O, Pittsburgh! City of three rivers, of blacks and yellows, of french-fried sandwiches, of a hill of squirrels. And, last night, of American Idol! Yes, the gate to the Midwest was host to the second round of auditions for the eleventh season, and though it is a dramatically situated city with a dramatic history, it hosted a fairly staid episode of television.
The good thing about the episode was that we saw hardly any bad people. There was not a panoply of miserable freaks, geeks, and weirdos, not even really in montage form. That was, as we talked about yesterday, very much appreciated. It's good to not waste our time with screeching insane people with no emotional tether to the real world. I suppose it's possible that Pittsburgh just didn't produce any of these creatures, but I've been to Pittsburgh and I can't believe that's true. No, I think someone at the controls over there at Idol HQ's editing bay is just real sick of listening to all the doomed caterwauling and sad pleading that has plagued this show's early episodes for so long. And their boredom is our gain, so I salute you, anonymous American Idol editors. Thank you for making this episode mostly pain free.
This does not mean, of course, that there wasn't rejection. Oh, there was rejection. The penultimate contestant of the night was a skinny, malnourished-looking fellow named Shingles or something who hails from the dark coal country of West Virginia. His "pap" was a coal miner, his uncle was a coal miner, and now he too is a coal miner. But, oh, before he keels over down there in the dark, this canary is gonna sing. The cameras followed him home to Bleaksburg, WV and headed down the mine shaft and into the black, only to find Shingles singing with his coworkers standing nodding and appreciative in a circle around him. It was a nice little moment, seeing folks who do one of America's hardest jobs pausing to enjoy a bit of song. And, as a friend pointed out last night, there was one miner down there in the hole who, well, damn. If that dude could sing the town of Bleaksburg would have had this in a walk. But, as is...
Yeah, they didn't take the poor guy! Poor Shingles with his earrings and earnest yes m'am hope, he tried his darnedest, but it just wasn't darned enough. He sang "Hallelujah" after asking the judges if they'd seen this one movie Shrek. And, whatever, I'm not going to make fun of him for not knowing that it's a Leonard Cohen song or whatever, because who the f--k cares where he knows that song from, what did we, invent music?, no we all heard music from weird places too, I first heard "Hallelujah" from my boss at a restaurant I worked at as a freshman in college, why is that any better or cooler than Shrek, forget it. What was kind of remarkable about the Shrek reference, in a small sad way, was that he was talking about the Rufus Wainwright version, and to think about how, in this North American smear of culture and people and all that range of difference, how far apart, and yet here, look, how close, those two people, froopy Rufus Wainright and starkly sincere Shingles, really are. Just a wistful American moment, here on the Idol show, guys. And, sigh, though he sang sweetly, it just wasn't enough. The judges said no, with Steven suggesting that maybe his gift was to entertain people in the mine, not the bigger masses. A cold, metallic dose of reality, that. Shingles took it in stride, though there were certainly tears. I hope he comes back next year, having taken some voice lessons from Miss Arnelle who has a piano and lives two towns over, and I hope he knocks it out of PNC Park.
Who else!? Oh, well, there was another sad story, this one more concretely sad. Remember that sweet kid last year with the glasses who was from the Bronx and totally won everyone over at auditions but then sorta disappeared during Hollywood Week never to be heard from again? Well, we heard from him again! He showed back up with a sad story about his mother leaving his family and about him dropping out of high school to show her he could make something of his life (hm, bad move, probably!) and though the judges were weirdly not-so-sure on him, yeah they let him through for another chance. He'll probably disappear during Hollywood Week all over again, but oh well.
Actually there were a lot of people last night who will probably do just that. That Korean kid from the beginning? Whoosh, he will disappear. The girl who sang while her sister planked? She will disappear faster than planking did (hahaha, must have seemed so fresh and so funny in the summer of 2011, but now it is months later and we are all older and planking is like six memes or trends ago, sigh, too bad for Plank Sister). I feel like that wedding singer girl (above) might also disappear, but maybe not. She had a nice quality to her voice that might make her different. Same for the girl with the sad drug sob story, the one who ran away to New York as a teenager to be in a band called Plum Crazy. Wow, don't you wish we'd just had an hour about Plum Crazy last night? A Behind the Music-type hour all about the New York band of runaway teens that was called Plum Crazy, because apparently the runaway teens were all running away from the Old West. Plum Crazy? Plum Crazy. I would have loved just a whole hour about them naming the band Plum Crazy. A whole movie about it. "Oh so it's one of those biopics that traces them from obscurity to fame and back to obscurity?" "No, no, it's just about them picking the name Plum Crazy. That's the whole movie." "Oh, I see. And how long is it?" "Three and a half hours." There's a lot of story behind Plum Crazy. And I think we need it. (DVD extras?) (Ha, can you imagine someone buying a season of American Idol on DVD? That would be one wacky, one weird, one plum crazy person.)
Oh, another person who will disappear was the little Justin Bieber-haircut kid. Yeah, that 15-year-old who looked 9 who drove over from Fatsmiles, OH in the minivan with his goofy brothers and his regular Mom and Dad. God, have you ever seen a car so full of unremarkable people? Only in Ohio! (I mean that, weirdly, as a compliment.) Anyway, the kid, named Tootsie Belvedere, had a little high choir soloist voice that the judges pretended to like because there is a clear Cute Boy mandate to this season. Oh, jesus, no, not that Tootsie is cute, not to like adult humans, but some tweenage girls out there might find his particular brand of "I went to Universal Studios last spring and so I'm going to wear my Universal Studios T-shirt for a while" machismo pretty appealing. So yeah, he'll warble along for a while and some people will like it but I don't see him going terribly far. He doesn't really have Bieber hair, and he certainly doesn't have Bieber voice, and of course he doesn't have Bieber swagger. (Kill me.) Sorry, kid!
Some guy from New York with a weird almost Paul McDonald (aka Willy Whispers, aka Mr. Nikki Reed) quality to him struck a chord with Steven Tyler for some reason, but I don't get it. I also didn't get Sebastian Grimm or whatever that guy's name was who, what, sang with his family band or something? Ew on that, and ew to him, with his whole "this used to get me laid in college" singing the Family Matters theme shtick. Gross. You are the weakest link, you're fired!
Truly, though, the most important thing that happened this episode was that the Steven Tyler witch, the gnarled old tree burl that sits in the corner there, well, the witch got a little sound effects machine, and whoooo boy. There was a montage of this witch just reeeeally liking the sound effects. "Listen to my laffy box!" the witch kept cackling, then playing a fart sound or an applause sound or something saying something like "This is gonna get real" or something, and the witch shrieked and shrieked and loved it so, singing a little "I have a laffy box" song and everything. Oh, Steven Tyler and the laffy box. The stuff television dreams are made of.
Welp, I think that's Day 2. We return again on Sunday of all days, which is sort of a cruel thing. Does that mean we have three episodes next week? Heavens, they're trying to kill us aren't they? Steven, play some sad sound on your laffy box there, because Sunday night is some sad news. Til then!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.