On Thursday night, American Idol began its final auditions episode with a trip down memory lane; it was 2004 and Carrie Underwood was setting out on a road trip to audition for American Idol. Of course, Carrie went on to win and become one of country music's biggest stars and one of Idol's biggest success stories. It isn't often that Idol flashes back to its heyday; in fact, for a show that so shamelessly plays on people's emotions, they seem reserved when it comes to nostalgia.
But this night was different. American Idol flashed back to many of it's fine and not-so-fine moments, layering memories of Carrie Underwood with William Hung and featuring many shots of Randy Jackson, whereas the souls of American Idol's yesteryear, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul were conspicuously absent from the flashbacks.
Maybe it is all the coverage about American Idol's low ratings this season. But this episode had a feeling of desperation we haven't seen before. While the flashbacks were fun, they were also a bit sad; reminders of a time when Idol ran with a well-oiled hum, void of the false starts and sputters that seem to characterize the show this year.
The auditions, once a trademark of the behemoth show, have become tired. The Idol that danced perilously close to the line of decency with Simon's barbs and the show's shameless exploitation of contestants whose mental stability was more than a little questionable, has matured. This is not to suggest that Idol needs to be mean-spirited to be entertaining, just that they have found nothing to fill the void.
On Thursday, they tried to fill that void with overblown praise and hype over mediocre-to-good contestants. When the judges continued to tell Johnny Keyser to keep singing, as if they couldn't get enough, it was perplexing. Sure, Johnny was a good singer but like his back story about being raised by a single-father, it was hardly something we haven't heard before, especially the song choice, Sam Cooke's, "I Was Born by the River."
But maybe Idol realized it was becoming predictable and formulaic, cue Rachelle Lamb, yet another mother in the process of divorcing the big bad man who stole her dreams. Rachelle did take it one step further than those before her though, she brought her daughter in with her for the audition, a questionable decision especially considering she was going to badmouth the child's father. The judges didn't seem bothered by Rachelle's lack of propriety and welcomed her to Hollywood.
Reis Kloeckener plagiarized the entire premise of Glee with his story of being rescued from geekdom by his school's chorus group. Steven claimed that Reis's voice brought him to tears as he repeatedly wiped at his curiously dry eyes, and the other judges were nearly as enamored. Lest he wishes to become as annoying as last Season's Stefano Langone, Reis needs to learn to sing with his eyes opened. Other than that, there was something genuine about him and seeing him in Hollywood is something to look forward to.
Then, the audition to end all of Season 11 auditions was Lauren Gray. While Lauren did not have a particularly gripping story (Idol does covet contestants with humble origins) she did have a powerful and unique voice. But was her rendition of Adele's, "One and Only," as groundbreaking as the judges made it out to be? Eh. It was good, no doubt, but the girl had barely sung a chord before the judges all exclaimed in unison and Jennifer donned her wide-eyed deer-in-headlights expression.
The whole thing seemed a bit contrived. Like the producers came in right before Lauren's audition and told the judges, "Listen, we're down to the wire and need to create a buzz - you have to love this girl." And so they did. Jennifer only had two words for us after the audition, "Lauren Gray."
After the desperation that was the theme of Thursday's episode (right down the the debut of Madonna's video) two words resonated in my head as well . . .