We're welcomed to the show not by Ryan Seacrest, but by commander Dan Burbank, who greets us from inside the International Space Station 250 miles above the earth. Then we cut down to an overhead shot of Ryan, giving his own welcome speech from the midst of a very well-behaved crowd of 10,000 wannabes. Is NASA getting paid to put an astronaut on American Idol, or are they paying Fox for product placement? And which of those two things would upset me more?
After the titles, Ryan tells us this is the show's ninth trip to Texas, counting the first year when they went to Dallas and found some chick named Kelly Clarkson. But that was almost a decade ago, and today there's a whole new crowd in Galveston. One of whom has a giant sign reading "PICK ME" with a photo of a nose. That's more apt than he may realize. The first guy we meet tonight is Phong Vu, who's very excited about his remarkable ability to identify Steven Tyler from ten yards away. A lesser man would have assumed that camera crews were interviewing a clearance rack full of scarves that walked over from T.J. Maxx. Phong's pre-audition interview is deluded and emotional and he thinks he's going to be the next American Idol, even though we know he's not before he even sings. "God is on my side, I know it," he says before trying to open the wrong door into the audition room. Once inside, he stands awkwardly in what he thinks is a "powerful movement" and converses with the judges almost entirely in malapropisms. I think they're just stalling, but eventually he starts singing "Unbreak My Heart," and they let him go on quite a bit longer than was actually necessary. After finishing, he goes on talking emotionally until Randy finally asks, "What is this show?" Like he hasn't been here longer than anyone. In the end, Phong is sent out without a Golden Ticket, even after showing off his "Iconic Move" (which consists of holding his forearms horizontally in front of and behind himself) Outside the door, his outpouring of emotion has much less effect on Ryan than does the very sweaty hand he puts on Ryan arm. Anyway, Phong vows to be back next year. Sure they'll let him back in with the judges.
Coming back, Ryan goes on about rugged cowboys as an intro to a lisping, high-voiced singer inflicting his delicacy on the judges, then a much more fabulous dude singing the Pointer Sisters, and not one but two guys in cowboy hats who sing the same song from the napes of their necks.
That out of the way, we meet a real outdoorsy type: Skylar Laine, a 17-year-old girl from rural Mississippi, who we see mud-riding and deer-hunting. Even her bedroom recalls that line from Gaston's song in Beauty and the Beast: "I use antlers in all of my decorating!" She works in her family's 70-year-old, totally anachronistic grocery store/restaurant, and now she hopes to help out the store with American Idol money. In the audition room, she belts out "Hell on Heels," and does quite well. Randy makes Steven say yes three times, and after a pause, he and Jennifer make it unanimous. Skylar's thrilled, but she's also got a friend outside who loves Steven Tyler and would love to give him a hug. Sure Steven's up for that, although not literally, because the girl towers over him. Seriously, where are they finding all these young girls who dig Steven Tyler? Is this a representative sample, or are they just showing every single one who does?