This is the fifth "American Idol" trip to Atlanta, a city that gave the show Fantasia, Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson. It also gave us Ryan Seacrest, but we can't hold that against the Dirty South, can we? Oh, we can? Well, it's back to the Peach State for Wednesday (Jan. 13) night's "American Idol."
We're going to play a game tonight. It's called Spot the Filler. Until late last week, this episode was only supposed to be 75 minutes, but when Mark Burnett yanked "Our Little Genius" for reasons that still haven't been adequately explained, FOX had to expand the show by 15 additional minutes, 15 minutes which, originally, we're going to be seen in primetime. So if some bad audition tonight doesn't feel quite bad enough, or if some good audition doesn't feel heart-tugging enough, you know why.
8:01 p.m. There are more than 10,000 people on hand for auditions, which will feature Mary J. Blige as the night's designated Anti-Paula. She vows to be honest.
8:02 p.m. It's another skyscraper audition site, with contestants going up to the 26th or 27th floor of a building via elevator to meet with the judges. This means the judges will have a nice backdrop, as they did in Boston.
8:04 p.m. Dewone Robinson comes from a long line of music industry greats without last name. He describes himself as "a diamond in the rough," which of course means that he'll be horrible. He's also singing an original composition, which of course means that he'll be horrible. And guest what?!?!? He's horrible, though "Lady, We're not Together Anymore" is probably a great title for a song. And, in fact, I love the transitions between a squealing falsetto and an oddball bass. It ends with the lyric "It's over! It's over! It's over!" and everybody is relieved. Dewone blames his failure on Simon interrupting to ask the name of his song. Because Simon and "American Idol" hates us, Simon lets him sing the song a second time. And then a third time. "What y'all want me to do?" Dewone inquires. Kara has the answer, "Leave."
8:07 p.m. I guess that's one way to eat into the time: Do a two-minute "Coming up on 'Idol'" segment.
8:11 p.m. "Idol" has hit a pattern this season. Start with a bad audition. Go to commercial. Show how bad everybody's been. And then introduce us to somebody who will clearly change the night. It's frizzy-haired former Miss Congeniality Keia Johnson, who sings what she calls "The 'Titanic' Song." A few unnecessary runs, but they don't mean that she can't sing. And by "a few," I mean a half-dozen. Mary J. Blige says that "truthfully she can sing." Kara thinks Keia's personality comes through. Simon strangely says he can imagine her getting a part in "Oklahoma." I don't know what that means. We know we're letting her through, so let's get to the business. Four "Yes" votes for Miss Congeniality and her tight lemon stretch pants.
8:15 p.m. Now we get good people. There's a Merriam, a Noel and a Tisha, who gets a "one billion percent Yes" from Randy.
8:15 p.m. Jermaine Sellers is a church singer. His mother has spina bifida and he's been taking care of her since he was 17. Gee. Do you think he's going to be talented? Really, how lazy have the editors become in these clip packages? We're now up to our third contestant in two nights taking care of an ailing relative and they've all been great. Will tonight feature anybody from a big ethnic family? Jermaine rocks a little Joan Osbourne, wondering what might occur if God happened to be a stranger on the bus trying to make his way home. The runs are all over the place, but he pulls them off better than you might expect. Randy calls it the best vocal they've seen anywhere this season. Mary calls it "anointed." Randy votes "a million-thousand-one-hundred-and-ten percent Yes."
8:23 p.m. How did we nearly finish the first day of auditions already? Christy Marie Agronow just turned 25 and she's a TV hostess. She's instantly annoying. She's on something called "411: The Show" and she launches into Pat Benatar. It's even more annoying than she's been previously. If love truly is a battlefield, she's a fragment grenade or a talentless land mine. She keeps clenching her fists, stamping her feet and taking deep breaths between lines. She describes singing as her passion, but none of the judges are convinced. Kara even attempts to give her the 411 that she isn't going to make it as a singer. "I thought they were just being ridiculous," she rants. And just like that, "American Idol" has given this irksome young lady a four-minute promotional platform and given American 10 seconds of entertainment. Hardly seems fair.
8:26 p.m. A montage of people who stink going down on the elevator. Nice split-screen effect, "Idol"!
8:27 p.m. Vanessa Wolfe is the day's last performance and she jumps off bridges. Either because there's nothing else to do in Vonore, Tennessee. Or because it gets her in a bikini. She describes herself as "stuck in Vonore" and says she got her dress for $4.50 at the Dollar Store in Smyrna. She's got a thick accent, questionable grammar and she doesn't want the judges to look down on her. Based on the clip package, she's a good deal less worried about America looking down on her. She's doing a song called "Wagon Wheel." She's got a serviceable country voice, but will that be enough? She's bouncing up and down in nervousness. Her mother? Also nervous, saying "Instead of butterflies, I have frogs." Oh, so folksy! Simon likes something about her, but he calls her "incredibly ill-prepared." He calls her authentic and says she'll be memorable. Vanessa, pleased, says "If I didn't have a dress on, I'd throw you a back-flip, Simon." She gets downstairs and raves, "I'm going to Hollywood and I'm going to get on an air-o-plane and I'm going to eat peanuts on the air-o-plane." Aim high, Vanessa Wolfe. Aim high.
8:35 p.m. I'm not a fan of these female-driven "Human Target" ads that boil their thesis down to "Mark Valley Is Cute, Watch This Show."
8:37 p.m. Jesse Hamilton is from Alabama and he's come close to death on three occasions. Wow. A dramatic reenactment of Jesse's redneck brushes with death? That's almost astoundingly contemptuous of the ordinary viewers who have made "American Idol" TV's most popular show. Or did they decide that since Vanessa Wolfe got such glorified treatment, it's OK to treat Jesse Hamilton as an addled hick? Nobody's ever heard Jesse sing in public before. So we get to be the first. Except that Jesse can't sing, which is causing Mary J. Blige to either bawl or crack up. It's almost impossible to tell what's happening with her. Jesse's not even amusingly bad, but trying to figure out what's happening in Mary's head is fun. Simon sends Jesse back to his welding. Simon instructs him, "If anybody's going to subscribe welding, it's you." Then there are several jokes about how Jesse is accident prone. "They crucified me," Jesse tells his family.
8:42 p.m. Jesse starts a run of bad luck. Lots of crying and blubbering about the judges taking people's dreams away from them. "I brought my guitar and now I'll just be singing the blues on the way home," says one inconsolable cowgirl.
8:47 p.m. Instruments aren't allowed in the audition room, except for Holly Harden, who's dressed as a Slutty Guitar, with a sassy tuner-hat and fishnets. This was, indeed, her Halloween costume. Holly's a hoot, but of course she's going to be a freak-show, isn't she? To be fair, she's a lot better than anybody in the room possibility could have guessed. Her version of "You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man" isn't embarrassing at all. "I can always lose the guitar outfit," Holly promises. Kara's impressed with Holly, because Holly isn't quite hot enough to intimidate her. But Mary doesn't get it. Randy says, "Yes." Kara says, "Yes." Mary laughs and says, "No." Holly calls Simon gorgeous. So he puts the Slutty Guitar through.
8:51 p.m. Why can't we transition into other slutty instruments? Instead, it's just a montage of people who can't sing.
8:52 p.m. Mallorie Haley is a 20-year-old server and she's, um, curvy. Simon is especially pleased. Mary is oddly impressed with her Janis Joplin cover. Kara's also a fan. Simon calls Mallorie "fearless" and says he likes her. She gets four yeses. OK. That girl wasn't nearly as good as the judges are pretending. We've heard at least 20 better versions of "Piece of My Heart" on this show over the years. Minimum.
8:59 p.m. Meet Skii Bo Ski. He sings. He dances. He wears a shirt that has his name misspelled. I love this guy. He's absolutely hilarious. His real name is Antonio Wheeler, which isn't nearly as fun. His voice also isn't nearly good enough, but as he says "It's a package deal." He says he's like the Dollar Store noting, "You can everything you want in one package and it's only a dollar." Yes, that's the second plug for The Dollar Store in this "Idol" episode. Simon thinks the singing and dancing were awful and that the outfit put him off. Yes, this is the same Simon who put Slutty Guitar Girl through. Mary is impressed with his voice. OK. Mary J. Blige has absolutely no taste in music. Randy wants him to lose all of the nonsense. But the nonsense is the only part that was good. Simon votes "No." The two ladies vote "Yes" and Randy puts Skii Bo Ski through to Hollywood. Everybody in the waiting room is excited. Meanwhile, Mary is still raving about his voice. I'm losing more and more respect for Mary every second.
9:03 p.m. Carmen Turner and Lauren Sanders are BFFs for life. They've been friends since third grade and they complete each other's sentences, albeit poorly. Their motto is "Carmen and Lauren Need To Go To Hollywood" which is also probably the title of a very dirty adult video series about enterprising young country girls. They get in too much trouble together, but they aren't going to sing together. They agree they're equally talented. Lauren, who announces she has a soft voice, is credited as "College Student/BFF" by the cheeky "Idol" graphics department and she's weak. Carmen, also a "Student/BFF" is much louder and much better, but not actually "good," per se. Simon says that together they're fun and apart they're boring. He suggests they become a group called "The Ditz Sisters," which everybody on the panel hears as "The Dick Sisters" because even after nine years, they still think Simon speaks a foreign language. Carmen gets three "Yes" votes and goes through, which is ridiculous. Lauren gets four "No." They're in tears at being separated, but Simon tells them "If it's any consolation, I don't think you're going to be apart from each other for too long." He's right. They're wasting Golden Tickets left and right in Atlanta.
9:13 p.m. Three talentless female singers. I'm assuming this was part of the footage that would have been cut if only the producers on "Our Little Genius" hadn't violated some strange ethical code or other.
9:14 p.m. Simon leaves, in time for the arrival over Bryan Walker, a geeky police officer who loves his job, but still wants to chase his dream. What kind of town lets a dude with a balding fauxhawk be a cop? Bryan sings "Superstar" in the Ruben style. Oh, Bryan. I loved Ruben Studdard and you're no Velvet Teddybear. But Kara loves it. Randy calls him hot. And Mary says Bryan doesn't need to prove himself. The Singing Police Officer is going to Hollywood.
9:17 p.m. Lamar Royal says he loves constructive criticism and he loves Mary J. Blige. But what he really loves is yelling and destroying the fine vocal work of Seal. Randy calls his voice "torturous." Kara says she isn't going to say Lamar isn't a good singer, but Lamar starts talking back. The judges start talking to Lamar and Lamar starts talking and then singing over them. Mary accuses Lamar of "exalting" himself. He exits swearing and then comes back to yell at them for insulting him. Lamar's a big guy, but "Idol" calls in a group of even larger security guards to lead him out of the building. Lamar is so bitter he even starts saying that Mary J. Blige can't sing a lick. And, for the first time this season, we hear a contestant announce, "I wish Paula was here."
9:22 p.m. Is anybody else feeling like the "Idol" producers have decided that since Kris Allen won without audition exposure last year, they can air whole audition episodes without showcasing a single genuinely talented person now? Because either the talent has dried up in Atlanta, or the good people are being held back for a later date...
9:25 p.m. Up last is General Larry Platt, singing the original composition "Pants on the Ground." He's a 62-year-old veteran. His song is pretty good, if you only hold him to the standards of homeless singer-songwriters. He does, however, have solid AARP break-dancing floor-work. Simon, alas, has to reject Larry for being over the age limit. "Pants on the ground/Pants on the ground/ Looking like a fool with your pants on the ground."
9:28 p.m. They gave 22 Golden Tickets in Atlanta? Yikes. We may want to wait another five or six years before coming back. I think with a makeover, Miss Congeniality Keia Johnson might be good. Mallorie Haley was attractive. And Slutty Guitar Girl was Slutty Guitar Girl. But I sure didn't notice any candidates for the Top 12.
What'd you think of the season's second "Idol" episode? Any favorites?