The judges were notably nicer last night on "Idol" -- or, more to the point, the edited excerpts we saw were nicer. Not a single shot of someone leaving the room and haplessly tugging on the wrong door. Very little to no comments about the contestants' appearances.
Two things happened: one, they built up Seattle as so godawful (and it probably was) that the show emphasized the bad ones more than ever. Two, the producers jumped on tonight's episode and tweaked it a little to avoid almost any meanness. They also told us the judges come out and speak to each room of contestants, telling everyone that some of them will get judged harshly and if they don't want to deal with that, they should leave. No one ever leaves. Some contestants complained one or more of the judges didn't even look at them. In fact, the judges often look down or away when someone is singing, either to hear the voice without being distracted by someone's appearance or to be polite and avoid snickering. And why does no one ever complain about the contestants -- who mouth off, curse, and shoot birds at the camera on national TV? How come their behavior is never criticized?
As Simon told one contestant, they get a lot of people who show up with tons of confidence and attitude who can't sing a lick. Further, it's a nice reality check for a culture that assumes everyone has a right to be famous. (Though of course the irony is that some people are so bad they become famous for that. The guy with bug eyes has an agent? Whatever for?) Finally, the judges are infinitely nicer than people at a real audition. Time and again we hear the judges patiently telling people, sorry, singing's not for you. In real life, the hopefuls would have sung for about five seconds before hearing "Next!" and being pushed off the stage.
But none of this matters. In two weeks, we'll be at the Hollywood section and everyone will have forgotten about the auditions (like the girl last night who could barely open her mouth to get words out but was astonished she wasn't going to win it all). What 90% of the show is about are the singers, the undiscovered talent who blossom in front of us, get cheered on and do well or stumble. Last night featured two people I assume will be in the final 12. Hearing them sing for the first time is exactly why I watch the show.
First was Sundance Head, the son of several hit wonder Roy Head. (The family history is a tad glorified. Head never had a #1 song and it wasn't knocked out of the top spot by the Beatles' "Yesterday." His big song "Treat Her Right" stayed at #2 for two weeks and was kept OUT of the #1 slot by "Yesterday." Hey, don't feel bad Roy -- "Yesterday" is only the most covered song of all time. Head had one other Top 40 hit and six other tunes that nudged onto the Hot 100.) Sundance is fat (have you noticed Simon hasn't been shown saying much of anything about people's weight this season?) and has a crazy beard I'd love to see him shave. Most importantly, he has a terrific blues-y voice. The blues is definitely the new genre to get spotlighted this season. We've seen people shine in pop, country, gospel, soul and rock. Now this season a number of people look like they're drawing on the blues.
Then came Melinda Doolittle, the backup singer who performed the Stevie Wonder song "For Once In My Life" and gave a polished, marvelous performance that was one of the best auditions ever. As richboy said, it's hard to believe she hasn't been discovered before. A real sweetheart, Melinda was genuinely shy and reserved without ever seeming tentative or weak. She was quietly happy when they said they liked the song she'd chosen and then seemed delightfully surprised when they praised her to high heaven. If I could sing like her, you'd never hear me shut up and I'd be wondering where the limo was and get me my record deal NOW. Her face lit up with pleasure but it didn't look like she suddenly thought SHE was wonderful, but rather that she was happy they liked the performance or the voice, almost as if it were a gift and separate from her. Clearly, she's gonna shine and grow as the competition goes on and only some bizarre action would keep her out of the Top 12 (and the Top 6...and the finals! Nothing like premature hype....) I can't wait to see her and Sunshine sing again. And that's what "Idol" is all about.