The American Idol train is racing towards the station, and now there’s no turning back. Hollywood has been the tantalizing almost-realization of a dream for some, but of course, only a fraction of those can make Idol’s opening 24, so for all but 12 lucky men and 12 lucky women, the road ends here.
The momentum Idol has built, from its voluminous transcontinental auditions and its pre-qualifying week of Hollywood hell, has got to come to a brief and entirely missable halt, while Simon, Randy, and Paula do the dirty work of weeding out the unfit, the off-key, and the lame. Last night’s was a housekeeping episode, only slightly enlivened by the cringe-inducing elevator camera taping hopefuls’ excruciating moments on their way to, and returning from, their moments of truth. The format was simple: three judges, an uncomfortable-looking chair, and enough pressure to crack even a seasoned mobster. As aspiring Idols were called before the tribunal, a seemingly endless parade of bodies flashed over the screen, some weeping with joy or dejection, some accepting their fates — whatever they may be — with rock-star cool.
The ladies who will go on to Tuesday’s first vote were a talented bunch, none entirely surprising to anyone who has followed since the beginning. First up was Irish belle Carly Smithson, whom Paula tortured with a droning, endless disquisition on the difficulty of choosing contestants. Simon correctly asserted that Carly would likely rather hear her fate than Paula’s pill-addled litany, and Paula eventually conceded that, yes, Carly was a go. Motorcycling enthusiast and respiratory nurse Amanda Overmeyer, she of the Janis Joplin growl and regrettable highlights, took her good news coolly and gracefully. Kristy Lee Cook, the unimpeachable country singer whose “Amazing Grace” was one of the highlights of Hollywood, will also be sticking around to compete. Kristy was congratulated on her return by her new friend-in-competition Brooke White, a veritable tangle of blonde curls and tears, whose hysteria all through the day was rewarded with a spot in the Idol telecast. Alexandrea Lushington, the technically proficient if slightly boring R&B star whose grandmother Ryan Seacrest made eyes at during auditions, was also in. Aspiring Asian-American Idol-to-be Ramiele Malubay, whose tiny frame belies an enormous, Aretha-style voice, was given her shot as well — and took it all in her perfectly manicured stride. Paula, who was as incomprehensible on this episode as we’ve yet seen her this season, made a play at wit with Syesha Mercado, delivering her “yes” by having Syesha spell out her name. (“You made that very confusing for her,” chastised Simon.) Kady Molloy, Amy Davis, and Alaina Whitaker were OK’ed in quick succession, with a minimum of fanfare. Asia’h Epperson, whose father died the day before her Idol audition, is in, too, and she’ll likely be a woman to contend with. Finally, in a cruel face-off, the judges brought in plus-sized model Joanne Borgella and skinny Nashville singer Cardin McKinsley at the same time: Joanne’s in, Cardin was sent packing.
The gentlemen who will make up Idol’s opening 12 were given, on the whole, less attention last night. A triumvirate of fresh-faced teen boys will be formidable: smiley David Archuleta, floppy-haired Danny Noriega, and baby-faced Colton Berry passed muster, while some of their other young compatriots, like homeless Josiah Leming (who shocked Hollywood by dismissing the band for his last audition) and governor-in-training/general nerd Kyle Ensley were sent home. (Simon particularly rued the latter choice — after his initial disdain, he was a great champion of Kyle, and with good reason. Ensley’s energetic take on the great ’70s pot hit “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” was Hollywood’s finest hour.) Rockers did well in this year’s judging: guitarist David Cook, despite questionable abilities, is in the running, as is Robbie Carrico, the bearded, Kid Rock-ish crooner. Dreamy Australian Michael Johns, whose risky choice of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Hollywood paid off, is older, but perhaps also better, than most of the men. Wild hair served aspiring Idols well, from dreadlocked David Castro to shaggy-haired Garrett Haley. Rounding out the men are David Hernandez, Jason Yeager, Chikezie Eze, and Luke Menard, none of whom have yet made a huge impression on audiences — time will tell if they have what it takes.
America, meet your seventh cast of American Idol. It’s been a grueling few weeks of auditioning, and now the fight is really beginning. Tune in on Tuesday for the first performances — and your first chance to dash the dreams of America’s hopeful Idols.