When it comes to "American Idol" auditions, L.A. usually delivers. If you're looking for talent, Los Angeles--a city of dreams to which America's young undiscovered hopefuls flock by the Greyhound busload daily--has got what you need. And if you want crazy? Well, L.A. is also your kind of town.
But not this year. Thursday's Los Angeles audition show was, shockingly, the most disappointing and filler-filled episode of Season 10, with most of the good singers not being good enough and the "funny" singers falling flat (or even being squirmingly uncomfortable to watch). Seriously, this was the best "Idol" could find in ALL OF LOS ANGELES? The Entertainment Capital of the World? Really? Who wants to go through to Hollywood, if this is what's waiting there?
Anyhoo, here are the most memorable L.A. contestants, with the crazies (who were marginally more interesting than most of the successful auditioners) listed first. Thank gawd this episode was only an hour long.
Cooper "Human Tornado" Robinson - Sometimes, "Idol" hits TV paydirt with a reject contestant who captures the hearts of America with a truly enjoyable and entertaining audition. (William Hung and General Larry Platt come to mind.) My guess is "Idol" producers thought they were manufacturing a similar YouTube-able moment with this 59-year-old windbag street performer, who claimed to hail from the snake-infested backwoods of Arkansas but just seemed like a random nutjob plucked off Hollywood Blvd. The guy was wheezing so hard midway through his James Brown impression I feared he was going to go into cardiac arrest, and the whole segment smacked of racism and ageism and made me uneasy--Cooper clearly wasn't in on the joke, or probably in his right mind, and I felt he was being exploited for a cheap laugh. And he wasn't even funny. Fail, "Idol," fail.
Matthew Scott Frankel - OK, this guy was a little funnier. Considering that a quick Internet search reveals he was once an actor on "Zoey 101," I'm pretty sure he was in on his own joke. The self-declared, and obviously self-employed, "CEO of MSFP, Matthew Scott Frankel Productions" showed up in a Men's Warehouse suit, yapping into a cell phone on presumably important business calls and bragging about putting out some compilation CD with Chaka Khan on it. (Are we sure he didn't mean another artist, named Shocka Conn or something?) First he rapped an original freestyle as his hip-hop alter ego, Big Stats, then he sang as himself. Both Big Stats and Matthew were summarily rejected. I actually preferred his rap (I was a bit skeeved out when he said he'd sing better if he "lubricated up a bit"), but it seems like Stats'/Matt's albums will have to be put out by MSFP, not 19 Recordings. But at least this big lug was entertaining for a few minutes--a rarity on this episode.
Victoria Garrett - "God brought the 'American Idol' auditions to L.A. for a purpose, and I believe I am that purpose," Victoria declared. No, her purpose here was to provide sorely needed COMIC RELIEF. She sang some gospel song about a "precious lamb of God," and sounded like a strangled sheep. "That was not baaaahd," bleated Steven Tyler (his best zinger of the day). Victoria actually was bad, so she got rejected. She then marched out defiantly, still certain of her purpose, justifying her unsuccessful audition with, "Everyone can't sing like J.Lo!" Clearly Victoria, who actually did sing a little better than J.Lo, has never heard of Auto-Tune.
Daniel Gomez & Isaac Rodriguez - Total BFFs who made a cuter couple than the Austin episode's Jacqueline Dunford and Nick Fink, these two came to the auditions to support each other. It turned out they needed all the emotional support they could get. Randy Jackson told Daniel he was "relatively tone-deaf" (really, Randy, only relatively?), and after Isaac mangled "Build Me Up Buttercup," the judges totally tore him down. "You and your buddy, neither one of you should ever sing," advised Randy. Isaac, who'd received one compliment from the judges--Jennifer Lopez told him he had a "nice smile"--just kept on smiling, undeterred, as did his equally deluded pal. But Isaac's poor parents probably won't be smiling when they find out their son dropped out of college to pursue a singing career. Issac may soon get kicked out and have to sleep on Daniel's couch.
Tynisha Roches - Well, this girl was nothing if not prepared. She showed up with her own (non-working) prop microphone, a fedora hat, and even a liberally altered Sinatra medley with "Idol"-centric lyrics. What didn't she bring? Um, vocal talent. Or sanity. By the end of her song, Randy was fleeing the audition room in terror, and tenacious Tynisha chased after him, scarily shouting Dreamgirls lyrics at him. ("You, you, you, you're gonna love me!" she shrieked, convincing no one.) Randy wrestled the mic from her hand, but since it was fake, that unfortunately didn't silence her. Well, at least--like her inspiration, Frank Sinatra--Tynisha did it her way.
Tim Halperin - Tim's goo-goo-eyed crush on center judge J.Lo rivaled the ardor of Wednesday's Ryan Seacrest stalker Courtney Penry. During his audition of Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved," he serenaded Jennifer directly and blatantly, to the point where Randy and Steven griped that they felt like they weren't even in the room. Luckily for Tim, he had the scruffy cute looks to hold Jen's attention; she openly goo-goo-eyed right back at him. (She will be loved, all right. Did she not learn anything from the Paula Abdul/Corey Clark scandal of Season 2?) Tim's voice was good, but regardless, apparently flirting with J.Lo will get you everywhere: She cast the tie-breaking vote that put Tim through to the next round. Real shocker, there.
Karen Rodriguez - A plucked-from-obscurity MySpace auditioner who once sang to J.Lo on MTV's "TRL" (and, according to her, got props from the future "Idol" judge at the time), this chick was a shoo-in. "I'm pulling for you," Jennifer told the girl with the pipe dream of becoming the first Latina "Idol" winner. I have a feeling Karen could go far, but it's hard to tell how good she really is, since the show gave her very little screentime--instead inexplicably devoting 15 minutes to a mumbling street performer 30 years older than the "Idol" age limit.
Heidi Khzam - Tim and Karen proved that buttering up the judges often works--at least with Steven and Jennifer, an easily persuadable pair. Heidi worked both angles, charming S.Ty with her bellydancing talent ("Simmer it down," Jennifer told Steven as he gaped, salivating), and winning over J.Lo by dedicating Alicia Keys's "Superwoman" to her. If only she'd fawningly complimented Randy on his bass-playing while belting out some mid-'80s Journey, Heidi would probably have this competition already sewn up. But since the judges said she was one of the best they'd heard, maybe she does.
Mark & Aaron Gutierrez - Finally, some singers to get genuinely excited about! I loved this personality-plus pair of sassy siblings, whose "Lean On Me" duet was the highlight of an otherwise lowlight-laden night. "It was godlike, the way you guys sang," raved Steven. I hope both Mark and Aaron make it through Hollywood Week; I would hate to see them split up. And really, I can't choose just one Gutierrez. That wouldn't be fair. And I can't tell them apart, anyway.
So there you have it. After a super start with the New Jersey, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Nashville auditions, I'm beginning to worry about Season 10; Austin's episode was just so-so, and L.A.'s was so so bad. Can the show rebound in its final audition city, San Francisco? We'll find out next week.