American Idol

Bikini Boy, the Black Taylor Swift, and a Hollywood State of Mind
Obsessive analysis of American Idol.
Feb. 4 2010 10:32 AM

American Idol

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Bikini boy. Click image to expand.
Denver auditioner Ty "Bikini Boy" Hemmerlng

Every Idol season, the Road To Hollywood is paved with good intentions, crocodile tears seeking attention, and some things I'd rather not mention. Oh, Lord. You know things have been dull when I resort to rhyming.

This week was more of the same—more "Pants on the Ground," in case it had slipped our minds for one blissful second; more childhood tragedies overcome with Idol therapy (don't think there isn't some fine print in the contracts requiring contestants to cough up a co-pay); and where there wasn't any drama, Idol, of course, created its own. Amanda Schechtman didn't really exhibit any exceptional theatricality, but maybe we missed something in the edit, because the judges thoroughly pronounced her "dramatic" before sending her on to Hollywood. We can only hope she's become Tatiana del Toro by the time we meet her there. Ryan voiced over a montage of the golden-ticket fakeout, that perennial prank in which contestants exit the audition room and meet their families frowning, only to suddenly whip out the yellow sheet of A4 with a shriek of triumph. And then there was the moment when Randy (Randy!) harassed accident survivor Casey James into undressing in order to show off his … personality. Victoria Beckham (again?) helped to push the singing to the back burner, too. Posh was all about the image this week, appraising dresses and hair and searching for "a definite look," while she herself sported a chignon so tight it doubled as a facelift device (or possibly some kind of vacuum that was trying to suck up her head).

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Maybe she's onto something, though; voices are rarely the Idol newsmakers, never bringing the scandal the franchise thrives on. On that score, it seems we might be getting more ringers than singers lately; reports of audition crashers have been surfacing like Toyota defects. Doesn't this show have security? (Next week, the Salahis!) Tuesday's Bikini Boy, it turns out, was a radio station intern sent on an under(not much)cover mission, and Idol is just the latest stop on chipmunk-voiced Nicci Nix's American reality TV tour. I wonder if cosmopolitan Nicci has been collecting European shows, too—she gave us one of two moments this week that crossed the musical Atlantic, with Girls Aloud hit "Something Kinda Ooh." The other foreign object lodged in the golden throat of Jessica Furney—her clever song choice, "Footprints in the Sand," for which Simon claims a co-writing credit (and royalties). Don't look too deep for Simon's secret artistic abilities, though. He earned his credit just doing what he does best: spotting something with surefire marketing potential. He found that in 2008, when he suggested a charity single for Sport Relief named after the beloved Christian poem—I guess it's beloved; it has its own Web site—to be recorded by his former X Factor protégé Leona Lewis. It's that sort of altruism that may soon earn Simon his knighthood, you know.

To get to Hollywood, you really do have to find the repertoire that works for you, and Jessica wasn't the only one to get it right. Simon praised Aaron Kelly, a shy Archuleta-esque tween-heartthrob-to-be, for his choice of Miley Cyrus' "The Climb"—he already knows his Idol audience—and Randy heartily approved of the earnest graduation staple "I Hope You Dance" for Hope Johnson, who had gone hungry as a child so her little brother could eat. But the ambitious standout for me was Haeley Vaughn, the teenager aiming to be the "first black pop-country singer." Kara and I both loved Haeley instantly, with her grand Taylor Swift aspirations and her consciousness of race in the contemporary music industry. Victoria Beckham liked her dress.

In Wednesday night's roundup of otherwise unaired auditions, we flitted from city to city and back with abandon, while Ryan marveled at the hospitality of the crowds as if their unison welcoming cries were not 100 percent orchestrated. It was Idol unmoored, and it reminded me that Hollywood itself has always been more an idea than a place on a map. "Welcome to Hollywood," the judges shout from behind their desks in Orlando and Dallas and Denver—as if they are always already there, or as if they've brought Hollywood along with them, packed in their suitcases next to teeny Kristin Chenoweth. It's like the show is confirming what we're all afraid of, and sure of, deep down: that we're just watching the watchers on TV, and that Hollywood is everywhere, judging us.

We've all got audition fatigue, anyway (see above re: rhyming), and Hollywood Week is beginning to look like an oasis in the desert. Right now, we're in this frustrating limbo, caught in a sort of Idol Schrödinger state—that's the experiment with the cat in the sealed box, or was it the seal in the catbox—where the Top 24 have already been selected but we can't see them, and until Tuesday any one of the Golden Ticketed could still exist, or not, in Hollywood. (Well, we already know Michael Lynche won't be there.) Next week, we open the box, gauge the results, and find out whether Ellen is a cat person. THIS is American Idol: perhaps the greatest thought experiment in history. Welcome to Hollywood!

Katherine Meizel is the author of Idolized: Music, Media, and Identity in American Idol and a visiting assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Oberlin Conservatory.

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