Was it L.A.? That's what the judges said, that delusion and talent run especially deep in the City of Angels. Whatever the reason, this was Idol at its best, equal doses strange and wondrous with zero sap in between.
The oddities first:
Isaac Rodriguez said he dropped out of college to become the next Idol, though he hasn't told his parents yet. There is a Russian novel somewhere in this, in his mother's proud face as she spoke of her son in stilted English (he's in school, yes), and the fact that Isaac probably quit for reasons other than a day-long tryout.
Matt Frankel, a pale suit who looked like a Bar Mitzvah hall promoter, assumed his hip-hop alter-ego, “Big Stats.” He had much to say about “ the legendary Chaka Khan,” who he claimed to have wrangled into his life somehow. The cameras did their bloodless work, but he stood up for himself, doubling back to the stage to assure the judges he was down but not out. “I loved you in Selena,” he told J. Lo, leaving out the rest of her work. Kid might not be smooth, but he's honest.
From “somewhere deep in Arkansas,” a man named Cooper Robinson arrived dressed as James Brown. He thought he might be 59 years old but he wasn't sure. When the judges realized he may as well have been talking to himself on a subway train, they waved Cooper back to his friends, the cameras in the ante room. “I'm handsomer than any pig, dog, giraffe, snake or hog,” he said with conviction.
The big winners:
Tim Halperin was crushing on J. Lo, and if the glow coming off her while he sang was any indication, she was feeling it. Some playful judges' banter came out of this, on just how old J. Lo must be for 23-year-old Tim to have discovered his love for her way back in the fifth grade. “I'm young enough for you,” she told him, clinching her spot as the judge no one expected to like as much as they do.
Just when the parade of innocents started to wear, the pros came out. These were the Gutierrez boys, dressed in matching scarves and cigarette pants that looked more like costumes than real clothes. The brothers hold misunderstood professions: Mark is a shoe salesman and Aaron substitute teaches for a living. This makes their secret ability all the more romantic. Turns out they're a two-man barbershop quartet. They bopped into the room like the last thing they wanted was to be taken seriously, but their "Lean on Me" easily ranks as the best audition yet, with harmonies teased out just past the natural breaks. "It was god-like," Steven Tyler said, unblinking. That feeling, America? That's two new people eying your hearts.