Reality television offered so many memorable moments for music fans this year, 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’s hard drive–in 2012.
20) Britney Spears Makes “The Face”
When Britney signed on for “The X Factor” in 2012, it soon became apparent that she hadn’t spent a penny of her $15 million salary on Botox: On every episode, she let loose a series of bizarre, rubber-faced expressions that were basically the reason why animated GIF walls were invented. But it was the epic (and rather unsportswomanlike) stankface she made on one shocking results show, when she found out that Fifth Harmony had made it through to the finale, that became an instant meme. Baby, let’s watch it one more time:
19) Magic Cyclops Has His Eye On The “Idol” Prize
“American Idol” Season 11 was surprisingly light on wacky auditions, but trainwreck-lovers in TV land had their prayers answered during the season’s Aspen episode, in the form of an air-guitaring rock ‘n’ roll messiah named Magic Cyclops. The guy was like the “Idol” version of Andrew WK, and he came to party hard indeed. Everything that came out of this dude’s mouth–other than his singing, of course, which was admittedly awful–was pure television gold. The guy practically out-Tylered Steven Tyler, he was so nutty. Cyclops could have been Season 11’s Norman Gentle, but the judges idiotically sent him on his way. But at least he had his exit soundtracked by the “Incredible Hulk” TV theme song (Best. Idol. Exit. Ever.), and I’m still hoping he’ll be invited back in Season 12 to perform his magically titled original future smash, “Unicorns In Space.”
18) Jillian Jensen Stays Strong On “The X Factor”
This anti-bullying postergirl and Demi Lovato superfan with the Demi-inspired “Stay Strong” tattoo didn’t make it past the Judges’ Houses on “The X Factor,” but her sobbing audition–an emotionally charged performance that had even the usually stone-hearted Simon Cowell welling up–was the series’ first big breakout moment of Season 2. I still don’t quite understand why Demi (or the show’s producers) let this girl go.
17) Heejun Han Breathes “Life” Into “Idol”
Say what you will about Heejun, but I’ll say he was one of the best things to happen to “American Idol” this past season. Bringing the comic relief I always knew he was capable of bringing, Heejun finally let it all hang out during an otherwise dull top 10 week–ripping off his button-down suit, sing-shouting the “Bosom Buddies”-popularized “My Life,” and basically embodying Jon Peter Lewis, Taylor Hicks, Casey Abrams, Magic Cyclops, and Norman Gentle all at once. AMAZING. I still secretly suspect that Heejun was planning to do this all along, and that his time on “Idol” leading up to this breakthrough had been one long genius act of performance art. Steven Tyler was NOT amused, surprisingly, but I sure was. Will Fox please give Heejun his own sitcom in 2013?
16) Melanie Martinez Makes A “Toxic”-Shockingly Great Debut
During “The Voice’s” Season 3 auditions, I instantly fell in lurve with this arty 17-year-old photographer with the Cruella DeVille hair and Hello Kitty hair-bow, who kind of reminded of quirky teen fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson. (I wish I had been as cool as Melanie in high school. Heck, I wish I was this cool now.) Melanie’s cover of Britney Spears’s “Toxic”–a risky choice, considering how negatively Christina Aguilera had reacted to her nemesis Tony Lucca’s Britney cover in Season 2–was positively revelatory, sort of Joanna Newsom-esque in feel, and she certainly earned extra cool points by playing a tambourine with her feet while she simultaneously strummed guitar. Melanie never experienced a moment quite as great as this again, but she did make it to the top six, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
15) Cee Lo Finds It Easy Being Green
Right around the holidays, “Voice” coach Cee Lo Green dueted with another famous “green” singer, Kermit The Frog, and it was just about THE cutest thing to ever appear on “The Voice.” (Yes, even cuter than MacKenzie Bourg. Remember him?) And hey, nothing against Shakira and Usher, who’ve signed on to be the new “Voice” judges for Season 4…but can’t NBC just hire Fozzie Bear, Animal, Janice, or even the Muppet Cee Lo instead? They all looked so at home sitting in those big spinning chairs.
14) Jermaine Jones Get Disqualified From “Idol”
“With the cooperation of law enforcement, we discovered information that left us with no choice but to eliminate one of our own from the competition. When you’re doing a live show, anything can happen. THIS is ‘American Idol’!” That was the cold open of Season 11’s top 12 “Idol” show, as intoned to full dramatic effect by an overly earnest-looking Ryan Seacrest. On that fateful episode, Jermaine Jones (who’d been a “surprise” bonus 13th contestant in the first place) was called in to speak on camera with stern-faced producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick about his past criminal charges–which included public nuisance, hindering apprehension, driving on a suspended license, disorderly conduct with an open container, and giving fake names to the police–and he was then publicly disqualified from the competition. The vibe of this entire segment felt icky, invasive, exploitative, and just plain wrong; I just hope it was worth the ratings Nigel and Ken were so obviously and crudely aiming for.
13) LeAnn Rimes Drives A Bus Over Carly Rose Sonenclar
On “The X Factor’s” final competitive episode, the top three performed duets with superstars, and poor little Carly was paired with…America’s most hated, LeAnn Rimes. Even on paper this sounded like a terrible idea, but when these two started to sing “How Do I Live,” it was way worse than I’d even feared. LeAnn kind of seemed sloppy-drunk, or at least like she’d just woken up (couldn’t someone have at least combed her hair?); the number seemed entirely unrehearsed; and LeAnn was almost acting like she was in competition with Carly, loudly belting over her in a way that did not complement Carly’s efforts and just simply did not feel nice on the ears. (“I was very comfortable,” Carly said when asked about her duet experience. Well, I wasn’t.) If there was ever any justification to start a conspiracy theory that Carly was thrown under the bus, it’d be this mess. Carly lost to Tate Stevens the following night.
12) Fantasia & Mantasia Finally Join Forces
Speaking of freaky duets, this one from “American Idol’s” Season 11 finale–between top three contestant Joshua “Mantasia” Ledet and his own all-time idol, Season 3 winner Fantasia–was bizarre as well, but in a much more entertaining way. The catsuit! The wig! The joyful-noisy screeching that continued well into the commercial break! (Seriously, I think Seacrest had to break them up; either that, or ‘Tasia and Josh are still off somewhere in the wings, still singing at each other.) This was all sorts of amazing. Fantasia and Mantasia totally need their own variety show–I’d just watch it with the volume knob turned reasonably low.
11) Cody Belew Goes “Crazy” On “The Voice”
Heeding a previous recommendation/request from Christina Aguilera to bring back the “little bit of bam-bam” from his earlier, wilder performances, in top 10 week Team Cee Lo’s Cody proudly paraded out in a one-shouldered leather contraption that basically looked like Michael Jackson’s “Bad” jacket, Rose McGowan’s 1998 VMAs chainmail dress, and everything Seth Aaron ever designed on “Project Runway” Season 7, thrown all at once into a shredder. And he was flanked by two backup dancers, one of which may or may not have been his former Battle Rounds sparring partner, Domo. And he outdanced them both. And he served a little bit of Glambert realness. And he left the audience panting for more…and then he actually gave them more, by quipping, “Wait, I ain’t done yet!” and doing a boogie that he later described as “three parts attitude, one part hip action.” And a gazillion parts awesomeness, of course. Cody lasted only one more week after this…but he sure knew how to leave an impression.
10) Jessica Sanchez Gets Saved
In “Idol’s” top seven week, America put (according to Randy Jackson) “a ridiculous bottom three!” up for elimination, with Joshua Ledet and Elise Testone almost getting the boot and Jessica, the golden child of Season 11, actually getting the fewest votes of all. But on that week’s results show, Jessica barely made it through the first verse of her Judges’ Save song before Jennifer Lopez bumrushed the stage and practically wrestled the microphone out of Jessica’s trembling hand. “Gimme that mic! This is crazy! Of COURSE we are using the Save,” J.Lo announced. It was probably the first time Jennifer had ever seemed so eager to get near an activated microphone, and it was certainly the first time a judge had ever physically interrupted an “Idol” contestant’s performance. So Jessica got a reprieve and eventually made it all the way to the finale, and Nigel Lythgoe got the big (possibly staged) TV/TMZ moment he clearly wanted.
9) Lindsey Pavao Is Simply “Ahh”-some
Cee Lo called this girl “the coolest thing that’s happened on the second season so far,” and I’ll actually go further than that and say Lindsey Pavao is one of the coolest things that ever happened on “The Voice,” period. (And I am not just saying that because she has the same first name and last initial as me. Although that’s cool too.) I knew I’d like this girl when I saw her new-wavey one-sided hairdo (which Blake Shelton called “badass”); heard that her influences include Radiohead, Nirvana, and Fiona Apple; and found out that she plays violin. I knew she would just be COOL. But I had no idea how cool until I heard her brilliantly Imogen Heapish, Fiona Appley change-up of Trey Songz’s “Say Ahh.” I got chills. My chills got chills. And I got a girl-crush, too. I still wish Lindsey had made it to the Season 2 finale…and I think if team-quota rule hadn’t existed back then (and the “iTunes bonus” rule had), I may have gotten my wish that season.
8) “The Glee Project” Is Absolutely “Perfect” Television
“The Glee Project,” a TV talent search for new “Glee” cast members, has always been one of my favorite singing shows–and Season 2’s “Actability” challenge was the series’ most Emmy-worthy (and possibly even Oscar-worthy) yet. The top five contenders starred in a fake movie trailer for a coming-of-age film called Perfect, soundtracked by the cast singing the Pink song of the same title, and the result was so riveting, I still think Perfect needs to become a REAL movie. Come on, Ryan Murphy. Make it happen.
7) Hampton Williams Gives A Haunting “SYTYCD” Audition
Hampton’s “Exorcist-Style” audition was my favorite moment of “So You Think You Can Dance” Season 9, and I think this past troubled “SYTYCD” season would have been much better if he hadn’t sadly decided to quit during Vegas Week. But Hampton’s brief time on the screen was almost literally haunting, and it stayed with me. “I can take your pain and fear and interpret it, and you won’t have it no more,” Hampton said–and I think that is exactly what dance, and really almost any form of art, should aim to do. This routine was creepy and exquisite and gorgeous; judge Mary Murphy was sobbing by the end, and a stunned Nigel Lythgoe raved, “You are an artist. I think you could be a genius. You really have created something real unusual there.” Now that it’s official that “SYTYCD” has been renewed for a 10th season (yay!), I hope Hampton comes back.
6) Joshua Ledet Achieves “World” Domination
James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World” got a lot of play on singing shows this year, covered by everyone from “The Voice’s” rocker chick Juliet Simms (more on her in a bit) to “The X Factor’s” tween Diamond White. But “Idol’s” Joshua Ledet really took the song to church. Joshua even managed to accomplish the impossible here: HE OUTPERFORMED HIMSELF. This was an outrageously awesome performance, full of fire and ferocity and sweat and swagger, and he sang like one of the old-time greats. Randy Jackson called this “one of the best performances in the history of any singing show,” and although I often thought that the judges overpraised Joshua (he got something like a dozen standing ovations during Season 11), this time, I believe Randy got it right.
5) Amanda Brown Dreams On
This former Adele backup singer took on Aerosmith’s mighty “Dream On” during the first live show of “The Voice” Season 3, and the result was the stuff rock ‘n’ roll dreams are made of. This power ballad had always been former “Idol” judge Steven Tyler’s signature song, but Amanda ROCKED this and totally made it her own. Suffice to say this was a whole lot better than Danny Gokey’s “Idol” version. She looked like a total rock star, she hit ALL of the high notes (that scream at the end! whoa!), and by the glass-shattering conclusion of this tour de force, Xtina was fanning herself with a giant pink feather and howling, “Get it gurl!” This performance stands as the best of Season 3, and will forever stand as one of the best “Voice” performances ever. How on earth did Amanda not make it to the Season 3 finale?
4) Juliet Simms Puts A Woman’s Touch On “Man’s World”
It’s hard to imagine that any talent show contestant could top Joshua Ledet’s version of “It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” but Team Cee Lo’s rock goddess Juliet did just that during the second season of “The Voice.” Her incendiary take on the Godfather’s classic ironically had me believing that a woman could actually win Season 2, despite the fact that men hogged all the votes that particular season. This was just jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly, eye-poppingly AWESOME. Juliet summoned up all the fire and frustration pent up inside her after years of trying to make it in a rock world “which is saturated with men,” and she just let it RIP. And she did it while wearing some absolutely fabulous Ziggy/Gaga space-oddity shoulderpads that I am sure Cee Lo was eyeing with envy. I still can’t believe this dynamite lady lost out in the finale to Jermaine Paul.
3) Lyric 145 Get It Poppins
On “The X Factor’s” Movie Night, some contestants played it safe with expected song choices, but Lyric Da Queen and her 145 guys covered “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”–YES, the Mary Poppins ditty–and it was one of the most bizarrely brilliant, or at least brilliantly bizarre, talent show performances I’d ever seen. They were dressed like Alice In Wonderland tea-partiers. They were jumping up on banquet tables. They were flanked by weird, Tim Burton-esque mummy dancers. They got all up in L.A. Reid and Britney Spears’s grills. (And I think one of them even proposed to Britney, which probably surprised her fiancÈ, Jason Trawick.) And Lyric rapped every nonsensical syllable–even backwards at one point–without getting her tongue twisted once. This was exciting. This was original. This was theater. This supercalifragilisticexpialidociously amazing. This was the performance of a $5 million act. But tragically, Lyric 145 went home in 12th place the very next week, and Season 2 got pretty boring after that.
2) Phillip Phillips Brings It On “Home”
For a while, it looked like Jessica Sanchez had a real shot at winning “American Idol” Season 11 and becoming “Idol’s” first female champion in five years (not to mention the show’s youngest winner ever). But then Phillip closed the top two show with his coronation song, “Home,” and then the marching band paraded out–and Phillip’s deal was sealed. He won right then and there. Unlike most corny “I Believe A Moment Like This Is My Now Because I’m Flying Without Wings And Having The Time Of My Life Inside Your Heaven” coronation sapfests on “Idol,” this acoustic, Mumfordian ballad sounded cool and current–like a “real” song, not something churned out by the 19 Entertainment hit factory–and it suited Phillip perfectly. It went on to become the top-selling coronation single in “Idol” history, and with good reason. Perhaps the only person who didn’t love “Home” right away was Phillip himself (he dissed the song at first, foolishly), but I am sure he appreciates it now.
1) “The Voice” Pays Tribute To Newtown
Following NBC’s classy move to eschew “SNL’s” usual comedic opening skit and instead have a children’s choir dedicate “Silent Night” to the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy in Newtown, the network opened its final competitive “The Voice” Season 3 episode in a similar but even more moving way. The season’s contestants–along with the four coaches, host Carson Daly, and social media correspondent Christina Milian–stood on a candlelit stage singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” while holding individual cards printed with the names (and, even more heartbreakingly, the ages) of each of the horrific shooting’s victims. It was probably the best version of “Hallelujah” that I’d ever seen on any singing competition (and I’ve seen a LOT of them). This was an unusually dark and somber moment for a talent show’s splashy finale week, for sure–but an entirely appropriate one.
What were your favorite singing-show moments of 2012?