Emotions are out of control (J.Lo rules them now) and bronchitis is spreading like peanut butter on a stale cracker as the Great American Idol Burn-Off chugs along. It seems that either very few people still have a singing voice after a grueling week of Hollywood-related shenanigans (One Direction walked by one day and everybody screamed), or the show explicitly aired the hoarsest and most terrified contestants during Wednesday’s hour-long presentation of Solo Round, because they were…interesting? Dramatic? Awful? I’d have rather seen the hands-down best performances of the round than the same few faves messing up but being so adorable that it doesn’t matter. No one wants to watch the judges pretend to remember that 17-year-old Emily Brooke was “not ready last season.” We get it, guys. You have a cheat sheet. The remaining 75 contestants are afforded no such luxury as a janky-ass poster board of song selections is swarmed by what a British producer type calls “a lot of crazy animals.” He must be referring to teens. TEENS. They’re everywhere, coughing and crying and engaging in lopsided flirting that the editors and Ryan Seacrest will be abusing for weeks to come. Tiny crooner Lee Jean is head-over-sneaks in love with Sarah Sturm (“Ohhhh my god I just wanna keep having this much fun!” is about the best description of a crush I’ve ever heard), but tragically, she considers him like a little brother. They still have a lot in common, though. They both miss their beds.
“NO IMMEDIATE FEEDBACK” during Solo Round only compounds the fact that none of these children have slept in days. A former Miss Alaska moans in the corner, steeped in fear and a fresh case of laryngitis. But you know what? This is it, kids. This is war, so Malie Delgado sings “Stitches” anyway. We’ve loved her before, but tonight there’s no “there” there. J.Lo knows that feeling — “when you go up and…” “Just… air,” Harry Connick Jr. chimes in. He’s known about air for years. Soon all the air will escape, all the sounds, all the hipster scarves, and then? Nothing. Tensions rise as the judges hover over grids of the teens, peering closely to see whose faces are the hottest. Meanwhile, producers separate the trembling herd into three rooms and Solo Round becomes what it was always meant to be: an all-out slasher movie. “I’m nervous to hear any screams,” a blonde girl whispers to another nearby. They’re cannon fodder, of course — it’s a no for Room 2. “If we got nickels for every time someone told us no, we’d have a ton of nickels,” Harry assures the dejected swamp of humanity. The teens blink back at him, sleepy and hollow. What’s a nickel? Other highlights: Jennifer Lopez eats a mango: “It’s all I get for the whole day!” Cher look-alike Stephany Negrete, whom J.Lo supports because — why else? She can walk in heels. They have heel classes, you know. (Keith Urban knows.) MacKenzie Bourg, a much younger, much shorter John Mayer with glasses. This guy is 23, but for the sake of clarity, let’s just say he’s 15 because they all look 15 and most of them are 15. His original song “Roses” includes the line, “Life is a lie and it goes so fast / Reach out and grab it while supplies last.” Kid’s got soul; I stand corrected. “It’s like the lost Ed Sheeran track,” marvels Keith, fully onboard. Keith only likes the guitar players. Wheezy Miss Alaska, the most mature 21-year-old in the world, gives up her chosen song — “What Hurts the Most” by Rascal Flatts — to 15-year-old Tristan McIntosh, who didn’t understand the rules of the poster board and is in the throes of a meltdown because that’s the song she was told she could sing to her military mom, a radiant recurring audience member who’s returned from active duty in Kuwait. Tristan’s voice is beautiful, but what happens when she has to emote about something other than a parent?
Dalton Rapattoni. The name just flies off my keyboard like a moth toward a flame. His Twitter name is @FlyAwayDalton. So whimsical! This kid is about to win Idol, I’m telling you. He’s got blond spiky hair, guy liner, flannels, and EMOTIONS. Dalton Rapattoni is a fountain of both tears and self-help bullet points such as, “If you’re comfortable, you’re not making progress.” And he’s covering “Hopelessly Devoted to You” mere days after Grease Live, America’s new favorite movie?! It’s no contest. Sorry, dozens of talented female season 15 standouts. A boy in skinny jeans has feelings. You’re toast. Tonight is the “American Idol Showcase” — 51 contestants pouring their plucky guts out in front of a live audience — so it should be much more exciting. In the meantime, I’m off to mourn the loss of John Wayne Schulz, that steaming heap of cowboy poured into a tight gray tee, with a stiff shot of moonshine. Yeehaw!