Curtain up: the spotlight focuses on a gaggle of geeks at a gay bar in Rochester, NY. A lonely blogger among them downs not one, not two, but three Maker’s Marks on the rocks while worrying about if he will be able to sufficiently retain the goings-on of the episode playing on the multiple flat-screen TVs. After a rousing rendition of “In the Navy” by the Village People and some random, much-appreciated shirtlessness, he no longer cares. All he knows is that the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” viewing parties at the Bachelor Forum are a hoot, host Darienne Lake is a delight and surprisingly candid about the goings-on during the show, and he highly recommends heading out to the parties to anyone in the Western New York area. (He also wonders what kind of depraved acts he must endure in order to get a drink in 15 minutes or less, because he will totally take that hit.)
So, it was a good time at the Bachelor Forum on University Avenue in Rochester, NY. But it was a mixed bag for the contestants of Season 6 on “Drag Race.” After a “female or she-male” mini-challenge that I’m fairly sure will infuriate the trans* community, we got to the main challenge: “Shade! The Rusical,” a live musical-theater extravaGANza. The challenge was very much in the spirit of the ballet challenge from last season. But while Alyssa Edwards was the clear winner of that round, a handful of queens really shined this time around. Unfortunately the rest of them receded mostly to the background.
After the mini-challenge, in which Adore Delano and Ben DeLaCreme came out on top, the teams shook out like this. Team DeLa (Act 1) featured Ben, Courtney Act, Bianca Del Rio, Darienne Lake, Gia Gunn, and Trinity K. Bonet. Team Adore (Act 2) featured Adore, MILK, Joslyn Fox, April Carrion, and LaganjaEstranja. As we saw in the previous episode, there was a huge difference in ability between the two groups. Act 1 was interesting and gamely played by the group members, while Act 2 was mostly a mess, save for decent performances by Adore and MILK.
Let’s get this conspiracy theory right out of the way: after last episode, many people wondered why Adore -- the clear loser of the horror challenge -- was spared the Final 2 in lieu of April Carrion. It made absolutely no sense at the time, considering that Adore failed as an actress, as a leader, and on the runway. (I’m sorry to Adore fans, but that’s just the blunt reality of what went down.) The reason she was kept around was almost certainly this episode, in which the show itself (via Ben DeLaCreme) referred to the proceedings as “The Battle of the ‘Idols.’” That would be “Australian Idol” contestant Courtney Act and “American Idol” contestant Adore Delano (Danny Noriega). The show was going to give us this “showdown” no matter what, not unlike the painfully manufactured drama between Alyssa Edwards and Coco Montrese last season.
So Adore, despite biffing the first two challenges almost completely, was almost certainly a lock for this episode, no matter what she did. Thankfully she made it worth the audience’s while by putting in a solid performance this go around. Her lead actress role in Act 2 was well sung and well executed, even if her final “red carpet” runway was, again, sloppy and underwhelming. My fear is that this episode was Adore’s high point, and that doesn’t speak terribly highly of this queen at all. She actually told the judges at one point that she’s a much better drag queen than what she’s showing. Girl: it’s Episode 4. What the fuck are you waiting for? A party/event invitation via Adam4Adam? (My bad; Scruff is a sponsor of this show now.)
Courtney Act, however, killed it as the ingénue of Act 1. Courtney looked terrific and sounded like an actual woman when she sang. One of the judges -- Michelle Visage? -- mentioned some bum notes, but I don’t what the hell she was talking about. My feeling watching the two groups was that the first group sounded pre-recorded (in a good way), while Group 2 sounded like they were singing live. I don’t know if that was due to the gulf in talent, to the production values, or due to the three bourbons, but Act 1 sounded a hell of a lot better than Act 2. Even with Gia’s nasal grind.
The other queen to really command the stage was Ben DeLaCreme as Shady Lady. The judges (including the delightful Sheryl Lee Ralph, who was too cute for words, and RuPaul’s musical partner, the twinkilicious Lucian Piane) referenced Ben’s Bettie Page realness. But Ben was great throughout the challenge, and I desperately hope that the judges see the versatility Ben has given us so far in this competition. Because I have this awful fear that they’re setting him/her up for a shock boot in a few weeks.
Ben, Courtney, and Adore ended up in the top for the challenge, with Courtney taking the win (deservedly so, in my opinion). The Bottom 3 came down to Darienne Lake, who the judges felt failed to make an impact in the challenge; Trinity K. Bonet, who was dinged by the judges for her terrible diction but really should have been called out for her atrocious attitude in rehearsals; and April Carrion, who they felt wasn’t convincing in the “big girl” role.
Darienne was blessedly spared -- it was dubious that she was in the Bottom 3 to begin with -- and April and Trinity lipsynched to “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan. April was again dynamic and aggressive, but Trinity had that lipsynch in the bag as soon as she started busting out some of those old-school drag-ball moves that RuPaul loves so much. As soon as she started working that hand fan I knew it was over.
So, unfortunately, it was “Sashay away” to April Carrion -- and that is a travesty. Over the past two weeks April was railroaded harder than perhaps any other “Drag Race” contestant in recent memory. (At least on the show. I hope some of them are getting railroaded hard in real life. Get it, girls.) April had no business being the bottom last week; a decent if unspectacular challenge performance, and an eye-popping runway look do not a LSFYL make. This week she definitely wasn’t great as one of the three back-up queens to Adore’s lead actress, but if you’re going to single out April, why let Joslyn or Laganja escape without notice? NONE of them were good, and yet April was again made an example of for no discernible reason. OF COURSE she wasn’t believable as the “big girl.” Have you SEEN April?! She is never going to read “plus sized” no matter how much padding you stuff in her dress.
While I have enjoyed this season -- and I continue to enjoy it -- April’s ouster really speaks to producer shenanigans more than anything else. There were certain queens this time out who had absolutely no shot of making it even halfway through, no matter what they did. April was one of them. For whatever reason she was dismissed fairly bluntly, and that is a shame, because I think she conducted herself well in her three weeks on air. Certainly I think she made more of an impact than Gia (who is firmly ensconced in the protective bubble of the Early Bitch Edit), Joslyn (who I enjoy, but who is being given a VERY easy time by the editors), Laganja (virtually invisible this episode), and even MILK. And I love MILK, but the most noteworthy part of her “Rusical” performance was her Grizabella Realness.
Speaking of the others, Gia really showed herself to be a piece of work on “Untucked,” coming at MILK’s pregnancy red-carpet outfit (I died) and critiquing her lack of “versatility.” Oh, that is a LAUGH. Gia Gunn criticizing any drag queen on their lack of versatility. Call me when you serve up something that doesn’t involve gills, sweetheart. Better yet, call me when you give us fishy that actually passes the Gorton Fisherman’s muster. Because for all your talk, you are still vulnerable to the clock. Her viciousness really reached new heights this episode, and I suspect many of the people who viewed her as a harmless, dim creature (*ahem*Tom and Lorenzo*ahem*) might be changing their tunes. She’s nasty, and I don’t have time for it. Don’t be so offended by someone calling you ignorant if your definition of drag is limited to the sale rack at DEB. *Mic drop*
As for the nearly eliminated Trinity, she did herself absolutely no favors this episode vis-à-vis the “baby Tyra Sanchez” comparisons that have dogged her since this season’s queens were revealed. Trinity displayed massive attitude in rehearsals, looking to put in the absolute minimum required effort to skate through to the next round. (Let me quote the always-reliable Jujubee here: “America’s Next Drag Superstar is not going to be a lazy bitch.”) While she did end up pulling off a decent performance on the mainstage, she was obviously a source of stress for her group, and was argumentative from pretty much the get-go. Her stank faces at the criticism just underlined how ill-prepared she is for this competition. The judges brought up her terrible diction as the main flaw in her performance this episode, but the larger issue is the fact that Trinity -- despite being able to deliver when the chips are down -- is someone that, frankly, I assume would be infuriating to work with.
Anyway, I am irritated that April was eliminated, mostly because she really never had a shot in this competition. I think in any other season she would have been Top 6, given her beauty, her creativity, and her passion. This time, the producers/editors obviously eyeballed her as “dispensable” and set about engineering her exit with fairly weak justification. But it IS a stiff field this time around. And that’s why I’m hoping the editors take a goddamned seat and let the queens rise and fall on their own merits. If they continue to prop up some of them (*cough*Gia, Adore, the increasingly forgettable Laganja*cough*) and work to minimize the abilities of others (Darienne, Ben), I’m going to get increasingly frustrated increasingly quickly.
A final note: the viewing party at the Forum really was a lot of fun. Miss Darienne Lake spills the T about what was going on behind the scenes, and she’s funny and charming and very cool about taking pictures with nerdy newspaper types like myself. The crowd was enthusiastic (and quite good looking), there was some kind of diversion involving men in wigs, etc. It’s definitely worth coming out if you’re in the area. But note: they cut off that 3-for-2 deal at 9:15 p.m., regardless of how long you were waiting at the bar to be served (*ahem*). So plan accordingly. A friend of mine did get a killer deal on Tequila Sunrises, though…
NEXT: SNATCH GAME!
After the (I think smart and successful) two-part premiere, the 12 remaining queens were thrown together for the first big challenge. The mixing of the two groups provided some interesting moments. Some queens, like Ben DeLaCreme, welcomed the others with open, fabulous arms. Others, notably Gia Gunn, were extra crispy bitchy. I like my drag queens with a healthy amount of shade, but Gia falls squarely into the category of Bitchy Bitch, not Fun Bitch. And she’s especially in trouble this season, because Bianca del Rio, Queen of the Fun Bitches, is in the house, and she is going to destroy Gia. And it will be amazing to watch. And I suspect RuPaul will approve, because -- spoiler -- she obviously is not a fan of Gia, especially after this episode.
After a hilariously cute, but utterly pointless, mini-challenge, the main crux of the episode was a team acting challenge. Team leaders MILK and Adore Delano ended up dividing the contestants along the exact same lines as the groups from the initial episodes (Team Milk consisted of Courtney Act, Darienne Lake, Bianca del Rio, Trinity K. Bonet, and Joslyn Fox; Team Adore had Laganja Estranja, April Carrion, Gia Gunn, Ben DeLaCreme, and Vivacious). The teams had to shoot a horror-film trailer. MILK’s was set in the 1960’s, while Adore’s was set in the 1980’s.
For a horror challenge there was precious little suspense. These two groups are completely mismatched -- something many viewers commented on after the two-part premieres -- and Team MILK was obviously getting the win. Trinity needed quite a bit of direction but turned in a solid performance, while MILK oddly failed to impress in the crazy old lady role. Adore’s team crashed and burned almost entirely, with the exception of Ben DeLaCreme, who killed it. The rest of the group was miscast or unprepared, none worse than team captain Adore.
And so, it was frankly bullshit when Adore ended up toward the bottom of the heap, but not lipsynching for her life this episode. Nothing about that scenario added up, except for the act that the producers clearly love Adore -- or at least they think that the viewers love her -- and so they want her to stick around for a while. But based on her lack of preparation for the challenge, her lousy job as team leader, and the fact that her runway look was the least polished of the Bottom 3, there’s no reason she shouldn’t have been lipsynching.
Instead it came down to April Carrion, who was woefully miscast as a butch lesbian in the horror flick, and Vivacious, who totally struggled with both her lines and delivery. They both turned in decent lipsynch performances, but April had just a little more attitude/hunger, and Vivacious had to sashay away. It’s a pity. Vi had great talking heads, some eye-popping outfits (for this episode she came “dressed like Godzilla,” TM Bianca del Rio), and a great attitude. Although she was weak in the challenges, you could see her struggling with the de facto ageism on display with the younger queens in her group. (I wonder if she would have fared better with the more mature queens in Group B?) But I will miss her. She was fun. Vivacious: please say hello to Ornacia, and also that queen who apparently dresses like a furnace. She sounds fascinating.
Of course, had it been Vivacious vs. Adore -- which it SHOULD have been -- I don’t have a doubt in my mind that Adore would have been sent packing. Please understand, I like Adore. I like Danny. I find them both oddly charming. But RuPaul was dead right when she said that Danny/Adore has skated by on her charisma thus far in life, and doesn’t really know how to put in serious effort. That was painfully evident in both Adore’s challenge performance and in the way she reacted to the criticism leveled at her. Sour, sour faces, sulking, and awful energy. And the truth is, Adore has been struggling almost this entire competition. She may have come in as a huge fan favorite due to Danny’s time on “Idol,” but this is a very different game, and she’s not prepared for it. What’s worse is, she knows it. And RuPaul has her number, hussies.
RuPaul also sees right through Gia’s bullshit, and she called her out for it on the runway this episode. (Ru does not seem to be holding anything back this season, and I for one am glad for it -- this crop is strong enough that they can take it, or should be able to, at least.) Ru specifically lambasted Gia for her lack of craft and polish during the acting challenge, and more or less put her on notice that she knows Gia is all talk and very little ability. Gia is also -- I’m just going to say it -- not the brightest queen in the bunch. She can hurl an insult, but for all the burns she’s dishing out, the editors are dousing her in flames with their hilarious framing of her many Duh Moments. This episode: Delorean, black-and-white films. Both classic “Drag Race” edits.
Other things worth noting from this episode:
*The runway was “your best drag,” and the results were all over the place. Courtney impressed with an Australian flag-inspired gown, April gave us “Singin’ in the Rain” Realness, etc. And then we had Gia looking like a Burton version of an OompaLoompa and Joslyn in one of Honey Mahagoney's discount muumuus. I don’t know. And then effing MILK shows up dressed like a slutty Pinocchio, and I just died. Slayed.
*Darienne Lake won the main challenge for playing a bewitched head in a box. Yay, Darienne! She was also funny and charming, although I suspect she’s going to get some shit thrown at her online for her kaikai remarks.
*Bianca and Courtney seemed to have formed a weird bond, and if I was any other queen in this competition, I would be terrified. Those two are alpha dogs, and if they’re a team, the rest of you are screwed.
*Ben desperately needs to get saved from the kiddie pool, because Laganja, Gia, and Adore are doing her absolutely no favors. Even Santino said that had Ben been in the winning group she probably would have won the challenge.
*Speaking of Laganja Estranja, I cringed again at her self-absorption and what I perceive as faux emotionalism in “Untucked.” The entire losing group told the judges that Vivacious should be the one to go home. OK. I get that. But then on “Untucked,” the younger queens -- especially Laganja -- were basically harassing Vivacious into telling them it was OK for them to throw her under the bus en masse. And that is bullshit. You said what you said. Own it. She felt ganged up on and did not have to tell you that was fine. You’re playing a game, sure, but if you feel guilty for railroading her -- which Laganja and probably Adore certainly did -- that is on you. Leave the poor woman alone.
*I cannot for the life of me figure out Joslyn. She seems like such a ditz, but she did well in the challenge and then had me roaring with her reactions on “Untucked.” She is an enigma. A derpy enigma.
NEXT: “Shade: The Rusical”! It’s an “Idol”-Off between Adore and Courtney!
Monday night we got the second part of the Season 6 premiere, and it was worth the wait. While I absolutely enjoyed the seven queens in Group 1, the 10-minute preview of Group 2 that aired last week made it clear that most of the exciting queens (with the exception of Ben Delacreme and Laganja Estranja) were in the second batch. The challenge results were stronger from Group 1, but the action was more entertaining in Group 2, and I found myself LOL-ing throughout the entire episode. (And “Untucked” was mercifully free of forced, staged emotion.)
The final seven queens in Season 6 are:
Bianca Del Rio: I found her abrasive in her “Meet the Queens” video, but of course, that’s the point. Bianca is an insult comic, and she’s very good at what she does. My fear from the pre-show clips was that Bianca was going to have an attitude of “I’m better than everyone, and better than this show” -- but that was totally not the case. Yes, Bianca is a bitch. Or at least she plays one on stage and TV. But already she showed some very human reactions in between some quick, cutting jabs. Bianca can also sew (she won the first challenge), has musical-theater experience, and has no shortage of charisma. I expect Bianca to be running these queens ragged by episode 4 or 5. She is a major contender. Her only note from the judges: tone down the eye make-up. (Although personally, I like it -- it perfectly suits her character.)
Trinity K. Bonet: I go back and forth on Trinity. She’s a stunning queen, but the illusion is ruined the second she opens her mouth and that Quaalude man voice pours out. She seems…not the sharpest, and yet her Queen Amidala reference for the main challenge was both fun and unexpected. She’s clearly a pageant gal, but she’s got some edge to her. I don’t think she’s in the top tier this season -- not by a longshot -- but there are more facets to Trinity than I previously imagined. I still can’t with that voice, though.
Joslyn Fox: Speaking of “not the sharpest,” we have Joslyn. Jos is very pretty, very sweet, and VERY perky. She reminds me of a 5-year-old, which I’m not sure is really a compliment. What I can’t decide is if the airhead thing is an act, a la Goldie Hawn on "Laugh-In," or if Joslyn really is just that dim. She said she misunderstood the point of the main challenge (they were each assigned a party-themed box and told to make an outfit -- she thought she had to use as much in the box as possible, so it looked like a Michael's store ejaculated all over her), she seemed stumped when a producer questioned her malapropism (“black horse” instead of “dark horse”), etc. And her fangirling over Courtney is embarrassing.
MILK: So, MILK is amazing. I am not going to be able to separate my own personal delight over MILK from my analysis, so you’re going to need to accept that right now. MILK is an avant-garde shock queen from NYC, but who is originally from Syracuse. (MILK is also brutally hot as a guy, though that’s kind of irrelevant.) (Wait, no it isn’t.) MILK intentionally makes herself uglier as a woman, painting a giant fake gap on his teeth, wearing bizarre, unflattering clothes, and constantly pushing the envelope -- and it is only Episode 1. MILK had me with the toilet paper stuck to her shoe, won my love by wearing acid-wash hot pants in the work room, and then took me higher by creating a runway look that included a bare-breasted “Xanadu” jumpsuit, a lilypad on her head, and a GODDAMNED FAKE BEARD. I am in love with this queen. I hope she stays forever.
Courtney Act: Is unquestionably a frontrunner. Courtney is already a celebrity in her home country Australia, where she was a contestant -- in drag -- in the first season of “Australian Idol.” I assume Courtney’s passage to America was underwritten by Chicken of the Sea, because this queen is the fishiest contestant EVER on this show. Courtney can totally pass as female -- and, in “Untucked,” said that she has in fact seduced more than one supposedly straight man whilst in drag, referring to herself as, “a glamorous stepping stone across the pond to homosexuality.” If Courtney was just all look and body, she’d still be a threat. But she’s more than that. She’s a singer, a performer, and she has oodles of personality. Her reaction to the pillow-fight photo shoot was adorable, and she’s likable even when throwing a little shade or patting herself on the back a little much. She biffed the first challenge, but accepted criticism well. If she remains this cool throughout the competition these others hos are screwed.
Darienne Lake: I also can’t pretend to be objective about Darienne. She is, of course, our hometown queen, and I’ve both interviewed Darienne and seen her perform numerous times. Her fans have waited years for her to appear on “Drag Race,” and it’s so exciting to finally see it happen. Darienne was terrific in her entrance, her talking heads, and her interactions with the queens -- sharp, funny, bubbly, quick. It’s everything Darienne fans expected. But Darienne totally whiffed the main challenge, turning out a St. Patrick’s-inspired outfit that was both plain and unflattering. And I suspect she knew it. Darienne did not object to the judges’ criticisms -- in fact, if anything, she took her low placement as an inspiration to do better. That’s what you want in a contestant. Thing is, Darienne knows how to sew. So I’m not sure what happened there. (Time constraints?) Thankfully, Darienne also knows how to deliver a motherfucking lipsynch, and she did a great job to Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around,” giving great energy, humor, and some serious booty shaking. (Our viewing party was disappointed that, with the party theme, they didn’t do “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore; missed opportunity, show.)
Magnolia Crawford: Magnolia joined Darienne in the Bottom 2, and she was eliminated. Let’s unpack Magnolia for a second. When the cast was first announced, and I watched all of the “Meet the Queens” videos, Magnolia was hands down my least favorite of the cast. In her clips, she seemed almost bored to be there, and out of shits to give. It was just so ODD. Then I watched her audition video, and I realized that the “over it” vibe is largely an affect; it’s part of Magnolia’s “trash queen” act. I found that weirdly endearing. But after watching this episode, I’m back to my first impression. Magnolia had a terrible attitude throughout this entire affair. It was almost like she was trying to pick a fight. She hated her “country hoedown” assignment, hated her materials, glued a Holstein-print piece of fabric into a tube dress and slapped a ribbon on the back, and then talked back to the judges when they did their job by, you know, judging her. RuPaul did NOT look amused. In “Untucked,” Magnolia literally told the girls that she did not care if she got eliminated -- she was simply there for exposure. She got on the show, people knew her name, she got what she wanted. She also said that any of the queens who adapted their style to suit the judges were “boring and have no spine.” That is pretty damned bold. In fact, it was so bold, that again I wondered if it all wasn’t an act. But as one of the other queens (Trinity, I think) argued, there are hundreds of queens dying to get on this show, and Magnolia threw away a spot just to boost her ego. It’s a fair point. Ultimately Magnolia struggled with the words of the lipsynch, moved around awkwardly, and more or less couldn’t wait to get back to her hotel room for a few weeks in Sequesterville. I don’t know. What a bizarre situation.
At the end of the episode, the remaining queens from the two groups merged in the Work Room, and the tension was palpable. I’ve heard people complain that the split-premiere format robbed the first two episodes of some of the frenetic energy that typically define “Drag Race” premieres. I guess that’s true, but what was gained was a level of exposure for each competing queen that most past early eliminees surely wish they had (seriously, I feel like I have a sense of all 12 remaining contestants at this point). And Episode 3, when things typically start to level off, is now primed to be particularly explosive as we have, essentially, rival drag-queen girl gangs rumbling for the first time. I love it. I am loving this season. RuPaul, don’t fail me now!
I went into Wednesday night’s performance episode debating whether or not to bother with this season of “Idol.” On the “pro” side, I like the judging panel. I liked most of the talent I was seeing before I took a few weeks off to watch the Olympics. And the line-up for the Top 13 that emerged last week was surprisingly different from what I was expecting.
On the “con” side, I am burned out on this show, and I was already seeing some really disheartening producer-driven hijinks going down during Hollywood Week. And I would LOVE to have three-plus hours of my life back every week.
So I had decided that I was going to check out the talent and let that be the deciding vote. After all, this is what host Ryan Seacrest himself referred to as an “epic talent show.” Without the talent, what do we have?
Apparently what we have is a lot of flashy production values and quick cuts, a largely mediocre group of singers, and a completely useless panel of judges. Oh, and Randy Jackson. We still have Randy Jackson. And like four or five legitimately good singers. Basically it felt less like “Idol” and more like the American version of “X Factor.” And absolutely NOBODY wants that.
The theme for the week was “This is Me,” which was broad enough to give the singers flexibility in song choice, but didn’t provide much of an actual framework. Some of the contestants picked songs that said something about themselves, or their styles, or their journeys. Others just picked songs they liked.
There are a bunch of “improvements” this year. Fancy new stage.New ways to vote (I suspect they’re desperate to make the voting as easy as possible, because those numbers have to be WAY down). The contestants now sit in an area on stage watching the others perform, which seems awkward and probably hurts their own preparation. There’s lots of split-screen work during performances, largely to poor effect. This was especially true during “mentor” Randy Jackson’s introductions, in which he was virtually impossible to hear over the mindless shrieking of the audience. But I am still confident in my assertion that he said absolutely nothing of value. (Come back, Jimmy Iovine. All is forgiven.)
Anyway, here is how the Top 13 stacked up in my book:
Dexter Roberts did an upbeat country song I did not recognize. He seemed nervous at first and a little uncomfortable on the stage -- there was a LOT going on around him, so I suspect some of that might have been sensory overload. It got better as it went along, but it was far from his best performance. The pitch was very problematic. Keith Urban said it was a solid cover, but Dexter’s challenge is going to be finding a way to make a song his own. Harry Connick Jr. encouraged Dexter to get rid of his ear monitor, because he wasn’t singing completely in tune. Jennifer Lopez also encouraged Dexter to pick songs with a higher range, so that he can hit his “sweet spot.” The judges were kind to Dexter.
Malaya Watson picked “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars, which was disastrous. I like Malaya -- I really like her. This was awkward karaoke. It was shouty and out of breath, and did not showcase any of her wonderful vocal qualities. She had terrific energy, but nothing else was good. Nothing. Lopez said, “It wasn’t your best vocal performance.” That was WAY too generous. Connick fumbled around for a while before getting to her bad intonation and her nervousness. Urban basically told her that she needs to do better. JUDGES. Come ON. That was in no way a Top 13 performance. That girl should have been read to filth, 17 years old or not. It was nowhere NEAR what she should have been delivering at this point in the competition.
Kristen O’Connor did “Beautiful Disaster” by Kelly Clarkson. I know this is sacrilege, but I actually liked Kristen’s version better than Kelly’s. It had an 80’s power ballad edge to it. She had some pitch issues, and she needs to work on her presence. But she was easily the best vocal of the first three. Connick questioned the delivery of the song, and the meaning, which Kristen said she changed to be about herself instead of a guy. Eh. Urban liked that the song showed off her range. Lopez thought Kristen was thinking too much and not going for the moment. Kristen kept interrupting the judges during their comments. Kristen: do not do that. It is offputting.
Ben Briley did Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and it was fine. He got really into the performance, and even though he was shouting for a good half of it, he still did so musically. Urban made the controversial statement that he loves Johnny Cash -- no shit, Keith. Thanks for that sterling insight. He thought the tempo was too fast, and that Ben came awfully close to kitsch in that performance. I agree. Connick thought it was the best performance of the night at that point, and liked that Ben picked an older song. I’m going to respond to that with a giant eyeroll, because it is hardly like “Folsom Prison Blues” is some dusty gem that Ben unearthed from the vault. It is not obscure. It is frankly pretty damned obvious.
C.J. Harris did Darius Rucker’s “Radio.” He struggled through the verse but sounded much better on the chorus, and he seemed to be having a good time on stage. I’m not sure why he had his guitar with him, as he didn’t play it for the vast majority of the song. C.J.’s voice sounds better when he doesn’t push too hard; unfortunately, he pushes it pretty consistently. Lopez enjoyed the upbeat tone most of the contestants were bringing to the show. I’ll agree with that, I just wish the singing was better. Connick wanted C.J. to sing something that showcased the more interesting parts of his voice. C.J. needs to learn how to speak succinctly, because Ryan had to cut him off not once, but twice.
M.K. Nobillette did “Satisfaction” by…someone. Not the Rolling Stones. This was almost painfully awkward. M.K. can clearly sing, but she does not have anywhere close to the charisma or the commitment to pull off that song. Urban, bless him, brought up the “deer in the headlights” thing, which was the nicest way possible to say that M.K. looked petrified to be singing that song, on that stage, on national television. Lopez called her awesome and said she loved it. The judges were just full of fail tonight.
Majesty Rose picked “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae. A great song, but a tricky one for this show. She had a rough start, some pitch problems, and she got weirdly quiet in parts. But she was fully alive during the chorus and overall it was mostly good. (Mostly.) Urban praised the song choice and wants Majesty to become more confident in herself. Lopez loves Majesty’s individual style and approach, and called her “blessed.” I like Majesty, but I expected more from her.
Jena Irene did “The Scientist” by Coldplay. It was, for me, the first performance of the night that felt worthy of an “Idol” finalist. Jena blew away every other contestant who performed before her with a beautiful, powerful vocal, and I enjoyed that very much. Connick asked her why Coldplay called the song “The Scientist,” and Harry, that is why Wikipedia exists. Both Lopez and Urban mentioned some pitch issues in the beginning, but said that once Jena committed to it, it all worked out. I just want to point out that, based on the judges’ reactions to all the other contestants, you would think that Jena’s performance was simply just as good as everyone else’s, instead of a quantum leap ahead of all the others.
Alex Preston did Jason Mraz’s “Beautiful Mess.” Alex has a beautiful voice, and this quiet, simple presentation was exponentially more riveting than 90 percent of the relentless stagings that preceded it. He had a few bum notes in there, but the vast majority of it sounded spectacular. Connick thought it was “brave” to come out and do something so stripped down, but he did not respond to the piece emotionally. Connick was really showing his ass tonight, folks. I like him a lot, but he was WAY off. Urban had an opposite reaction. But to me, it was again a question of consistency. You’re going to give a tepid response to Alex’s performance, but tell the earlier contestants how great they did? Give me a break.
Jessica Meuse did “The Crow and the Butterfly,” and she came out like an actual bonafied rock star. THANK YOU, JESSICA. The vocal was VERY strong, and it had some great moments where she inflected some cool grit and gravel on to it. Urban thought it was a bold song choice, and appreciated the edge and the rasp to her voice. Lopez said that the power of Jessica’s voice gave her “goosies.” Actually, that was true for me as well. She encouraged Jessica to relax her body a bit, but called it “dope.” Pearls of wisdom. Pearls.
Emily Piriz sang Pink’s “Glitter in the Air.” The song was way too low for her. The verse was strictly amateur hour, but the chorus sounded good. Emily has a really corny delivery style -- it’s very pageant. The judges talked about how brave Emily was to sing that song, which is nice. But NOBODY bothered to mention that she was barely getting through the first quarter of the song, which scraped the bottom her range. But hey, let’s be proud of her for picking a song, singing it exactly as recorded, and performing roughly half of it well. Hugs for everybody!
Sam Woolf performed “Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty. This was fine, I guess. I couldn’t help shake the feeling that Sam was trying to make some grand philosophical statement…via a Matchbox Twenty song. And that’s just bad comedy. Connick thought the vocal was too “nice” to fit the song, while Urban thought it was too slow. Lopez called Sam “a quiet storm” -- whatever that means -- and wants Sam to come alive a little more on stage. Let’s start with having him wake up, and then NOT PICKING SONGS BY MATCHBOX TWENTY.
Caleb Johnson did a song I didn’t know by Rival Sons, but he did it well. Really great rock vocal on a cool song. Caleb reminds me of a less-annoying, more vocally talented Jack Black. I think he’s probably still super annoying, though. But guy can sing. Urban loved the song and the band, and thought Caleb performed well. But he warned Caleb that he has to find a way to not be such a throwback. Yep, I suspect his shtick is going to get old in about three weeks. The other judges raved about him.
Honestly, I cannot even predict who will be in trouble, much less going home. The judges really failed not only these contestants, but America as well, with the universal, “Everything is awesome” take. Connick was critical, but it was almost insanely applied -- he came for Alex but not for anyone in the first third of the evening? Are you kidding me?
I am undecided on whether I’ll even bother to watch Thursday night’s episode, or anything beyond that. I haven’t been this disinterested in a crop of talent since Season 7. Based on tonight’s performances, Alex, Jessica, Caleb, Jena, and Majesty are the only ones I care to hear from again. That is a terrible ratio. And I’m not at all convinced that those contestants even have legs in this competition. Sam will be there a long while, and I suspect Dexter and C.J. as well. And given the shrieking from the audience, so will M.K. and Malaya. (And I really have enjoyed many of Malaya’s previous performances, but man, she was awful tonight.)
What did YOU think of the Top 13?
Whew, Mother Ru was really putting us THROUGH it! The wait for Season 6 was excruciatingly long, and the show had done such a masterful job building the anticipation with the cast reveal, social-media content, and killer trailers. I was honestly a little worried. Could the premiere live up to my insanely high expectations? But after Monday night’s episode, I absolutely think we’re in for a fantastic season. The queens are fierce, the show has made some clever tweaks, and perhaps most importantly, we have double the Pit Crew. We are already winning!
The big twist in Episode 1 was the fact that it was actually TWO episodes. The new queens entered the Werk Room, as usual, but the number stopped at seven. That’s when RuPaul explained that they were starting the show off with two groups of queens, and that of the 14, only half would be participating in Week 1, with the other half squaring off in Week 2.
This is a brilliant switch, and part of why I love this show. Historically it has been virtually impossible to really get a sense of all the new queens when a season first starts. When you have a dozen-plus contestants it’s difficult to keep track of them, and it’s even more complicated when you’re talking about drag queens -- viewers have to identify/bond with both the male and female versions of each competitor. By focusing on just seven queens this episode we got to actually spend a little time with each one of them, and to form some early opinions. In the past you’d be able to do that for the queens who were in the bottom and top of those early episodes, but the majority just got lost in the middle.
And frankly I think some of the contestants were counting on that vast, safe middle ground to keep them safe for at least a few weeks. Not with this new format. You could see the look of terror on several queens’ faces when they realized that they just went from a 1 in 14 chance of being eliminated to a 1 in 7, with practically a third in danger of going home. I bet that more than one tuck popped when that lightning bolt hit.
So, great twist, even if it meant having to wait a whole ‘nother week to see several of the queens in which I’m most interested (including Courtney Act, Bianca del Rio, Milk, and Rochester’s Darienne Lake). In the meantime, here are my impressions of the queens in Group 1:
Adore Delano is going to be divisive -- she already is in my little viewing party. Adore is the drag persona of Danny Noriega, who was a semifinalist years ago on “American Idol.” I find Adore’s giggly brat shtick charming, and I think much of the attitude is just playing for the cameras -- it seems to be delivered with a knowing wink. What concerns me about Adore is that she seems unprepared for this competition (she even said she only brought like four or five gowns), and that she may be expecting her previous reality-show experience/notoriety to carry her. In any other season she might be right. But the competition is VERY stiff this time, and she already seemed a little rattled by the end of the episode.
Ben Delacreme is an absolute delight and one of my top picks of the season. Ben has a very specific, dizzy housewife character she works with -- think Lucy and Ethel combined -- but she does it SO well. She’s razor sharp, gives amazing face, and has killer personal style. Judge Michelle Visage worried that Ben’s character could become tiring very quickly, but even Ben gets the danger inherent in it -- she refers to herself as “terminally perky.”
Gia Gunn was more or less the bitch of this group, and frankly, I was left cold by her. Gia is relying on her fishy looks and her outrageous fashion (that hula-hoop-sized handbag was a hoot), and was awfully quick to make disparaging remarks in the talking-head interviews. But, hey, it’s a drag competition; I am fine with some shade. I’m just not convinced that Gia’s got the wit to pull it off terribly well. Plus, she delivers it with an irritating, nasal voice that I found grating. Not a fan, although there were moments in “Untucked” where I saw some likable qualities shining through.
LaganjaEstranja is similar to Gia, in the fact that there is a loud, self-satisfied façade going on, but I think underneath there’s more to Laganja. She made a hell of an entrance with her death drops, and I love her colorful, playful style. She’s also quite funny. But she is very “on,” almost to the point of exhaustion. Even RuPaul said that she’s trying way too hard, and needs to just trust in herself. With Laganja it’s not difficult to see a kid with a lot of talent and a lot of smarts, but someone in desperate need of approval/attention. I think the show is setting her up for a redemption edit, and I welcome it. She’s got some rough edges that need sanding down, but I think she’s talented and has a real “it” factor.
April Carrion is my dark horse for the season. I initially dismissed her as just another pretty but uninspiring Latin queen, but she’s got oodles of potential. Yes, she is gorgeous. But she’s also got an adventurous sense of style and lots of ambition. This is a queen who is doing some interesting things with gender and takes chances. She was given arguably the hardest assignment in the main challenge and she nailed it, coming up with something unexpected. She also seems like a sweetheart. Very interested to see more of this queen.
Vivacious had me roaring with laughter, both intentionally and otherwise. Her entrance was a perfect “Drag Race” moment, with her fake alien head Ornacia giving us WTF and the inability to open the costume following that up with a LOL. Her photo shoot also provided some “bless her heart” responses, but I thought she did fine on the main challenge. One thing’s for certain: Mother knows how to work a goddamned runway. And I could listen to the endearing string of nonsense coming out of her mouth all night long.
Kelly Mantle came into the competition with huge expectations -- she is already a fairly big deal in the national/international drag scene, and has an extensive list of showbiz credentials. Unfortunately, this show might not have been a great showcase of her talents. I think the change in format threw her for a loop. I think she expected to be able to coast for at least a little while, but the sudden pressure and an admitted lack of sewing skills led to a fairly uninspiring look for the runway (and a fairly bad photo shoot as well). Still, I liked what we saw of Kelly, and felt bad for her.
The past tense in the preceding paragraph was intentional, because Kelly was the first queen cut after falling into the Bottom 2 opposite Vivacious. (That second spot was somewhat controversial -- while Kelly’s “Downton Abbey”-inspired look was pretty obviously doomed, I thought Vivacious’s Mary J. Blige goes “Game of Thrones” look kind of worked, and the dress had specific callbacks to Daenarys. Adore’s was a straight-up mess and she knew it.) The lipsynch to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” sealed the deal, as it was clearly more in Vivacious’ wheelhouse (Kelly also seemed to struggle a bit with the words). On the good side, Ben won the challenge for his elaborate glued dress in homage to “The Golden Girls” (complete with cheesecake), and April was praised for taking chances.
Kelly going home first basically proves that this season, nobody is safe. For one, she’s already got a legit career and serious name recognition. She’s a pro at this, not some club queen just giving it a shot. Secondly, several of the spoilers I read had her going far, even all the way to F3. That suggests that there’s no reliable leak out right now, and I’m delighted about that. (Predictions: of this group, Vivacious will be next to go, followed by either Adore or Gia. I expect Ben, April, and Laganja to make it fairly far, and I will be sad if/when any of them get eliminated.)
Guest judge Adam Lambert did a fine job, and I loved him flirting with April. I will confess that I’m confused as to why Santino continues to be a judge on this show, especially given his bafflingly high praise of Gia’s runway outfit. He’s supposed to be a bringing a fashion eye, right?
Finally, a few notes on “Untucked.” 1) I can’t believe it’s no longer the Interior Illusions Lounge! My worldview is crumbling. (My viewing party also noted that Absolut no longer seems to be a sponsor; hmmm…) 2) I think the producers expected more drama out of this group, particularly Gia, because the discussion was a bit of a snooze fest. 3) The most worrisome part of the episode was Gia’s blatant attempt for camera time by bringing up her family struggles, which was then immediately coopted by a teary Laganja. We have hit a point on this show where the queens know what the cameras want, and they’re giving it to them in the most calculated way possible, like the kids on latter-season "Real World." I’m not saying that any of that was insincere -- it definitely seemed like Laganja has issues with his mother -- but it was difficult to not see the whole scene as a bid for attention. Perhaps it’s time for the producers to shake up the “Untucked” format as well. The main episode showed that it can be a real boon when they try something new.
Next week: we meet the second seven, including hometown girl Darienne Lake! And Courtney Act continues to freak out a nation of straight men who refuse to believe that she is not a biological woman. (Seriously, folks, THAT is a fishy queen.)
Hollywood Week continued with Group Round. Historically I have loved Group Round. We've gotten some major break-out moments in past seasons, with performers really stepping to the front of the pack. And we have also got some spectacular freak-outs. Thursday night we got some decent group numbers, we got some awful group numbers, but we saw very few "star" moments from any particular performer.
What we did see was a lot of bullshit judging decisions. I've been saying that there's a ton of amazing talent this season - and I stand by that -- but it could all get screwed up during Hollywood and semi-finals. And some of my fears were realized last night. Group after group came up and delivered uneven performances. That is to be expected at this point, given the pressure-cooker scenario and crazy time restraints. But people who screwed up were sent through to the next round while others who performed competently were cut. The judges' justifications basically came down to, "Well, they did enough before this to justify keeping them, and you didn't." I know we're talking about a glorified TV game show, but that is totally unfair.
If you are going to ignore the group-round performances when making cuts, why bother with it at all? The answer, of course, is for drama. Group round almost always produces tears, yelling, and tantrums - and it did this season. I'm OK with drama if it's for a reason, but this is simply running the hamsters through a maze. And when they get to the end, the judges all laugh and say, "It doesn't matter if you got the cheese. We're sticking with the derpy one who is still stuck at the first corner, because we like him/her better than you." Bullshit.
It all started well enough with Three Mo' Days, featuring "Idol" vets David Oliver Willis, Tony Foster, Jr., and SarinaJoi Crowe, who all were in Hollywood Week last year. They did a very solid job with "Too Close." The number got better as it went along, and the harmonies were fantastic. Kind of shockingly, Tony was cut, because he lacked personality and he spent most of the number looking at the floor.
The Backstreet Cowboys -- Casey Thrasher, Dexter Roberts, and Ben Briley -- did "I Want it That Way" by Backstreet Boys. Casey looked like a full-on creeper in his part. His opening passage felt almost like a threat. But it got better when Dexter came in. He's really great. The harmonies were OK, but nowhere near as good as the first group. The arrangement and pacing made it seem almost like a dirge. Ben did not make much of an impression one way or the other. They all went through, which was our first bullshit moment of the evening: they were nowhere near as good as the first group. And Ben wasn't displaying any more charisma than Tony.
Golden boy Spencer Lloyd created some drama in his group. Apparently he felt he knew the song, which I didn't recognize, and refused to practice thoroughly with his group members Megan Miller and Alyssa Siebken. Megan totally flopped, forgetting her part almost completely. Alyssa struggled through it, but still sounded decent. And Spencer just kind of bobbed along. He certainly didn't kill it for someone who supposedly mastered the song. Even Jennifer Lopez said, "If it was based solely on this performance, it would be a wash." That's how bad they were. And yet, somehow it was only Alyssa who got cut. Megan did not even remember her lyrics at all. Total BS.
Caleb Johnson, Tyler Ahlgren, Matthew Hamel, and C.J. Harris also did "Too Close." Tyler totally forgot the words and thought he was cute making stuff up. Unacceptable. Matthew was quite good, C.J. was very rough, and Caleb can sing, but he's more than a little over the top. The group as a whole was a mess. Caleb and C.J. got pushed through, but Matthew and Tyler got cut. C.J. had no business making it over Matthew, and Matthew knew it. He was right - he sounded quite good on that song. I came around on C.J. last episode but he fell again in my estimation after that weak showing.
Clarity Can Do had Jen Asciutto, Sikenya Thompson, Allie Odom, and a gentleman they didn't ID with a chyron. They also did "Too Close." Sikenya had skipped hours of rehearsal because she was sick. She totally blew her verse, was given a second chance, and then struggled through it. The others seemed to have acquitted themselves well, especially since it appeared that much of their practice time was rendered useless because they didn't know if they were performing as a trio or a quartet due to Sikenya's waffling. Allie, who sounded really great, got cut. The judges gave Sikenya a whole lot of ass kissing about pulling through, but the footage we saw hardly painted her as a survivor. I get that she was legitimately sick, but she had a lousy attitude and did not give one shit about her group. So let's reward her and cut the girl who performed quite well. Again: so much bullshit.
NicaNashae, Stephanie Hanway, Cara Watson, and Jessica Meuse did Beyonce's "Single Ladies." It was dreadful karaoke. Really embarrassing, though not as embarrassing as the one girl's mom dancing in the audience. Jessica really struggled with the lyrics, and gave the judges her whole group-round sob story. That almost certainly helped Jessica get through. Stephanie was the only one cut, and her embarrassing mom interrupted the whole proceedings by yelling and being obnoxious. Her mom then threw Jessica under the bus in the lobby, and was swearing on the Bible and God while being vindictive and mean spirited. Jessica wasn't good and didn't deserve to advance, but Stage Mom was awful. (I like Jessica, but I found it telling that she said, "Drama seems to follow me around." That does not bode well for her, in this show or in life.)
Speaking of drama engines, Love's Angels, featuring Terrica Curry, Carmen Delgina, and Emmanuel Zidor, did Destiny's Child's "Say My Name." Carmen was much better than she has been in the past. Terrica seemed angry the whole time and her vocals were unimpressive, and Emmanuel was totally over the top, as usual. The judges said that the song didn't allow them to showcase their voices. It's true; there was a lot of monotone and then shouting. But the show offered them that song, so... Harry Connick Jr. called it full out "terrible." Carmen and Terrica were both cut, while Emmanual advanced. He sets my teeth on edge.
Loud and Fierce, a drama-plagued group featuring Christina Collins, bossy Olivia Diamond, Queen Bulls, and Malaya Watson, did "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5. The styling featured a lot animal prints, tight black leather and spandex, and a fair amount of skin. There was a desperation to the whole affair, but the singing was generally good. Christina was totally off the tempo. Olivia and Queen came on like houses on fire. Malaya is clearly the one to watch from that group. She's terrific. They all got through. Olivia seems like a pill.
At the end of Group Round 77 contestants were left. So not so much with the cutting the field in half, like JLo said. I hope you all enjoyed the hour of your life this show just wasted by jerking us off.
Next week: I very well may skip the remainder of Hollywood Week in lieu of the Olympics, because at least they bother to explain the bullshit judging in figure skating, and it's way more fun watching people fall on ice.
Producers promised us big shake-ups for Hollywood Week - apparently viewers hate the middle rounds (I know I can't stand semi-finals) - which thus far has translated to a new interstitial "Airport Round." Basically the kids got off their planes at Hollywood and were taken to an airplane hangar, where 50 of them were picked out as on-the-bubble contestants and asked to essentially sing for their lives.
This segment flew by awfully quickly, and it was impossible to keep track of all the contestants. A few of the notable Airport Round performancs:
-Johnny Newcomb auditioned in Salt Lake and was given a hard time by Harry Connick Jr. for putting on an affectation. This time he did "Pumped Up Kicks" by Foster the People. It was a low-key vocal and the performance lacked energy and star power.
-Ali Jane Henderson from Atlanta auditions sang beautifully on a cool version of Britney Spears' "Toxic." She sounded like a straight-up recording.
-Caitlin Johnson did a terrible version of "Only Girl in the World" that had serious pitch problems. Harry literally said, "I don't know what we ever saw in her." Poor Caitlin admitted to have terrible stage fright.
-I thought Adam Roth, my beautiful furry sound healer, blew it with his version of Imagine Dragons' "Radioactive," which was a mess vocally and the judges hated the piano playing. Jennifer Lopez fought hard for him, which I respect.
-Tristen Langley is Nikki McKibben's kid, and he auditioned in Austin. We only got a little bit of his singing but the judges seemed thoroughly unimpressed.
-Morgan Deplitch did Sara Bareilles' "Brave" and it was absolutely terrible. I've heard better in karaoke bars. She megachoked, and she knew it.
-Neco Starr did Bruno Mars' "Gorillas," and he IS good but there's something about him that seems so fake and forced to me.
-KhristianD'avis has a decent r'n'b voice but, as Jennifer Lopez pointed out, she lacked flow. One of the other judges said that she "is in love with her own voice." She also got demerits for those hideous Bieber pants.
After the 50 bubble singers performed they were split into two groups and put on two busses. One was going to the hotel and on to the next rounds. The other was headed to the airport to send the kids straight home -- and the contestants purportedly had no idea which bus was which. If they really didn't tell the contestants where they were headed, that is one of the meanest things I have ever seen on this show. Not even Simon would have pulled such a vicious mindfuck. It was pretty obvious that Bus 1 was the cut group, which had 30 contestants. The show didn't bother to identify them, but it seemed like Tristen was among them. You know that McKibben was PISSED.
The next round was the standard knockout round. Singers were placed in lines and sang one by one, and the judges kept and cut who they pleased. There were literally dozens of contestants paraded across the screen - impossible to keep track of them all. Below are the ones that caught my attention. However, I want to say, on the whole: this is an EXCEPTIONALLY talented group of musicians. Best crop we've seen on this show in seasons, I truly believe that. Of course, both the judges and America could totally bollox this up before we get to finals. So...
-Majesty York is so lovely. She did "1234" by Feist and absolutely nailed it, and showed off more power than I expected from her. She's so wonderful! And I love her style.
-Spencer Lloyd did "Say Something" and did a solid job of it. He can play piano, too. And he's so pretty. The girls are going to devour this kid. Let me put it this way: he was already trending on Twitter last night.
-Austin Wolfe did not impress me terribly in her initial audition, but she did a very nice job with "Take It All" by Adele. And normally I hate when kids try Adele on this show.
-Bria Anai has a wonderful voice but she overdoes it. She needs to learn how to pull back.
-Selena Moreno was like a freight train plowing through some song I didn't recognize, and she was singing in like five different keys. Her voice cracked in the midst of a line. She was cut, as was country girl Lauren Ogburn, who never should have gotten this far to begin with.
-Sam Woolf, 17, did a solid job with "Waiting for the World to Change." He's got a really great-sounding voice, but he has to work on his presence. He was staring at his guitar the whole time.
-Keri Lynn Roche is a spectacular singer and I would love to hear her sing more.
-C.J. Harris did "Trouble" and he was much better than his initial audition. He's a very evocative singer. I was unimpressed with him the first time I saw him, but he totally changed my opinion this round.
-Alex Preston came out did some funky-ass guitar work before going into an awesome singer-songwriter version of Will.i.am and Britney's "Scream and Shout." He's amazing! I love him.
-Kenzie Hall did a cool version of "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore and broke out into a great rap section. She is so awesome and I'm in love with her.
-BristonMaroney did Lorde's "Royals" and I HATED it. He is so affected and ridiculous sounding. I don't get him at all. NOBODY REALLY SINGS LIKE THAT.
-Dexter Roberts can really sing and play. He's a good ol' boy, but he's also a good ol' singer.
-Casey Thrasher is getting pushed so hard by this show, and I don't really get why. He's totally fine. A decent singer, a good guitar player, very old-school country. But there are MUCH better singers on this season.
-Briana Oakley has been trying out for this show for years. She has the goods, although I don't think she has what it takes to win. I notice that she tends to be involved in drama during group rounds, and that happened again tonight.
-Keith London did a ballsy song choice in Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy." The singing was really good. The judges admitted that they talked through the entire thing because they found the song choice so odd, and Keith sang another song, this time" Same Love." I feel like Keith was trying to send a deliberate message with those song choices and the judges were being disrespectful.
-Jena Asciutto grabbed my attention. She has a very mature sounding voice for a 17-year-old. She was so good that Keith Urban wanted to download her song.
A bunch of people got cut, but not really anyone surprising. The judges suggested they still had 100 contestants going into group round, and that they'd have to cut half of them. We got the beginnings of the group-round drama - and there was plenty of drama - and the actual performances will be tonight. But y'all, I am TORN, because the Olympics start tonight and there is a new team ice-skating competition. TEAM ICE-SKATING! That's even more dramatic than group rounds...
For its third episode, “Looking” shifted its focus from sex and relationships to the careers of its three core characters. But it did not shift its tone, as Patrick, Dom, and Agustin are about as successful in their work lives as they are in their personal lives. Which is to say, not very.
Patrick’s video-game company celebrated the release of its new title -- a fighting game featuring Naval officers, that somehow involves arm wrestling, which really might be the gayest game ever -- with a lavish launch party on an aircraft carrier. At the shindig Patrick came into contact with a rather cute British fellow who Patrick approached with his typical total lack of social acumen. He literally hit on the guy while they were both straddling torpedoes. Speaking of bombs, Cute British Guy (I don’t know if we ever got a name) dropped two of his own: yeah, he’s gay, but he’s got a boyfriend; and by the way, he’s basically Patrick’s new boss.
Patrick and his design partner spent the rest of the episode in a panic over whether Patrick’s faux pas might have cost them their jobs. We really got to see Patrick’s self-absorption this episode; both Dom and Agustin had to interrupt Patrick’s neurotic spiral to interject important life news of their own. But, again, Patrick demonstrated at least some self awareness in the fact that he keeps doing this to himself in basically every area of his life. By the end of the episode Patrick took some initiative and made it clear that he wants his job -- he also deleted his online dating account, which can really only help him at this point -- and Cute British Guy admitted he was only mindfucking Patrick anyway. He always had a spot on the team. And there was mild flirting that, in a few episodes, will almost certainly lead to major disaster. But hey, he’s cute and British. I think we can all give Pat a pass on that one.
Dom was feeling good after exorcising Real Estate Douche from his life, so he and series MVP Doris went to a…Bollywood dance class? I think? And Dom announced that he’s ready to open the periperi chicken restaurant of his dreams. This was met with a mix of tentative support, concern about finances, and at least one flat-out smackdown from the chef he apparently intended to hire. Dom being Dom, he tried to soothe his frazzled nerves with some casual sex, and thus mainstream America was introduced to the concept of the gay bathhouse. Yes, these are places where men go to get some time in the sauna or steam room -- and also to bang random strangers.
While there, Dom encountered Lynn, an older stud played by the still-fine Scott Bakula. There was some nice furry beef in that sauna scene, so thank you for that, show. The two of them chatted for a bit before Dom went off to wash the back of some pretty young thing, but the show is clearly setting up Lynn as Dom’s potential new business partner -- and possibly something more. (I think a relationship with a guy older than him would totally blow Dom’s mind.)
Agustin was actually given something to do this episode, but I ended up liking him possibly less than ever. He’s a supremely defensive, irritable human being who has very few positive qualities that I can see. I’m not sure why his boyfriend puts up with him. Anyway, Agustin got fired by his terrible sculptor boss for stupidly telling her that her sculptures are, well, terrible. He consulted cake for solace, and in the process met a very handsome, bearded sex worker who showed no shame about his profession -- he owned who he was, and what he does. This had a profound impact on Agustin, a struggling artist who -- the show hit us over the head with this -- has not been creating any actual art for quite some time. Agustin becomes somewhat obsessed with the sex worker, and previews show that next week he tries to do a “project” with him. I’m telling you right now, if Agustin ends up cheating on Frank with the hustler I’m basically done with him as a character.
Shifting focus to the characters’ professions made for a less racy episode than the first two, which is probably a good thing for a show critics say is obsessed with sex. (Mind you, we still had a bathhouse scene, so it’s all relative.) But this episode perhaps more than the first two felt very short to me. The half-hour format is not doing the show any favors. Just when we’re starting to get into some meaty stuff ,the episode ends. It’s a little like edging, but without the required release. (Don’t be confused, straight folks; that’s another one of those gay secrets the show will probably demystify at some point.)
Next: Patrick has a fantasy relationship with Cute British Boss that can only end badly; Dom and Lynn go on a quasi-date; Agustin tries to make art with the sex worker, who costs $200-plus an hour. I am in the wrong line of work.
Auditions are already over! That was really fast. I am not complaining. Initial auditions are hands down my least-favorite part of this process (the sometimes interminable semi-finals are also right up there), so I'm glad that the show sped through them as quickly as possible this season. That said, of all the stops I say, Omaha, Nebraska, had easily the weakest talent on display.
Among the highlights:
Quaid Edwards made a huge mistake singing "A Change Is Gonna Come." Firstly, that song is so completely overdone on this show. I have last track of the number of times I have heard it, and basically none of them live up to the original. Secondaly, Quaid does not have the soul to pull off the song convincingly. His vocal was fine, but unspectacular. He is good looking. Girls will like him. But we have seen much better singers on this show - and we've seen them get cut. He got through by the skin of his teeth. His mom is a musician who had a connection to Keith Urban.
Madisen Walker, 15 but looks 32, did Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," and it wasn't anywhere near ready. There are some elements that worked here, especially toward the end of the song when the notes got lower. But her upper register was not great, and the judges were much too kind about her voice. Tellingly, after she left the judges all but said that she's going to get cut sooner rather than later. And seriously, I cannot believe that girl is 15.
Alyssa Siebken, 20, did an unplugged version of "No Hands" by WakkaFlokka Flame. She has a good voice, but that was such a goofy audition song. It bordered on gimmicky - like she wasn't taking it seriously. Keith and Jennifer said yes, Harry said no.
Tyler Gurwicz, 25, also did Adele - "Fire to the Rain" - and if I hate when girls sing Adele, I hate it when guys do it even more. It wasn't bad, though. He can definitely sing. Keith Urban thought that Tyler looked angry when he sang, and Harry Connick doesn't know where Tyler would fit in with this competition. Initially Keith and Harry both said no. Harry asked him to pick a tune to sing another song. Tyler was not immediately receptive - idiot - but eventually went into a second song that I didn't recognize. His pitch was problematic, but the bulk of it was solid.
C.J. Jones, 20, has a wonderful voice that frankly I was not expecting to come out of him. It's a great, honey-coated baritone. He did a lovely job on "Stand by Me." I am interested to see more from him.
Paula Hunt, 20, sings for a military band. She sang Etta James' "All I Could Do Is Cry," and she did a beautiful job with it. There is something very authentic about her. She tells a story when she sings. I could have listened to her sing all night long. And she is SO likable. Team Paula!
AndrinaBrogden, 18, did "Halo" by Beyonce. She did a very good approximation of the original song. Lopez stopped her early in and said that while she has a beautiful voice, her fear was shining through - Andrina was holding back. Harry thinks she can sing but she's not right for "Idol." Keith Urban liked everything about her, but she was clearly nervous about it. Keith and Jennifer put her through, but the advice was clear: she needs to conquer her nerves.
Tessa Kate, 25, did "Folsom Prison Blues" by Johnny Cash. You could hear the nerves in her voice. I was not impressed during the first verse, but she came alive in the second and then I was into it. The judges compared her to Barbara Mandrell and Loretta Lynn, and I see what they're saying. She has a very high-pitched, vibrato-filled voice, which reminded me a lot of classic Dolly Parton. That is TOTALLY a compliment.
Next: Hollywood Week...in a hangar. With all kinds of twists. And Keith Urban got a HAIRCUT! And of course, tears.
Wednesday night's audition episode was an interesting blend of some great talent, some frustrating judging, and the benefits of the new approach to editing. All in all I do agree with whichever judge said that the performers they're seeing suggest that this should be a great season of the show. However, as well all know, that can quickly go to hell once we get to Hollywood Week and the show's star-making machine takes over.
Before we get into some of the specific contestants, I think it's worth mentioning what I consider a significant change in the types of people auditioning for this show. Specifically, we're seeing a lot more musicians, not just singers. There could be several reasons for this. This is the first season people have been allowed to use instruments in the initial rounds (it took 13 years to do that; mindboggling). The producers might just be editing the show to show more of those kinds of auditions. Or perhaps the pop-music landscape is leaning more toward that kind of artistry again. AutoTune and EDM are certainly everywhere, but if you look at the chart toppers from the past few years -- Lorde, Adele, Phillip Phillips, Gotye -- these are people with serious musical chops and, in most cases, some quirkiness or originality. There seem to be a lot more of those types of people trying out this season. Or at least the show is suggesting that is the case.
Take, for instance, Alex Preston, 20, a self-proclaimed band geek. He's got a good Jason Mraz thing going on (I mean, early Mraz, before he went all schmaltzy), and he seems to lose himself completely when he sings. You can tell that music is his language. He seems like a very nice boy and I dug what he was doing. I'll be curious to see how he adapts to the social challenges of Hollywood Week.
Samantha Calmes, 25, did an original song with a spoken-word rap opening before breaking into a soulful, clipped voice. The piece was slippery - I couldn't quite get a hold of it. She then went on to sing the theme song from "The Jeffersons," which was a trip. The voice didn't wow me, nor the judges, but we all liked her musical style and originality.
Kenzie Hall, 16, did a John Mayer song I'm not aware of, and I just loved her. She's got a big voice, huge personality, is totally cute, and she can pull back and put on the gas - she is one to WATCH.
Casey Thrasher, 22, was heavily pimped all night. He did "Believe" by Brooks & Dunn. He's got a nice male country voice, and he got emotional in his audition. I question how large his range is, but he is very likable and very earnest. He has two tiny kids, but there was no mention of their mother. I found that very odd.
D.J. Bradley, 20, did "Hometown Glory" by Adele. I am generally against Adele songs for auditions - there's basically no way to live up to the original. But I like what Bradley did here; he turned it into something sadder, contemplative, longing. His pitch was flat on the high notes, but he has a good vibe/image with the "misunderstood rocker" thing. Keith Urban called it a balance between mysterious vs. disinterested, which I think is fair.
Dexter Roberts, 22, is about as country as it gets. He is VERY Oklahoma. He did a Casey James song. Good lord, this guy can sing and play. He's really terrific, and I was not expecting that. He's better than Casey James ever was, in my opinion. (I know Casey has his fans. That's great. I'm glad you love him.) Dexter was bluesy and country and undeniably good.
To me, those were the stand-out auditions of the night. But there were several instances where I found the judging confusing. Harry Connick Jr. - whom I really enjoy - was particularly off. He nixed several contestants who I thought had loads of promise, while giving a pass to others who seemed to be struggling already.
Specifically I'm talking about Jessica Barrett, 22, who has one of the prettiest voices I have ever heard on this show - I swear I thought it was a recording when she started singing. Sure, she's a little awkward. The "wattage" isn't there. But she was told no by both Urban and Connick, while Jennifer Lopez told them they were making a huge mistake. I think Lopez is right. That was a boneheaded pass for this show, especially considering some of the other people who got through.
Such as C.J. Harris, who did an Allman Brothers song in honor of his father. Harris seems very sincere and his voice has a nice whoop to it when he hits the big notes, but he slides off the pitch an awful lot. He can play guitar well enough, but you could hear him forcing stuff that shouldn't have sound forced. But he is unquestionably likable, and that's why he got through.
Similarly, Carmen Delgina, 24, is the daughter of Wonder Mike from Sugar Hill Gang, which is fabulous. She struggled through her audition of "Tainted Love." There is some talent there, but the breath control was way off and nothing about it felt like it was working. Jennifer called her "inconsistent." Keith said that there was a disconnect between the voice and the confidence. They gave her three yesses, and I'm just going to say it: that was all because of her backstory.
The biggest example of the inconsistent judging last night came from two young men with similar issues: they're blatantly ripping off the signature sounds of other artists. One was awful yet the judges liked him. The other was really good at what he did, yet got shit for it. BristonMaroney, 15, did "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones, and he has one of the most pinched, annoying voices I've ever heard. He sounded angry or in pain, like he was constipated. Keith wanted to hear "other colors" in his voice, and Harry was worried that he would blow his vocal chords singing with that affect. He had absolutely no business getting through to Hollywood. He's cute and seems nice, but that was actually unpleasant to listen to.
Meanwhile, Johnny Newcomb, 16, did "Last Kiss" by Pearl Jam, basically allowing the spirit of Eddie Vedder to possess him. THAT is how you do an affected voice without being egregious. He successfully convinced the judges to let him do a second song, and that was even better. Lopez said that Johnny was too good to say no to, but Harry thought he was too young and derivative - like there haven't been a million other derivative kids on this show. Keith blessedly gave him another shot. I think he's really good.
The weird Harry stuff continued with Kassandra Castaneda, 16, who did "Chasing Pavements" by, again, Adele. She too did a good job with the song. Really lovely voice. She should have turned down her creepy uncle's request to give JLo his number. Harry also didn't think she was ready. I just don't understand what he sees in some of these kids that he's not seeing in others. Thankfully Keith believed that she would blossom in Hollywood Week, and JLo put her right through.
Finally, let us all give thanks to the show for introducing us to Tequila Wilson, 24, a funeral-home singer who gives me life. She did "Someone Like You" by Adele and she came closest to doing Adele justice Wednesday night. It got a little shouty in parts, and a little flat in others. But there is great potential there. She had such huge energy when she came into the holding pen, and was awfully subdued in the actual audition. But she's got some sass. MORE TEQUILA!
TONIGHT: The auditions end. That was brief. Thank you, show.