Tonight's episode begins in Checotah, Oklahoma in 2004, wherever (and whenever) that is. Some moon-faced blonde with an over-the-top obnoxious Sarah Palin twang settles down to watch American Idol, goes about her business on the farm, takes a road trip to St. Louis to audition for the show, and slo-mo walks into history and the onscreen title, "Aren't you glad she took the trip?" Should I be? Because judging from that little montage, it seems like she's dead. Oh, wait, no, she's just Carrie Underwood. "She's famous!" my seven-year-old son concludes from the rapid-fire clips that follow. But Ryan then directs our attention to this year's crop of St. Louis-bound wannabes, and then tells us that this is American Idol. I'm not supposed to be surprised by that, am I?
After the credits and some curmudgeonly bitching by a local taxi driver named Walter about all the congestion the show's going to create in his city, we meet the judges as they arrive with typical fanfare. Straight on to our first contestant, John Keyser from Florida, age 22, who looks like a cast member from a remake of Red Dawn. He was raised by a single dad, which after last night seems like rather weak sauce in terms of sob stories. In the audition room, he sings "A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke. Here in St. Louis, they have a monitor set up so his family can watch from outside. I don't know why they didn't have that in other cities. Maybe they didn't find out that The X Factor was doing it until just now. Inside the room, the judges like him so much they don't even want to let him stop singing. He's going to Hollywood, obvs. Top twelve, probably. Wolverines!
We flash back through an historic cavalcade of weirdoes that includes William Hung, and the odd part about this clip package is that it makes it look like Randy was the only judge present at any of these auditions. Then there's a bit inspired by The Artist, if "inspired" isn't too strong a word (it is), when we see a silent-film version of an audition by one David Coleman. He's from St. Louis Park, Minnesota, which is a three-minute drive from where I'm sitting right now. The piano score of discordant chords and the sanitized, subtitled versions of the judges' remarks (and even those of an Uggie-like dog) suggest they were not impressed. Lot of that going around right now.
Outside, we meet a group of new friends who all have something in common: they all think they're the next American Idol. We meet a bunch of them in a pseudo-inspirational montage and then fetch up with Rachelle Lamb, 26, from Mountain View, Missouri. With her daughter in her lap, she tells Ryan about her divorce and how her ex held her back. Exes are always doing that on this show, aren't they? Stupid exes. She shepherds the tot into the audition room with her and tells the judges her story and how she's going to sing a song her ex didn't like, because that'll learn him. It's "Find Somebody New" by Faith Hill. Turns out she's a strong, effortless country belter, and that's enough to get her three yeses. The kid at her hip couldn't have hurt, either.