American Idol returned for its 18th season this Sunday, resuming its annual search for the Next Superstar. (Or more specifically, the next Alejandro “Scarypoolparty” Aranda, since last season’s second-place fan favorite received a lot more airtime during the premiere’s cold open than actual champion Laine “Party With a” Hardy, for whom the party seems to have already ended.) Anyway, the two-hour episode offered some impressive auditions, including a British balladeer whose original song had judge Luke Bryan saying, “I think you might be the biggest star we’ve ever had” (move on, Alejandro?), and the usual sob stories, courtesy of a humble garbage man and a hard-luck subway singer.
But interestingly, the best moments revived an old-school Idol tradition mostly abandoned in kinder, gentler recent seasons: rejected auditioners. But Sunday’s bunch were no William Hungs. They seemed very in on the joke, very much in control of their narratives, and very happy to emerge from the experience with a few minutes of screentime and maybe 15 minutes of fame. And they were so entertaining that if the ABC executives are smart, they’ll extend Alisa Ermolaev and Hunter “The Comeback” Gibson’s time by a few more minutes on the Season 18 finale.
Alisa has already gotten some screentime, actually most notably playing “Russian Stripper No. 2” alongside former Idol judge Jennifer Lopez in the box-office smash Hustlers. (She even performed a bit of Russian dialogue from the movie, and I don’t know what she was saying, but she was in character enough to make me wonder if she wasn’t the only Hustlers actress robbed of an Oscar nom.) The Moscow-born, Queens-bred, tough-talking cherry bomb and self-described “crazy hothead” made her grand entrance to some badass Runaways music, accompanied by her slick sidekick “Luigi Babe” and rocking some Drag Race-worthy neon contact lenses, Vampira makeup, and Pretty Woman boots. (Though for some reason, she seems to think she’s a ded ringer for Taylor Swift. I’d say she bear a closer resemblance to Lady Mapo.)
I’m pretty sure all this was an act too… but what a fun act it was! Alisa and Luigi had a Cyndi Lauper/Captain Lou Albano buddy shtick going on that made me wish they’d get their own late-night cable access chat show. And Alisa possessed a not entirely unconvincing metal-chick scream. I knew she wouldn’t make the grade, but the woman was a showbiz hustler, and I appreciated that. And at least Alisa got some killer exit music: Any chance to hear Lou Reed’s “Vicious” on American Idol (plus an #AlisaRant) is a win for everyone!
Interestingly, last week at an Idol junket, judge Katy Perry told me, when asked about dream theme episodes, “An Emo Night would be fab. I would back that 100 percent. My Chemical Romance? Panic! at the Disco? Let's go!” So I thought Hunter — a.k.a. “The People’s Star,” a.k.a. “The Comeback” because he wants early-2000s alt-rock to, you know, come back — might have a shot. He had all the right retro ingredients: the nasal screamo tone, the combover scene bangs, the Metro Station skinny black stretch jeans, the crabcore poses. He even saw Katy on the 2008 Warped Tour (he recalled her being booed offstage, sadly) and thinks her “first album is everything” (he’s not wrong there). Maybe it was because Hunter was so supportive of Katy in her early days, or just because she is a genuine emo fan, but Katy seemed into his strident, manic, sing-shouted rendition of All-American Rejects’ 2002 pop-punk classic “Swing, Swing.” She was belting along with seemingly genuinely enthusiasm, and later explained to Luke and fellow judge Lionel Richie, “This is an actual movement. … That was great, that brought me back.”
I didn’t think Hunter was a terrible representation of the genre, actually, but as Katy told him, “You are correct, this movement is coming back. I don’t think it’s coming back for American Idol, but you could be ahead of the curve.” Oh well. I am still hoping an Emo Night, with or without Hunter, will happen when this season goes live.
As for Sunday’s final all-American reject, this was the moment when Katy got emo, and screamo – and rightfully so. Former child actress/singer Saveria absolutely should have made it through to Hollywood. Her sultry, folksy performance of Kelisi’s “Tell Me This Is Real” showcased such a warm, buttery, interesting tone – a bit Norah Jones, a bit St. Vincent, a bit Nicole Atkins, a bit Corinne Bailey Rae, yet sounding like no one else. There were so many colors and shades in there, and though she was all over the place, she was going to good places. The potential was clearly there, and a wowed Katy called Saveria a “gymnast singer.”
But Lionel said Saveria “needed to do the discovery work,” and Luke agreed, also voting no. So, Katy freaked out: screaming in the corner, punching a hole in the set, and running barefoot through the hallways as she decried Luke and Lionel’s “horrible mistake.” I understood Katy’s wrath. Lionel and Luke’s decision to turn Saveria away made no sense. But, speaking of “comebacks,” I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll see of Saveria. She’s going to pop up in another audition city, or Katy will pull some strings to make her a Wild Card, or maybe she’ll just come back next year. But Saveria and Idol have some unfinished business.