photo: FoxReality television offered many memorable moments for music fans this year: Meat Loaf melting down on "Celebrity Apprentice," Lady Gaga totally freaking out poor cross-kissing Scotty McCreery when she mentored on "American Idol," Ad-Rock coaching contestants to make Beastie Boys-inspired desserts on "Top Chef," the RuPaul-a-Palooza rock concert on "RuPaul's Drag Race 3," Javier Colon ensuring his victory on "The Voice" with his very first "Time After Time" audition, Prince Poppycock returning to "AGT," etc. I almost needed to buy a second DVR to keep track of it all. But let's get real...THESE are the 20 reality moments that ultimately stayed with me, and stayed on my DVR, in 2011.
20) Carnie Wilson Is The Reason Animated GIFs Were Invented
photo: ABC NewsNo one, and I mean NO ONE, watched the rinky-dink Friday night singing show "Karaoke Battle USA," on which Carnie was cast as the center "wacky" judge. But really, the only reason to watch it at all was Carnie's never-ending series of utterly astonished facial expressions. Every time someone got on the stage who could sing even somewhat decently, Carnie got a look on her face that was sort of a cross between giving birth, going into cardiac arrest, and winning the Lotto, all at the same time. It was a little scary, and a lot of awesome.
19) Pot Ledom is "Top Model" Spelled Backwards
On one particularly fascinating episode of "America's Next Top Model: Allstars," the contestants were required to "go viral" by recording pop songs that incorporated the term "pot ledom." Then they'd shoot semi-pro music videos that would, presumably, blow up YouTube the instant they were uploaded onto the Interweb. That didn't quite happen, but future winner and part-time rapper Lisa D'Amato, a sort of poor-woman's Peaches, almost had a hit on her hands with her undeniably catchy song "Be Like Whoa." (Side note: Technically, "Top Model" spelled backwards would be "Ledom Pot," right? But spelling was probably never Tyra Banks's strong suit...)
18) "Platinum Hit" Releases A Song That Actually Sounds Like A Platinum Hit
Kara DioGuardi's songwriting talent search "Platinum Hit" tanked in a major way (it was Bravo's lowest-rated show in years, and it was moved to the Friday-night ratings graveyard mid-season), but quite a few gifted contestants were on that show, and some of them wrote some truly great songs. Jes Hudak, a former "American Idol" contestant and "Platinum Hit's" eventual runner-up, penned the best one of all: the gorgeous, goosebumpy ballad "Home For Me (Free)." It's a shame that more people didn't get to hear it.
17) Daniel Joseph Baker Brings The Fierceness To "America's Got Talent"
DJB didn't win "AGT" this year, but he won my heart and the hearts of many "Danfans" who related to his bullying backstory and appreciated his unflagging fierceness. Sharon Osbourne lovingly dubbed him "Daniel Josephine Baker" and "this generation's Liberace," and that wasn't far off the mark. At the very least, Daniel came across like this generation's real-life Kurt Hummel, and he was basically all sorts of awesome.
16) Pentatonix Kill The Radio Star, Create The A Cappella Star
Covering the Buggles' MTV-kickstarting classic "Video Killed The Radio Star" on the "Guilty Pleasures" episode of NBC's a cappella competition "The Sing-Off," future winners Penatonix gave the best performance in the series' history, and really the first genuinely cool "Sing-Off" performance. Everything about this just worked: the Club MTV neon outfits, the robot dance moves, the bold vocals. No wonder the crowd was going nuts. Video may have killed the radio star, but "The Sing-Off" birthed an a cappella star with this breakout number. (Incidentally, no one should feel "guilty" about liking this song. It's just a great song, period!)
15) Just Dance, Again: Lady Gaga Comes Full Circle On "SYTYCD"
Three years after making her U.S. television debut on a Season 4 "So You Think You Can Dance" results show, Gaga paid back the favor by serving as a very qualified guest judge this season. And instead of making the show all about her, as one might expect, she kept the focus on the top eight dancers and gave them her utmost respect. She didn't go for shock value, but something of much more value: the celebration of art. And along the way, she proved if this whole pop-superstardom thing doesn't pan out for her, she has a huge future in reality television. The "Born This Way" diva was simply born to judge.
14) "The Glee Project" Goes Glam-Rock
"Glee" continued its downward slide in 2011, but "The Glee Project"--a search for an unknown singer/actor to take on a seven-episode recurring role on "Glee"--actually turned out to be one of the most innovative talent competitions to hit the airwaves in many years. The highlight of each episode was the music video that the contestants made in accordance with that week's theme, and while all of the season's videos were fantastic, the cast's "Theatricality Week" cover of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It"--complete with keytars, Bowie facepaint, Townshend-style guitar-smashing, and a rockin' anti-bullying messaging--was definitely the most Gleeful. The real "Glee" hasn't been this fun in ages.
13) Casey Abrams & Haley Reinhart Get To "Moanin'"
On "American Idol's" top eight results show, ultimate underdog Haley once again landed in the bottom three, but she redeemed herself and proved she definitely didn't deserve to be there when she sang this pleasingly chemistry-filled jazz duet with her fellow jazzbo and rumored sweetheart, Casey. Next to Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta's "Slow Ride," it stood as one of the best duets in "Idol" history. Later in 2011, Haley and Casey reunited for an adorable "Baby, It's Cold Outside" holiday duet. Can't these two just record an entire album together, already?
12) Adam Lambert Makes It Werk On "Project Runway"
I don't know what was more amusing when the Glamerican Idol was a guest judge on a rock 'n' roll-themed episode of "PR"--his witty bantering with barbed-tongued judge Michael Kors (one of Adam's zingers: "This tunic is like, eighth-grade production of Hair"), or the fact that very few of the designers had any idea how to make clothes for the hapless male rockers in the shaggy band the Sheepdogs, so they all created sad outfits that looked more like "1960s Hippie Dude" costumes from the Halloween Superstore than actual hip stagewear. In the end, Adam was the one who really came out looking the best.
11) Powerful Wheelchair Dance Routine Inspires, Impresses on "SYTYCD"
Season 8 of "So You Think You Can Dance" featured many amazing numbers, but one of its most moving wasn't by any of the actual contestants, but by two members of Oakland's Axis Dance Company, one of whom performed in a wheelchair. On one memorable results show, brawny wheelchair dancer Rodney Bell and partner Sonsheree Giles danced an excerpt from a brilliant Alex Ketley-choreographed piece called "To Color Me Different," and it was utterly inspiring, proving that dancers come in all shapes and sizes.
10) Vicci Martinez & Cee Lo Green Hit The Battlefield
Wow. Not since Adam Lambert was paired with Kiss in "Idol" Season 8 had I seen such a seat-of-leather-pants talent show finale duet as this "Voice" tour de force. This was pure THEATER. Finalist Vicci almost looked like she'd borrowed Adam's Kiss-inspired, cage-winged shoulderpads for this insane performance, while her mentor Cee Lo looked like he'd borrowed Sanjaya Malakar's Mohawk. And they both looked like they'd raided Nikki Sixx's makeup case. And it that weren't awesome enough, they were also backed by '80s-attired, backflipping dancing kids who looked like they'd come running off the set of The Warriors, plus there was enough pyro here to make even James Durbin jealous. Yes, it was over-the-top, even by Cee Lo standards...and yes, I totally loved it.
9) America Is Trippin' On Chris Rene's "Young Homie" Audition
Clean and sober for only 70 days at the time of his "X Factor" audition, this 28-year-old recovering meth addict took a risk by singing an original hip-hop number about his troubled past, but it paid off BIG TIME. It was literally one of the best first reality show auditions I had ever seen. "I've worked with some of the greatest hip-hop artists, and all of my boys would be proud of me telling you that you are the truth," raved Chris's future mentor, L.A. Reid, at the time. Chris later struggled on the live shows when he had to sing other artists' material, but the huge amount of goodwill garnered by this one audition (of a song he reprised twice later in the season) led him straight to the finale.
8) James Durbin & Judas Priest Give Metal A Chance
When rocker James was eliminated from "Idol" during top four week, I lamented what could have been, imagining "James rocking the stage sheathed in Rob Halfordian leather" on the finale if he'd advanced. But on the "Idol" finale's big night, I ended up not only getting my wish...I got James rocking the stage WITH ROB HALFORD. Watching James live out his Beavis & Butthead-esque rock 'n' roll fantasies, engaging in a headbanging Judas Priest screech-off on "Living After Midnight" and "Breaking The Law (as "Pepsi Moment" pyro flames shot up to the ceiling and James's tail-scarf wagged in earnest), was such a righteously rawkin' antidote to scrubbed-cleaned finalists Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina's safe, grandma-friendly performances that night.
7) Beverly McClellan & Christina Aguilera Make "Beautiful" Music Together
Doing a song by her own mentor could have been a risk for this underdog "Voice" contestant. But actually, I could not have imagined a better song for Beverly. In her forties with a shaved head and neckful of tatts, the woman was hardly a cookie-cutter pop-star beauty, but when she sang Xtina's proto-"It Gets Better" empowerment anthem, belting, "I am beautiful, no matter what they say," the audience roared. And they believed her. Even Xtina looked moved, at risk of smearing her mascara as her eyes welled up with pride. It certainly didn't hurt that the song's composer, Linda Perry, performed with Bev and Xtina as well. I honestly thought, after seeing this, that Beverly was going to win. And in many ways, she did.
6) "SYTYCD" It-Couple Melanie & Marko Are Works Of Art
It was only the first live competitive show of "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 8, but already Melanie and Marko's path to the finale already seemed guaranteed after they danced this breathtaking routine. (Marko eventually placed third; Melanie won by a landslide.) It was a total dream team: dream partners, dream genre, and a dream choreographer, the always-amazing Travis Wall. Playing statues in love who become one entwined sculpture, M&M exhibited off-the-charts chemistry to Ingrid Michaelson's "Turn To Stone," and I promptly decided I wanted to prop up these statues, living works of art, in my house and stare at them all day long. Ingrid later tweeted "SYTYCD," thanking the show for "bringing my song to life."
5) Astro Throws an Astronomical Tantrum
In what was surely the first biggest shocker of the "X Factor" season and possibly one of the most shocking reality TV results shows ever, rapper the Astronomical Kid--long considered a frontrunner in the competition--was in the bottom two, and he was almost sent home in 10th place. But that wasn't the shocking part. No, the real surprise was Astro's defiant reaction to the news of his near-elimination: When it came time for him to sing for the judges, he rudely said he didn't "think it was necessary." Astro's terrible attitude triggered an immediate public backlash, transforming him from the kid to beat to the contestant to hate. It didn't help matters when he later claimed that he hadn't really received so few votes after all, and that producers had only put him in the bottom two for dramatic effect. Astro was voted off two weeks later, for real.
4) Nicole Scherzinger Accidentally Votes Off Rachel Crow
On the top five "X Factor" results show, indecisive softie judge Nicole displaced Astro as enemy number one when she controversially let the verdict go to deadlock, with dire and unexpected consequences. Not wanting to be the bad guy and send home the sweet Marcus Canty, she let the week's elimination decision be decided by public vote...and was shocked when America's sweetheart, Rachel, actually went home as a result instead. Nicole's tactic backfired in a big way, and she ironically became "the bad guy" after all. She was vociferously booed by the furious studio audience, and within minutes of the shocking result--which caused Rachel to burst into tears, drop to her knees, and cry out for her mommy--Nicole's Twitter and Facebook pages were besieged by hateful comments and even death threats. Perhaps joining this show wasn't quite the career boost Nicole had hoped it'd be. She has not yet confirmed if she will be back on "The X Factor" next year.
3) Chris Medina Makes Steven Tyler, All Of America Cry
Even in an "Idol" year already packed with sob stories, Chris Medina's one was a doozy--in fact maybe the sobbiest sob story in all 10 "Idol" seasons, one that made Danny Gokey's widower-hood almost look like nothing. In October 2009, only two months before they were supposed to wed, Chris's 23-year-old fiancée Juliana Ramos sustained a traumatic brain injury in a horrific car crash. So when Chris brought the wheelchair-bound, brain-damaged Juliana into the audition room to say hello to the judges, even class-clown Steven Tyler became visibly choked up, hugging her as he told her through tears, "That's why he sings so good, because he sings to you." It was in fact a TV moment that would probably even melt the heart of even toughie Simon Cowell. Chris was eliminated before the live shows, but he got to release one Juliana-inspired single on Interscope Records, "What Are Words," which became a huge hit in Norway. I'm sure Juliana is proud of him.
2) Pia Toscano Falls Victim to "Idol's" Female Curse
In massive a shocker that rocked the "American Idol" auditorium to its very foundation, diva Pia, long considered a frontrunner of Season 10, stalled in NINTH place, putting her in a not-so-illustrious category with past "Idol" also-rans like Andrew Garcia, Ramiele Malubay, Nikko Smith, Camile Velasco, and Jim Verraros. Randy Jackson could be seen reacting to the verdict with some sort of expletive-riddled outburst that should have required that Steven Tyler's censor paddle, and Jennifer Lopez seemed even more upset, sputtering through tears: "I have no idea what just happened here. I'm shocked, I'm angry...I don't even know what to say." So what did happen? Did Pia's supporters assume she was safe? Was it that weird L.A.M.B. diaper that guest stylist Gwen Stefani forced Pia to wear? Or was it just the sad fact that A WOMAN MAY NEVER WIN THIS SHOW AGAIN? Pia's early exit caused such a stir, producer Nigel Lythgoe even said he'd consider changing the voting rules to level the playing field for female contestants; it'll be interesting how that affects Season 11. (Incidentally, Pia got an Interscope record deal anyway, so don't feel too sorry for her.)
1) The. Most. Dramatic. Elimination. "Idol." Episode. Ever.
You know how writers like me tend to lapse into hyperbole, and use that hackneyed old phrase "Best ______ Ever"? Well, believe it this time. This ain't hyperbole here. "American Idol's" top 11 results show was in fact The. Most. Dramatic...EVER! The drama started when chopping-block contestant Casey Abrams was performing "I Don't Need No Doctor" as his swan song, but he actually looked like he needed a doctor when the judges cut him off mid-song to surprise him with the news that the one Judges' Save of the season would be used to save him from elimination. A totally stunned Casey felt to his knees, looked like he was about to hurl, then let out a torrent of five-second-delayed curse words. (Where was Steven's censor-paddle when Casey needed it?) The way Ryan Seacrest handled the unpredictable situation was a master class in live television hosting, and gave me new respect for the man. Seacrest should have won an Emmy this year, just for this episode.