And now, welcome to the Glee American Idol Variety Hour: 60 minutes (or approximately 43 without the commercials) of broadcast programming whose only purpose is to make us “ooh” and “ahh” while only establishing a minimal emotional connection. Of course, if this was American Idol, that connection would build over the course of the season as we reached the live shows while barreling towards the epic finale of the season. But because this is the broken-down, exhausted jalopy that is Glee, we’re puttering along in that audition phase of the Fox singing competition. Which, if you’re an Idol viewer like myself, tends to get old after the first week. Contrived drama between auditioners? Check. Mean judge? Check. Group week mania before finally pulling it all together at the last minute? Check. Predictable outcome because of all the ridiculously easy-to-read hints dropped throughout the episode? Check. And finally, the closer featuring a Kelly Clarkson ballad? Ch-ch-check. Now if only Ryan Seacrest could have stopped by to keep the episode on track.
Exhibit A: Auditions Circuit
The big plot this week was, of course (because Fox and Lea Michele would not let us forget however hard we tried), Kurt and Rachel’s big auditions for NYADA, and as we saw very blatantly in the previews for the episode, things weren’t going to go right for Mini Babs. Leading up to the big A, we see Kurt preparing for his moment with a rehearsal of “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera. And between the fire hazard — er, candelabra set design — and Artie wheeling around the stage fanning the mist, we knew ol’ Porcelain wasn’t going to stick with this song. Besides, he does know that for most auditions, he’s lucky to get a dinky piano accompaniment, right? Arts schools don’t let you stage an off-Broadway production to get your point across.
Kurt has the brilliant, totally sound idea to switch his audition number to “Not the Boy Next Door,” as famously performed by Hugh Jackman in amazing gold lamé pants in The Boy From Oz. Rachel’s brain suddenly suffers a cataclysmic case of the Midwest conservatism they’ve been fighting for three seasons and she decides to “save” Kurt by breaking their pact to not speak to each other until after the auditions so she can convince him to stick with the safe choice, the Phantom song. A: The audition judge is from New York, and therefore open to expressions of sexuality and personality like the number from Oz. B: Kurt sings “Music of the Night” like a lost little puppy — albeit a super adorable lost little puppy.
When it comes time to audition — shocker — Kurt has gold pants on under his Phantom cape and his “swans” at the ready for an impromptu performance of “Not the Boy Next Door.” Unsurprisingly, it’s amazing and Whoopi the NYADA judge loves it. Of course, because this episode is (indirectly) brought to you by American Idol, Whoopi takes a second to pull the old audition fake-out on Kurt. Giant pause, heavy breathing, then boom: Immense praise.
Cut to Rachel’s audition, which, as we saw approximately 3,500 times on Fox this week (don’t quote me on that — math’s not my forte), is not going to go well. Rachel takes her own advice and sticks with the Barbra Streisand song we’ve heard her sing 3,500 times (although that may be because we went through a phase after we paid 99 cents for it on iTunes), but what’s this? She forgets the words… twice. And Whoopie, in all her turbaned glory, cuts off our young heroine and informs her that this is the end of her NYADA dreams. Of course, it’s completely absurd that Rachel would forget anything. You’ve seen the way she wakes up: Like a musical theater mummy with a smile that could burn through all the sadness in the world. (It’s a little creepy.) But like an Idol audition, the plot set the overconfident egomaniac up to fail and it had to deliver.
Next: Glee finds its Simon Cowell.
Exhibit B: The Mean Judge
Whoopi Goldberg’s NYADA dean Carme Tibideaux is the Simon Cowell of the art school audition circuit. Kurt and Rachel trade stories of her vicious tirades just before they take the stage for judgment. Obviously, the meaner streak comes out when Rachel flubs her whole audition and Whoopi tells her that if she forgets the lyrics on Broadway, the understudy takes her job, as she coolly walks out and turns the lights out on the devastated could-be starlet.
But Whoopi really brings it home when she offers up high praise to Kurt. Even Simon knows, being so brutally honest only works if you occasionally dole out servings of some very serious praise. And telling Kurt that Hugh Jackman would have been impressed with his performance may have been an overstatement, but it certainly fits the bill.
Exhibit C: Group Week
Next stop: Idol’s infamous group week, wherein a gaggle of singers fight and cry and fear failure until they get it together in the 11th hour. The Glee version of this comes when all the New Directions guys gather to muse over their concerns about Puck’s potential to flunk out of high school weeks before graduation, which is a plotline that really should have come up months ago. (If anyone has the potential to flunk out, it’s Puck.) Apparently, they all work out together too (except for Joe of the ridiculous dreads, who stands there like he’s afraid the free weights might bite him).
After Puck’s plan to pass Geography by seducing his teacher fails (and here you thought he’d worked out all his Mary Kay Letourneau wiggles) and he sings an unwieldy version of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” that is so powerful it makes 1980s groupies pop out of lockers, the Glee gang gathers to prep him just enough to pass his final exam. And by prep, I mean they all sing a rock version of “The Rain in Spain” and Puck consequently only knows the test answers that come from the lyrics of the My Fair Lady tune. Add in the “sob story” about his deadbeat dad showing up to ask him for money, inspiring him to graduate and become a better man, and you’ve got the perfect group week package.
Exhibit D: PSA/Sob Story
This week on the lesson-learning portion of Glee, we learn about the perils of domestic abuse. (I’m fairly certain they’re just pulling social issues out of a hat at this point.) Bieste comes to school with a shiner, and assuming no one could get the jump on Bieste, the glee club girls who aren’t stuck in a wheelchair or crying over a flubbed audition make jokes in the hallway about her getting clocked by her husband. To teach them a lesson for their heartlessness — which is actually an accurate depiction of how even the sweetest high school girls sometimes act among friends in the hallway — Sue, the co-advisor of the glee club, and her mini-me NeNe Leakes rope Bieste into a lesson for the girls. She asks them to turn a song into an empowerment anthem for women, and they screw it up on the first round. But we’ll get to that part in just a minute.
By the time the girls get it right with the song choice — Florence + the Machine’s “Shake It Out” — we find that Bieste was hit by her husband Cooter, and that while she told Sue she moved out to live with her sister, she’s really staying with the abuser and trying to work things out. And much like last week’s one-off treatment of the gender identification issue facing many teens, this quickie after-school special of the week treatment of such a huge issue like domestic abuse undermines the gravity of the topic. Out of nowhere Bieste has an abusive husband, Sue puts a glee-club bandaid on it, and she really thought that was the end of it? Once again, this show bites off a bigger topic than it can even fit between its tiny little molars. And once again, the series fails to lend the appropriate respect to the sensitive topic. Besides, they’ve got a truly disturbing issue ready and ripe for the picking: Can we tackle Will’s infantilism soon, please?
Next: And now for a very inappropriate Broadway number.
Exhibit E: Inappropriate Broadway Number
It’s a good thing Randy Jackson was too busy picking out a polka dot bowtie for tonight’s Idol to be around to see the Chicago number that the girls picked out to combat domestic abuse. (In case you don’t watch Idol auditions every year like I do, you should know that if there’s one thing Randy hates about auditions, it’s all the folks who come in and try to perform Broadway numbers for him and his fellow judges. No! Not the vibrato!)
This time, the inappropriateness wasn’t so much about genre as it was about tact, but we’ll let the slant connection slide. While Bieste is wrestling with her struggle with domestic violence, these ladies waltz up on stage in skimpy lingerie and sing “a song about crazy women in their panties killing men for chewing gum.” (For once, NeNe makes a damn good point.) Randy would probably have some misplaced metaphor about a fish to insert here right about now.
Exhibit F: Close with a Kelly Clarkson Ballad
After all is said and done — Puck miraculously passes his exam using only facts obtained from My Fair Lady, Kurt rocks his audition, the glee girls pat themselves on the back for singing an uplifting song, and Rachel blows her audition — we can’t escape the episode without a big emotional ballad to watch all the storylines get wrapped up with a bow. And what better way to pay homage to Idol than by closing with a Kelly Clarkson ballad, sung by Rachel and appropriately titled “Cry.” With this we get the Idol auditions one-two punch: rousing ballad courtesy of the show’s own success story (nepotism!) and an emotional sob story to send us on our merry way (but really beg us to come back and make sure that heartbreaking young person achieve their dream, by golly!).
And in closing, because there are still parts of this show that we love, some of the funny little moments that were the spoon full of sugar to help us swallow “Choke”:
--One of Rachel’s biggest fears is “Menstrual Bloat.”
--Brittany’s prom theme idea is “Aliens” and involves a probing booth.
--An A+ for the intro that hearkened back to Season 1’s wildly (terrifyingly) driven Rachel Berry.
--Finn knows something’s wrong with Puck because he hasn’t been logging onto any Call of Duty tourneys.
--Rachel can’t even lie to Kurt when he asks if he can sing “Music of the Night” as well as Michael Crawford.
--Bieste’s sister is named Denise Bieste, because of course she is.
--Puck gives himself the name “Puckgellan” to amp himself up for his geography test.
Did you see it all coming? Are you getting tired of the way the show throws emotional topics around in the plot? Do you think I’m nuts for finding all these connection to Idol? Have I just been watching too much Fox?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler.