Goodbye Hollywood! Idol's grueling second round of auditions ended last night, with twenty men and twenty women being chosen to march bravely to the front lines, where all but one of them will be shot to shreds and blown to smithereens. But let's not think about their terrible, inevitable fate just yet. Let's focus on their joy and triumph. There really was some triumph last night! Not Triumph the poop boat, though there was a lot of that last night too, but real victory and success.
There is this girl named Angela Miller, and she seems destined for big things. She's young, a mere 18, she's pretty in a non-threatening way, and she's got a voice as clear as a bell. That might describe a lot of promising young things on this show and you might be thinking "Why is this one so special?" Well, because last night she sat down at a piano — big and shiny and black as a monolith — and banged out an original tune she wrote. And it wasn't half-bad! I mean, the lyrics were pretty silly, all stuff about you came and saved me from my baggage and whatever, but for an 18-year-old, on this non-literaryest of television shows? Pretty good. She's the white Alicia Keys, maybe. Just as big of a dork as Alicia Keys (Alicia Keys is an enormous dork, you guys), same earnest sauciness on the piano, and she's also the creative of director of a cellphone company. I mean, right? Isn't everyone the creative director of something at this point? I think so. Anyway, the point is that the producers clearly love her, the judges are on board, and she didn't look bad from where I was sitting, so I think they're going to be pimping her as much as they possibly can. Get ready for a lot more Angela Miller. Which isn't a bad thing! She's nice to listen to. I just wonder how long she can sustain it.
Someone who could not sustain it was everyone's least favorite gypsy, the entity known as Kez Ban. Yeah, she was already on shaky ground on Wednesday night, but last night she really full up and biffed it. Like Angie Mills (better, right?), Kezba sang her own original song. Only this one wasn't quite as successful. She basically stood on stage and muttered about rusty nails and old lampshades for a minute or two and then it was over. The judges were left sitting stock still, audibly blinking, unsure what to do next. And so, in one of the awkwardest and saddest things of the night, Kez just kinda said "OK, thanks, it's been a great ride." She knew that she'd boofed the goof and so basically said "Thank you, I'll see myself out." Randy went "Ahhhh" in recognition but everyone one else at the judges' table was still too stunned. So Kez bone-jangled her way off the stage and out into the hallway, where Ryan was waiting with Gatorade and a towel. Kez seemed to be in pretty good spirits about the whole thing, saying she'd had a fun time. And you could tell that she meant it. That this whole TV thing, this whole fame and excitement racket, there was maybe somethin' to it. Maybe you don't have to be broke on a street corner, busking for change, to be real, to live a true life. Maybe you can have a little fun, get a little ambitious, be a little shallow. It's all a gas, man. It's all a laugh. And now it's over. A darkness passed over Kez's face and there was a flicker of regret or maybe even dread dancing in her eyes — dread at returning to the real world, to that unspecial place that those who don't know, who've never brushed the heavens with their fingertips, call home. So she made a joke, said she'd work for the show's crew, be a runner, go get water for Mr. Seacrest, whatever needed doing. Ryan laughed and let her hold the boom mic (not a euphemism!) for a while but eventually she was sent back off into the mists of obscurity. Goodbye, Kez Ban! See you on the street corner.
Elsewhere things got a little blurry. A parade of indistinct girls tromped by. There were some bubbly blonde country coquettes. There were some soul sisters who wailed with fury and might. Macy Gray is workshopping a new comedy character, so she came in and did that, banging around on the drums and singing a song about Randy and Nicki and Mariah and... Keith. Haha, when she got to Keith it was very funny. Because what do Macy Gray's new character, Zoanette, and Keith Urban have in common whatsoever? Not a damn thing, really. Keith Urban has blown-out hair from the 1970s, sings country music, and lives in a tumbledown farm house way out in the dark Tennessee hills with Nicole Kidman, a cruel and bony woman who is always slapping him with wooden spoons or making him dig up earthworms in the yard and putting them in jars, to store "for later, so we don't starve when winter comes." Meanwhile Zoanette, this Groundlings character that Macy Gray is working on, plays the jazz drums and lives with a toucan and eats nothing but holly berries and other drupes. There is no common ground there, none at all. Sometimes the toucan eats worms. But that's it. Anyway, Zoanette was a fun, weird joke and, as Idol does, they put this fun, weird joke through. Macy Gray wasn't planning on that! "Hey baby it's Macy," she said into her phone just after she got the news. "I got into something crazy here that I can't get out of, I'm gonna be gone a little longer than I thought, maybe like five months." It was nice of her to call, but she keeps forgetting that toucans can't use telephones.
There were some sob stories as always. None sobbier than a poor girl of 22 who lost both of her parents. She had a haunted look about her, gaunt and hardened by fear, almost like a pioneer wife, and she sang sweetly and mournfully a song about stars called "Stars." While Nicki and Mariah fought over the difference between "genuine" and "authentic," Keith Urban teared up, thinking about his own loneliness, his own pain, the two small crosses out in the yard where Nicole had buried his momma and daddy, died while he was on an errand and they were buried by the time he got back. "Just as well," Nicole had said sharply, turning around and walking back to the house. "We didn't have enough worms for them anyway." So the sad girl, even though she'd cocked it up during group night and the first audition, is on to the next round. That girl named Shubha Vedula went through, even though she sang a bad version of "When You Believe" from Prince of Egypt. Mariah was just happy to hear her song wailed back at her, so she is through. Which is fine, really. Shubha Vedula is fun to hear, especially when Ryan says it. It sounds like one of his sweet nothings, something he would murmur into Tim's ear, nuzzling against him, as they spent a lazy Sunday in bed. But those days are gone now. There is only the Tim-like thing that has taken over the house, Ryan now living in the little guest house that Tim fixed up and decorated, so many years ago now. Now Shubha Vedula is just Shubha Vedula. There on the stage, pee-singing out some loud notes, sharp as thumbtacks. Oh well.
Before the episode ended, the boys were brought back out for a few more cuts. Among the sacrificed was big Bebé Jugo, you know the wailer who surprised everyone when he first came swishing into the audition room. Though he had shown a lot of early promise, Bebé Jugo completely fell apart at this crucial moment. He sang a Celine Dion song and every chandelier in the place shattered, all of Randy's teeth were knocked out, and Nicki Minaj's makeup flew off, revealing her to be a well-disguised Downtown Julie Brown. It was intense and awful and Jugo knew it. Sad day. Seven other dudes were given the heave-ho, and now it's off to Las Vegas. Where they'll sing for their supper once more, in front of a live audience even, and then after that... It's up to us. Who will we vote for? Who do we like? Angie Mills and her piano of sorrow? Zoanette and her drums made of starship parts? Johnny Keyser and the dead, bloodless stare of his cold stone eyes? It's time to start picking America. The real race has almost begun.