From the very first minutes, Wednesday (Jan. 28) night's "American Idol" audition episode from Salt Lake City was all about the build-up to 17-year-old Rose, an Idaho-based hippie with a tragic past. We heard about Rose leading into every commercial break and the producers set aside a solid eight minutes at the end of the episode for the hard-luck waif.
Then, after one shot of her charming cockeyed smile, Time Warner decided that I'd had enough and my cable and Internet shut down simultaneously, in a failure of service that has become par for the course lately. Thanks, Time Warner!
So how was Rose, y'all? I'll probably catch up on her audition later after going out to a screening of "The International," but was she worth catching up on? Or was she just a good story for producers to latch onto for an episode that featured a few highlights, but may have showcased fewer actual performances than any "Idol" episode in my memory?
More on the episode after the bump...
Mystery writers like to say that they start at the end and work their way backward.
The Salt Lake City episode of "American Idol" had the feeling of an episode where the producers went in with certain preconceived notions and proceeded to cut together an hour of footage confirming every possible Utah stereotype. So the episode was loaded with one Crest-whitened toothy white kid after another and we were treated to montages of gracious contestants saying "Please" and "Thank You."
Heck, the episode even began with an Osmond. And curse you, "American Idol" for actually making me root for somebody named Osmond! But if you weren't at least slightly touched by David Osmond, you have no soul. Alan Osmond's 29-year-old son, David has been suffering from MS, a condition that also plagues his father, for three years. He arrived at the audition in remission, but at least he told us what was wrong, unlike that deceitful President Bartlett. However smarmy and insincere you may find the various Osmonds -- Marie successfully cured me of a very short-lived interest in "Dancing with the Stars," while Donnie destroyed a life-long interest in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" -- they appear to be genetically gifted as showmen. Simon was correct in warning David that he's never going to be contemporary -- and somebody had to tell him to lose the soulpatch -- but I was glad he advanced to Hollywood.
And if producers were expecting to find another David Archuleta, they could do worse than freshly scrubbed Austin Cisneros, who would have given off a Tracy Flick vibe even if his whole montage hadn't been about his tenure as high school class president. Will he have to abdicate his crown if he makes the Top 36? What will happen to prom, y'all? There's something truly disturbing about a young man who thinks of Raffi as a soul singer, so I'm not prepared to endorse Austin for "American Idol" President, but I can imagine how younger female voters would find him really unintimidating.
The best singers in Salt Lake City, where I found myself just days ago, actually were the ones who didn't fit the mold the producers were gunning for.
Credit stay-at-home-mom Frankie Jordan for picking the right audition city. I think if she'd come to any other city and sung an Amy Winehouse song with Amy Winehouse affectations looking like a substantially less cracked out Amy Winehouse, one of the judges probably would have paused and mentioned the possibility that Frankie was trying just a bit too hard to be Amy Winehouse. Instead, she got a free pass. I'm a fan of "Idol" one-trick ponies (Yay, Amanda Overmyer!), so I'm not judging Frankie.
In fact, I'm astounded more R&B and soul singers didn't travel to Salt Lake City from around the country just to take advantage of the predominantly Anglo backdrop. There's a long "Idol" history of contestants making strategic audition choices and Utah ought to have been a no-brainer for a certain sort of contestant who might not have gotten a second's glance in Jacksonville or Louisville.
But the night's other standouts also looked to be semi-local, showing that -- Go Figure! -- Salt Lake City wasn't exactly what the producers thought it might be.
With her youth, gender neutral name, towering stature and polished voice, Taylor Vaifanua got an immediate Jordin Sparks comparison from Randy and as a recapper who initially underestimated the Season Six winner, I have to say I prefer Taylor at this stage in the game.
I also can't wait to hopefully hear more from newly divorced Megan Corkrey, whose rendition of "Can't Help Loving that Man of Mine" was distinctive and quirky. I'd call it unique, but just because I don't recognize a version of a song doesn't mean that she wasn't just doing a note-by-note cover of somebody else's take on the classic, so feel free to tell me who her inspiration was, dear reader. Regardless, I want to hear her again and I also want to get a better look at that full sleeve of tattoos on her right arm. Plus, she and Frankie will be able to share the "American Idol" babysitting service. Yes, I'm talking about Justin Guarini.
So help me, I was even amused by Chris Kirkham, who didn't make it through to Hollywood. I usually hate the gimmick performances, but Chris came with a deadpan sense of humor and a bearded pink pooka. He missed several opportunities as pertained to his giant friend, who he called Greg the Rabbit. To my mind, he either had to be Harvey or Greg the Bunny, but what do I know? Either way, it was a better-than-expected site gag.
Salt Lake City must have been too polite to fill lines with freaks and geeks. Only Goth Tara Matthews got any screentime, but she was a real disappointment. Somebody who claims to have ESP and be able to predict when people will die ought to be creepier. Tara was just unappealing and sad.
Anyway, I'll be back in a couple hours and maybe I'll chime in on Rose Fleck...
[Post Script: Watched on my real TV after the fact. Rose couldn't have been more average. That rendition of "I Feel the Earth Move" was sub-Martika. And yet, on the basis of her personality and her story, she was put through to Hollywood. This is going to be a Very Special Season of American Idol.]
What'd y'all think of Salt Lake City?