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American Idol, Week 6: Two Gone, But Were They the Right Two?by Dana Walker -- 07/22/2002
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Okay, I admit it… I’m a full-on American Idol addict. I don’t even watch television much, yet I can barely contain my excitement until the show comes on every week. You may be able to detect this in my reviews, as they are not only fifty pages long but also chock full of love and devotion to my kids of choice… and, of course, to Simon, the tell-it-like-it-is king of all time.
Here’s the kids’ first foray into what it’s really like to be a pop star. Woo-hoo!
Ryan (what’s with the glasses?) and Brian babble on endlessly about a bunch of nonsense. A custom-built soundstage! A live studio audience! The kids were treated to a shopping spree at the “swank Beverly Center” (I’m not sure I’d use the word “swank” to describe a mall, but whatever) AND are now being housed in a fabulous Bel Air mansion. They’re living the lives of the rich and famous. Ooh la la. It’s the big time now.
Okay, we get it. Let’s move on to the performances.
The theme of the evening is “Motown.” Now, one of RNO’s writers suggested that this selection seemed to give an unfair advantage to certain singers, but I'm thinking that the reason Motown was the first theme of choice is this: If you can sing a Motown tune well, you can really sing. Also, if any one of these ten singers - who are supposedly “the best undiscovered talent in America” (I’d beg to differ on a few…) - can't find a song that showcases his or her voice from the Motown catalog of 400,000 songs, then here’s a bit of advice: Go home now.
The audience members are instructed to call in and vote to KEEP their favorite singers - this show is not about voting people off, it’s about polite elimination by lack of votes. (Did Paula come up with this voting procedure?) Either way, it won’t be pretty, I’m sure.
The judges are introduced, and we notice that Simon has three girls sitting behind him wearing Simon Cowell t-shirts. Ryan or Brian - I’m not sure which, they’re usually pretty interchangeable to me… but it’s probably Ryan since he usually talks over Brian anyway - asks Simon how much he paid those girls. Simon just looks smug.
Each performer is introduced with a short video bio this week, allowing the viewers to learn a bit more about the contestants. This is a good choice for time-filling footage.
Ryan Starr is the lucky leadoff singer this evening. She’s the quintessential “California girl” with a surfboard in her car and a job at the mall; she’s also a self-proclaimed “big dork.” (Yeah, all the big dorks I know have the identical figure and wardrobe that Britney Spears is so fortunate to possess.) So she comes out to perform, and the first thing I notice is that, like her predecessor in the sexed-up-yet-virginal pop princess arena, Ryan appears to have gotten implants over the weekend. But maybe I just didn’t notice those before. The other thing is that her hair is (mercifully) different. Gone is the “sultry” side part covering half her face (that made her appear more sulky than sultry) and in its place is a center part and face framing layers, making her look even more like… well, I’ve beaten that one to death, so let’s move to her vocals. Ryan has a great voice - nice tone, good range, decent control (save a few barely noticeable flat notes here and there). She gives a good, solid performance that doesn’t blow off my doors, but she never has anyway. Judges? (These are summations, not direct quotes.)
Randy: A couple of notes were off, but you ended well - good job.
Paula: Great job… you have real star quality.
Simon: You look unbelievable and you sounded unbelievable. Congratulations.
Ryan then joins the other Ryan and Brian on the side of the stage. Our often-superfluous hosts ask her pointless questions like, “How do you feel?” What? What kind of inane practice is this? This is NOT a good choice for time-filling footage. After recording artists perform, do they frequently go to the left side of the stage for milk-and-cookies-commentary with the announcer? No. I’d prefer it if they heard the judges’ critiques, waved to all of their screaming fans, and exited the custom-built soundstage. Let the judges ask the questions; let the hosts stick to the lame scripted segues.
Side note: I’ve grown weary of referring to our hosts by name… hmm. I’m trying to think of some comparison like Abbott and Costello, but those two were actually funny… gosh. Here’s the problem - these two are too nondescript to even garner a nickname. With the exception of Ryan’s much-touted horrendous fashion sense and Brian being referred to on occasion as “Dunk” (which I fervently refuse to do… it reminds me of that annoying “Duff” person from MTV way back), I have a lack of ammo here. I can’t call them R&B, because you guys will think I’ve slipped into referring to rhythm and blues in the third person and will be wondering how a genre of music can host a talent show…
…I’ll just call them B&R. Whew. Okay, that’s enough of my own gibberish. Back to business.
R.J. Helton is our second contestant. We find out that R.J. resides in Georgia, was adopted at age three, that “he’s everybody’s friend,” and that he is a total momma’s boy. Awww… R.J.’s just a swell guy. He sings “I Can’t Help Myself,” and there’s really nothing to criticize vocally… he’s pitch perfect and sounds good. He looks comfortable, although he’s not moving around very much. But… he doesn’t set it off the way he did last week. He’s actually kind of boring… sort of like he was the week the brawl broke between Simon and Randy. (Question: Is it too late to switch him out for Angela Peel?) The judges’ summations are:
Randy: Love those initials, man… those are mine, too. (Yeah, we know Randy…) Love the sound of your voice - good job, man.
(Just out of curiosity - how many of you out there are playing the game where you have to drink every time Randy says the word “man?” If you are, please do not drive a car or operate other heavy machinery for at least three days after an episode of American Idol. Thank you.)
Paula: You are a natural on stage. Excellent.
Simon: I disagree - I thought it was average. (The audience responds with booing and jeering.) Last week I thought you could win the competition, but tonight I didn’t think you had any presence. The audience obviously disagrees with me, though.
I’ll skip the nonsensical post-performance interview with B&R and move on to Nikki McKibbin.
She’s known as the “American Idol Wild Child.” In her video bio, we find out that she’s a mom and that she is her four-year-old son Tristan’s favorite singer. Aww again. Nikki chooses to sing the song “Ben.” Not only does she manage to shout some of it, but she also proves once again that she is not anywhere near a good enough singer to be considered top-ten caliber. She’s not a strong, controlled vocalist like most of the others - rather, she struggles with dynamics and feels that in order to project her voice she has to scream. And just to add fuel to this sputtering fire, her “wildness” has been tamed by a stylist almost to the point where she looks like a soccer mom (with pink hair - a dye job gone awry, perhaps?) stepping out for a night on the town with the her Mary Kay clientele. But the judges may just disagree with me:
Randy: Love your look, love the renegade in you… but that was the wrong choice of song, man. (Drink!)
Paula: The camera loves you… but I wanted to see the real Nikki.
Simon: You look like you’ve been through a daytime television makeover. That was not you.
Nikki explains to B&R that she chose that song for her mom because “it’s the only Motown song that meant anything to me.” (I’m sure every member of the Motown songwriting family would be very happy to know that none of the other five billion songs written in a fifty-year time span mean anything to Nikki.) She explains that it was a tough era to her because she’s “more rock and roll” than everyone else… and I will refrain from further comment.
Before introducing the next singer, B&R try to be funny. They fail once again.
EJay Day takes the stage. He’s a performer for Six Flags in Atlanta, Georgia. He has a lot of fans there. (Good to know.) So he sings “My Girl,” and it’s all I can do to keep myself from wanting to take that ridiculous hat off his head and throw it down an elevator shaft. He has good stage presence - he’s had a lot of amusement park practice, after all. The timbre of his voice still doesn’t please me, but his vocal range is impressive. When he goes really high in his range, though, he sounds like he's sucking helium. Overall, he does really well. Let’s see what the gang has to say:
Randy: Man (drink!), that was the best singing we’ve heard so far tonight.
Paula: Pretty damn flawless.
Simon: You had the worst film piece I’ve ever seen. (Round one - Ding! Brian interjects with, “Simon, now you’re insulting the editors?” to which he replies, “Brian - shut up.”) I think you have a great voice. An American Idol? No. (The audience boos him. Round two - Ding! Ryan cuts on Simon with something about passing out his picture in USA Today and no one wanting a copy of it. Simon glares at him.)
Before the next singer comes out, B&R mention all of the American flags in the audience and (Round three - Ding!) go on to point out to Simon, “There appear to be no Union Jacks around, Simon.” Simon retorts, “You two are just so predictable sometimes.” Brian manages to shout over the din, “Go back to France!” - and is yet again not funny. Simon tells them to shut up again. Paula ends this exciting round with, “He just suffers from Mad Cowell Disease.” (Groan.)
Everyone settles down for the time being, and Tamrya Gray arrives. In her video bio she talks about her dedication to her church in Atlanta (there seems to be an awful lot of talent in Georgia, eh?) and her devotion to her family. Her little cutie brother Trevor wishes for Tamyra to become a star, which causes me to come down with a mild case of the warm fuzzies. Then Tamyra sings the living hell out of “Touch Me in the Morning,” and there really are no adequate words to describe how unbelievably talented and confident she is. Wow… she is just… beyond. The audience fully agrees with me. And the judges?
Randy: Tome you look, you sound, and I think you could be exactly what the American Idol is all about.
Paula: Flawless. I say “Touchdown” (Paula rises from her chair, raises her hands in the air, and does a bowing-motion to the audience. The crowd goes crazy. Simon turns to Paula and cracks, “You just can’t get away from cheerleading, can you?” Paula responds, “You just wish you could date one.”) Is it just me, or are these two going to start gettin’ it on soon?
Simon: The girls on this show have completely blown away the English girls, and you are the reason why. If we’re going to judge this show solely on vocal ability alone, you will win.
Round four - ding! Simon says, “Before we move on, if we’re voting off two people tonight, I’d like to see those two goons (indicating B&R) voted off.” Any objections? The audience boos him. I’m sure B&R came up with some not-so-clever retort resembling, “Go back to France!” but I don’t remember what they said. (As sure as I am that Simon’s pure disdain for B&R is mostly scripted, I still find it rather amusing.) Oh, and Tamyra’s trendy-neckband-thingy is really a belt wrapped around her throat 15 times. Wicked.
(My) Justin Guarini is next, and he is the ONLY one who could feasibly follow Tamyra without a pained “ohshitIhavetofollowthat?!” look on his face. His video bio shows that his parents split when he was three, and he’s spent his life going between Atlanta and Philadelphia. (Do they inject a vocal ability gene into little kids in Atlanta? Just wondering.) He walks on to the stage and commands the attention of the entire room, everyone watching at home, everyone passing by a television in a department store, and most of the population of all major cities globally who don’t even know what American Idol is. Oh my God, he is absolutely phenomenal. I mean, how can anyone say anything negative about him? (In reference to my widely known dedication to my Justin, one of my friends had the audacity to say, “He’s so phony, though.” I told her to bite me. She did. I needed three stitches.) He performs “For Once in My Life;” for me, it’s like a religious experience without the religion, thereby rendering me speechless in a good way. And the entire audience is on its collective feet. Wham! He shoots, he scores. Yep. All that and I’m suddenly noticing his sex appeal en masse... that frightens me more than a little, seeing as I’m old enough to be his… um… older, very attractive distant cousin. (Shut up.) Anyway, it seems that I'll need a support group when this show is over to help me cope with the impending Justin withdrawal. And the judges’ comments are:
Randy: Great performance. You have that American Idol thing going on, dude. (Dri…oh, wait. Damn.)
Paula: She slumps over in her chair on to Randy’s shoulder (Randy says, “Look what you did to Paula, man!” - Yeah! Drink!), then she sits up and does that “Bbbbbbb” thing to indicate that she’s rendered speechless. She may also need that support group, it seems. (Simon chimes in with, “That’s the most intelligent thing you’ve said this entire show.” Randy tells him to lay off Paula, and Justin joins in with “Yeah - Randy and I are gonna come after you.” All that talent, and now he’s even pulling out the machismo…)
Simon: Well, everyone’s been talking about this Justin Timberlake, but all I’ve got to say is, ‘Timberlake - watch out for you.’” (Look out Justin Timberlake? No, no. Just GO AWAY, Timberlake... this kid has the real deal. It’s not media manufactured like yours.)
Who’s the lucky fella that gets to follow my Justin? Well, well… it’s none other than our very own “sympathy vote winner” Jim Verraros. Jim’s video bio shows him at home with his mom (who is communicating with him in sign language). He then says, “I don’t want the sympathy vote… I want to be known for my talent, not for my story.” Now, I like Jim, I do… but he’s completely out of his league here, mostly because of his nerves. He’s the soloist-in-the-high-school-show-choir type, not the sell-out-Madison-Square-Garden type, you know? Regardless, I wish him luck… he’s going to need it. Yikes. So he sings, “Easy,” looking about as terrified as a buck during high hunting season. Vocally speaking, I still like the timbre of his voice, but his nerves have him warbling through the song. (I’ve got the index finger hovering above the mute button, just in case.) I don’t want him to suck, but… well, he doesn’t suck (he’s better than Nikki)… but his performance is really weak. Overall, he screams “AVERAGE!!” (Well, he didn’t actually scream that… oh, never mind.) I think he’ll be a lot better in a few years. Perhaps the judges will feel differently, though I sincerely doubt it:
Randy: Jim, I’ve worked with (runs down the a-list of vocalists with whom he has worked… Simon starts snoring)… this competition is about finding the greatest talent, and that was not really good at all. That was terrible.
Paula: I disagree. You are an Olympian now - tonight wasn’t your golden moment, but you should still be proud of yourself.
Simon: If this is the Olympics, then the two who performed before you ran the 100-meter in ten seconds while you ran it in five minutes. You’re a nice guy, but I’m a judge of talent, and that was nowhere near good enough.
While B&R attempt to console him, my roommate says, “Aw… but he’s so CUTE! I still want him to win.” I turn to her and shout, “He’s cute!? See, THAT’S the ONLY reason why that kid A.J. is still in this thing!” and put her in a headlock. (Just kidding. About the headlock, not about Jim being cute, because he really is… and not about that being why A.J. made it this far, because that’s the only feasible reason. And actually I did put her in a headlock, because I’m still mad about the whole biting thing. But I’m getting really off the subject here.)
Kelly Clarkson, the “spastic,” totally cute chick from Burleston, TX, follows Jim. She sings “You’re All I Need,” and she absolutely kicks ass. But even though her vocal ability is stellar - flawless performance - her voice itself is thinner than, say, Tamyra's. That's why she doesn't blow me away or give me chills or anything. She doesn't have that Big Ol' Umph that teeny little Tamyra has. She is definitely a contender. And her outfit is fabulous. The judges say:
Randy: You sounded brilliant, man. (Drink!) You sang your heart out.
Paula: The great thing about you is that we feel like we know you… you’re dorky, you’re adorable, and your voice is unbelievable. Great job.
Simon: Well, you’ve just raised the game, didn’t you? (Attempting a southern accent) “Yowl did a great job.” (Should be ya’ll, but he said “yowl,” and I dare not misquote him on that.)
Kelly tells B&R that she had laryngitis the day before and that it’s a miracle that it came back. Paula chips in that Kelly has grown a lot in this competition, that she has a lot of energy that draws people to her - “That’s star quality, my dear.” Randy says that she has an exciting voice. A fan comes on to the stage to hug her. (And another Star Search moment is born.)
Then there’s A.J Gil. A.J. has five thousand brothers and sisters who all live in a one bedroom apartment… or a shoe… or something like that. (Having been handed off the sympathy case baton from Jim, A.J. runs this one in for the win.) His big dream is to help his mom financially. Then he sings “My Cherie Amour.” And for this one, I need to quote my brother Dan, who is so often more spot-on in his observations than anyone could hope to be: “Find yourself four other sopranos that think they're ‘street’ but wouldn't know a street if they were driving on it and get back to the food court in the mall singing for pocket change!” HA! I couldn’t have put it more succinctly myself. And his timing was off quite a bit (which makes me wonder if Alexis Lopez threw a hex on him before she packed her bags). But what do Dan and I know about talent, really? (Quite a bit, actually, but we’re not the officials here…) Let’s ask the judges.
Randy: Nice performance. I’m not blown away or excited or anything, but it was good. I’ve seen better from you.
Paula: I like what you’re wearing. (A warm-up-suit-looking ensemble paired with sh*t-kicker boots that all the frat boys at my college wore every day... are you kidding me? He looks like Vanilla-Ice-in-training.) You have a nice, pure voice (yeah, pure WUSS!)… not your best performance, but maybe your second best. The best was in Pasadena.
Simon: You’re a very nice person, and I hope you achieve your dreams. But as I’ve said before, I care passionately about the right person winning this competition. Based on that performance, if you were to win it would be a disaster.
A.J. joins B&R and whines about how America didn’t get to see his performance in Pasadena, says he respects the judges’ opinions, blah blah blah. Quiet down. Go flip your collar up again or something.
Christina Christian resides in South Florida with her parents who are from Trinidad. Her family and friends talk about how down to earth she is and how stardom won’t change her. She seems like a very nice young lady, indeed… let’s hope that she doesn’t eventually turn into some annihilistic diva-bitch (i.e., Mariah Carey). Christina sings “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” She's not quite the caliber of Justin and Tamyra (she needs more vocal training... I'm already noticing how the vocal coach is putting the breaks on her out of control tremolo. She hardly used vibrato at all, and she was struggling to control it). She's still very good, though… great stage presence… she's definitely in this for the long haul. And how unbelievably beautiful is she? Whoa. On to the judges…
Randy: Brilliant, man (Drink!), love the outfit, you sounded great, didn’t seem nervous at all.
Paula: You are such a beautiful girl with such poise and quiet confidence. Beautiful job.
Simon: I admit it… I’ve got a crush. (He looks so cute when he says this, like he’s about eight years old. And I never thought I’d use the word “cute” to describe Simon Cowell.) You really are such a nice person, and I really hope you do well…that would prove that nice people can be pop stars as well. (Ryan chimes in, “Well that makes it clear why Simon is not a pop star.”)
Now that you’re all good and drunk, I’ll tell you who my choices to go this week are. And it’s pretty obvious: Nikki and A.J.
Who will go? Jim is definitely gone. I have no idea who America will decide for the other spot. Maybe Nikki, but I can’t be sure. The masses never cease to amaze (and sicken) me.
Damn, this article is long.
Okay, moving on to the results show. We viewers discover that over eight million votes were cast. Holy cow. And the kids are already out on the stage looking very nervous. Well, not all of them are. Anyway, we find out that R.J. fell off the stage the night before, but that he’s okay. He looks fine, although he’s holding his arm and giving the hosts a look like “Did you really have to mention that, guys?”
So we move over to the judges and there’s Randy, Paula, and… a cardboard cutout of Simon with a hinge-cut mouth. My, oh, my… what hijinks will ensue? I’m just on the edge of my seat.
B&R ask the Simon cutout stupid questions while Paula moves the mouth and deepens her voice, lamely attempting a British accent. The bit continues with Paula as Simon... something about Ryan leaving his panties at Simon’s house last night and liking Brian’s ass. Hey, hey… Paula’s getting feisty. The studio audience doesn’t know whether or not they’re supposed to laugh - “Is she allowed to say ‘ass’? She said ‘panties!’ This isn’t cable!” Paula is laughing hysterically, and for the first time during this competition, she is actually enjoying herself. B&R notify us that Simon had to fly back to England (oh, wait - I thought he was from France… Dunk?) on emergency business. Uh-oh… did Geri Hallowell break a nail?
So we get a guided tour of the mansion where the kids are staying. It’s really neat.
And after that time-filler (I wonder how they’ll fill up 22 minutes when they’re getting down to four left…) we find out who the person with the least amount of votes is…
It’s EJay Day.
The only thing that I can chalk this up to is that he doesn’t look like a clone of any boy group member. He's a great singer... not my cup o' tea, really, but a major talent nonetheless. But America decides that when one of these kids is not like the other, he is not worthy of the title "American Idol."
I must say, though, that EJay lost major points with me after I read his quote in TV Guide regarding Delano’s lying about his age (see David’s article about age bias for details): “If you were desperate and didn’t believe in yourself you might [lie about your age].” Okay, EJay - when you’re still working at Six Flags at age 29 and an opportunity comes around that your music-industry-dubbed-elderly-status makes you ineligible for, let’s see how you feel about it then. What a total putz. So I’m not all that sorry to see him go, but I still think that he shouldn’t have been the first one out. Anyway, they quickly recap EJay’s journey to the American Idol stage and then usher him off of it.
There’s a cheesy car wash clip with all the kids soaping up the shiny new Fords they get to drive around out here. This doesn’t really do much for me, considering that Adriel isn’t included. (Why couldn’t they bring him back just for this one scene? Hello? Anyone?)
We move on to the next elimination. It is gone about like so: the remaining kids get recaps of the judges’ critiques of their individual performances. Two of the kids will be pulled off to the side, while the other seven will stay put. So even though there is only one more elimination, we get to find out what other two kids America thought bit it almost as much as EJay Day. Is this so that the kid about to get canned has some moral support? Maybe, but I’m chalking it up to America’s lust for utter humiliation and long, drawn out dramatic moments.
Fresh from this high melodrama come Jim and Nikki, the next two on the lowest end of the voting totem pole. These two have to stand in the corner by B&R and think about what they’ve done during the commercial break. All of the rest of the kids breathe their sighs of relief… except for Ryan Starr, who is crying. (Honey, Nikki might have to go, not you… did you not catch that part?) We return to Jim and Nikki both look extremely uncomfortable. And the next to get the boot is…
…Jim Verraros. Jim looks like he’s about to cry, but he holds it together very well. The audience looks confused. (Do we clap? Do we boo? Did Paula just say “panties” again?) They remain relatively quiet. Unlike EJay, who was steered off the stage as if he just had an embarrassing attack of Tourrette’s syndrome, Jim is allowed to linger for a while. The melodrama hits a high “c” as his American Idol expedition is recapped and he hugs everyone goodbye (Ryan - Starr, not the host - clings to him, sobbing uncontrollably). When asked which memory is most special to him, he says, “I have nine of them, and they’re all over there.” (Well, seven of them are over there… one is standing next to you thanking God that you sucked marginally more than she did, and one of them has already been escorted from the building.) Before Jim leaves, Paula and Randy tell him not to give up. Thus endeth part six.
Who deserved to go first? Nikki “I-can't-sing-but-I-sure-can-shout” McKibbin and A.J. "I'm a wussy poseur boy" Gil. Nikki was horrible, and A.J. is just so incredibly lame... he's like a Backstreet Boy that got sold back to a music store. (Can I trade this in for something that doesn't suck? Thanks.) But America speaks, and when they do, my nausea returns.
As for future results, here are my predictions:
Nikki is gone next week. After her (with any mercy) A.J.; then Ryan, then R.J. The final four would then be Kelly, Christina, Tamyra, and my Justin. I’m putting cash on a tie between my Justin and Tamyra. Hell, I wouldn’t be able to choose. So, barring any acts of God or Tonya-Harding-esque stunts by other contestants, I’m declaring that Tamrya and Justin are the clear-cut winners.
But we shall see. Tune in Tuesday at 9 pm on Fox.
Dana Walker is a writer/singer/songwriter/former reality show contestant living in the Los Angeles area. Contact her at LilDanaSunshine@msn.com.
Be sure to check out the American Idol page. For a look at Dana’s columns, take a peek at the Reality From La-La Land page. Also drop by our sections on Bachelorettes in Alaska and Big Brother 3. You can even buy reality show stuff at our Reality TV Store!
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