Thursday's "American Idol" episode in Oklahoma City was the weirdest in "Idol" history. Like, so weird that even all 15 of Nicki Minaj's alter egos were spooked. Within the course of just one hour, there was a ventriloquist dueting with what looked like the retired Pets.com dog puppet; a mangling of the National Anthem that really should have been lip-synched; and a comedic reenactment of one deluded contestant's not-so-divine-calling conversation with God about why she should audition for "Idol." (If anything, this skit proved that God is more of a "Voice" fan.) And bizarrely, two of those contestants actually made it through to Hollywood.
But lamentably, the most bizarre auditioner of the day did not.
No, it was not Joan Rivers' long-lost twin. It was none other than former "Idol" judge Steven Tyler, wearing what appeared to be one of Nicki's discarded wigs and about as much makeup as he did during Aerosmith's '80s hair-metal heyday. At first the judges didn't seem to recognize him, but once they did, they appeared utterly elated--Steven's old castmate Randy Jackson even gave him a standing ovation and asked him, "Did your chest grow?"
And I have to admit, I was kind of hoping that they'd give Steven a golden ticket; as useless and embarrassing as the Demon Of Screamin' often was during his two-season "Idol" run, with his seeming inability to use any adjective other than "beautiful" and his tendency to flirt with girls one-fifth his age, he was kind of fun back in the day. It was nice to see him on the show again. And viewers sure did see a lot of him, since Steven even mooned the judges at one point--keeping the Fox censors on their toes, just like old times.
However, sadly, Steven won't be a regular fixture on "Idol" Season 12, as he didn't make it to Hollywood, dawg. (If only he'd auditioned with "Dude Looks Like A Lady," the outcome may have been very different. Steven really should have figured out the importance of song choice by now.) Oh well. You think this "Idol" rejection was the real reason why Steven later dissed the new "Idol" judges, and ended up in a feud with Nicki? We may never know...
I kid, I kid. But one contestant who wasn't kidding, apparently, was Zoanette Johnson, whose banged-up-Barbie hair looked even worse than Steven's synthetic blonde 'do. This wild-eyed woman, who "came to take the crown," was as serious as a heart attack--and her audition nearly sent the judges into cardiac arrest, with Keith Urban literally falling off his swivel chair in shock.
So as you all know, "The Star-Spangled Banner" has been a hot topic of heated debate over the past week, with Beyonce finally admitting during a Super Bowl press conference that she used a backing track for her National Anthem performance at the presidential inauguration. And on the same day as Beyonce's confession, Anthem-related controversy flared up all over again, on "Idol," when this kookoo Zoanette character performed the most wackadoodle rendition of "Banner" since Roseanne Barr's. And then--unlike Steven Tyler--ZOANETTE SOMEHOW MADE IT THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.
Well, at least Zoanette can honestly assert that she did sing the song live. But obviously, she was "no Beyonce" in many other ways.
I do have to say, Zoanette came to entertain, whether she was backing that thang up while dancing with Ryan Seacrest, or sassing back to Mariah Carey in ways that probably stunned even Nicki. No wonder Nicki was impressed; she must have seen some sort of kindred spirit in Zoanette. "I love you. I am obsessed with you," Nicki told her. Nicki's enthusiastic pro-Zoanette stance was not a massive surprise, since she seems to harbor a fondness for any nutty auditioner. But the fact that ALL FOUR judges gave Zoanette yeses was a shocker that almost had me falling off my chair as well.
And then there was Halie Hilburn, a ventriloquist who tried out with Oscar, her trusty puppet sidekick. Now, I am a firm believer that everything is better when puppets are involved, including music (see many examples here), so I was totally in favor of the judges putting through...Oscar. Come on, don't all "Idol" contestants end up getting accused of being 19 Entertainment's puppets anyway? Oscar would have been perfect for this show! He even had a yodel that'd make Jewel envious. Mariah suggested that Oscar could open for Halie on tour, but sorry, I thought it should have been the other way around. Oscar was the true star here. Unfortunately, Halie followed Keith's cockamamie advice to go solo and totally sold Oscar out, leaving her felt friend behind in Oklahoma and moving on to Hollywood alone. Sigh. Maybe Oscar can audition for "The X Factor" next season.
And then there was Anastacia Freeman, whose rendition of "Unbreak My Heart" broke both of my ears. There wasn't much entertainment value to Anastacia's actual audition, but the cheap "E! True Hollywood Story"-esque sketch about how God (or perhaps a much more evil force) ordered her to try out for "Idol" was good for a cheap laugh. Thankfully, God--or just plain old common sense--ordered the judges to tell Anastacia no.
The one remaining "wacky" singer of the hour was Karl Skinner, who entered the audition room with a noble goal: to "prove gingers got soul." As a redhead myself, I wholeheartedly endorsed this campaign. I mean, "Idol" broke the hair-color barrier with a gray-haired winner seven seasons ago, but a ginger has never won this show. That's just plain wrong. So Karl came in and I figured, this was going to go one way or the other: Either he'd be a joke, or he'd be good. It turned out both guesses were semi-correct. Karl was hilarious, giving the aforementioned silver fox Taylor Hicks a run for his money with a ridiculously fearless, boot-scootin'-boogie cover of James Brown's "I Feel Good" that had the judges howling. I couldn't decide if Karl was terrific or terrible, and I don't think the judges could either. But, like them, I was entertained. Karl went into full-on WGWG mode after that, strapping on a six-string to play an original song. But when the judges--probably following producers' strict orders to not put anyone through who might continue the unbroken guitar-guy reign of David Cook through Phillip Phillips--advised Karl to ditch the guitar, he happily tossed it aside like a used Kleenex. With a can-do, will-do attitude like that, this redheaded stranger received four yeses, despite not possessing quite enough talent to make it past day one of Hollywood Week.
There were two--yes, only two--actual "serious" auditions that were shown in full on Thursday, despite the fact that supposedly 44 Oklahoma City singers were given golden tickets. The first non-jokey hopeful was Nate Tao, a sign-language teacher and the son of two deaf parents. ("Idol" came full-circle this season, since Season 1 contestant Jim Verraros had an almost identical backstory in 2002.) Nate's performance of Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life" was really the only straight-up solid audition of the entire episode. "I like your charisma," said Nicki. "You're unassuming--you looked like you were about to do my taxes," said Randy, which I guess he meant as a compliment. Maybe Nate can sing "Taxman" on Beatles Night?
The episode, bizarre as it was, ended on a somber note, with the audition of 16-year-old Bieber lookalike Kayden Stephenson, a cystic fibrosis sufferer who tragically isn't expected to live past age 35. If I am being honest and judging Kayden with my ears, not my heart, then I have to admit that his audition of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" was not that remarkable. There was some raw talent there, yes, but he certainly wasn't at the same level as many other Season 12 singers. The judges heaped Kayden with praise--Nicki compared him to a "baby Michael Jackson," and Mariah said, "I'm beyond inspired. I'm like, 'Let's go make the record now!' I think girls will fall on the floor when you walk into the room." But I couldn't tell if the judges were genuinely impressed by his voice, or if they just wanted to do something sweet for a poor kid who really deserves some sort of happiness. I suspect it was the latter scenario, and while I truly hope that Kayden enjoys his time during Hollywood Week and makes the most of it, I also suspect he won't go farther than that.
So there you have it. This was definitely the weirdest "Idol" episode of all time, and definitely one of the more entertaining episodes--Oklahoma City was fun, and Thursday brought some much-needed levity and comic relief after weeks of unpleasant judge fighting. But let's hope that "Idol" gets serious and gets down to business next Wednesday, when Hollywood Week finally begins.
And let's hope that Steven Tyler tries out for "RuPaul's Drag Race 6" next year.