'American Idol' Recap: Portland Comes Alive - Rolling Stone
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‘American Idol’ Recap: Portland Comes Alive

Plus: J. Lo gives parenting tips

american idol portland

Portland contestant Britnee Kellogg(left) performs in front of the judges on 'American Idol.'

Michael Becker / FOX

Welcome back the eleventh season of American Idol and the eleventy billionth round of auditions. I am slightly (completely) irrationally excited that Idol is visiting my hometown of Portland, Oregon. I am even more excited that Seacrest has bothered to learn how to properly pronounce the state. (It’s “Or-y-gun,” if you feel like passing for a Portlandia extra.)

After the establishing shots of bridges, grey skies and cute girls in black-rimmed glasses and straw hats, we meet Brittany Zika. Having never met one before, I couldn’t recognize the species right away, but apparently she is a Sara Bareilles fan. Once, she even begged Bareilles via a cardboard sign to let her duet on “Gravity.” This gave Brittany the drive to follow her dreams. It’s the best thing that cardboard’s done since holding up my pizza. Now nothing is going to stop Brittany – except the stage when she trips on it. Brittany sings (not a Sara Bareilles song) and Jennifer Lopez declares that she has one of the prettiest voices they’ve heard. The girl looks sincerely stunned by this and, you know, it is nice to see sincere sincerity on a reality show.

Brittany was good, so a gag contestant had to be next in order to balance the scales of reality show justice. Meet poor, disgusting Ben, who has a cold and no shortage of burping, nose-blowing and on-camera booger-wiping to fill a montage. (Missed product placement opportunity: Tissues not sponsored by Kleenex.) You know he is going to be awful, and he is. He blames the head cold, I blame a lack of strong parental guidance to tell him he can’t sing.  

Next is a guy named …oh jeez, you know that scene in Meatballs where Bill Murray gives his most inspirational speech ever and reminds every little camper across the land that “It just doesn’t matter! It just doesn’t matter!”? That’s how I feel about this guy’s name. Seriously, it just doesn’t matter, he’s lamentable and boring and Steven Tyler hits a button and the guy drops through the floor straight back to his day job.

Jermaine Jones has Andre the Giant’s proportions, loves his mom and the Carpenters and delivers a soulful version of their song “Superstar.” While he has a natural gift for singing, he has no natural antiperspirant. If “The River” were a song, it would be this guy. The judges love him but recommend investing in some maximum strength deodorant. Are you listening, Old Spice?

The next day, to prove that we are still in Portland, they play “Float On” by Modest Mouse, who is (now) a Portland band. Then J. Lo comes in all atwitter because she has no black tights. No black tights? How can she judge people’s singing talent with bare legs? It’s impossible! Eventually, they order an intern to give J. Lo her tights and the judges finally get around to, you know, judging.

First contestant on Day Two is single mom Britnee Kellogg. One of her two kids grabs the mic and says, “My mommy is the next American Idol,” which seals his position as favorite child. Britnee tells the judges her tale of love gone wrong and a man gone wronger, and J.Lo looks heartbroken. Britnee’s song choice of “You’re No Good,” cracks everyone up, except probably her ex. After she is through to Hollywood, Britnee does something very canny and asks J. Lo for celebrity parenting advice. J. Lo makes sure America knows that her children and her mother are all outside. Noted!

Sam Gershman of Clarksville, Maryland, strikes Randy Jackson‘s anti-Broadway nerve and Steven’s anti-perky nerve. After her bubbly performance of a song straight off the Great White Way, Steven announces, “You’re going to make a good Easter Bunny,” to which she replies, “Well, I’m Jewish.” Which is possibly the funniest thing ever said on Idol. Next up is David Weed, who thinks that singing Rush on a show built on the songs of Katy Perry and Stevie Wonder is a good choice. The only thing his version of Geddy Lee will win him is a lifetime of never getting laid. As the judges fluff between contestants, Ryan walks by with a ficus and a camera crew, making the judges laugh. Outside, Ryan giggles that he had to do something to turn the day around. Tree abuse? I don’t understand celebrities.

Romeo Diahn has a life story so good, it would make a reality show producer punch an intern. He is from Liberia but fled to a refugee camp in Ghana during the brutal civil war. He was lucky and able to come to the U.S. and follow his dreams of singing Bob Marley on television. Romeo gets a ticket to Hollywood, so if anyone is looking for a (really awful) path to a mercy vote on American Idol, just live in a refugee camp for 10 or 12 years.

Naomi Gillies boldly sings one of Steven’s songs, which is neither “Walk This Way” nor “Love in an Elevator.” The judges love it, even Steven. Then, in the eternal seesaw of reality TV, after this decent performance we get Ben Harrison, who keeps talking about his self-diagnosed baby face. Ben is adorable, if he does say so himself. And he does. He is terrible in many ways, but mostly in the wild falsetto and the kiss he sent to J.Lo. As he exits, he sees the silver lining: “I didn’t puke or pee my pants or any of the stuff I was scared about!” He merely made an ass of himself on national television. NBD.

Ugh, so far Portland is The Worst. Luckily, there is always a ringer at the end to remind us why we spent an hour watching this show. Jessica Phillips steps timidly into the judges’ room and tells them about her boyfriend, who had a massive stroke. She is now his caretaker, but it’s okay. As tears roll down her cheeks, she claims there is hope and that with prayer she can continue. Fingers crossed she’s good, right? Because if she’s not, Idol is just a giant bag of assholes. Jessica does an admirable job with Faith Evans’ “Again.” When she finishes she clenches her fists, takes a deep breath, and braces for the worst the universe can offer.  But she’s through to Hollywood. Her boyfriend waits for her outside and hugs her close, which does not make me tear up at all. Nothing to see here, move along. Stop reading now.

Come back tomorrow because it looks like my crazy ex-roommate is auditioning in St. Louis!

Last episode: Highway to the Danger Zone


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