American Idol: 11.01 & 11.02 Review

A tv review article by: Dylan Garsee, Nick Hanover


American Idol kicked off its 11th season and Dylan Garsee and Nick Hanover were there, braving two hours of mostly uninteresting contestants and a few goofy auditions. Luckily, they had a shitload of Justin Bieber jokes at their disposal and relevant Thom Yorke dancing videos.

Nick Hanover: Holy crap it's the 11th season of American Idol. And yet I feel like the show has a renewed energy after last season, which was a surprising step up in dynamics and quality. Of course, that being said, I'm going to kick this discussion of the premier off by saying that while none of the golden ticket winners tonight were what I'd deem bad choices, none exactly wowed me either.


Dylan Garsee: Same here, no one seemed to stick out. Just like every year, the audition process seemed to be filled with shitty Mariah Carey's, Bruno Mars' and Adele's.


Except for Mawuena Kodjo, who I am pretty sure is the second coming of Christ.



Nick: Everyone more or less ran together tonight, fitting into a few convenient, general categories, with even the weirdos notably absent (Kodjo's segment was actually kind of depressing to watch, since he seemed like a legitimately good guy who wasn't sure of what he was supposed to be doing). We started off with a kid who claimed to be 17 but looked to be about 12 and was asked by the judges to sing a Michael Jackson song, because that's not demeaning or cruel or anything.


Dylan: I get the feeling that he'll make the top 12, get a million fans and then throw a big hissy fit a la Astro from the X-Factor. Or he could be a genuinely nice person, and I'm just a little racist.


Dylan: I felt the meanest thing that the judges did was force Colton Dixon to audition. He obviously didn't want to, and his sister just wanted to be recognized without him. But Lythgoe and Co. couldn't let that be.


The only person that should be brought back from last season is Rachel Zevita and her glittery cape of magic.


Nick: You know, I think I was so embarrassed for both of them that I blocked that incident from my mind because I completely forgot about that and I'm glad you brought it up. I genuinely like Colton, he was one of my favorites last year and while I am happy to see him get another chance (and to see how excited the judges were to hear he was there) I agree that it was a pretty fucked up thing to do. It seemed like a move calculated specifically to create tension and if it was staged, Colton's sister is a damn good actress who really knows how to shoot daggers from her eyes. Regardless, both of the Dixons have excellent, interesting voices and they're easily the best choices from Savannah.


Dylan: Most definitely. Even though their voices aren't anything new, they at least have personality, unlike 99% of the other contestants.


Great job! But can you bring your brother out here already?

Dylan: I remember last year when James Durbin was the last contestant of the night, and throughout the whole episode, they did the whole "you just gotta see this guy's performance", and he blew me away. However, they did the same thing tonight with Phillip Phillips Jr, and he just sounded like a bad Paolo Nutini.


Nick: The only thing that blew me away about Phillip Phillps Jr. was his name, which is almost as fun to say as the immortal phrase "burger burger." Also, the fact that his physical performance was pretty much exactly like John Belushi imitating Joe Cocker:


Dylan: Whoa, John Belushi does a great Thom Yorke.


I'm sorry.


Nick: Is Thom Yorke gonna have to shoot a Bieber?


Dylan: You win.


Nick: I always win, Dylan. And now for my victory dance: 


Dylan: I want to see someone audition with a Radiohead song. Please someone, please sing "Idioteque."


Nick: I do wish they'd expand the musical choices because I believe the pool has gotten ridiculously small, or at least it was here in Savannah. I mean, we had like three Joss Stone songs back to back. People still listen to Joss Stone? And who makes the decision to audition with a Joss Stone song anyway?


Dylan: Just be grateful no one sang any Superheavy songs.


But yeah, three Joss Stone songs in one night is a tad strange.


Nick: It's interesting too because I can't imagine that it's an issue of the cost of licensing, since we got a performance of the Beatles' "Come Together" by an odd lady with knitted hair who did a dance not unlike The Creep.


Dylan: She is my favorite person in the entire world right now, because she's crazy, and she can sing. Like Courtney Love. Or Roseanne Barr.


Nick: Speaking of Roseanne Barr, I'd also like to know what the deal was with all the contestants talking about their desire to be national anthem singers. I'm specifically thinking of your best friend, Stefon Jr., who claimed he just wanted to sing the national anthem at Nascar.


Separated at birth?

Dylan: Yeah, Bubba Stefon set gay rights back about 10 years with his meltdown. Ellen's gonna have to come out of the closet again to reverse that.


Nick: I think y'all will have to pull out the big guns and convince Bieber to come out of the closet. Let's cue that Bieber vs. Yorke video again, just because:


Dylan: And here's Justin Bieber being shot for 10 minutes:


Nick: Since the contestants weren't all that interesting this time around, let's talk about the judge dynamics. I don't think I was alone in being a little concerned and skeptical before the start of last season in regards to the decision to have Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez join Randy. But I was actually impressed with the chemistry between the three, which was more natural and far less awkward than the original three often were. And right off the bat, the judges are the most interesting part of the episode.


Dylan: Most definitely, they have chemistry and it looks like everyone is having a good time. Randy is still incredibly strange, J.Lo is still happy and shiny, and Steven still creeps me out. Fantastic judges all around.


Also, Steven still looks like a rotten pumpkin.


Steven Tyler without make-up on...

Nick: I think the biggest shock last season was how quickly Randy decided to try to fill Simon's seat by being bizarrely nasty. Except Randy clearly doesn't do so good with them words, yo. So the results are insults that may as well have been written by Tommy Wiseau which, honestly, I fucking love.


Dylan: "So, baaayyybe. I want you to go to the outside place, and find, umm, uhh, people that think you are next Idol. Can you do thaaat?"


Nick: I think he ended the episode by literally saying "Yo, man, wrap, this is, a wrap, time to wrap it up, man."


Dylan: "Good morning, good morning everybody, in the news this morning, good morning"-Ann Curry -Ron Paul.


Nick: Steven Tyler seems to egg Randy on quite a bit, like he knows Randy is basically a manchild and has no inhibitions. Which I guess means that, despite looking like a poorly treated leather bag, Steven Tyler is my favorite judge. He actually has good feedback about, oh, a third of the time and he seems to view American Idol as a fun gig that he can be as serious or as irreverent about as he wants. Of course, there is the problem of him doing things like telling a former Major League pitcher that Savannah is "hot, humid and happening-- just like your daughter."


Taken shortly before the entire family nearly beat Steven Tyler to death

Dylan: I'm imagining what it would look like if a leather bag tried to hit on my sister. Then the little spinny Mac pinwheel started spinning in my head.


Nick: That's the natural reaction to that scenario, Dylan. And then there's Jennifer Lopez who I guess functions as the buffer to Steven's libido and the handler to Randy's swiftly escalating lunacy.


Dylan: Cupertino's best kept secret: Apple computers are actually run by tiny versions of J. Lo, Randy, and Steven Tyler.


So what are you giving the American Idol premier?


Nick: I'm going to give it , it basically matched how last season's was, if I remember correctly, and left plenty of room for the season to ramp up. It's that whole mixtape rule of not blowing your wad too soon, to loosely quote High Fidelity.


Dylan: That sounds about right, . An entertaining episode, but I don't remember one bit of it.


Nick: Yo, man, it's, this is, a wrap, this, man.


Dylan: Yo.

Dylan and Nick reconvened the next night to check out how the next round of auditions went. 


Nick: As American Idol went north to Pittsburgh, two things became pretty clear: 1) American Idol audition episodes definitely don't need to be two fucking hours 2) but if they must be, you should probably devote two hours to the city with better performers. Which would be Pittsburgh, in this case.


Dylan: Nothing ever needs to be on the air for two straight hours. The show is so positive and processed that it feels like being beat over the head with a box of Lucky Charms. One hour is a perfect time for Idol.


Nick: It's kind of exhausting. The first episode was perfectly fine but with that much bloat you start getting distracted and fidgety. Meanwhile, this episode felt far more streamlined and focused and we pretty much only saw the contestants that we needed to see.


Dylan: Streamlined, that's exactly how to describe the episode. There were no people living in tents, no crazy haired ladies doing dances, no over-the-top story lines, everything felt natural.


And the contestants tonight felt unique and genuine, unlike the wannabes from Savannah. All that's going to change when they go to San Diego, though, I can feel it.


Nick: I think the worst we got here was the slightly less pre-pubescent version of Justin Bieber (coincidentally named Eben) and that girl whose sister insisted on butting in on her rehearsal and planking in front of her while she sang. I guess Patty the Pittsburgh Planker is the equivalent of Austin's Sexy Saxman?



Dylan: Maybe if it aired 4 seasons earlier ACTIVATE SASSY GAY VOICE Planking is soooooo 2009!


Nick: The biggest surprise for me tonight was the "quirky" New York street performer, who came to Pittsburgh on the Greyhound and began his audition with a sentence that I thought signaled an obvious DOA: "I couldn't think of what to perform, so I wrote a song on the way down here." 99% of the time, that is exactly how you lose an audition for yourself, but he wound up showing off an exceptionally expressive voice and some real performing chops.


Dylan: He surprised me too, I was expecting some Jake Shears-esque theatricality to his voice, and even though he was a little dramatic, he knew how to restrain himself from going over the top. I'll say it now: He's going to make it to the top 12, and he's going to be constantly reprimanded for going over the top.


Nick: He'll definitely make it far but I disagree that he'll be reprimanded for going over the top. After all, last year we had a gospel singer who spent every performance sounding like the Muppet version of an SNL sketch about a diva who just won't stop turning every single line into a nerve wracking bit of histrionics.


Dylan: Oh, you mean the mom from the Nutty Professor?


Nick: Fuck yes.




Dylan: Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Jacob Lusk:



Nick: I'm also going to say that I'm partially intrigued by this new American Idol trend of wheeling out standouts from last season and sending them to Hollywood. As much as the Colton stuff left a bad taste in my mouth, I was glad to see him come back, and tonight we saw Travis Orlando (who was pretty much named for stardom) get sent to Hollywood. Travis' voice admittedly hasn't yet developed to a point where it truly stands out, but he's got charisma and is incredibly likable with a story that isn't too in your face or insufferably hacky.


Dylan: I have a feeling he's going to make it all the way to the end of Hollywood, right before the final 12. Reality shows have a tendency to murder the ones you love right before the end (See: Tiffany Derry from Top Chef 7&8 and Michael Costello from Project Runway 8).


Even the bad singers tonight didn't particularly bother me, even the Coal Miner's Daughter, err, son, who sang that little ditty from Shrek, "Hallelujah".


Nick: Liar. You know that Shrek comment bothered you. But yes, the Coal Miner's Son showed a nice bit of self-awareness, admitting immediately that he botched the audition by not hitting a high note. I also just don't get why people attempt that Jeff Buckley cover. It's one thing to do "Hallelujah" and make it your own, like, you know, Jeff Buckley himself did, or John Cale before that, but to actively try to approximate one of the greatest singers of the '90s rather than covering the Leonard Cohen original? It's like attempting a Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey number, but for guys, and with a more tragic aftertaste.


Dylan: I would have loved to have seen that scrawny little kid tried to sing the k.d. lang version, in a kimono, barefoot. If I were a judge, I would have just ended the season there. You win kid, good job. Season 12, here we come!



Nick: There could be no more American Idol after that, it'd be too much to live up to.


You know what else was nice about just dealing with the hour again? Less fuckery from the judges. Other than Steven Tyler's red box, which actually kind of reminded me of the time my dad bought me a similar thing for Christmas...only to take it for himself and annoy the shit out of everyone around him until he broke it from overuse.


Dylan: If I were J. Lo, I would have went all Jenny from the Block on Steven Tyler's ass the second he whipped out his box.


And also if he ever brought one of those voice box things on set.


See what I did there?


Huh, huh? Straightjacketbaby?


Nick: Don't make me file a sexual harassment claim again, Dylan.


Dylan: Hey, he asked me to poke it.


Nick: So all in all, I'd say this was a pretty good episode, but I'm still eager to just get through these auditions and focus on the shit that matters.


Dylan: I'm thinking  for this episode, because it went by fast and for the most part, entertained me. You?


Nick: I'd really like to give it a 3.75, because I don't feel it's quite at the 4 level but it was much better than the first episode. Which I suppose means I am forced to round up here: 


Dylan: Pitchfork score: 3.8, it just felt like a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy ripoff.

Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights a pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.


When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon.

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