Janis Frankenstein (American Idol 7 Miami audition)
If former American Junior, Julie Dubela, doesn’t know what “precocious” means, I doubt that she’s familiar with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” or even the Boris Karloff movie. Basically Victor Frankenstein cobbles together a bunch of parts from dead bodies to create super-humans. Something goes amiss with Victor Frankenstein’s project. He manages to give the parts life, but instead of it being “beautiful” he finds himself repulsed by his own creation. The creature then turns to murder and treachery.
This may have been the most memorable audition of the season for me. If you didn’t watch the Miami auditions, Julie Dubela is a 16 year old who made the top 20 of American Juniors four years ago. She opens with “Hey Ryan, do you remember me?”
She’s attractive, but dresses like something out of the movie “Clueless” meets “Austin Powers”. She has a pretty good voice and stage presence or at least confidence. The producers cue up footage from her promising turn on American Juniors as a cute and talented twelve year old with the voice and stage manner of a 16 year old. The now actually 16 year old Julie breaks out a very affected Janis Joplin (someone who clearly was never a cutesy teenager) filled with hand gestures and lounge act vocal flourishes as if she were some washed up second rate 42 year old. The judges hate her.
“It’s not good” they tell her. “Stop the acting!” Simon says.
“What acting, this is me,” Julie replies.
“You’ve got to be kidding. My God this is pitiful,” think the judges without quite saying it.
She’s devastated and clearly shocked by their negative reaction. She tries the slip in a second song bit used by the desperate and talentless. That irritates the judges even more. Simon tells her to go to the San Fernando Valley to make porn movies. Actually, he tells her to go to Hollywood to be an actress, but he might as well have told her the other thing.
Simon might be right. Julie Dubela would make a good annoying daughter or goofy friend on some sitcom assuming the writers’ strike ever ends. She’s basically Makayla Gordon with a more mainstream tv look. It also wasn’t that long ago when young singers wanted to be Britney Spears. Even Julie Dubela knows better. She likely chose Janis Joplin to distance herself from the bubble gum pop thing. That whole path to pop stardom is in serious rehab, yet she was made for it at least in part because of shows like Idol and American Juniors.
Perhaps the saddest moment comes when the judges accuse her of working on her schtick and mannerisms with some coach just for the auditions. Julie's near-tears protest goes, “No, I practiced them at home in front of the mirror.”
She leaves. The camera shows her brushing off the comfort of a motherly (maybe it was her agent) arm. The producers then cut to an extended clip from the 12 year old Julie Dubela, Simon makes some comment about being “over-indulged” something that’s never happened to him and Paula chimes in about “another one who’s never been told ‘No’ ”. (Shannon McGough, the butcher’s daughter who also dared to sing Janis, got hit with the same tag)
I’m not sure if the show or the judges pick up on the irony at all. They’re horrified by the 16 year old made for TV stardom monster. They think they’re teaching her a lesson by telling her “NO” for the first time in her life. Given Idol’s downward popularity spiral this year, they’ve missed what’s really poignantly tragic about the whole thing. Simon, Paula, Randy, and the producers are Victor Frankenstein. As much as anyone, they created Julie Dubela and Shannon McGough and now they’re filled with revulsion by them and disdain anyone who could be so mistaken as to think that these young ladies might have a “chance” at actual pop stardom.
It’s sad, but the real monster isn’t Victor Frankenstein’s creation, it’s Victor Frankenstein himself. Last year’s auditions might have been too mean in a snarky way. This is a mean that the show doesn’t even grasp and that’s what makes it even more tragic. I suspect the only way AI could redeem itself would be for Julie Dubela to come back as an 18 year old, assuming AI is still on tv, turn out to be terrific and thank the producers for working with her to find herself as a performer rather than some record producer’s pastiche for pop stardom. In the meantime, she maybe should work on vocabulary for the SAT instead of the potential dangers of stardom at too young an age.
That brings me to Syesha Mercado. Paula hears the big voice and the uber-Aretha bit and jumps out of her chair, points her finger, and says “That’s it. She’s the “One” “.
Before she can say it, the producers cut her off. Most of America missed “The One” a reality show that crossed American Idol with Big Brother. One of the judges was Mark Hudson and he sported a purple-pink goatee. One of the criticisms was that the actual performers who were supposed to be working but obscure professionals came off less like future stars than as individuals who were just short of making the final 24 on American Idol. The result was a mix that felt less like it might produce “The One” than the “Whatever”. I’m the only person who actually watched both episodes. At least I’m the only one who admits to it.
Syesha Mercado was on that show as an 18 year old and iirc she sang Aretha or something like it and sounded more or less the same. For her turn on Idol she also brought along her back story, a father who’d been a drug addict. It was kind of interesting because Dad seemed to have mixed feelings about being a prop for a reality show. I’m old enough to remember when wannabe celebrities tried to hide stuff like that (maybe not healthy in its way) rather than treat it as a career booster.
Anyway, Syesha Mercado, as Paula pointed out, can definitely sing. Still, there was something queasy and wrong about the whole setup. It wasn’t as disturbing as Victor Frankenstein, it was just sort of weirdly desperate. As a musical matter, I also worry about auditions where you hear about forty five seconds of big voiced vocal gymnastics and then a sudden drop off before the judges even tell her to stop. It made me wonder if that might be all she really has. In post-global warming times, we’re we seeing all of the iceberg that is Syesha Mercado?
The show slipped in a couple quick clips of Natashia Blanch (At Last) and Ilsye Pinot (Unfaithful) and neither got a backstory or even an interview. Did that mean that they’re both really boring or is the show just sort of hiding them? They spring yet another single mother, Suzanne Toon, who sings sultry and quite well. Do you remember how low key they were about Fantasia being a single mom? I do think Lakisha Jones would have done better if they’d given her more back story as a “Mom”. This year though there are so many single parents in the auditions, I imagine they’ll have to open a daycare center during the Hollywood rounds.
There’s a gypsy music guy from Venezuela named Ghaleb Emachah who sounds and plays something like a good street musician (actually they’re often better than actual Idol singers). Paula gets to act crazy then as she decides his fate gets this sudden image of maybe helping him out, buying him some clothes, giving him a few performing tips. The image is so overwhelming that she rushes over to hug him to deliver the good news. Simon then pretends to sniff Paula’s glass for alcohol.
I think that bit was to balance off Brittany Wescott and Corliss Smith, two plus-sized African America ladies with outsized personalities. Neither one looks twenty, but whatever. Ghaleb looked to be in his early forties. The producers do two shots of Ryan sandwiched between the ladies on the waiting area couch. One of the ladies claims to be “into” Ryan. I don’t thing Ryan made a point of getting her number. The ladies both sing surprisingly well and flirt exclusively with Randy and Simon while more or less ignoring Paula. I’d be surprised if they make it out of Hollywood though.
Robbie Carrico claims to have been in a boy band, yet ominously no one mentions which one it was (Boys and Girls United). He turns up as one of the few males who gets a golden ticket. There was also this strange interlude about Jasmine Trias's breakaway success since she finished four spots ahead of Jennifer Hudson which turned out to be a segue to Ramiele Malubay whom I gather sings really well for a short person, at least based on the judge's comments. Why is Natural Woman Aretha Franklin's song? I know she covered it, but didn't Carole King write the thing and make it a hit?
I should mention that I actually missed the Omaha auditions. My daughter had gotten control of the tv and was watching the DVD of Desperate Housewives Season 3 and didn’t want to see Desperate Famewhores Season 7 auditions instead. My wife told me that I was too obsessed with AI anyway. I went through withdrawal for about six hours and scoured google to see if there was some version of Omaha online. No luck, and by Wednesday night it occurred to me that my missing AI just isn’t that big a deal even with the gigantic blogging empire built on my reviews of reality shows. I suspect most people click, but don’t read btw.
While Miami was really pretty good TV, I think my realization that none of it matters just about says it all. The show’s producers are busily tinkering with the formula to fight off the ratings and interest slump, but the real fix is simple. Idol needs a couple actual stars this year. I’m honestly not sure I’ve seen them yet on this season’s auditions.
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