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American Idol, Week 5: The Wild WildCardby Dana Walker -- 07/10/2002
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Hold on to your oh-so-trendy leather neckbands, kids – it’s Wildcard Wednesday!
Unbeknownst to the viewing audience, the judges have previously narrowed down the remaining 21 contestants to five wildcard candidates. Adriel is not one of the five, much to my chagrin. But my other three picks – Chris Aaron, Alexis Lopez (who must’ve gotten the memo from the music industry about dropping the last name BEFORE having established icon status – it’s a no-no, kiddo), and Angela Peel – are there, along with Kelli Glover (the Whitney Houston soundalike) from the first round and R.J. Helton (the prime witness to the judicial carnage) from the third.
And away we go…
The judges begin with a comment: Randy thinks all five can really sing well. Paula believes all five are really gifted. Simon retorts, “They’re not all my favorites.”
FYI: The time-filler-killer-technique-of-the-week is recapping everyone’s journey from audition numero uno to achieving wildcard status. Blah blah blah. Let’s get to the singing.
Kelli goes first. We knew from before that for her previous audition, her mom had decided that she should sing the Whitney song that Simon dubbed (more or less) “karaoke crap.” (Her mom will no longer be choosing her music, because now several of Kelli’s family members may or may not hold Mom personally responsible for Kelli’s not being selected by America three weeks ago.) So Kelli chooses the song this time: “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” There is still a great deal of Whitney influence in her riffing, but we all kidnap stylistic tendencies from someone along the way, so that’s fine. She sings it beautifully (great dynamic control, Kelli). The judges are pleased all around – Paula likes that she finally hears Kelli rather than Whitney Houston and gives her a “very nice”; Randy is glad she didn’t overdo it; Simon asks, “Who chose this – you or your mother?” Kelli says she did, to which Simon replies that she was terrific and that it was great to see her as herself.
Chris goes next. (Can I just say how good-looking he is first? Okay, thanks.) Now… Chris, honey… what a HORRIBLE song choice!! (“On Bended Knee”) Boys to Men sing in four-part harmony! You can’t do that live all by yourself. Not only that, but I had to watch the show twice to figure out what the hell song it was in the first place. (Too much riffing.) He’s a good singer – he has to be to get this far, of course – but this audition is just not there. Perhaps bringing it down a whole step or two would’ve helped, but I’m just thinking scrap it and go for something else… Luther, perhaps? Anyway, Randy thinks he did a good job; Paula says he didn’t connect with the song but that she’s still a fan of his; Simon describes his “bad audition” as “mechanical,” and continues, “Chris, there’s a fine line between cool and boring.” Randy and Paula both disagree with Simon on the use of the word “boring” (at least it wasn’t “loser” this time, or that coveted wildcard chair might just have been hurtling about the soundstage). As Chris leaves, Simon and Randy are bickering and snickering back and forth in the background, “You’re boring.” “No, you’re boring.” “Nuh-uh, you’re boring.” (Not counting the clips from the heinous audition vault, this little impromptu moment is by far the most amusing thing I’ve seen yet… Hooray that the judges still have a sense of humor somewhere amidst the tension.)
Another eternally infernal gap-filler! Anyone up for an ice-cold Coca-Cola while we watch the kids run around the backstage area (looking appropriately cute, stylish, and tousled) vying for the wildcard chair? Hmm?
We get to see some “abysmal” (allow me to borrow one of Simon’s choice words) auditions from L.A. Then it’s Alexis’s turn. Her song choice this time is “Saving All My Love for You.” NO. First – WRONG SONG. You’re seventeen. You don’t even have all of your permanent teeth yet, little girl… why choose a song about an affair with a married man? She performs it with a similar level of emotion she would require for a hula-hoop contest. Second – TIMING. (I get a chuckle out of the fact that the accompanist actually loses track of Alexis somewhere near the transition into the last chorus… what can I say, there’s a little bitta Simon in every one of us, eh?) This girl is great-looking and has a fabulous voice, but she’s just not ready yet. She needs some more work on her pacing, and she definitely needs some major coaching on her direction. But that’s just what I think… what do the judges have to say? Simon: “You’ve done it again. It’s karaoke all over again. I’m very disappointed.” Paula: “I disagree. I think you did a great job.” (What a huge surprise.) Randy: “I’m gonna have to agree with Simon on the song choice. You have a powerful voice but it just didn’t hit me.” I’ll give her this, though – she took it like a real trooper. She maintains an only slightly forlorn smile all the way up to the commercial break.
But right before the break, the most annoying and unwelcome recurrence in Reality Television history occurs: Ryan and Brian refer to the empty wildcard chair and when the camera pans over to it…
…we find Tamika sitting in it. Um, hello? Please? ENOUGH ALREADY. That bad joke ran out at least two episodes ago. Geez… beat a dead horse, why dontcha.
The previously dazed and confused R.J. is fourth up tonight. (Recapping his voyage, of course, entails rehashing the battle of the network music industry bigwigs and R.J.’s reaction to finding out he was chosen as a wildcard… he was, oddly enough, shocked.) I am a bit surprised by his presence here, but in all fairness I should’ve expected it. Paula and Randy both liked him, and we all know how much America loves a come-from-behind victory. (Case and point: Ejay Day.) But wasn’t it Kristin Holt whose performance was actually possibly affected by the brawl? R.J.’s merely instigated it. Ah, well… anyway, the minute R.J. takes the stage and begins to sing, I turn to my roommate and say, “He’s got it wrapped.” (Yes, she will testify to that.) His song choice is stellar – “Lately” by Stevie Wonder – and he couldn’t have performed it more flawlessly. He just stepped up to the plate and slammed that sucker right outta the park. Judges? Randy is speechless and dubs his audition “brilliant.” Paula is tickled peach that R.J. not only came back and “shut him up” (indicating Simon) but blew them all away and did Stevie proud. Simon begins by pointing out that he didn’t think R.J. should’ve been selected as a wildcard candidate… but “based on that performance, you were fantastic.” He goes on to say that R.J. was in the toughest position because of Randy and Paula’s childish behavior the week before, but that he forgives them for it. (Yet another hilarious display from our panel to break up the monotony of cheesy promos and feeble attempts at humor from the hosts. Thanks, Simon.)
R.J. had said earlier that he didn’t want to come back, but I’ll bet he’s glad he did now. Damn.
The kids do awful impressions of Simon in another even more awful Ford promotion.
And Angela wraps up the performances. She’s still my favorite – phenomenally talented as well as having great original style that was not shoplifted from Pink’s walk-in closet. Add to that her stage presence and you’ve got yourself a star in the making. She chooses the song she performed in her original audition back in Chicago – “As We Lay.” Well, I’m still in awe of her… but I think she falters on the song choice this time. It made a great impression the first time because performing it a capella really allowed the raw emotion behind the song to come out in her voice. But in this setting… it just didn’t work. (Her outfit is killer, though. If she doesn’t make it as a singer – which would be just an absolutely disgusting injustice if she doesn’t – she should be a fashion consultant.) Paula says it was just the wrong song. Randy thinks she never found the note. (I’d say it was more like she never found the center of the song… she did sing the notes, although she riffed a bit too much… but she didn’t express it as well as she did in Chicago.) Simon: “I disagree with both of them. You have just proved you are a star.” He continues by saying how irritated he is that they can only choose one from this group of five because members of this group deserve to be in the top ten more than certain members of the top ten.
Quick note: Every time they are introduced now it is as “the judges and Simon.” When did Simon become a not-a-judge?
So the audio feed to the red room where the contestants are nervously waiting is cut, and the judges (and Simon) are free to deliberate with abandon. Ryan deems Simon “the chairman” and leaves him in charge. Simon dismisses Ryan with the same regard he would give a sewer rat. (It’s been quite apparent that there is no love lost between Simon and our cutesy little host boys – this moment is yet one more shining example.)
Simon makes it very clear that the wildcard should be someone who will win, not someone who will be cut in the first round. Agreed. They assess each contestant:
Kelli – good, solid performance; she represents everything this contest is all about; there’s no discernable reason not to move her forward.
Chris – didn’t bring his best tonight; he’s BORING (guess who said that?).
Alexis – Simon: “You have real and you have fake, and karaoke is just fake.” (Hey… watch what you say about karaoke there, buddy). Paula: “I really like her.”
R.J. – fueled by the argument, he came back and shut Simon up (according to Paula); proved a point by coming back the way he did… that’s what being an artist is about (according to Simon).
Angela – most consistent performer… her voice has a real toughness while still maintaining its beauty.
After the nine finalists come out, the wildcard kids step forward to hear the judges’ evaluations of their performances.
Kelli hears about how great she looks and that, although she has always impressed the judges, tonight she came back and showed them what a star in the making she really is.
R.J. gets the Simon treatment straight away. “I met your mother. She didn’t like me.” He lets R.J. know that he was sensational, and proved his capability by coming back as well as he did. Then Simon asked him to apologize for the fight he caused. (Ha! He’s hot tonight!)
The advice for Alexis is this: “Where you’ve got it wrong is not understanding what you’re capable of doing.” She is encouraged to pursue the route of a Latino artist. (I would urge her to sing to a metronome.)
Randy leads off, “this is the girl who scares me the most,” in reference to Angela. Simon gushes, “You are the most consistent, and you really sing well – you have a fantastic career ahead of you.”
Chris doesn’t care for what Simon has to say – “I’m not really a fan of yours… remember that personality counts and there’s a difference between being laid back and being dull,” – but Paula and Randy still like him.
The judges (and Simon) make their decision, and it’s unanimous…
I’m neither surprised nor disappointed. Although I really wanted Angela to win, R.J. deserves it, too. (And Angela will no doubt be on her way to bigger and better things after this… Simon loves her.)
Speaking of Simon yet again, his parting words for the ten contestants are along these lines: “The nice part of this contest is over. The tough part begins now. Two of you are going home next week. And from now on, it’s live.”
As for the two who go home this coming week… basing it solely on my own biases, I’m going to have to toss wannabe-boy A.J. and Kelly (who?) first. Who knows, maybe one of them will suddenly astound me… but I doubt it. What I don’t doubt is that the American voters may be the ones to astonish (and possibly devastate) me this week. Don’t you dare vote off my Justin…
So make sure to catch Week #6, this Tuesday night at 8:30 pm on Fox (it starts a half hour earlier because it’s a 90 minute show).
Dana Walker is a writer/singer/songwriter/former reality show contestant living in the Los Angeles area. Contact her at LilDanaSunshine@msn.com.
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