'American Idol': The Spirits of St. Louis

We are finally done with auditions!

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At long last! Our long national singmare is over. No, silly, the American Idol season hasn't ended. Far from it! The season will blare on for another many months, but the auditions, always the most tedious part of any Idol season (until, oh say, we get to the top five or so), are over. No more goofballs and dopes and dweebs and starry-eyed gunkheads clogging up our television. Now we can move on to the real tear-stained meat of the show, when actual Stars begin to emerge and Ryan, finally, can return home to the gauzy erotic thriller that is his home life. But first! Let's talk about the last round of auditions.

Our final city was St. Louis, that riverside tract of a town punctuated by the wild, soaring parabola of the Arch. I have to say that, in fact, the Arch is really cool, from the oddly Star Trek-ian figure it cuts on the horizon as you drive in on 55 to the iMac-esque pods they put you in to take you to the top. It's the gateway to the West, although the gateway itself is far more futuristic and awe-inspiring than anything you'll see beyond it until about, maybe, Denver. Anyway, as far as Idol is concerned, St. Louis is most notable for the fact that this is where country flower Carrie Underwood first auditioned, way back in 1972 or whenever her season was. Did we find the next Carrie Underwood last night?? Eh, probably not.

Which isn't to say that there weren't good people. There definitely were! Though, we only saw like five of them over the course of the hour. (See why we won't miss the audition episodes?) The first person to dance for nickels in front of the judges was a guy with the All-American sandwich-sounding name of Johnny Keyser. Johnny Sandwiches works at an Eyetalian restaurant and grew up with his dad/mom who made him PB&Js for school and now supports his muziks career with full dad/mom abandon. Sandwiches has a handsome, if vaguely malnourished, face and a confident, smooth-croonin' voice that the judges went totally sandwiches over. "Sing more!" they kept pleading, so Johnny sang on, turning "A Change Is Gonna Come" into a seventeen-minute-long Escher drawing of runs and riffs and other manner of musicy things. He would have kept on singing that same song for the whole dang episode if they'd asked him to, so full of sandwichy passion was he at that moment. Finally J.Lo put up a golden hand and said "Stop, stop! You know you're gonna be a star, right?" And suddenly it all zoomed into relief for Johnny Sandwiches. The restaurant work, that constant smell of marinara and garlic, the clumps of spaghetti stuck to the tables with strange epoxy, the dull waterskiing trips he'd take with dad/mom to get his mind off the drudgery, all the shower singing and bar singing and sittin' on a porch with a girl singing. It had all been adding up to this and now that was all over. Here was Jennifer Lopez, rays of brass light emanating from her, saying that he was going to be a star. A star! See you in hell, Luigi's Ristorante! Waterski yourself, lake! Well, you can come along, dad/mom, but no one else. Johnny Sandwiches is on the move, there's a new light in his eyes now, colder but brighter. He's gonna be big on the show, I think. Let's keep a lookout for him.

There was yet another lady whose husband was a jerk to her but now they're separated so she's having a go at a music career for herself and for her daughter's sake, which is never a very heartening thing to hear on this show. Don't pin your hopes for your daughter having A Better Life on the outcome of an 11th season reality singing competition. That's probably a mistake. I mean, I'm no parent, I had a cat for a while but an old roommate got her in the divorce, so I don't know exactly what the best way to build a better life for your kid is, but I'm pretty sure it's not hangin' all the ol' hopes on the show that crowned Lee DeWyze song king of 2010. It's just my guess that that is not the case. But who knows! She did sing well, so we'll see how she fares during grueling, difficult Hollywood Week.

There was a strange, almost thrilling, moment last night when we met a young man who told us a tale of being bullied in school and for a second there, for just one quick St. Louis second, I thought he might say he was gay right there in his first American Idol interview. I mean, that's clearly what they were hinting at, wasn't it? Just a little bit? You know, trying to capitalize on the whole It Gets Better business? Maybe I'm imagining things, but that's what it seemed like to me. But he didn't say that, he just said that it was hard at public school, he put a weird emphasis on the word public in a way that was a bit unsettling, but then he told us the happy tale of joining the school choir and how that made him a stronger, more confident person and wouldn't it be nice if Fox made a TV show about that? Too bad they never will. Oh well. But yes, the kid sang "Lean On Me" pretty well and the Steven Tyler witch began to cry, collecting all the tears in a little jar for later use in some spell or hex or incantation. Gary Gleeclub is off to Hollywood, where, I suspect, he will disappear in one of those big cuts and never be heard from again. He did not have the Star Stamp like Johnny Sandwiches does, or like the girl who sang last did.

The Girl Who Sang Last, our final auditionee of this new season, was the daughter of a cool blues jazzman named Skeebop Sunglasses or some such cool cat name so she has had music in her life since she was a little jazz baby. She was from Hardy, Arkansas, a tiny place near the towns of Ash Flat, Evening Shade, and Cave City, honest to goodness, so she's only got bigger places to go to. And a big ol' voice to take her there! She was really quite good, wailing away on an Adele song, and even though she broke a little on some high notes, she made it through with flying colors. The Steven Tyler witch even praised the break, ever a fan of strange and raspy and screechy things, that witch. "Owl's hoot and eye of newt, I like it when your voice goes toot!" the witch said in a little sing-song, waving the knobbly witch staff that's always by the witch's side. This gal could be big, like Johnny Sandwiches big. Let's pay attention to her! Though, heh, as these things go, we'll probably have no idea who any of these people are by next week. It's hard to keep them all straight! Though soon the group will get smaller, and then smaller, and then smaller and smaller still until there is just one, just one lonely one. So soon we will know the names of a whole new family, a whole new clan. Welcome into our homes, future Idolers. Come and stay a while. (But not too long.)

And then, just like that, we're done. No more road dogging, no more highways and byways. We're settling down in Los Angeles now, ready to make a home for ourselves for the next few months. Like Ryan is, opening the big, heavy front door, putting his suitcases down. Walking into the house and calling "Tim? Tim?" Not finding him at first, but then hearing a laugh from the den, the clinking of ice in glasses, another laugh, a low voice in conversation. And then, with a terrible plunge and chill but also an odd excitement, seeing Tim, his Tim Urban, sitting on the couch, having a drink with none other than Colton Dixon. "Ryan!" Tim saying, a little drunk, swaying in his loose pants and linen shirt, standing up, grabbing Ryan by the hand to pull him over. "This is... I'm sorry, what did you say your name was?" And Colton, eyes fixed coal black on Ryan, saying "It's Colton. Colton Dixon." Ryan stammering out an awkward, "It's uh, it's nice to meet you..." Tim looking bleary eyed at both of them. "Yeah, Colton just moved to LA, he was driving around and got lost so he knocked on the door to ask for directions. I haven't had company in months with you on the road, so I offered him a drink and now here we are." Ryan feeling cold, feeling scared, feeling both weightless and heavy. Thinking, What is he doing? What is going on? But getting no answers. Seeing only Colton take a sip from his drink, eyes still trained on Ryan with that same curious intensity. "Yup, just moved. I'm so happy to be here." Colton grinning, turning back to Tim, looking at him strangely, with a faint hint of menace. "I can't wait to get started."

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