All American Girl, Episode 1: The Good, The Bad, The Bubblyby Bruce Barker -- 03/14/2003
When the call went out that RealityNewsOnline needed a volunteer to handle the recaps of ABC’s new reality show, All American Girl, I eagerly stuck up my hand. How hard could this be? A weekly dose of young and attractive ladies parading across the television isn’t exactly a torture session. I assumed that my most difficult task would be hunting in the thesaurus to find enough different alternates for the word “built.” Little did I know that I would soon be facing my worst math exam since Miss Crutnuncher’s Algebra final in high school!
There is a new trend in reality shows. Once, the rules of the show would be nicely explained over the opening credits so that everyone knew what was going to happen. Increasingly more common now, though, is the habit of sprinkling information about the rules throughout the show. There are pluses and minuses to this trend. On the one hand we are spared a boring speech at the beginning of each episode. On the other, we never quite know what’s about to happen and we start off with more questions than answers. It also gives a show a sort of “we’re making this up as we go along” feel. This is particularly noticeable with All American Girl.
The show begins with us being told that the nationwide search took place in Miami, New York City, Austin, and Los Angeles. Thousands of young women came to the auditions. Rather than dwell on the selection process ala American Idol, AAG chooses to spend just a few brief minutes showing us parade of 5-10 second clips of bad auditions. These go by so quickly that the names of the performers are not even flashed on the screen. This hurried pace sets the stage for a sometimes-frenzied rush through the process of whittling down the number of girls to a manageable number.
We are promised that this is not merely a beauty contest, nor is it a singing competition. The young ladies have to display well-rounded skills, including passing an intelligence test. As a precursor to this, the women take a test on America just to qualify. We see some of the more ridiculous answers:
How many states are there in the United States?
A couple of women answer 51, while one even manages to confidently reply that there are 52.
Which two countries border the United States?
One hopeful responds with Spain and Europe.
What is the capital city of the United States?
(I realize that you weren’t warned there would be a pop quiz hidden in this article, so your grade on the above questions won’t count toward your final average.)
The mass of women is cut down to 45 and the competition moves to the next phase. We are introduced to the three judges who will be making the choices as to which girls will move on and which will be eliminated. During the show the judges are also frequently referred to as “coaches” for reasons that are explained a bit later on in the show. They are:
Former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell – She was apparently picked to be this show’s version of Simon Cowell. I can think of no other reason that qualifies this British woman to know what constitutes an All American Girl.
Former NBA player and sometime announcer John Salley.
Suzanne dePasse – A Motown records executive with a self-proclaimed sharp eye for talent.
On day 1 of the competition the 45 girls will each perform two times for the judges/coaches. At the end of the day the coaches will trim the list of hopefuls by half. This is where my admittedly limited mathematical skills began to become challenged. I began to wonder how you get half of 45 without bringing in a magician to saw one of the women in two. The ladies can do whatever they want for their performances, and they offer us so much variety that it quickly begins to resemble the talent section of the Miss Backwater County Fair beauty contest. I will confess that some of these performances went by in a hurry and apologize in advance if I missed a name here or there, or mangle the spelling of a name here and there.
The first performer we see is Tarah Paige. She performs a vintage sock-hop dance from the 1950s, complete with ballet steps that I don’t recall seeing in any of the old Elvis movies. She is enthusiastic and appears to be having quite a bit of fun performing in her skirt and sweater. I would like to be able to include all of the judges’ comments for each contender, but for some unknown reason the producers only show us what one or two of the judges had to say. I will include those that were in the actual telecast:
Suzanne – Graceful!
Natalie White is next and performs a modern interpretive dance. The host of the show, Mitch Mullany, informs us via narration that each performer has up to two minutes time to do their thing on stage. Mitch doesn’t actually appear on camera very much and seems content to spend quite a lot of time speaking over the action to tell us what to expect, much like a sports announcer. Natalie dances well but commits a small faux pas by only performing for about 30 seconds.
Suzanne – That was competent.
The third performer is named Venice Monagan. We are shown a brief video interview with her where she tells us that her life changed on 9/11 because she was working right across the street from the World Trade Center. In a bizarre train-wreck of a performance, she tries to squeeze the entire career of Michael Jackson into a two-minute long piece of performance art. What begins with some rather poor moonwalking and crotch grabbing rapidly deteriorates until the finale where she uses a teddy bear to pretend to dangle a baby out of a window. (I swear I’m not making this up!)
Suzanne – I know Michael. I’ve worked with Michael. I had a really hard time with this piece.
Venice leaves the stage and is asked if she was aware that one of the judges knew Michael Jackson personally. We learn that the women had been told who the judges were earlier in the day. Regardless, this was a major misstep.
Next up is Jaime Preston. She sings “I Will Survive” with as much hip swinging and sexy eye batting that she can manage. She also completely ignores the two female judges to focus on John in an attempt to get him to make the decision with his… uhm… to get him to decide in her favor.
John – Sexy! That was hot!
Mitch Mullany’s voice comes to us once again with a snippet from the rules. We are reminded that tonight the 45 potential AAGs will be cut by one half. This, he explains, will leave us with 24 remaining contestants. Right about now I’m beginning to get a headache as I try to crunch these numbers. I grab a calculator and it absolutely refuses to explain to me how these numbers add up. Once we are down to the final 10 contenders, America will phone in and vote with one girl being eliminated each week. This I can follow, being an avid American Idol watcher.
We now meet singer Marissa Cain. Before beginning she tells the judges that she will sing one verse and the chorus of a song. She doesn’t like the verse, but she likes the chorus and the verse sets the chorus up well. She performs a difficult Martina McBride song a cappella. There is a minor stumble at one point as she stops singing to apologize to the judges as she slips off key.
Suzanne – I couldn’t catch all of her comments verbatim here, but she criticized Marisa for being negative about the song before even getting started with singing it.
Now it’s time for Myshema, a street poetess. She is powerful and quickly has the audience (mostly comprised of other contestants) eating out of the palm of her hand.Geri – That was so cool! I’m speechless!
John – You only got one name – Da Bomb!
Ashley Esqueda takes the stage next and admits to the camera that she can’t really sing that well and she’s hoping her clothing will be stylish enough that the judges won’t notice her weak voice. She rumbles through Belinda Carlysle’s “I Get Weak.”
Suzanne – Great hat. That was ok.
Melanie Sanders comes out and belts out a rather amazing version of the National Anthem.
Geri – The All American Song. That was perfect.
Once again Mitch Mullany gives us a little bit more of the rules. In addition to these Day 1 performances, each of the women will also be judged on intelligence, personality, and athleticism. At this point in the show the ladies start coming on stage quicker and quicker as if the producers are rushing to an important moment.
Monica Polumbo sings “How Do I Live Without You.
Geri – Great “pazazzi.” (whatever that means)
Kira Pozehl – plays a nice bit of classical music on the piano.
John – Pretty and cute.
Kira leaves the stage and gushes to the camera that she was really pleased with “Ginger’s” comment. It’s okay, Kira, most of the rest of us are trying to forget Geri’s name as well.
All the girls are called to the stage for an announcement. Monica, Myshema, Kira, Melanie, and two other girls are told that their performances are so strong that they are excused from the second performance round and will automatically advance to the next round. By now I’ve lost all track of the rules and almost expect Monte Hall to pop onstage and tell the ladies they can advance to the next round or they can have what’s behind door number two. (I’ve visited ABC’s official site for the show to get the full information on some of the young ladies and a full breakdown of the rules, but at present all it has under the profiles section is a message to check back after the final 10 are announced.)
For the second round of performances the judges/coaches are given three options. They can tell the performer immediately that they are advancing, tell the performer immediately that they’ve been eliminated, or they can just wait and decide later.
Venice is the first performer and tries to regain the ground she lost with her Michael Jackson impersonation by playing the violin. She’s not too bad, but the judges barely wait for the last note to finish echoing before telling her she’s been eliminated. Natalie, the young lady who danced for a scant 30 seconds at the beginning of the show, decides to sing and play piano for her second attempt. She performs a decent version of Alicia Keyes hit, “Fallin’” and the judges grant her a pass to the next round.
We now see very quick glimpses of the second performances of several other women while the host tells us that after this round the coaches will have to choose up teams which they will indeed be coaching to even better performances. I’m not sure exactly how John Salley’s experience qualifies him to teach young ladies how to be better singers, but I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt here.
Carrie Hunt takes the stage and performs an almost ear shattering (although technically dead on) operatic aria. In awe (or perhaps abject horror) the judges have little to say.
We come now to the most unique and interesting young lady of this episode. Her name is Evelyn Conners and she – bear with me now – juggles while balancing on a board, which is atop a small log. Wait, I’m not finished! While she is attempting this tricky maneuver, she is also reciting the 50 states in alphabetical order as fast as an auctioneer on speed. I don’t know how, but she somehow made it work and look cool. Perhaps she can team up with recently ejected American Idol hopeful Vanessa Olivarez for an Odd Couple revival on Broadway if this whole AAG thing doesn’t work out. She is certainly more entertaining than Maria Ariano, who decides the best way to get ahead in the competition is to drag her fellow contestants out onto the stage and literally wrestle them into submission.
Jaime Preston returns and this time decides to dance for John Salley. She grabs her crotch and spend a couple of minutes rubbing herself with her hands while John has to be hosed down by security. (Not really, but by the time she was finished, he obviously had badly hyperventilated) Oddly enough, my own headache is miraculously gone. What can I say, I’m a critic but I’m not a dead critic. The host then informs us that each of the coaches will pick a team of five girls. So we have three judges with five girls apiece. But wait! There are 24 girls that are supposed to advance! 5 x 3 = 24! My headache decides to begin its second performance.
The girls that are not immediately eliminated or selected to advance by the coaches are called back in groups of four to six at a time. Multi-tasking Evelyn and sexpot Jaime are selected to advance, as are two women named Kelly and Shauna that I don’t recall ever seeing in either of the performance rounds. Sock-hop Tarah makes the cut as do three other women whose names are never revealed. We see a brief montage of weeping girls and once again I am struck by how rushed this all seems. This is a show that almost begs to be compared with American Idol (British judge, performance auditions in multiple cities, same production company, etc.) yet the creators of the show seem to have forgotten what makes AI such a successful show. On American Idol the main performers are on camera long enough for us to get to know them a little bit and start to actually care about what happens to them. AAG parades names and faces by us with such startling rapidity that it’s very difficult to even remember individuals, let alone want to know more about them. Hopefully as we close in on the final 10 we’ll get a chance to see some real personalities emerge. Regardless, this apparently takes us down to the promised 24 young ladies who are advancing to the next phase of competition.
The second stage of the competition is comprised of several sections. The girls will be evaluated on:
There will also be an “intimate” question-and-answer session with the coaches. After this is all completed, the coaches will pick their three teams. It’s actually starting to make sense to me now and I see why the producers have been racing at such breakneck pace. They have a lot of ground to cover for just one episode! In an attempt to show lines of contention forming amongst the coaches, we see the two female coaches talking about how overly competitive John is being. John is refusing to let anyone – even the host – know who he wants on his “team” because he doesn’t want Geri and Suzanne snatching any of his favorites away from him.
First up in Stage 2 is the athletic competition. The girls have to swim across a pool, climb up and over a cargo net, crawl across a mat under some additional netting, run through a set of car tires, and then take some free throws at a basket. If they sink one of the free throws, five seconds is knocked off their time for the course.
The ladies are shown preparing for the course and the most common lament is the fear that they will lose their bikini tops when they dive into the pool. The second most common comments come from the “less endowed” women who wish they had to worry about falling out of their tops. Speed talking, juggling Evelyn tells America that she prides herself on her ability to “not get a wedgie!”
The event begins and is largely done as a montage of the various ladies doing their best. One in particular almost wades across the pool instead of swimming because she doesn’t want to get her hair wet. The fastest girl through is Kira, who ends up with a time of 30.6 seconds after sinking her free throw.
For the dance competitions, a choreographer works with the girls for two hours and teaches them what we are told is a very complex set of steps. They perform in three groups of eight girls each, but one girl, Rachel Hartley, has an anxiety attack and is sent off to get medical attention, missing this phase of the competition entirely. The ladies dance to the Coyote Ugly soundtrack hit “Can’t Fight the Moonlight” and for the most part avoid knocking one another down. With very few exceptions the ladies do not do a very good job.
We now move to the intelligence phase of the competition. The women are seated in a room where they have to answer a 20-question multiple choice test. The host makes it a point to remind the ladies to put their names on the answer sheets, thus warning those who tune in late that they haven’t accidentally found the MENSA channel. We are shown a sample three questions from the test:
What nationality was Vincent VanGogh? (16 of the 20 women get it correct, which means we aren’t down to 15 yet after all)
Which book features the character Holden Caulfield? (17 of 20 get it correct)
What name is given to the process of splitting atoms? (15 of 20 answer correctly)
Here are the answers, if you are playing along at home. Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know, or if you are cocky enough to be certain you have them all right. (Dutch, Catcher in the Rye, fission)
The host announces that more than two-thirds of the ladies correctly answered better than half of the questions. We also see the worst five answers from the intelligence section. Presumably these are either recreated, or are from the very earliest parts of the auditions because it is a video of the girls saying the answers instead of it being from the written multiple choice test. The worst of the bunch:
Who was the first president of the United States? (George Bush)
Next up is the character challenge. Each girl must stand up in front of the group and face the judges. They must tell an anecdote from their life.
Melissa Cain tells about the turmoil of her pregnancy and its aftermath and how the hormonal swings have left her emotional to the point where she cries at the drop of a hat. Shannon McConnell relates the story of when her policeman father was shot in the head in the line of duty. This story, while doubtlessly true for the most part, seems embellished as she talks about her father saving children who were about to be shot by their own mother, but that’s just the impression I got. Shannon, if you read this and I’m way off base, please accept my apologies. Rachel Hartley, apparently recovered from the severe trauma she suffered from being asked to dance, speaks about her special relationship with her handicapped sister. Although she seems completely calm otherwise, she gets quite weepy and becomes the prime candidate for All American Tammy Fae Baker Wannabe.
On to the intimate one-on-one sessions with the coaches. The girls are forced to sit on the floor in the hallway until they are called in for their interview. The questions asked during these interviews are catered to the individual contestants, and consist of things like:
“How will you cope with being away from your new son for so long if you continue to advance?”
“If you were to win, how will it affect the rest of your life?”
“You can’t sing or dance. Why should we let you continue on?”
Evelyn the juggler is asked if she thinks she sometimes “goes to far.”
Shauna is questioned about her being frequent beauty contest entrant. The question leaves her in tears as she explains that they aren’t beauty contests, they are “scholarship programs.” Yeah, and I’m not a reality show columnist, I’m an “observer and commentator of sociological anomalies in modern culture.”
In the most honest and funny moment of the show, a young lady named Allie is asked if she uses her sex appeal as a weapon. “I’m trying to learn how to,” she replies.
Runner up for the funniest moment is when the coaches tell Kira not to be so critical of herself and she blurts out that she doesn’t shower every day. The looks on the coaches’ faces is priceless.
Each of the ladies gives the coaches an envelope when they enter. It contains their final score on the intelligence tests. We learn that Rachel came in dead last.
It’s almost time for the coaches to pick their teams. First however, we see each of the contestants briefly dance for the camera to “Dancin’ in the Street.” No names are provided and it’s amazing that after almost two hours of viewing most of the girls haven’t even left enough of an impression for me to be able to identify them.
The team selection begins and works as follows – each young lady comes forward. The three judges are given a moment to raise a hand to indicate a desire to have the woman join a team. If no coach raises a hand, the girl is eliminated. If more than one raise a hand, the contestant gets to decide which team she prefers to be on.
During the process, two of the women are selected by more than one coach. They are:
Natalie – chosen by all three coaches
Once the process has been completed, Suzanne has chosen five contestants. Geri and John have for some reason only chosen four. Perhaps the coaches are every bit as confused by these complex eliminations as I am. Regardless, the eliminated women are brought back onstage for John and Geri to round out their teams. The official teams are:
Next week the coaches must each eliminate one of their own team members, the girls are forced to endure a “performance workout,” and we will hopefully get the chance to start picking out the strongest contenders to make the final 10.
Mr. Barker is co-owner of Movie Boss (www.movieboss.com), a free online movie game, and author of "Zippers," a humor column that looks at mistakes in movies. He can be reached at BBarker@movieboss.com.
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