We’re in Aspen, where everything is incredibly precious, according to “American Idol.” Oh look: a cow! A choo-choo train! A stream! A hippie in a log cabin! A waitress who sells bull testes! If I’d never been there, I’d think Colorado was a Disney theme park ode to the ’60s, the Wild West and country bumpkinism rolled into one, instead of a completely normal place with big trees.
It’s autumn in Aspen, and the changing leaves in the backdrop to the auditions are, as Steven Tyler poetically calls them, “nature’s paintbrush.” But it wasn’t nature’s paintbrush that tie-dyed his piratey puffy-sleeved blue shirt and vest combo, which looked like he got it straight from the mail-order catalog for aging rock stars. Jennifer Lopez, meanwhile, finds the crisp air a bit chilly; does this mean she might actually wear something other than high-wasited booty shorts? Ehh, no. She just wears them over tights.
Ryan Seacrest refers to tonight’s auditions as examples “Rocky Mountain originality,” even though the most original performers of the night were out-of-towners. We’ll chalk it up to altitude sickness.
Only 31 Aspen auditioners make it to Hollywood, even with the judges’ completely lax standards about who they let through. I had to wonder on several occasions, if Simon Cowell were here, would this person be getting a golden ticket? Take, for instance, 24-year-old Jenni Schick, a music teacher from Virginia. Her rendition of “Heartbreaker” was as karaoke as it gets, though the judges were more enamored with her energy anyway. And maybe the fact that she and her boyfriend seem to have a bisexual version of a Newt Gingrich-style open relationship in which they can smooch long lists of celebrities, no questions asked. As we’ll be seeing more of her, I’m hoping to understand what it is about her boyfriend that makes Ryan Seacrest top his list…
Another audition Simon would have no patience for was Angie Zeiderman, a Floridian who dreams of being Lady Gaga’s best friend and refers to herself as a “vintage glitter queen.” The purple-coiffed and bespectacled eccentric started off the audition with a horrible song-and-dance to “The Producers”‘ “When You Got It, Flaunt It.” Randy was not amused, and babbled on and on about how show tune vibrato turns him off. Still Angie sailed through with a follow-up on “Blue Bayou,” which was considerably better, although the fact that they even let her sing another song shows how soft these judges really are.
Randy did nearly walk out of one audition, that of the brilliantly named Magic Cyclops. The British-accented Iowan “air guitarist” was a truly funny performance artist who gave the judges the choice of him singing Neil Diamond or “James Buffet” (pronounced “buff-AY,” like all-you-can-eat). Jennifer actually chose both. Randy looked stunned as she shushed him, awaiting more of Mr. Cyclops. And for a minute, it seemed like Jennifer and Steven might actually put the guy through, until he ruined it by farting a party popper. Thus came and went Season 11’s Norman Gentle, an artist whose glory on this show may never be replicated.
Haley Smith, the aforementioned log cabin dweller, replaces Tennessee’s Amy Brumfield as our “hipsy” of the moment, good for “Idol” since Amy’s unearthed criminal record isn’t exactly in line with the show’s squeaky clean image. Haley does a fabulous slowed-down version of Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good,” that draws comparisons from Randy and Jennifer to Joni Mitchell. Steven, though, takes things a smidge too far when he tells Haley, “I’m honored to be here listening to your voice.” Honored? Really?
Other standouts of the night included Richie Law, a deep baritone country singer who’s copied Scotty McCreery down to the ’90s choker; Shelby Tweten, a Minnesotan with a Miley Cyrus-rasp and bipolar disorder; and Jairon Jackson, a “lover” (says JLo) who penned his own audition song, “So Hard.” It was no “Young Homie,” but the guy does show songwriting potential.
Steven Tyler likes his antioxidant-rich blueberries. And muffins, grapes and Pop Chips. Either his binging on craft services is a major issue or the audition material was so sparse that producers had to devote a whole segment to what was obviously just the munchies.