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Reality Rocks’ American Idol Wild Card Picks

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Well, this season the powers-that-be at American Idol have come to their senses and reinstated the popular old "wild card" policy, much to the delight of Idol-worshippers everywhere who became over-eagerly overjoyed by a rampant season 7 rumor that five semi-finalists would be brought back as wild cards to compete for a spot on the American Idols Live 2008 concert tour.

That rumor turned out to be frustratingly unfounded (and oh, I still dream of how last season might've panned out if Danny Noriega and Josiah Leming had been given second chances). But the excitement such gossip generated--along with the success of past wild-card picks like Clay Aiken and Jennifer Hudson, and the perhaps unavoidable realization that sometimes 24 million voters CAN be wrong (the most glaring example of such, um, wrongness: Kris Allen over Megan Corkrey???)--has inspired Fox to bring back the wild card round this Thursday, March 5.

Or perhaps the show's producers are just realizing that the way they've organized the top 12 selection this season is completely, utterly STUPID. Unlike last season, when the semi-finalists had to sing multiple times in order to make the finals, and were thus given the opportunity to grow, develop, and in some cases rebound from a fluke bad performance (or bad song choice), this season they only get one shot. And furthermore, the random way in which the 36 semi-finalists are divided into packs of 12 has seemed unbalanced this season--the first dozen was a pretty even group, but last week's dozen made for a much more fierce competition, and this week's dozen was relatively weak. It's no wonder that some truly deserving singers get jipped under such circumstances. 

So anyway, for those of you reading this who don't follow American Idol (er, all eight of you, I assume), on Thursday the judges will bring back some of this season's most memorable hits and near-misses, the coulda-been-a-contender contestants that somehow didn't make the cut due to voter error (or possible even judge error). These once-hopeless hopefuls will sing one more time for their proverbial supper, and then the judges will bestow coveted top 12 slots to three of these gone-too-soon singers.

The eight wild card singers being given second chances were announced on this week's results show, and while I'm pleased with some of the picks (Megan, Anoop), I'm less than thrilled about others (Tatiana, Von). And of course, I have my own strong opinions regarding which of this season's also-rans should have been allowed to run again.

Some of my choices are obvious shoo-ins; others are personal favorites that still have a place in my heart, if ultimately not in the top 12. (No, Tatiana Del Toro is NOT one of my picks--although I'm not at all surprised that the producers brought her back for dramatic effect, so she could throw another hissyfit when she gets eliminated all over again.)

Here's who I would have liked to see again this week, and in weeks to come:

Megan Joy Corkrey - I'm still reeling from this unexpected elimination. Along with her natural talent, charm, and unique sense of style, Megan had a heartstring-yanking back story (recently divorced, very young single mom) and had received a large amount of pre-show screen time and an even larger amount of judges' praise. Meanwhile, one of last week's three winners, Kris Allen, was seemingly just a forgettable footnote contestant that nobody expected would make it through. (The look on Kris's face when Ryan Seacrest told him he'd beaten Megan indicated that he was as surprised as anyone.) Judging from message board comments as of late, many viewers were dismayed by

Megan's untimely exit, and judging by the cocked-eyebrowed expression on Simon Cowell's face last Wednesday, he was dismayed too. So I knew there was a very, very good chance that Megan would be one of Thursday's wild card competitors. And I think there's a very, very good chance that she will make it to the top 12 in the end.

Anoop Desai - Another one of this season's shockers was the premature ejection of audience favorite Anoop "Dogg" Desai, who in the first top 36 semi-final round was only separated by 20,000 votes from the lackluster lunkhead who stole his spot, oilrigging everyman Michael Sarver. (Not that I'm bitter or anything...) Ryan Seacrest had barely even made this announcement (seriously, he'd pretty much only uttered, "Michael Sar...") before the Idol message boards were blowing up with outraged pleas for Anoop's swift return. So this one was another no-brainer...and it's the only other wild card pick this season that I agree with.

Rose Flack - This little orphan hippie girl and early judge favorite didn't make it past Hollywood Week, but I didn't count her out. Remember, in season 2 Simon elected to bring back Carmen Rasmussen, who was actually cut quite early during that season's Hollywood Week (she only made the top 100). Carmen then went all way to sixth place on the actual show. I'm still not sure if Simon's decision in that case was a wise one (psyche-scarring memories of Carmen trying to get all funky during her '70s Night performance of Vicki Sue Robinson's Latin-disco hit "Turn The Beat Around" still make me shudder), but I think Rose's reinstatement would have been a fabulous move on the judges' part. Like Megan, this girl has spunk, sass, originality, and a pleasantly smoky voice, and I really think Simon and company made a mistake by dismissing her so early. Plus, with her frequent pre-performance meltdowns and sad sob story, she would have brought some welcome drama to the show (but not in a Tatiana sort of way). Every Idol season needs a little drama! Which brings me to...

Norman Gentle (aka Nick Mitchell) - For some viewers, this shiny-shirted cabaret comic was the contestant they loved to hate. In Simon's case, Norman was the singer he hated to hate. But I just loved Norman. I loved the fact that he even made the top 36 at all. I mean, I'm positive that when he initially auditioned, Norman never expected to make it that far--he probably just figured he'd get a funny few minutes, become a short-lived Best Week Ever/YouTube/The Soup sensation, and then go Gently into that good night. But somehow he kept advancing, much to my joy and much to the 3-to-1 outvoted Simon's despair. And Norman's ridiculous rise culminated in his top 36 do-or-die performance last week, an OTT interpretation of "And I Am Telling You" that, suffice to say, bore precious little resemblance to Jennifer Hudson's version. (J-Hud never crawled on stairwells, floor-rolled on her back like a tipped-over pillbug, or dropped to her cargo-shorted knees and rubbed up against the judges' neon podium like a Scores exotic dancer, for instance!) The performance sadly didn't earn Norman a spot in the top 36 despite my frenetic speed-dial voting and's unflagging support. But let's face facts: When all is said and done and American Idol goes off the air for good, and some commemorative Idol flashback special airs 20 years from now, this moment will most definitely make the highlight (or lowlight) reel, right next to Fantasia's "Summertime" and Bo Bice's "Whipping Post" and David Cook's "Hello" and Blake Lewis's "You Give Love A Bad Name" and, um, and Sanjaya's "You Really Got Me." So I for one would've liked to see more from Norman this season...and I admit, I would have loved to see the reaction from Simon if Norman came back to haunt him. Talk about must-see TV! However, it was doubtful that Simon would allow Norman return to the Idol stage, even for just one night, now that he'd finally gotten rid of him. But I still hope Norman will be invited to perform on the finale in May.

Nathaniel Marshall - Nathaniel only got eliminated this week, yet I miss him already. Because whether he was catfighting with other contestants, whining about his tortured childhood, bursting into tears at the drop of a headband, putting his own extremely unique spin on Rihanna and Meat Loaf songs, or choosing which of his wide array of Olivia Newton-John-style hair accessories and H&M skinny jeans to rock onstage, Nate's frantic antics always made for good TV during his memorable and all-too-brief Idol run. Luckily, he could also sing--but I knew his vocals alone probably wouldn't be enough to detract from his many idiosyncracies. Because let's face it, some people (lame people!) just don't appreciate Meat Loaf covers, metallic headbands, or spontaneous crying fits. I was hoping the judges, however, would appreciate Nathaniel and bring back the queeniest, most dramatic of all the season 8 drama queens straight away. Oh well. If Nate had made the top 12, I would've been soooo excited to see what he'd do on '80s Night, Broadway Night, or a second edition of Queen Night. He could have bickered with Queen's Brian May in a way that would have made Brian and Ace Young seem like best buddies!

Jamar Rogers - Jamar was another Hollywood Week frontrunner who, like Rose Flack, was inexplicably passed over by the judges. Meanwhile, Jamar's best buddy, Danny Gokey, made it through. Danny has since become a huge judge/audience favorite and perhaps the most blatantly pimped Idol contestant ever this side of David Archuleta, but I don't get it. If I'd had to choose between Danny and Jamar, it would have been no contest: Jamar was the one with style, flair, heartthrobby cuteness (few guys could get away with a distracting facial piercing like his), and originality, in my opinion. True, he didn't have Danny's sob story--he's not a widower, to be frank--but his devoted companionship to his BFF Danny during tragic times made him a very likable figure, and surely he would have been a good support system for Danny during this whole Idol ordeal if he'd been included in the top 12. So I say Jamar should have been brought back for that reason alone...and then the drama would have excitingly unfolded as these bromancers were forced to compete against each other in the ensuing weeks!  

Cody Sheldon - I've been accused by various commenters on this blog of having a soft spot for pretty young boys with shaggy haircuts. So??? That means I like ROCK STARS. Come on, why would I want my new American Idol to be some schlumpy balding dude who looks more like a roadie than a real rock star? Anyway, Cody certainly looked the rocker part, with his MCR guyliner and Pete Wentz hair and Marilyn Manson-esque fascination with horror flicks...but he could SING too, as his unexpectedly soulful audition of James Morrison's "Wonderful World" and final singoff against Alex Wagner-Trugman with Elton John's "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" readily revealed. Cody bizarrely lost that singoff to bug-eyed dork Alex--another judges' decision with which I adamantly disagreed--and it seemed his pal Alex was even more upset with this outcome than Cody was. But of course, Alex wasn't as upset as I was. So I say Cody should've been brought back to alleviate Alex's survivor's guilt and cheer me up: A win-win situation!

Jackie Tohn - This funny girl was never an audience favorite, and I didn't dig her myself, at first. But once she strapped on that leopard-patterned, sequin-splattered fannypack, she rose to the top of the pack for me. I started paying more attention to this silly 'n' sassy rocker chick, and by the time she sang on the first top 36 show, vamping and camping it up during a zany performance of Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation," I was convinced she was the Female Jon Peter Lewis. (Goofy JPL sang the same song in season 3, and he's one of my favorite all-time Idols.) Apparently America wanted to see a little less of Jackie, as she was cut straight away, but I still wanted to see more of her. Every season needs a kooky cutup--a fun, fancy-free contestant who thankfully breaks up the monotony of all those blowhardy Celine and Mariah ballads night after night. And if that role wasn't to be filled by Norman Gentle this season, then I wanted it to go to Jackie. As it turns out, that role remains vacant, for now.

Emily Wynne-Hughes - Yes, I know it might have been a bit much to have THREE pink ladies in the top 12, which is what would have happened if this off/on Go Betty Go lead singer had made the finals alongside pink-tipped Alexis Grace and flamingly magenta-coiffed Allison Iraheta. But who says there has to be a hairdye quota on this show? That's discriminatory. It's downright dye-ist! (This is a new word I just made up; don't steal it, people.) Rockabilly chick Emily simply possessed a certain natural swagger all her own that separated her not only from Alexis and Allison but also from the past-season pinkies that came before her (Nikki McKibbin, Amy Adams, Gina Glocksen, et al). And despite her so-so showing during Hollywood Week, I still thought she stood out and deserved to advance. We've already had a male "rocker" win Idol (David Cook, duh), and while I'd ideally like to see a male rocker win again this season (Adam Lambert, double duh), I also would've liked to see a real rock chick--like Emily--get a serious shot. 

Leneshe Young - I'm still dumbfounded that this promising young talent was not given a spot in the top 36, while ho-hummy nobodies like Stevie Wright and Brent Keith were. Leneshe's first appearance in Louisville was one of season 8's overall most memorable auditions, and from the start she seemed primed for AmIdol greatness. Her audition aired in the final minutes of the Louisville episode (producers usually save the best/most pimped auditions for last, to keep them fresh in viewers' minds); she had a sob story that made her immensely likable and sympathetic (she spent much of her troubled childhood in homeless shelters); and she auditioned with a song she wrote herself, "Natty," that was actually really, really good. (It was certainly better than "Time Of My Life" or "This Is My Now" or many of the other cheesy coronation songs actual Idol winners have had to record recently.) I would have bet cold hard cash that Leneshe would make not just the top 36, but the actual top 12. It's a good thing I didn't place that bet in these tough recessionary times, since I turned out, incredibly, to be wrong in this instance; but I think it would have been vindicating to me, to many Idol fans, and most of all to Leneshe herself if the judges had admitted that they were the ones truly in the wrong when they let her go.

So who do YOU think should have gotten another chance on American Idol? Feel free to share your own wild card picks on the message board below!

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