From the special Sunday San Diego episode's manly locale on the USS Midway aircraft carrier, to its soundtrack of the manly Top Gun theme "Danger Zone," to its increased amount of Steven Tyler swearing, to its first audition featuring a modern-day Vargas girl in a teensy-weensy red white & blue bikini, to its final audition by a manly mechanic named "Wolf" who covered CCR and Johnny Cash, it was obvious that "American Idol" producers were hoping to hook male viewers who'd stuck around after Sunday afternoon's NFL playoff game. And the tactic just might have worked.
Once again, this was an episode heavy on impressive singers, some of which may have roped in a few new fans. And among those impressive singers was one who probably had some longtime Fox viewers, male and female alike, feeling all nostalgic, as Jim Carrey's 24-year-old daughter, Jane Carrey, tried out in front of Jim's old "In Living Color" Fly Girl castmate, Jennifer Lopez. ("I was 2 when you were on TV together," Jane told J.Lo; Jennifer, surprisingly uninsulted, gave her a golden ticket anyway.) Wow, the daughter of the Truman Show star on an ACTUAL reality show? How very meta! And also, what great television.
Below is a full roundup of who sailed straight from the USS Midway to Hollywood...
Ashley Robles - This girl seemed to be ticking all the boxes here: single-mom back story (she works five jobs, including one as a DJ), a precocious 5-year-old daughter who dreams of being a Fly Girl and loves J.Lo's "On The Floor," a button-cute face and figure, and, most importantly, the ability to actually pull off an ambitious audition song like "I Will Always Love You." Steven told her, "You are gonna be big." I'm kind of surprised that Ashley isn't big already.
Jayrah Gibson - Jayrah is an R&B songwriter who was once told he should just stick to penning songs for others because he cannot sing himself. Of course, when Jayrah revealed this, I thought it was all a setup for a classic bad, William Hungian audition. (Oh, "Idol." Eleven seasons in, and you still keep on fooling me. Kudos.) As it turned out, whoever told Jayrah he couldn't sing clearly couldn't hear. Jayrah can sing, quite well, and judging by the snippet he warbled of an original ditty he wrote for J.Lo, "Shake Your Moneymaker," he's not a bad writer, either. Honestly, I liked his "Moneymaker" bit better than his "real" audition, of Musiq Soulchild's "Just Friends," but I enjoyed him all the way through, and as Randy Jackson pointed out, it has been WAY too long since a major R&B star came out of "Idol." It's time for that to change, and maybe Jayrah is the man who can make it happen.
Ali Shields - I can't decide if this geek girl will be tons of fun on the show, or if she'll just be so annoying that I'll be praying for her to get cut on day one of Hollywood Week. (Probably the latter.) Ali's done her goofball-shtick act on national television before: She wrote a song about ex-"Idol" judge Ellen DeGeneres that landed her a cameo on Ellen's talk show, and then Ellen dispatched Ali to be a reporter at the American Music Awards, where Ali used some dorky never-been-kissed sob story to coerce kisses out of sympathetic pop stars like Mike Poesner and Usher. By the time I finished watching Ali's bio reel featuring all of her "Ellen" and AMAs footage, I was already tired of her, and I expected she'd get a kissoff from the judges once she auditioned for "Idol," that she'd be a novelty act at best. I personally preferred her jokey rap of Chris Brown's "Look At Me Now" over her more serious rendition of Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like A Star" (although I found it a little offensive when Randy ordered her to "ghetto dance," and she stuck her booty out like a stripper), but for whatever reason, the judges liked her and put her through. My prediction now is she'll get eliminated early, then she'll be brought back as an "Idol" correspondent for the finale. I have a feeling that was Ali's real agenda from the start, anyway.
Aubree Dieckmyer - Here was one gorgeous girl sure to please male viewers...so gorgeous, in fact, that she kept accidentally saying she was trying out for "America's Next Top Model"! Oops. This made me instantly dislike her, and when she encouraged Steven's icky flirting, that also had me prematurely writing her off as a probable reject. I say "prematurely" because once Aubree started singing...she was great! Her "Feeling Good" audition was actually my favorite of the night; her voice had a truly lovely, fragile quality to it that got me feeling all gooey and goosepimply inside. So not so fast, Tyra Banks: Aubree may be pretty good at smizing at Steven, but if she keeps singing like this, she'll be on "Idol" for a while and won't be signing up for "ANTM" any time soon.
Kyle Crews - This 19-year-old UC Berkeley frat boy claimed to be a ladies' man, but honestly, I think David "Mister Steal-Your-Girl" Leathers Jr. from the Savannah auditions might have a better chance at being an "Idol" heartthrob, even if Kyle did cheesily dedicate Monica's "Angel Of Mine" to J.Lo and serenade her throughout. I just found Kyle to be Wonderbread-bland, and I was shocked--shocked!--when Steven told him he was the "best male voice we've heard so far." Kyle looked as shocked as I was, actually. Maybe all the loud background airplane noise marring the San Diego auditions rendered Steven temporarily deaf or something.
Jane Carrey - The aforementioned daughter of Jim, Jane talked wistfully about living in her famous father's shadow and how difficult it was for her to establish her own identity as a performer. At first I was slightly turned off by this; I mean, after seasons of single parents, widowers, orphans, illness and accident survivors, struggling artists living out of cars (or tents), etc., "My dad is an A-list millionaire actor" didn't seem like a very heartstring-tugging sob story. But then Jane sang, and all was forgiven. Her soulful cover of Bonnie Raitt's "Something To Talk About" showed raw promise, and when she called her dad after she got her golden ticket and he sounded so elated and supportive, it warmed my heart. I was dumb and dumber to doubt this girl. (Heh.)
Jason "Wolf" Hamlin - A contestant so hairy he made Casey Abrams look like Phil Stacey, this denim-on-denim greasemonkey was the ultimate tough guy with a heart of gold, a man made for TV. Toting a handmade guitar built by his recently departed father (which, in a big departure from typical "Idol" audition rules, he was allowed to play), the Wolf gave a howlingly good performance of Credence Clearwater Revival's "Midnight Special" and Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." I have no idea what Jimmy Iovine would do with this dude if he actually won, but the Wolf could just be this season's Taylor Hicks. He is exactly the kind of contestant America will love, and even the kind of contestant that could get normally apathetic male viewers to pick up their phones.
So next Wednesday, "Idol" returns to its regular timeslot, holding auditions in Aspen, Colorado. Will the singers there hit a rocky mountain high...or just be rocky? Tune in!