The big news is that Paula seems to have pulled herself together for Memphis and is in fine form, giant gold heart choker notwithstanding.
Fat Elvis: Frank "And Beans" Byers brought his entire cheerleading squad along for support. His generic Motown doesn't cut it, and his exuberant squad, outside pantsing around with sprightly Ryan Seacrest, make enough noise that Grandpa Simon has to tell them all to knock it off, hurting Ryan's feelings deeply. Timika Sims has the bug-eye (just the one) and is the resident "her lack of personality means she's hilarious" audition. Chris Rivira is an amalgam of, like, surfer, stoner, and Bucky Covington, all wrapped up in the strangest country singing voice you ever did hear. He's awful, but I could listen to his sped-up warblings all day. Wandera Hitchye is resounding labeled "not special," and so she goes on a rampage out in the hallway and generally acts like the cameras are responsible for the hideous mullet on top of her head. Travis McKinney promises tears and high emotion, but can only deliver scary jujitsu "dance" moves. Topher McCain makes me want to cry, what with his cheating ex-wife and deep levels of delusion about how he's going to use Idol to shove it back in her face and then date Paula Abdul. He's rejected, of course, and Simon is terribly mean for a grand total of 1.8 seconds. Then again, Topher is 28 years old and brought all of his business to the table of his own free will tonight, so it's tough to feel that he's being violated by anyone else tonight. Janita "Very Sexy" Burks needs a vocal coach and a brassiere, stat. Robert Lee Holmes is...touched. He "writes stories about the music of Robert," okay? We on the same page? Not as egregious as the Seattle auditions, but the same spirit. It's sad. Or else he's an actor, in which case it's sadder.
Skinny Elvis: Jason "Sundance" Head (27, Porter TX) and Sean Michel (27, Bryant AR) are both unconventionally attractive with dynamite voices, which is usually the secret formula for a Clay or a Taylor or an Elliott, but I really like them both, so maybe not. Sundance sings a blues song and knocks the sarcasm right out of Simon Cowell, for one. Sean looks like Castro (marking the first time a contestant looks like Castro rather than The Castro), and he sings like he just might be Jesus reincarnated as a soul-singing white boy. And I'm in enough hot water with that guy as it is, so I'd best hush up about it. Danielle McCulloch (18, Collierville TN) looks like Tara Reid's country cousin, but she can actually sing. Melinda Doolittle (28, Brentwood TN) is a background singer working her way through a lifetime's worth of stage fright. She kills some Stevie Wonder (in the good way) and Simon says she's in the "top 2% of auditions" this year. Finally, Phil Stacy (28, Jacksonville FL) is adorkable and can't stop smiling because somewhere that's not here, his wife just had their second child. The fact that he can sing (after a scary first few bars, it should be noted) makes this a story we can all feel good about. We even get to see the happy family from the hospital. Aw!
Next up: Nuuuuuuu Yawk in tha house!
Okay, first off, did Carol Bayer Sager always look exactly like Joan Collins? Anyway, Carol is so utterly useless as a guest judge that she makes Simon go away in between day 1 and day 2 and there is, predictably, anarchy while he's gone.
Pretend New York: Sarah Burgess makes like the storybooks and sneaks off to New York to get away from her parents, and then she makes it all the way to Hollywood on pluck and can-do spirit. Amanda Coluccio and Antonella Barba are trying to Paris-and-Nicole their way onto the show and want to win as a pair, but Simon hates that idea. Amanda gets through on collective indifference toward rejecting her, while Antonella gets much more enthusiastic props. Kia Thornton is a dynamite singer and says she agrees with Simon at all times, so I think she's Jacob's dream girl. Jenry Bejarano is the world's best young man. Like, a Friday Night Lights-worthy awesome kid. Paula manages not to jump his 16-year-old bones long enough to let his Bolivian family celebrate with him. Jory Steinberg is from Ottawa by way of Santa Monica, and she apparently knows foreign heads of state for some reason. She's almost too composed in front of the judges, but her voice is a powerhouse. Porcelana Petino represents Queens. No, she represents for Queens, and she's gone through an extended training montage to get into shape enough to dress like Dirrty Xtina. Shockingly enough, she's a good singer, enough to elicit a group hug from the non-Simon judges. Chris Richardson is dressed like House of Pain on a job interview, sings Donny Hathaway, and is compared to the almighty Timberlake. Nicholas Pedro "bowed out honorably" in Hollywood last season and I do not remember him one bit. He sings Sinatra in a refreshingly un-Sinatra way and the judges love him and he's coming back.
Actual East Rutherford: Ian Benardo is about 98 pounds of awful and takes his So You Think You Dance reject world tour to Idol. He kicks off the show so as to represent all the scary aspects of New York (gay, Jewish, gay, Jewish, and gay) that freak out the heartland. Ashanti Johnson was rejected in Hollywood the past two seasons, and the judges say enough is enough. She proceeds to go all Effie White "And I am telling you, I'm not going" about it, and the show makes fun of her for being melodramatic. Clifton Biddle is an "average Joe" who is maybe not all there. And I blame Bo Bice for him thinking he can make it on this show singing ZZ Top and Taylor for him thinking the harmonica was his claim to fame. Nakia Claiborne is the black April Walsh and nearly explodes enthusiasm all over the judges. She's crazy fun on "Dancing in the Streets" but can't handle a slow song and is tearfully bounced. Sarah Goldberg can't sing but demands to be the next American Idol anyway, and I canât decide whether that was a political statement, therapy session, attention grab, or what, but it was irritating regardless. Christopher Henry supposedly "looks like" Simon and also George Michael, none of which is true. He sings like a tubercular Broadway lady. Simon revisits his "go be a drag queen" macro, and then cue the fight with Paula and she comes the closest she ever has to holding her own. Finally, Isadora is a "clairvoyant" and doesn't seem exactly like crazy person, but she's got weird nerves that manifest, ultimately, in strange and orgasmic sounds coming out of her mouth in the guise of "Lady Marmelade."
Next week: Jacob visits Birmingham and tries to duck Taylor Hicks.
Memphis, Tennessee is: scenic, fish-eye vistas, Graceland, ballparks, grain elevators, NASCAR, B.B. King, Elvis, the mighty Mississip, Elvis impersonators, other people walking, and then, eerily: empty, deserted streets. Was there an apocalypse? Perhaps the Memphis version of Tom Cruise is having his own personal Vanilla Sky experience? No, no. It's just that the Idol auditions have actually drawn every citizen of Memphis away from their normal lives and into a baseball stadium or basketball arena or whatever so they can hopefully embarrass themselves on national television. As usual.
The judges arrive -- Paula's in giant hangover sunglasses, though we'll see this is a little misleading -- and Ryan makes a voice-over joke about Randy ordering donuts, because he's a big fat fatty whose left ham hock weighs more than all of Seacrest even after he's been recalibrated for the extra hair-product weight. Since the show is only an hour tonight, we get right to the auditions rather than waste time with a dumb montage of crazy people, which is near the top of a very, very long list of reasons why this show should never be allowed to expand to two hours. Frank Byers is first up, and it looks like he brought an entire marching band and cheerleading squad with him. He's a cheerleader -- and also cheerleading coach -- at Southern Arkansas University, and he gets his perky squad to scream "Be nice, Simon!" in unison. As cheerleaders often do. It's funny, because we see Frank at the registration table, getting his contestant number, and they're chanting "Register! Register! Register!" and now I can't stop imagining Frank going through the rest of his day like that. At the deli ("Mayo, no tomato! Mayo, no tomato!"), driving home ("It's called a turn signal, jackass! It's called a turn signal, jackass!"), doing his laundry ("All-temper Cheer! All-temper Cheer!"). That's a fun game to play.
Inside, Frank tells Simon that his nickname is "Franks and Beans," which is just so sad. They don't call me "Cuppa" Joe R for a reason, you guys. Frank sings "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," and it's on the shallow side of "average," but he's very animated and tries to get the judges engaged; alas, Randy and Simon are pretty clearly not having it. Simon "hated it," and calls it "cabaret" and also "hotelly," which I think means a prostitute's TV set in British. Instead of taking the criticism gracefully, Frank immediately jumps into another song, "Unchain My Heart," which is always my signal to check out of a given audition. That's like getting down on one knee, proposing to your girlfriend, and then when she rejects you, switching knees and asking again. Simon desperately tries to get Frank to shut up, and he finally calls for a vote: Randy and Paula also say no, so it's back to the squad for Franks and Beans.