For several episodes now, "American Idol" viewers have whined and moaned that Season 11 has been too light on "crazy" auditions. Where are all the William Hungs, Larry Platts, and Norman Gentles this season? Well, rubbernecking trainwreck-lovers in TV land had their prayers answered during Wednesday's Aspen episode, in the form of an air-guitaring rock 'n' roll messiah named Magic Cyclops. The guy was like the "Idol" version of Andrew WK, and he came to party hard indeed. Everything that came out of this dude's mouth--other than his singing, of course, which was admittedly awful--was pure television gold. The guy practically out-Tylered Steven Tyler, he was so nutty. And so awesome.
Explaining his Russell Brandian brogue despite having been born in Davenport, Iowa, this magic man said: "This is an Iowan accent. We grew up extremely poor, and we only got PBS." Answering Randy Jackson's "how old are you?" question, Cyclops retorted, "It's not polite to ask a lady her age." When Cyclops was asked to remove his shades so that Randy could have a look at his eyes (which I imagine were quite glazed over), Mr. Magic said, "I have no eyes. I have NO SOUL!" Then he croaked a bit of "Jimmy Buffay" and shot confetti out of his back while a spooked Randy tried to make a beeline for the bathroom. It was comic magic. Cyclops could have been this year's Norman Gentle, but the judges idiotically sent him on his way. Sigh. Such a missed opportunity. But at least Magic Cyclops got his wish and had his exit soundtracked by the "Incredible Hulk" TV theme (Best. Idol. Exit. Ever.), and I'm hoping he'll be invited back to the Season 11 finale to perform his magically titled original future smash, "Unicorns In Space."
Oh well. Let's move on to the contestants who did make it through, most of whom were not nearly as interesting or entertaining as Magic Cyclops. Luckily, however, towards the end of the show we got an equally polarizing wannabe-Gaga girl on a mission to finally have "a vintage glitter queen on 'American Idol,'" and she was kind of weirdly magical as well.
Jenni Schick - Jenni was a naughty schoolmarm straight out of Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher" video--and Steven was hot for this teacher indeed. ("I'll take this one!" he volunteered brightly, perking right up as Jenni, acting as hyperactive as one of her grade-school students on a Kool-Aid bender, sashayed into the audition room.) It turned out the feeling was mutual, as Jenni revealed that Steven tops her free-pass list of celebrities her boyfriend would allow her to kiss. (Lady Gaga was also on the list, interestingly.) "Holy Schick!" Steven exclaimed, giving her a smooch that he later noted would probably get him in trouble with his new fiancée. (As if his constant ogling of 15-year-old girls hadn't already done that.) Jenni had a lot going for her--Pretty Woman boots, a Manic Panic hair-streak that could make her this season's token pink-haired girl, a somewhat convincing rocker-chick 'tude on her Pat Benatar cover--but there was something a little too forced, a little too aggressive, about her entire audition. Schick was just a little too shticky. We'll see if Steven and the other judges give her a kiss-off, later in Hollywood.
Curtis Gray - Curtis is just the type of scraggly rocker with a heart of gold that "Idol's" female fanbase totally drools over. What, does Nigel Lythgoe WANT another guy to win this show? First Phillip Phillips, then Colton Dixon, then Reed Grimm, and now this dude? Honestly, though, I can't imagine Curtis going as far as those other boys. He showcased a nice enough voice on his Boyz II Men cover, but I didn't think there was anything particularly special or standout about his performance. But since he's through to Hollywood now, I just hope he can deal with the early call-times on the Hollywood Week set, since--as illustrated in the photo at right, taken the day of his audition--he's not really a morning person.
Richie Law - I guess Nigel really does want to have a fifth male winner in a row. This deep-voiced boy sounded like he'd smuggled Scotty McCreery under his Kris Allen-esque plaid shirt. Total "Idol" fodder! The kid had a fine voice, but I was getting babylockthemdoors flashbacks during his entire audition, so I hope he doesn't go too far on this show.
Devan Jones - Devan was one of those rapid-fire, lightning-round contestants, relegated to a montage with very little screentime. But what little I saw, I enjoyed. I dug his smooth R&B tone, and he certainly looked like a marketable neo-soul star. I'm interested to see more of him in Hollywood.
Mathenee Treco - Another blink-and-you'll-miss him contestant, this dance instructor brought a lot of flavor to his soulful, raspy "Hey Jude" audition, and when he went into a Tyler-esque yowl at the end, Steven himself joined in--always a good sign. Let's have more Tyler/Treco collaborations in Hollywood!
Haley Smith - This girl had me at "I live in a log cabin." (Way to one-up previous auditioner Amy "Tent-Girl" Brumfield, Haley!) She had a Bowersoxian hippie vibe, a truly original "sob story" (she's a vegetarian who works in a sausage factory, the poor thing), and she kind of seemed like a bad girl from "Freaks & Geeks." This is my way of saying that HALEY WAS RAD. Her blooze-rock cover of Chaka Khan & Rufus's "Tell Me Something Good" was totally original and full of sass, and Steven told her, "I love your voice so much. You're right out of my era. I'm honored to be listening to you." Is Haley too Season 9, though? Well, maybe it's time for a few more singer-songwriter chicks in the "Idol" mix this year.
Shelby Tweten - I have mixed feelings about this troubled teen. On the plus side, I think it's great that, after years of struggling with bipolar disorder and depression, Shelby has looked to "Idol" for inspiration to stay strong. ("'American Idol' has given me a reason to stay on my meds," she said.) And her rendition of Carrie Underwood's weeper "Temporary Home" was really lovely. But the pressures of "Idol" could make anyone a little crazy, and I'm frankly worried about how this fragile young soul will handle Hollywood Week--or how she'll handle rejection, when and if she gets cut. I hope Shelby has a good support system in place.
Jairon Jackson - Despite his friends warning him not to audition with unfamiliar, untested material, this 19-year-old crooner took a risk with an original song, "So Hard"--and it was so good. This was a risk that paid off. I got a bit of a Chris Rene-of-"X Factor" vibe from Jairon (minus the druggy backstory), and Jennifer Lopez called him "a real artist." My only concern is his singing voice isn't quite strong enough to take him far in this competition, but we will see how he does once he's forced to perform other artists' material.
Angie Zeiderman - Along with Haley Smith and of course Magic Cyclops, Angie was the most memorable and fun contestant of the night. A goofy Gaga fangirl with Easter-egg-purple hair, granny glasses, a lip-piercing, and a kooky persona that kind of reminded me of Frenchie from Grease, this Broadway baby brazenly busted in declaring, "It is time for a vintage glitter queen on 'American Idol'!" (Truer words were never spoken, Miss Z.) She started off belting out a showtune, "When You've Got It, Flaunt It" from The Producers, that was so crazy I was starting to think she needed to borrow some of Shelby Tweten's meds. But at least she was entertaining, and she sang it like it was her theme song--she was flaunting her stuff indeed. It was a novelty act for sure, but when she pulled it together and performed a more serious audition of the Roy Orbison/Linda Ronstadt classic "Blue Bayou," Angie proved she actually could sing, too--and she won over the skeptical judges. "You're in your own little world!" exclaimed Randy. And it's certainly a world I'd like to visit. I have a feeling Magic Cyclops might be there, too.
So Thursday, the "Idol" auditions move on to Galveston/Houston. Will the judges find some Texas-sized talent there? Or some Texas-sized trainwrecks? My hope is there will be a little of both.