Fox via DVR
Fox has something like fourteen hours of "American Idol" on a week this time of year -- that and "House" I think are the only original programming it's still offering -- and yet when you see the Top 36 for the first time, there's Ryan Seacrest, makeup-splatter trainwreck Tatiana Del Toro, and like twenty people you've never before seen in your life. What is going on here? Why doesn't Fox think we're interested in seeing the people who will actually compete on the proper show before the taped episodes end?
So there were good parts and bad parts to Hollywood Week (which was actually two weeks). The Elevator of Death went into retirement, and they replaced it with some very weird rented mansion, possibly the setting of one or more seasons of "The Bachelor," with red velvet thrones for the judges. They didn't wear ermine robes and crowns and stroke little hairless dogs as they made their judgements, but perhaps they should have. That alone sucked a lot of the drama out of the last canned "Idol" of the season, since no elevator meant no "hidden" camera footage of losers riding the elevator back downstairs.
Let's find a positive. They put through both the roughneck and the oil drilling guy (or maybe a roughneck is an oil drilling guy) -- they made it look as if it was going to be a choice between or the other, and then they send them both through! That was heartwarming. Of course they could split the family guys with good but not great voices vote. They also showed a lot of mercy for people who bungled their stage auditions. Even though Simon practically stomped his feet and guaranteed that people who forgot lyrics would be axed with extreme prejudice a couple of shows ago, they let Joanna Pacitti and Stephen Fowler off without so much as a warning. I like Stephen, who dresses snappy, but former major-label signee Pacitti ought to have this down already.
They pitted Danny Gokey (rectangular glasses, dead wife) against his interracial super best bro and didn't get any tears out of it. They pitted drama-crazed, multiply pierced teen Nathaniel Marshall against... some other less pierced guy with a better voice, and that didn't really blow up the way they wanted either. It was deeply amusing when the noxious, manic, self-obsessed Del Toro came back from the judges' champagne room with a "yes" and only one person clapped. But I don't think that was planned.
The weirdest wave-through of a weird evening had to go to "Norman Gentle," the shiny-shirt and headband gimmick guy. A couple of times "Norman"'s author though about retiring the costume and singing one straight, but each time he thought better of it. Bizarrely, this turned out to be exactly the right strategy. The judges congratulated him, made him one of the Top 36, and told him to keep doing his character. Really? I mean, there's a long and proud tradition of fictionalized pop stars from Buster Poindexter to Chris Gaines, but Norman Gentle? That's really messed up, right? When his name and phone number pop up when he's performing, are there going to be quotes around them? Can they make a movie with two different actors performing the stage persona and the man behind him? Let's skip right to that.
There are some folks to watch in the field. Anoop Desai, the physics nerd with the surprising psychic link to Bobby Brown, gets better each and every time out, and now he'll have professionals to dress him. Alexis Grace has pink streaks (the hair accessory of choice among the field this year) and a daughter named "Ryan," which ought to help her suck up to Seacrest. Ju'not Joyner, little-seen until the last two shows, has chops and cool. Piano player Matt Giraud has to beat his goony stage instincts back a little bit but he's got musical savvy, unlike nearly everybody else.
And the blind guy! Who can root against the blind guy? Yeah, we're all a little afraid to point out that his singing voice is so-so and he looks weird when he's not playing the piano, but it's not his fault he doesn't know how dated his series of vests makes him look. He's blind!
I really missed the elevator. I can't wait until the live shows start and we get to hear more than eight seconds of continuous singing from any given contestant. Seacrest has had less to do this year than ever before. Adding a professional hitmaker to the judges' roster has not seemingly improved the overall talent level of the assembling cast in the very least. Joss Whedon certainly can't complain that Fox isn't giving "Dollhouse" enough promotion, but the previews look ridiculous. One of them seemed to be a riff on Grindhouse... isn't that a bad omen considering that everyone involved with that movie took a huge bath and it basically destroyed Miramax?
Next week: Real "Idol" starts! Finally! After only like a billion episodes!