'American Idol': The Texas Mess

Last night on Idol  we met a man born without ears, a girl who likes hunting, and an old contestant came back from the dead. 

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Isn't everything in Texas supposed to be bigger? Don't all you down there wear big hats and big shoes and drive big cars and have big kids (not like "big" big, just big) and eat big food and have big cats and stuff? I once ordered a tourism catalog from the Texas tourism board and it took three UPS to carry it up to my apartment. Everything's big! So how come last night's Houston/Galveston episode of American Idol felt so small? I blame Randy and Steven.

Let's take a moment here to appreciate Jennifer Lopez. Yes! Years ago, Ms. Lopez showed such promise, didn't she?  Doing sensitive, easy, lovable work in Selena, appearing as a kind and again lovable school teacher in the extremely bizarre film Jack, and then of course being all sexy and cool and smart in Out of Sight. But then, sigh, then came The Cell and The Wedding Planner and Angel Eyes and Enough and Maid in Manhattan and Jersey Girl and Shall We Dance and Monster-in-Law. And there of course was her, to my mind at least, woefully misguided cheap celebrity music career and cheap celebrity perfume and all that nonsense. Maybe her agents filled her head with ideas of empire and riches, maybe she really just wanted that kind of career, but whatever the reason, she undid all the early good will she earned and became, over time, something of a punchline. But now, can't you feel her coming back? At least in terms of being smart, appealing J.Lo? Sure What to Expect When You're Expecting doesn't instill much confidence in her acting career, but at least as a judge on Idol she's increasingly proving eminently likable and sharp, isn't she? I really do like her as a judge this season — she's kind and empathetic when need be, funny and breezy when the moment calls for it, and does a lot to ward off all the huff-breathed exhaustion that threatens to do-in this show in its eleventh weary season. So a toast to her! Well done, Jenny St. Block (her birth name). Too bad you have to deal with these other two.

I like Steven most of the time, I think he's a funny weird old lady who speaks in shrieks and ancient sayings (don't pet sweaty things), who probably does weird bone dances when home alone back in New Hampshire, and who has on way more than one occasion been known to respond to a question by saying "Jam tomorrow, jam yesterday, but never  ever jam today!" But when Steven is paired up with Randy, old hoot-turtle Randy with his sloping King Bowser frame and meaningless vocabulary of Ubran Dictionary for Kidz expressions, they just make some bad decisions. Maybe last night's episode was just edited to make it seem like Randy and Steven were putting through a bunch of pretty less-talented ladies in lieu of more talented less-pretty ones, but it certainly looked like that's exactly what they were doing. J.Lo got understandably frustrated with them, but in the end was powerless to stop them. Come on, Randy and Steven. I know it's tradition to take a salt wife during the long voyage of an Idol season, but just one. No need to send dozens of potentials through! Just make your pick and then go back to rewarding talent. (Not that this show ever only does that; beauty, or at least some approximation of it, is always a concern on this and any other show, obviously.) Because this is annoying and transparent. Maybe they should have another judge, another lady judge, to even things out. Annie Lennox is always performing on Idol Gives Back and stuff. Why not have her come aboard?

So yes, anyway, the judges, save for J.Lopes, were annoying last night. But so were the contestants. I know she was country sweet with her Meemaw-ing and Peepaw-ing and all that mess, but I didn't really find that Skylar girl very charming. First off, the ATV riding. With no helmet! That is very dangerous and sends a bad message to all the youngs watching the show at home that you can just go blasting off on an ATV without a helmet whenever the heck you want, that you'll be invincible in your youth, especially when roaring through the woods on a crotch tractor. But this is not true! It is so dangerously not true. Did you know that the number one killer of perky, fancy-free American teens is ATV accidents? Yup. ATV accidents kill more sunny, optimistic teens per year than drowning in the lake behind Lonny's parents' house on prom night, masked maniacs hellbent on bloody revenge, and tragic car accidents that inspire the town to ban dancing combined. If you go online and watch the Extended Cut of Tuesday's State of the Union speech, you'll see that President Obama devoted about twenty or so minutes to laying out a detailed plain to curtail ATV accidents in 2012. "We have lost too many captains of the baseball team, too many cheerleading pyramid tops bombed on their dad's schnapps, too many young men who were just starting to get their lives back on track and were thinking about joining the Army in the spring or maybe taking some classes at the local college. This must stop." So yeah, it's a serious issue and so should not have been treated so cavalierly last night. I also didn't like the deer head in her room. If you have to kill a deer because you need to eat it, fine. But don't kill a deer so you can mount its head in your bedroom like some kind of weirdo. "This is a big beautiful thing that was alive once that I killed for sport. Tee hee!" Ah well. She sang nicely, at least.

Remember the montage of country dudes singing "Baby lock them doors and turn them lights down low..."? Do you think that was staged? I mean, I'm sure those guys auditioned for real, but do you think the producers told them to sing that song after the fact just for TV effect? I just can't imagine that anyone with enough sentient wits about them to put on pants and get themselves down to the audition chamber would then be dumb enough to think "Hey, this worked last year, so lemme do the same exact very specific thing and see if it plays this time around." That's just a bit beyond the pale. I cry producer foul! Though, if I keep doing that I'm going to lose my voice by February.

There was a girl with tattoos and three kids who had postponed her Idol dream to raise the little ones, which will be awesome for those kids to see when they're a little older. "That's why Mom sings and cries in the shower... Because of us." Ha, no, not really. I'm sure it will be fine. I liked the tattooed lady, she had a nice growl or scratch to her voice or something that made it sound mature, pained, different. I'm not sure it was quite strong enough to put her way up in the tippy-top, but she could be interesting to watch for a while. In a very different way, it will also be interesting to watch Baylie Brown's progression. Apparently Baylie (short for Bay Leaf, I'm forced to assume) auditioned many moons ago when she was just 16 and made it to Hollywood Week but was axed after the group number, which she did with, I believe, Antonella Barba! Ha! Remember her?? I'm pretty sure it was Antonella Barba, one of Idol's most embarrassing contestants of all time. (Though if you go back and watch her first audition, she wasn't bad! What happened?) But yes, Haylie is older and wiser now and is still very pretty and sounds very good so I'd imagine she'll go far in this horrible, bloody melee. (Avoid the Cornucopia, Baylie! Head for the woods!)

Who else? Oh, these was a good guy named Cortez or something who was good and charming so let's hope we see more of him. Oh, and, there was a guy, the last guy of the night, who sang very well and made his parents cry, mostly because he was born without ears. Yup! He only had like half of one ear when he was born but he had lots of surgeries and now he has ears and can hear and can siiiinggggg. So that is pretty amazing. I mean that is like a perfect story for American Idol, is it not? "He had no ears, would never speak, and yet now he siiiinggggggssss!" It's just perfect. It's like if someone was born with no eyes but is now on Project Runway. Or a guy born tongueless now tearing it up on Top Chef. Or a person born with a basic sense of human decency and dignity and care for fellow humans now on MTV's The Challenge. Overcoming the odds! Beating the obstacles! Doin' it for America! These are the stories American Idol just loves to tell. Well, during auditions at least. After auditions people sorta stop caring. I mean, hard luck is fun for a while and all, but in the end everyone's just gonna vote for football player's daughter.

I think that's it for today, guys! Not much else interesting happened, really. Ryan didn't do much. In a couple segments he stood with people on the beach and watched as they ran into the water, the sun setting, the waves roaring, the seabirds in the sky calling plaintively. One more week of auditions! And then we're back to LA. Back to the light-stained Thunderdome. Back to a house in the Hills. Back to a bed. Back to a body, warm under the sheets. Ryan stood on the beach last night and whispered the name. "Tim..." he said. And it was carried out into the Gulf on warm winds, floating across the Yucatan, up the Pacific coast, all the way in through a window, settling on an ear. And there where he slept, in that house in the Hills, a smile on his face, Tim Urban dreamed of Texas.

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