but not in the same way, who was wearing a yellow jumper and had her septum pierced and oof she was sad. See, she was a twin, well is a twin I don't think she's dead or the twin is dead or anything, IS a twin, and apparently the other twin, bright shining Tina or whatever her name was, is always overshadowing ol' septum over there. Just a real performer and bright light, didn't seem to need to dress all funky and kooky like Sister Septum does, was just easier, you know, just had it all a bit easier. So this was supposed to be the dark twin's special moment. And we thought that the show was giving that to us, it seemed like the natural set up. She picked a mostly unknown Melissa Etheridge song (which J.Lo pretended to know, but no, of course she did not know it, no one knew it) and we were all "OK, here we go, take us to Singy Dreamtown, twin." But then she opened her mouth and began to blow. Like, actually blow. She sucked. Stunk. Was the pits. Whaaaat? Why on Earth would you give us such a strange, mean segment, Idol? This poor dumpy twin, shamed and reviled on national television, sent back into the condescending embrace of perfect Tina, surrounded by a mother and an aunt and who knows who else who shrugged their shoulders as if to say "Well, what'd you expect, huh? Once a foul-up, always a foul-up. Just how things go. Tina there, she's got the real gas. You're just, well, you're like Aunt Dottie. You're just not meant to fly." How cruel! Whoever edited this episode was in a really nasty mood when they did it, because most of the "It's a no from me honey" segments weren't trundling embarrassments like usual. They were just, y'know, people who wanted and tried but failed. It was mean! Or if not mean, maybe just... sharp. The episode felt, at times, a little dark at times.

One spot of light was that your cousin Sheila, you know Aunt Rudy's kid, the girl with the weird purple highlights and all the eye shadow behind the funky-frame glasses, she made it through. Yup, she came out and sang a song from The Producers, I believe, and it was weird and wiggly and Randy was like "Nunh unh, noooope" but J.Lo said, "Sing another song," so your cousin Sheila, brave as she ever was, up and did and holy clams, holy cats in Toledo, she made it through. Yup! Yunh unh, Randy! Totally made it through. Good for Sheila! Good for the family! Boy they needed this, you know? Boy did they ever. It's tough times, you know, for Aunt Rudy and the kids, with their dad away and all. So this is just a real nice thing to have happened to everyone. Of course, she'll be immediately cut at Hollywood Week, but c'est la vie. At least she gets a free trip out of it.

You may have noticed that I'm not talking much about the boys here. And that's because there were barely any last night. There was a brief clip of a guy singing in a high falsetto-y kind of voice that sounded nice who I'd like to see more of. There was a kinda chunky but still handsome dude who sang well, I guess. He did a Boyz II Men jam competently, but there wasn't much power behind his voice. Oh, and Baby Lockthemdoors himself, Scotty McCreery, showed up with a different haircut and reauditioned. Same low voice, same dopey teen-ness. Just a different haircut. You can't fool us, Lock'emdoors! We're on to you. But yeah, other than that? There wasn't much in the guy department. One guy sang an original song about love in his veins or something that was good enough to get him through, another dude was clearly just some producer's nephew doing a UCB character skit kind of thing which was annoying, and that was about it for the men. Aspen was girl-heavy, at least the way this episode was edited. But oh well.

And, hey, to be fair, at least one place in Aspen was all for the guys. After the taping Ryan said goodbye to everyone and drove back to the chalet he'd rented, the stylish A-frame with all the updated interiors, with the Swedish wood jacuzzi in the back with a view of mountains. When he pulled up to the house, the lights were on so he knew his guest had arrived. He smiled. It had been a while since they'd seen each other, there'd been some bumpy times after last year, a few fights, a few glasses thrown. But this would be good. This weekend. Ryan Time. Special Ryan time. He got out of the car, crunched through the light thin snow, and opened the door to the house. "Tim?" he called, so ready for the evening to begin. "Honey, I'm home!"

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