'American Idol': The Depths of Eighties

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Last night was the 1980s music-themed episode of American Tune Farm, a vaguely depressing night always.

We are forced to watch knobby-kneed teenagers sing songs from a time they can only imagine, like some of us can only imagine the '60s, or the '40s, or whatever came just before, those few mysterious years in which your parents were alive and young and free of you and then there was you. It's a weird night, one with a sad bit of mystery to it but mostly one of unavoidable incompetence. How would they know? How would these kids know how to do it?

It sets everyone on edge, remembering old times. The Tyler witch, who cast some rather large spells in the '80s that many still remember, seemed especially displeased, hair slack and still, face pressed and creased into a faraway frown. The night seemed to make Ryan Seacrest loopy, though that's probably more so because he had just flown in from New York City that day. The life of Ryan Seacrest! O, the busy existence! Whatever the reason, Ryan seemed a little more earthy, a little more into it. He commented on singers' performances in a way that he usually does not, telling Phil Phillips that he liked his strut, telling others that he felt their energy and things of that nature. Maybe going to New York and making his big NBC announcement, about doing things for them, made him feel nostalgic, made him miss his true home base. So when he got back he was extra affectionate, doting, loving, like someone who just had an affair and guiltily returns home, hoping they can erase the stupidity of what they did in that hotel room with extra affection. Oh, Ryan. Silly, ever-conflicted Ryan. What a character!

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But, yes, anyway. 'Twas '80s night and the feeling was not all that right but what can you do. We must press on! Here in the future! Time stops for no person, unless you sort of count reading/writing a recap at eleven in the morning when god knows many people are being far more productive. I guess time sort of stops then, at least your time, our time, not everyone's time, but some time. Anyway.


Remembering that song she heard from the movie Ryan showed at movie night at his house, the one in the well-worn video cassette sleeve, the one that Ryan kept hushing everyone during, hissing "You're missing all the best parts!", Skylar Laine chose to sing "Wind Beneath My Wings," from, of course, Beaches. Yup, Skylar Laine busted out some Beaches last night and lemme tell ya, she busted well. That girl can bust. She is a sneaky little devil that one, creeping around the so-called front-runners and occasionally peeking out from behind them to blast us with music rays. I like her a lot! And it was nice to see her slow it down and turn off most of the lights and wear a gown and close her eyes and keen to some Bette Midler. It worked quite well for her, don't you think? After she sang, J.Lo wiped a few perfect golden tears from her eyes and said "Oh, did you cut to me? Oh no, I was crying. I just love that song, I really understand it," or something to that degree and it was quite funny because it's all about, in the Beaches version anyway, a famous person and the unsung friend behind her, in the shadows, all that stuff. Big bright J.Lo knows what it's like, to genuinely love the small people and regret standing in their light. I'm sure she does.

There were also duets tonight, and Skylar was paired up with none other than Coltron the Boldtron. They sang "Islands in the Stream" and it was impossibly cute. That's such a fun, joyous song, and they sang it joyously, even Colton, there with his skinny inky legs and heavy cartoon boots and deep frozen core of ancient evil vibrating within him, he sang it all friendly and sweet. The judges went "Awww" and everyone else went "Awwwwwww" and even Ryan got in on the game, tired but giddy and happy to be home as he was, saying "The chemistry seemed real, you make a cute couple," or some such tee-hee kind of thing, and Colton did a weird lean thing and basically bumped Skylar with his hip, you know how people do that, a little light body check, people touching like people do. But it was brotherly, of course. There isn't really a romantic spark there. Colton reserves that energy for, oh, other things. But yes, they did sound sweet, all bouncing and twangy, cute little animated musical notes bobbing above their heads, flowers and other plants swaying back and forth to the beat. I hope they remember it forever.

Joshua Ledet, of course, was good. He kindaaa laid the sauce on a little thick during is "If You Don't Know Me By Now," though. I think he's maybe become too conscious of trying to have A Moment every week, so he really goes for the great, goopy gusto and sometimes it works, but sometimes it kinda doesn't. Last night was the latter. Not that he sounded bad, just that it felt hammy. Still, he remains officially "Good," because he is good. And his duet with Jessica, they sang that Aretha Franklin/George Michael duet (yes, that existed), was big and loud and fun. It even made me like Jessica for a second! For a second. Not longer than that. A little flash, that's it. But Joshua was great and everyone loved it, so. One thing I did not realize about Joshua is that he's only 19 years old, which is sort of terrifying, I mean what might he sound like when he's a little more mature? I worry he might sing one song at 25 and the Earth will stumble off its axis, or all of California will lurch, groan, and fall into the sea. I worry he maybe will not know his own sing-strength. Be careful, Joshua. Be careful with that.

Another good duet was Phil Phillips' and Elise Tomato's "Stop Dragging My Heart Around," a nice wail of a song that they were perfectly suited for. Well chosen, duets coach! (There is a specific person hired to coach the duets, right? That's how budgeting a television show works?) They were very much in sync and their voices complemented each other well so it was a big, rousing success. It maybe rescued Elise Tomatoes, too, because she did not have a good solo round. Maybe this should just be a duets show? Maybe that's what we're headed toward, maybe that will be the new hot thing. (Well, apparently this summer Kelly Clarkson and some others, Lionel Richie is one I believe, are doing a reality show that is all duets all the time, only the duets are with celebrities, celebrities like Kelly Clarkson and, I believe, Lionel Richie. So.)


As mentioned, Elise Papaginos did not fare so well by herself. She sang "I Want to Know What Love Is," written by a foreigner, and it made sense as a choice on paper; it's a little rock, a little ballad, that kind of thing. But in actual practice it just sounded thick and convoluted and garbled and heavy and not very good. Just not very good, Elise. I'm sorry. The judges tried to let her down easy, telling her she looked pretty (an old Paula trick, brought back) before they slammed her back down to earth after two very successful prior performances. She took it in stride, though maybe there was a flicker of worry in her eyes, worry that the ground she'd gained was suddenly receding once more, that she'd peaked, reached her zenith and, poof, fizzled like a wet firework. Eh, but then she had the duet and the judges were all "Oh, hello again," and she smiled and the fear was chased from her brain. No need to worry so, Elise Torpedoes. You might be just fine.

Someone who is not just fine is Hollie Cavanaugh. Talk about early momentum sputtering to a lurching halt about halfway through the competish, huh? This happens to people, they just can't hack it, can't cut the mustard, can't chop the mayonnaise, can't filet the relish. Hollie is, sadly, one of these people. I tried as long as I could to defend you, Hollie m'dear, but there's just not much to defend anymore. Last night she burped up Irene Cara's "What a Feeling," and though she of course got to the top of the stairs by the end of the song, she spent most of it spluttering around at the bottom, twisting and turning in another white outfit (she was wearing white again, yes?), tiny pale fairy face stricken with exhaustion. The judges were so kind to her, so laboriously helpful rather than critical, perhaps because Hollie is such a nice little person that it seems like saying anything outright mean or dismissive to her would make her blow away like dandelion ghosts. Or, maybe it's because she is, of course, imbued with faerie magic, and while faeries are mostly good creatures, making crumpets taste sweeter and kisses feel nicer, they can be mercurial and cruel, they can be punishing. "Always beware a faerie's revenge," my grandfather used to say to me while the nice orderlies from the asylum tried to pull him out of a tree. And he was right. They can be very dangerous little things. Perhaps the judges know that. Perhaps they are afraid. Well I'm not! Damn your faerie curses! Do your worst, pixie! It was bad. I think Hollie's road is almost ended.

It's a broken record, I know, but Deandre Brackenwacken still isn't doing it for me. Nor is Jessica Sanchez. Deandre mostly because he sounds the same every week. Has Deandre sang the same exact song every week? I feel like he has. How do the judges keep coming up with new things to say to him? It's wild! It's really wild. I don't get it. I'm sorry, Deandre. Don't cut your hair and call me in a few years (like, sigh, kind of a lot of years), but for me for you, for music? Not doin' it for me.

Nor you, Sanchy. How robot-y was that Whitney Houston jam last night? She sang the wonderful "How Will I Know" and it just didn't work. Not at all. Sanchy can blow, there's no earthly doubt she can blow, but there's absolutely nothing but stringy teenaged desperation behind the singing. It's all talent show mouthy and metallic. I need some crunch, some texture, some dirt, something. I'm sure it's a lovely factory that Jessica Sanchez came out of, but I'm willing to spend the extra money on something handmade. Clearly I disagree with the judges and, it would seem, the majority of the people who watch this show, but oh well. Let Hollie doubly curse me with her tricksy magicks. I must be a bastion of truth! A lighthouse of honesty! I have sworn a holy oath, signed an unbreakable contract, by endeavoring to write about American Idol's 11th season, so I must stick to my vow and tell like it is. "I calls it like I sees it," goes the great and ancient recapper code. My word is my bond.


The biggest news in the star system last night was that Colton changed his hair. Yup. Nothing too crazy, he just kinda pulled a Travis Birkenstock and white-balled it all out, got rid of all the clutter and made it one simple Marvin the Martian blond color. It don't look half bad! Of course I wish he would cut that badger's tail off the back of his head, I really wish he would do that, but he seems married to it, I think it might be part of his religion, so there's probably nothing to be done. Anyway, last night Colton sang "Time After Time," which we all know is a wonderful tune, and he sang it with this shrieking emo (is that even a word anymore? Emo?) screech and it all felt awfully heavy-handed, but of course the girlies in the audience ate it up, lapped it up like special sauce (ew? Possibly an ew on that, I'm not quite sure). Colton is kind of getting to that Baby Lockthemdoors level of untouchable at this point, I think. He's pulling pretty far ahead of the pack here. I could be wrong, lord knows I've been wrong before (though I was not wrong last year about Lockthemdoors and I called it for him early, so there). But I just have a feeling. I think everyone at the show has that feeling too.

Speaking of feeling! After Colty's performance, Ryan of course went over to talk to him and, of course, remarked on the hair. And as he did so he reached up his arm (Ryan is always reaching up, so very rarely is he reaching down) and felt his hair. Here is a picture of that celestial event. Oh, Ryan! Shameless flirt! Colton, magnetic demon. Of course on camera, on our televisions, the moment seemed very brief, but, much like the sun, time and space have a way of breaking down the closer you get to Colton, and so Ryan, in his reality, lingered there for what felt like an hour, stroked his hair, surprised by its softness. He ran his fingers through it, let his hand come down to the side of Colton's face, looked into his eyes and there, he could see something, something, something... someone? Was it someone in there, in those black but fiery eyes of Colton's? He stared, and stared, and finally, a tiny whisper floated out of Ryan's mouth: "Tim?" he stuttered. "Tim??" Was it Tim he saw, or some suggestion of Tim, in Colton's deep black eyes? Tim had said he was going home to visit his parents' for a few weeks, it had been so long, and Ryan was busy with travel anyway, so he said OK, he said need a ride to the airport and Tim had said "No Colton's taking me," because of course they are friends, have been close friends now for almost two months. But now... was Tim home with his family? Ryan needed to call, he thought, he needed to check that Tim was safe, that Colton hadn't... done something to him. But then there was that hair. That soft, soft hair. And the vision, or whatever it was, disappeared and Colton's eyes were normal again and he was smiling, and suddenly with a rushing sound the rest of the world snapped back and there Ryan was on the Idol stage, having silly banter with a contestant, no longer in that empty and echoing other dimension, and so Ryan smiled, said he liked the hair, and read off the phone numbers. But still there was a chilly tremble in him, still he knew something was wrong.

Later, Ryan woke up in the middle of the night, back home now, in his old familiar bed. "Tim?" he woke up stammering. "Tim?" Calling out in the dark, calling out in the empty house. Wondering if he was imagining it when he looked at the bedroom doorknob and saw it slowly turning.

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