They battled disease, endured the deaths of loved ones and overcame shattered families to make it to Hollywood on “American Idol,” which Ryan Seacrest warned them would be the toughest week of their lives.
After hearing a steady, month-long accounting of myriad tribulations, drama and tragedy, it seemed a bit presumptuous for Ryan to predict even more dire calamities would befall our poor contestants. What exactly did they have in store for Angela Martin, the three-time “Idol” contestant who spent last year’s Hollywood week in jail on a traffic violation, whose daughter suffers from Rett syndrome and who is dealing with the murder of her father and the disappearance of her drug-addict mother? Oh, you’re going to bring her to the brink of the Top 24, only to have dreams dashed once more? You’re going to have Kara ask her scoot over onto the arm of her chair so Kara can sit with her while delivering the bad news?
The problem with what some have nicknamed “the Make-A-Wish Foundation season” of America’s biggest TV show is that it has no sense of scope. The producers package everyone’s stories with the same gravity, whether it’s a contestant who survived cancer or someone whose parents are separated and, gasp, might get divorced. And this season, more than any other, hopefuls have been suffering from an extremely sorrowful affliction: Children. These deluded souls are under the misguided impression the only way to provide for their kids is to win a televised singing contest and gain instant fame and fortune. To do so, it’s not enough to simply have talent; you have to have a Lifetime-movie-ready back story. You have to be the next Susan Boyle (an obvious inspirational undercurrent that permeates the proceedings amid a linger recession). If you’re a contestant who’s simply healthy, childless and happy then you have about as much chance of winning this thing as Didi Benami has of making it through a segment without crying over her deceased friend Rebecca.
The thing is Didi doesn’t need this morbid Gokey-like subplot: She can actually sing. In fact, she’s my top pick going into this week’s semifinals. She made a Kara DioGuardi song sound fantastic. That’s how good she is, and the sad storyline just works against her. We finally get to hear the Top 24 perform live Tuesday — and finally get to hear a few them sing period. As always, there are a few who have had limited TV time. Is it because they don’t possess good backstories — or have the producers deduced from Kris Allen’s surprise victory last season that people sometimes like it when a contestant hasn’t been pimped since day one by the judges and producers?
The big question for me is whether we get to see segments that shine a spotlight on the contestants’ personality, talent and tastes or we’ll get the same recycled stories. I fear Katie Stevens’ grandmother will make another appearance. Every time Katie sings, the performance is accompanied by a clip of her grandmother, who’s sadly sliding toward senility. Perhaps the judges think we have Alzheimer’s, too, and need to be reminded of this every week.
My hope is that we’ll get two nights of good music. OK, one good night. It’s obvious this season the talent is stronger on the female side. Is this a case of producers desiring a strong female artist after two years of male winners (keep in mind that Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood are the most notable Idols to date) or just a coincidence? Regardless, I can’t wait to see what Didi has in store, as well as folksy hippie chick Crystal Bowersox (vote for her: she has a kid!); jazzy Lilly Scott (no known tragedies, though those peacock earrings indicate she might be a fashion victim) and the artfully restrained Lacey Brown (her horror story is “Idol”-related — being passed over last year in favor of Megan Joy). I’m also looking forward to Paige Miles and Michelle Delamor, since we haven’t heard them sing yet. The women perform Tuesday, while the men take the stage the next night (with results on Thursday).
Speaking of the guys, it’s a sad bunch. The most obscenely hyped contestant this season is Andrew Garcia, who was graced not only with effusive praise for his Paula Abdul cover but received copious coverage of his family story about how his parents escaped gang life (including ample footage of his surprisingly lachrymose father). I already find him annoying and boring, so that’s not a good sign for the next couple of months. But he’s still better than Casey James, who seems to have made it through on the merits of Kara wanting to copulate with him (he was the one she insisted take his shirt off to win a ticket to Hollywood); Michael Lynche, who left his wife with a camera crew to have their baby while he struggled to deliver mediocre performances in Hollywood; and Tim Urban, who managed to squeak in after another contestant was disqualified despite being criticized by the judges in every performance clip we’ve seen. This leaves mulleted ukulele player Alex Lambert (no relation to jackasses from seasons past) and accused scam artist Todrick Hall to entertain us.
Depending on how the singing on Wednesday goes, some of those clips of familial woe and personal drama might actually be less sad.