"American Idol" recap: Simon saves the day

The top 12 women -- and Ellen! -- fail to impress. Thank god for Mr. Crankypants

By Mary T. Kelly

Published February 24, 2010 1:25PM (EST)

Ellen DeGeneres and Simon Cowell from "American Idol"
Ellen DeGeneres and Simon Cowell from "American Idol"

"American Idol" went live and got down to business, and so did the top 12 girls, the better half of the 24 contestants. Or so I had hoped. Last year’s competition was dominated by males, and I was ready for some balance.

During the auditions, with the exception of the likes of Andrew Garcia and Casey James, the women emerged as shining stars. The buzz around town was what a talented group of singers there were for Simon's last season: unique, distinctive, quirky, sultry and talented way beyond their years.

Oh, how quickly the mighty have fallen. The performances, in a nutshell, were bland, lifeless and safe. Many of the women forgot that their specialty was themselves. Many played it safe by trying to imitate the likes of Mariah Carey and Melissa Etheridge, and like many Olympic figure skaters, many fell flat on their faces. 

And the judges… what a dull, lackluster bunch, with the exception of Simon, who sensed the malaise and stepped up, bringing a small bit of oxygen to the show by way of his brutal honesty and constructive feedback. Did I just have the winter blah’s? Was it me or did the whole show seem like a scene out of "Pleasantville"... the black-and-white part of "Pleasantville"?

Ellen came out with a new haircut. Not to be critical, but did someone remind the hairdresser that Ellen has ears and didn’t necessarily want to look like Gomer Pyle as a milkman? Or, with that white, white suit, a televangelist? Just asking. And Ellen seemed nervous. She seemed nervous as she was stuttering and stumbling to tell some of the contestants they were nervous. Ellen gave me a twitch.

Back to the newly engaged Simon Cowell, who reminded us why he will be so deeply missed. Simon, once a confirmed bachelor, may have ben cranky about his recent vow to tie the knot, and his edginess was showing. The $350,000 he plunked down for that little promise ring might not have helped his mood either. Bottom line: His loss, our gain. Simon is always at his best when cranky.

Kara was Kara, with her predictable bobblehead motion, and Randy was on auto-pilot.

The seating arrangement was stiff and stilted. Why didn’t they put Ellen next to Simon? Let’s get some kind of rivalry going on there, some drama, some controversy… ANYTHING.

It was as if the producers read my mind and suddenly there was a ridiculous video implying sexual harassment on Simon’s part towards Ellen and that was why they were seated so far apart. I wasn't buying their feeble explanation. Something was up with that space between Ellen and Simon and I intend to get to the bottom of it. Could it be that Simon has a larger clothing allowance than Ellen? It's been reported that Ellen is not happy with her clothing allowance and wants a bigger one. Seems that the $150,000 allotted to her during the season ain't cutting it for her. Hey, Ellen is no Victoria Beckham when it comes to fashion, so do we have a potential diva on our hands?  Nicey-nice Ellen may turn out to be Cruella Deville. Time will tell, oh yes it will.

As for the actual competition, out of gazillions and billions and katrillions of potential contestants, here were your top 12 girls:

Paige Miles: Paige was trying to be a hard rocker, wearing a babydoll dress. This was not a good look, especially for the dress. I found her voice screechy, and the song just didn’t suit her.  Simon agreed, although he was much kinder than I. He reassured her he felt she was the most talented of the group. Kara disagreed but thought Paige’s song choice was "brilliant"! Kara had suddenly developed a Jersey accent and sounded like she was straight from "Jersey Shore." I swear I saw a photo of her and The Situation walking down the beach. Back to Paige… the main thing you should know about Paige is that she had to go to the bathroom really really badly. After her song, she exclaimed, "I’ve had to pee for the past 5 hours!"  I hope they found that woman a bathroom!

Ashley Rodriguez: A beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. Maybe. I thought she had a great voice, but listening to that Happy Happy Happy Happy song made me depressed.

The judges continued to be serious and reserved.  The audience was eerily quiet.  There was a backdrop that separated the judges from the audience and this made the show feel canned.  Simon looked terminal and warned Ashley she could be history.

Janell Wheeler: Something about Janelle reminded me of a Miss America beauty pageant.  Wheeler, with her big white teeth, said that she wanted to "show America that this is where I’m supposed to be." Does Wheeler really think America cares? Does she think we all put it on our "to do" list to find out where she is supposed to be? I was suddenly praying for world peace.

Wheeler’s voice was way off-key and made Randy’s concept of pitchy look pitch perfect.  I was afraid that the blue tunic top (a direct copy of Kara’s top), and her never-ending legs weren’t going to save her. All Randy could say was "Yo, yo and yo."

Lilly Scott: Lilly, from Denver, was striking with her straight, silver, metallic hair. A video showed scenes of her life in Denver which included showing her living out of her car and playing her music on the street. My first thought was: Where were Mom and Dad? Well, Mom and Dad were in the audience, and I think they needed to give Lilly a talking to. Not the safest thing in the world for a young woman to be living on the streets.

But fortunately for Lilly, she was in Hollywood and not frigid Denver and did a great job singing. She had a distinctive and unique voice, sound and presence. Ellen finally said something somewhat substantial, "Now, that’s what we’re talking about; we’re talking about that kind of thing." Ellen needed to consult with a thesaurus.

Katelyn Epperly: Katelyn had a makeover and ended up with wild blonde hair and maybe just a tad touched in the head. "When I’m in my basement with my piano, I want it so bad!" What does she want so bad? The piano? Was this some new kind of fetish?

I didn’t like her song, but Simon actually found something positive to say, "There were elements where you were beginning to scream the song and it was really messy, but I rather like you. You’re quirky and brave." There's that quirky word again! Hey, I didn’t care for her song, but what the heck did I know? Probably about as much as Ellen did.

And not to be a broken record, but I honestly had no idea, despite my "American Idol" fanaticism that has persisted for years, how much Paula Abdul brought to the show.  The show is almost night and day without Paula’s antics and Paulisms' running amok.  You could always count on Paula to come up with some clever nonsensical comment that came out in one long slur.

Haeley Vaughn: Haeley was the 16-year-old from Colorado who wants to be a pop country star. Following logic, Haeley sang a Beatles song while she played the guitar. I’m a sucker for all things Beatles, so I really liked the way she sang the song. But I was also confused. She was all over the map. Was she trying to be country, pop, eclectic or what? What?

Simon had the answer: "If I’m going to be honest with you Haeley, it was verging on terrible.  A complete and utter mess." The show had gone stale, and I was relieved to see that Simon was still breathing, while Randy and Ellen had gone comatose.

Lacey Brown:
Lacey was this year’s second-hand rose, and she had the hair to prove it. She sang Fleetwood Mac’s "Landslide," which ended up souding more like an avalanche. Simon thought she was boring and then Lacy argued with Simon on why she wasn't boring. I don’t know what she said because I fell asleep.

Michelle Delamor:
Michelele became my favorite with her performance.  She had a mature, sultry and sensual voice. However, Michelle had been a commercial singer and was a bit over-polished. Simon was lamenting that she had no "WOW factor."

Didi Benami: I loved her voice. It was very different and unique and QUIRKY. Simon, apparently the only judge who felt compelled to give any kind of real feedback, said that she was indulgent and he was missing a spark. Maybe his eyes got a little burned from looking at that $350,000 diamond rock he had recently purchased.

Siobhan Magnus: Simon thought she might be the dark horse of the competition and Siobhan pulled a Jessica Simpson and didn’t know what being a dark horse meant.  

Siobhan sang one of my favorite songs by Chris Isaak, "Wicked Game." I was of the firm belief that no one should do Chris Isaak but Chris Isaak. Her dress look like a French can-can dress and the pink flower in her hair, I hated it. When she hit her high notes, my dog started howling.

Kara loved her quirkiness (there’s that damn quirky word again) and Ellen just loved all of it. Simon saved the moment by telling Siobhan, "You really are a funny little thing aren’t you? I liked the song. You might just be a dark person blowing on glass all day." Huh? I’m not touching that one.

Crystal Bowersox: Crystal seemed to be a reluctant "American Idol" contestant. She was adamant when she said that the only reason she tried out for "American Idol" was for her son. She’s a single mom who needs a bigger paycheck. Crystal is one talented woman whether she likes it or not.  She sang, played the guitar and the harmonica. With her Rastafarian locks, Crystal looked like she was from Berkeley, not Toledo.

Randy said Crystal was one of his favorites for the night. He thought she had originality reminiscent of Melissa Ethridge, Springsteen and Dylan.

Simon continued on his truth-telling quest. "Yes, your story is good, we all love your little baby, we like your story AND there are thouands of singers like you doing songs like this outside of subway stations." Ouch!

Katie Stevens: Katie looked like the virginal and sweet 17-year-old she showed us during the auditions. And YES, for the last time, I remember her grandmother cannot remember anything. I get it.

Oh, but the song.  Did these contestants not watch previous seasons? Had they not heard the judges say over and over and over again not to take a song by a megastar and try to imitate it instead of making it their own? Katie sang a song that was, quite frankly, too old even for me!  And again, what’s with the babydoll dress with the slow sexy mature voice? It was just all wrong. Katie should hang out with the likes of Avril Lavinge and Katy Perry and learn how to be young and have some fun. Katie’s been spending way too much time with Granny.

So, what think you? Was it me? Was I the one taking the off night, or was it really an off night for the contestants? I was underwhelmed and expect much better performances in the future.

Did you vote? I gave you the numbers so you had no excuses.  As for me, I didn’t vote. No one jumed out at me enough to motivate me to go grab my phone and push the buttons to actually vote. 

"American Idol" season 9 needs some CPR ASAP.

My predictions for who will be voted off Thursday night: Lacey Brown and Ashley Rodriguez.

Bring on the boys, and let’s hope they bring it. If things go as stale as the girls' performances did, maybe Kara will be able to persuade Casey James to take off his shirt again. And maybe someone will give Ellen some Xanax so she can relax a little. And maybe someone can give me a lobotomy. At the rate this show is going, it's gonna be a very very long season.

Mary T. Kelly

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