Tuesday, February 03, 2009

American Idol: Welcome to Hollywood!

I made a pledge to myself a few years ago to watch as little of the "American Idol" audition episodes as is humanly possible, preferring to check in on each season after (most of) the freaks and bad singers have been sent packing. I caught a few minutes of the premiere just to see how Kara Dio Guardi interacted with the other judges, but I'm going into the first of the Hollywood episodes(*) ignorant of virtually every contestant save Bikini Girl.

(*) I'm glad, by the way, that they're re-emphasizing the Hollywood round this year by expanding it to two weeks, as these episodes tend to level the playing field for people whose auditions didn't get shown.

So, for those of you who've been watching from minute one this season, how has it been? Anyone who seems like an obvious frontrunner yet? What would you estimate the freak-to-talent ratio was during the auditions? And does Kara seem like she'll actually add value to the show, or will she be another useless lox like Randy?

Not sure yet if I'll be doing episode post-mortems until the semi-finals start. I guess it depends on how interesting the Hollywood shows are.


Castaway said...

Alan, while there were still freak show elements (Ryan trying to high-five the blind guy; a few people who seemed to be mentally challenged in some way), this year they generally tried to spend more time getting to know the contestants and their (usually inspirational) backstories. As far as the judges, other than being gorgeous and coherent, which was nice, Kara voted the exact same way as Paula on every single person they showed---except for two in the last 20 minutes of the last audition show. There were no 2 to 2 votes except for one in the last show, so no real issues with the "Simon has the last call" rule. Even Simon was toned down this year, for better or worse, usually not getting mean unless the person earned it. Even the arguments between the judges over a singer usually ended up with the singer getting a unanimous "yes" vote. Randy was Randy, throwing out various catchphrases. Paula even gave coherent advice at one point, which was amazing. I can't pick a favorite yet---with 147 people left, too early to say.

Anonymous said...

I only watched bits and pieces, but what struck me was how much the judges were trying to be nice to the people who didn't make it. Which creates a weird tension, because the one fun part of the slog is Simon breaking the news to the talentless that they can't sing. But the judges also seemed frustrated (with the producers) for the joke auditions.

Bobman said...

I think Kara adds a few things (aside from eye candy). She's certainly not the useless stump Randy is or the incoherent idiot that is Paula. She has reasonable opinions and critiques for the most part, although she didn't get to voice them much. I think she'll be very valuable come the Hollywood rounds and the real show, when judges advice actually becomes useful.

She also seems to have evened out Paula a bit; it definitely put her on her toes a bit more, and it's the most consistently coherent I've seen Paula since I started watching this show around season 4 or 5. I guess when you have the show scouting your replacement while you're still there, you have to up your game.

Don't get me wrong, she's nothing great, but next to Paula and Randy she's fantastic (though I wish she had supplanted one of them rather than just being added on).

As for the auditions, it still was a majority freak show. Yes they showed backstories, but they always do that. The past few weeks have fit the same formula that all the other auditions have; good singers juxtaposed with people in various stages of autism.

Cree said...

The bad auditions are just annoying these days. I was glad we got some back story on a few more contestants this season, but I'm with you Alan; this show doesn't start until they get to Hollywood.

I honestly couldn't pick a front runner right now. I have a feeling they intentionally left out some of the great auditions - either that or they let through a TON of mediocre singers. We'll see tonight.

Anonymous said...

I found the freak show element of the auditions to be WAY less this year than is typical. Not as many obvious mental diseases. However. It also seemed to me that more freak show-lites made it to Hollywood than is typical. There were some genuine weirdos (beyond bikini girl) who got Golden Tickets.

This then makes me concerned for the wonderfulness of Hollywood Week. I like watching decent singers stress out. I don't need to see more Freaks on Parade. We'll see...

Hyde said...

What I thought was strange about the auditions was that the bad singers seemed less outrageous than usual, but the "good" singers seemed less spectacular. You would think the show would go one way or the other. There was just a lot of mediocrity.

Kara doesn't add much besides cleavage in my opinion. She's obviously been tasked with beating up on Simon Cowell and goading him by saying yes to singers he can't stand.

By spending so much time on the singers with dramatic backstories, the show is stacking the deck quite a bit, especially when you consider the format change whereby everyone only sings once in the semifinal rounds. There aren't going to be many chances for the lesser publicized finalists to make a name for themselves, unless they get some attention in Hollywood.

Dan Jameson said...

Much less freaks; maybe not much more talent though.

I have to say I hate the backstories. Sure, some of them are heartwhelming, but all in all they seem to be a huge waste of time. I'd much rather watch an extra 2-3 auditions (good or bad) than have to sit through 5-10 minutes of a background story.

And I agree that the contestants who have a featured story tend to stick out once Hollywood week and voting starts, giving them an unfair advantage.

But all these points are moot, considering the producers already know who made it to the finals so there is probably a method to their madness during auditions.

Anonymous said...

pretty much 50/50 bad to good singers in the auditions...and I wouldn't say there's a clear frontrunner, more like a bunch of interesting singers...seems like they're choosing more vibe-y, current sounding singers over the more cabaret people they've chosen in the past

all in all, a welcome improvement...less fingernails on the chalkboard

Kara has been coherent and somewhat interesting, but would have preferred to just see her replace paula...the math didn't make sense for the tryouts...because they gave simon the tiebreaking vote, there was no scenario where having Kara on the panel would have turned a decision against Simon...ever

if it was going to be 3-0 either way without her, then her vote for or against didn't change anything...if it was 2-1 with Simon in the majority, then her vote also could only tie and Simon's tiebreaker would prevail...so again, nothing changes

the only time her vote could change anything was when Simon was outvote 2-1 and she agreed with Simon...so in effect, her vote only served as an appeal for Simon when he was out-voted

Unknown said...

votefortheworst.com LOVES Tara. That should tell you something.

Some of the "freak" show auditions were horribly painful this time, in my opinion. Though the judges did seem to be less cruel to some, the fact that they are putting these poor people through and letting them think they might have a chance is just ugh. And yes, it did seem that they put a few mentally challenged people through this year. I think next season, I'll stick with Alan and skip all the audition episodes.

rhamilton said...

I don't think the audition shows have been significantly better - there's been less time spent on disasters, but it felt like they were making up that time with stories about people who died, which isn't any better.

Kara's been great though - she seems really insightful about the vocals, and there's an interesting tension (that doesn't always reflect that positively on her) when something happens to remind you that she's not that far removed from being on the other side of the performer/"judge" relationship. It seems to give her an empathy that's more earned than Paula's habitual "You look beautiful, but..." while at the same time caused her to flip out on Bikini Girl in a really unprofessional way.

Anonymous said...

Kara is a nice balance to Simon. She's generally positive, but can back it up (like Randy 5 or 6 years ago). And she looks like she's REALLY horny all the time. That's nice.

Davy said...

And she looks like she's REALLY horny all the time. That's nice.
So I'm not the only one who noticed that. It was kinda hilarious to watch her and Paula together -- like sorority sisters-turned-cougars on the prowl. Paula got all doe-eyed at the young frat-boy types, while Kara let her eyes bug bigtime when the edgy skatepunk boys came in. They could whine about "bikini girl" all they want, but they were just as guilty as the Simon and Randy, just less obvious (but not by much).

I think Kara's comments have definitely added to the mix. She has useful criticism but still feels empathy and has a decent vocabulary (or else she hasn't yet used up all her words, as Randy has). Plus, she's able to stand up to Simon in a way Randy cared to and Paula never could (without coming off as insane, anyway).

The mix of good/bad auditions was better than last year, but they introduced a new problem for me -- the "very special audition of the show," wherein some down on his luck singer (blind, widowed, homeless, parentless, etc) gets massive uplifting screen time through a manipulative background package. He/she proceeds to wow the judges as the last audition of the show. They've pulled this in previous seasons, of course, but this time it got so thick I started wondering if we were watching Lifetime Movie Network instead of AI.

The other thing that got me was when they thought that kid in Louisville was threatening them. The misunderstanding wasn't completely ridiculous, given the circumstances, but the way producers hyped such a non-moment was just weird. Then again, perhaps that's because I'm from Kentucky, and I say "be careful" instead of goodbye to practically everyone I meet. When my dad and step-mom say their goodbyes, they now tell me "be careful -- but I don't mean that in a threatening way."

Anonymous said...

I like Kara if for no other reason than her presence has forced Paula to dial down the crazy.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what the point is of having a new judge, but Kara does seem to know what she's talking about. However, she didn't handle herself well with Bikini Girl. I think what set her off was that anyone would show up in a bikini, acting like she was ready to audition for Rock of Love. But Kara came across as really jealous.

This year wasn't near the freak show we've seen in previous seasons, but there were still too many annoying people who wouldn't leave and kept singing after they were told to leave.

I could do without the personal tragedy stories. OK, I don't have an issue with knowing that the blind guy is blind. But they made it sound like he'd been living in an attic, unloved, unfed and hidden from the world until AI discovered him, which is obviously not the case. The rest of the "dead relative, growing up homeless, just divorced, I'm doing this for my kid" stuff just bugs me.

There are a couple contestants I really like - hippie girl Rose, and Frankie, who sang the Any Winehouse song that's also the theme song for Mad Men - so I'm already invested.

Anyway, I can complain all I want about the treacly crap AI dishes out, but I'm still watching. If I hated it, I would have stopped long ago.

Anonymous said...

I got really tired, really fast of the sob stories.

It's a little hard to say exactly how the "Simon tiebreaker" has changed things, because it does look like the other three may have formed a voting bloc. If two have said yes and the third is thinking that Simon might say no (or he already has), then the third votes with the other two.