“I’m one of those kids that’s been through a lot, and it means something to me becase music has always been the anchor that keeps me from freaking out when something bad happens or when I didn’t have people around me to support me like other people. And I just want this more than anything. It’s on my skin, and it just bursts out of me whenever I’m on stage, and I don’t know why.”
Welcome to the world of Nate Marshall. Nate wears a headband, and sometimes a tie, and flip-flops, and sometimes a pair of cheap plastic seaside sunglasses that probably cost eighty bucks at Urban Outfitters, and he has acne piercings and haystack hair with a swoosh. Nate is an American Idol contestant, and Nate is what we like to call ‘theatrical’.
‘Theatrical’ is a word that Simon Cowell likes to use dismissively about many of the male contestants. On a show about standing on a stage and singing for public acclaim, we are told that it is bad to be theatrical. And the public sits up and listens. In last year’s final 12 boys there were four ‘theatricals’. Colton Berry got sent home in the first week; Jason Yeager in the second; Danny Noriega in the third; and David ‘gay go-go dancer’ Hernandez in the fourth. There is no room for theatrics on the stage of the Kodak Theatre! In Hollywood!
Still, in Nate Marshall’s case it’s probably fair to be concerned. He is theatrical, but it’s one of those free theatres you get in the food courts at amusement parks, where cheesy teens recite their parts by rote for the thirteenth time that day while you try to ignore them and plan out the best route to get to all the remaining rollercoasters after lunch. Unfortunately, Nick survived the first week of Hollywood week. (Hollywood week airs across two weeks; it’s confusing, but no more so than the fact that ‘group night’ always happens by day.)
The first hour of bootcamp this week was all about the singing line (one: stand in a line; two: sing), which gave everyone a chance to bellow like horny walruses. Even Lil Rounds, who is surely destined for the competition’s top three, managed to deliver ‘I Will Always Love You’ as more of a threat than a promise, but the judges just love her (”I just love you,” Paula said, probably), so they all pretended that this did not happen.
Also bellowing for all he was worth was Von Smith, who had to sing after two talented black guys with big voices and unwisely tried to match them. Von Smith is another theatrical. Von Smith is Shirley Bassey trapped in the body of boy scout and screaming to get out. Von Smith is a ‘YouTube star’, apparently, which is worrying new territory for this show. In spite of a performance that Simon calls “indulgent nonsense”, Von Smith gets through, so apparently singing terribly is no bar to success in this competition.
Other theatricals take to the stage. Adam Lambert, of the dreadful assymetrical hair, stupid boots and wonderful theatrical voice, sails on through. Norman Gentle has a bumpier ride. Norman is the comedy character who somehow survived longer than any comedian has ever managed before in the face of Simon’s withering scorn, possibly because he’s both a decent singer and genuinely quite funny. He sings that one bellicose Dreamgirls song, which I think is called, “And I Am Yelling At You, I’m Not Singing”. To everyone’s surprise, Norman survives, to be sent home another day.
Also surviving the first day in Hollywood against all odds is Hey Everyone Come Look At The Tiny Triangle Of Cloth Covering My Pubic Mound Girl, who has been more widely dubbed ‘Bikini Girl’ (above; bikini not pictured). Simon does not find Norman Gentle funny, but he finds his own schtick where he keeps putting the slutty skanky girl through even though she can’t sing absolutely hi-la-rious. Keep the laffs coming, Simon, you wit.
Some people who are neither theatrical nor quirky also get through, but who cares about those people? Actually, I do care a little about oil rig worker (and adorable giant teddy bear) Jeremy Michael Sarver, who was ‘Jeremy’ when he first appeared on the show but is slowly transitioning to ‘Michael’ and is currently in that awkward ‘two first names’ stage. (This is not the first time a contestant has done this, but I might be the only person who has noticed this strange phenomenon, which I think is called ‘we can’t market someone called Jeremy; what’s your middle name?’). Jeremy Michael has a lovely voice and absolutely no idea what to do with it, but I’m hoping they can fix that.
And so we head into the second hour of Hollywood Week; ‘group night’. Group night is when all the contestants form into groups (ah, you see?) and try to put together a group performance of a song, thus testing their ability to create a showpiece and work well with others - skills that have absolutely nothing to do with this competition! They might as well have juggling night, or a Ready Steady Cook round.
No, the reason there’s a group night is not because it’s useful to the competition; it’s because it creates a tentpole of interpersonal drama in the middle of Hollywood week, between the first solo round and the second solo round. Group night has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with finding out who’s a bitch.
Tatiana (above) is a bitch. Tatiana is a world class bitch. And she has no idea she’s a bitch; she thinks she’s the nicest person in the world, trampling through life with her satanic empty giggle and her disregard for the feelings - and possibly the existence - of others.
When Tatiana says, “This is everything to me. You don’t understand. This is not a game to me. This means everything to me. I’ve been to hell and back to be here”, she either honestly believes that she’s the only person who feels this way; or else she just thinks that if she says it loudly enough it can only possibly be true for her. Tatiana is certifiably bugfuck. When one girl says how tired they all are in the group, Tatiana replies, “Don’t say that about me. Ever. Ever. Never. Ever. Ever.” All with a broad, nutty, I-will-kill-you grin on her face.
Despite the fact that Tatiana is both an awful person and an awful singer, she survives the week, as does the rest of her group, who come out the other side of the process looking like they have known war and seen death and understand the true horror of man’s inhumanity to man.
Yet such is the effect of Tatiana that the tremors of her tantrums manage to reach out and destroy the chances of Nancy Wilson, who is in a completely different group! (Of course, Nancy Wilson already had a career with Heart and is now in her 50s, so she shouldn’t even be… oh, different Nancy Wilson. The jazz singer Nancy Wilson? No, it’s not her either. Reverend Nancy Wilson of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches? I need to spend less time on Wikipedia.)
Nancy Wilson will return to the spotlight one day, as I think she’ll hunt down and kill the dumb blond girl she was singing with. Meanwhile, the machinations of Tatiana will surely claim more victims before the week is through. On getting through the day, she proudly proclaims, “You all make this a part of me. You’re all a part of me.” Psycho.
Bikini Girl also tries her best to destroy the hopes and dreams of the people around her, in her case by going to bed while the rest of the group is still rehearsing - she needs her trampy sleep, poor thing - and then by claiming she’s too ill to get up for more rehearsals the next day. But she’s magically well enough to slip on a slutty little nothing and shimmy on down when it’s showtime!
Thankfully the scheme doesn’t work, and Bikini Girl gets sent home, despite claiming that she only went to bed because she has scoliosis. (”You wanted to go to bed early because you were in high heels all day”, says Simon brilliantly.) Unfortunately her rejection does not seem to matter in the least to Bikini Girl. She did not come here to sing; she came here for exposure. She’ll probably never sing again. You can see from the steely glint in her eyes as she sashays off the stage that she’s already moving on to phase two.
One of the strangest things about group night is that apparently every group needs a name for their once-in-a-lifetime performance, so Nancy Wilson and Nate Marshall are part of ‘Team Compromise’ (nothing says ‘reach for your dream’ like the word ‘compromise’; was ‘Team Give Up And Go Home’ already taken?), Bikini Girl is part of Team Diva, and Danny Gokey (above), the Robert Downey Jr lookalike I choose to think of as Downey Gokey, is in Rainbow Coalition. What? Are they named after the former ruling coalition of Kenya? The Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow Coalition in Israel? The ruling coalitions of Finland from 1995 to 2003? (Back on Wikipedia again; sorry.)
Incidentally, Downey Gokey has a great voice (and a dead wife; don’t forget the dead wife), but it’s such a soulful and - may I say - black voice that I keep expecting him to come out with, “I know what dude I am. I’m the dude playin’ the dude, disguised as another dude”.
On which note, the worst name of all the groups may be White Chocolate, but they were the first group to perform, and their inspired arrangement of ‘I Want You Back’, complete with beatboxing and rap, was so completely brilliant that it probably made everyone else in the theatre vomit their hearts out into the aisles.
Among those who lost their cool were a couple of surprises. Rose the Hippie hated Bikini Girl so much that it made her forget her lines. David Osmond of the Utah Clan Osmond is sent home despite the fact that he’s a motherfucking Osmond, and even the chipper little ‘yay spirit team’ kid, who is president of every club in his school, did not get through. Not that he seems at all bothered. Gee willickers, tomorrow is another day!
And thus ends the second hour of Hollywood Week. The week continues next week, with the second solo rounds, and a full hour of people standing in a lift. TV does not get more compelling than this.