There was a time in my life when I was very into American Idol. I mean, quite into it. On the road trip for which this blog was founded, I chose at least one overnight stop based on needing to be in my motel room in time to watch it. I think I may have even voted a couple of times. I’m not going to admit that I saw “From Justin to Kelly” in the theater, because who would admit to that? (Okay, I did. But at least I’ll protect the privacy of the person I saw it with.*) I haven’t watched it in a while, because you don’t always keep loving the things you loved when you were twenty-five, but I’ve always maintained some affection for the show. So, when they announced that this was going to be the last season, I decided to check back in, for old time’s sake. And maybe the nostalgia is getting to me, because after watching the first couple of episodes, I got that old, early-2000’s urge to start blogging again.
But I’m not going to blog the current season. There are plenty of people doing that who are more interesting about it than I am (I particularly recommend Michael Slezak at TVLine and Dave Holmes at Vulture). And I’m finding it difficult to summon enough emotion about these made-for-TV children to say anything more than “that was okay” and “that was less okay, but whatever, kids these days.” So, instead, I thought I would look to the past, and blog about the first season, as long as nobody pulls the low-res clips on YouTube that are the only way I’ve found to watch it.
Let’s start at the very begining:
Episode 1: June 11, 2002
0:02 We open with Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman introducing the show against a dark background, that lights up to reveal the Kodak Theater. I have to wonder: In this moment, what did Mr. Dunkleman think his future would hold? Did he believe that this was going to be the opportunity that would open the door to bigger and brighter things, to hosting red carpets and Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, and producing a multi-million-dollar reality TV franchise based on a fifth-string socialite with a sex tape? Or did he, even then, recognize the unstoppable force of ambition to his left, and already feel the icy grip of irrelevance closing around him?
Or maybe he was just happy to have the paycheck. Hard to say.
0:33 Original opening credits music, complete with cheesy CGI figures. Even after all this time, I still get a little frisson of excitement hearing it.
1:28 It is explained that this is based on a British show. The hope is that it will be at least as successful.
3:13 Remember how important Simon Cowell was for a while there? That was weird.
3:33 Interesting aside: One of the notable features of the current season is that we never see people being told they can’t sing. In general, I’m in favor of that; just being turned down should be a clear enough message, without holding up the hopeless for our entertainment. But in this episode, Simon talks about how the American public isn’t ready to see the audition process for the cruel culling that it is, and I’m thinking now that there may be something to that.
4:06 All of the auditions are going to be shown in this episode. Meanwhile, the season 15 audition round isn’t scheduled to end until sometime in March.
5:09 We get straight into it with a bad singer. Steven from Los Angeles doesn’t seem to know that waving his hand like that will not cause him to hit the notes and, based on the size of his shirt, also does not know that he isn’t six-five and three hundred pounds.
5:28 First Simon takedown on this side of the Atlantic. It won’t be the last.
5:58 Bad singer montage. I feel like, in the current season, even the bad singers they show are better than this.
6:23 First finalist appearance. Tiffany Montgomery, later to be known as Ryan Starr, wearing a shirt that she has cut open and tied the bottom part around her leg. (I assume she’s posted a tutorial on Pinterest.) She is roundly praised, and wouldn’t even make it to the judging round now.
8:10 I’ve decided to google every fifth contestant and see if I can find out anything about their life after their moment in the spotlight (the numbering is to prevent bias), and we’ve come to the first one now. Cassandra Marine did not have a very good audition, and her corresponding lack of web presence suggests that, if she did continue to pursue a singing career, she did it under an assumed name. On the other hand, did you realize you can track container ships for wherever they are in the world?
10:20 First Mariah/Celine/Aretha name drop by Randy.
11:05 Mean Simon montage. It’s hard to remember a time when this felt fresh and surprising, and not scripted and rote.
11:38 In the current season, there is a two-door system to be let into the room, so no one is coming back to argue unless they’re allowed. In season 1, there’s a curtain.
16:14 Augh! Piercings! These people in Seattle are clearly devil worshipers.
18:26 Random contestant googling #2: Karma Johnson. Appeared in a benefit performance with Sanjaya in 2007. Downside: Sanjaya. Upside: Showbiz!
23:43 Finalist #2: A.J. Gill. I didn’t even remember that anyone had auditioned with the national anthem.
28:16 Finalist #3: Jim Verraros. The moment when Idol discovered the joys of the Sad Backstory. Deaf parents! (Also, this audition can stand as documentary evidence of the weakness of my gaydar. Dude was singing Celine Dion!)
30:17 First Simon/Paula argument! This should be in their scrapbook. Also, I had to rewind, because I thought I missed the audition, but then I realized they had cut it, possibly because he was a Michael Jackson impersonator and they didn’t have the rights. (Am I watching the syndicated version? Because that would explain why all of the finalists are showing up in full auditions.)
44:24 I lost count of the contestants for a while there, so let’s just google this one: Rose Thoma, not a good singer, doesn’t take the news very well. Lists herself as an actress/model. Needs to work on her grammar.
47:39 Kelli Glover. I thought she was a finalist, but wikipedia says she only made it to the wild-card round.
50:50 I couldn’t remember why I remembered Kristin Holt, until she ran up to hug the judges and slid under the table. Oh, right.
55:59 First appearance of “I’ll Be” by Edwin McCain. One of a select class of songs that would become the bane of the regular Idol viewer’s life.
54:15 Kelly Clarkson flashes by in a photo montage of the other people who made it through from Dallas. Guess they didn’t see that one coming.
54:29 Ryan Seacrest takes over the narration, doesn’t let Dunkleman get a word in edgewise. Dunkleman gets into a car to leave. I feel like maybe we’re foreshadowing something here.
55:34 Finalist Christina Christian appears with a deeply cringe-inducing love song for Simon. It also makes you realize that some songs show their lyrical weakness when you switch the gender.
56:54 Unsurprisingly, Amnesia Sparkles has quite the web presence.
60:50 Lots of midriff going on here.
And, with that, we’re out. No Justin Guarini, only the briefest glimpse of Kelly Clarkson, and I don’t think Randy said “dawg” once. Clearly, the best is yet to come.
*It was Mary.