From an empty bridge in Pittsburgh, Ryan welcomes us to the “city of champions.” Not to be confused with the breakfast thereof. “It’s our first time in here in Pittsburgh. You ready? This is American Idol!” What the hell else would it be? Besides X Factor of course.
After the opening credits, we cut to city scenes in what a backing musical track tells us is supposed to be “black and yellow,” but it just makes the city look immersed in urine. It looks like all the hopefuls are packed into a stadium today, but the judges look comfortable as always as they arrive in the day’s audition venue. The first guy we meet, Korean-born Heejun Han, has apparently come to be “the bored guy,” as he answers all interview questions with a sleepy, “I don’t know.” He’s also nervous about being so many really good people, and being near Ryan with his small, handsome face. In the audition room, he compares the judges to wax figures (Steven’s a little melty, obvs) and waggles his hands and jokes around nervously with them a bit before launching into “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You.” His tone’s surprisingly good, much to the judges’ obvious surprise, even if he doesn’t lose his accent when he sings. They supportively mimic his nervous hand-wiggle and tell him that they’re impressed. All three of them say yes, so Heejun’s off to Hollywood. If he can get through the throng of his family outside the audition room, that is. Then he sings to the interview camera, “Hollywoooooooooooooooooooooood! I’m coming. I think they might have edited that “woooooooooooooooooooooood” to make it longer (that’s what she said).
Back from the ads, we’re reminded once again that we’re in Pittsburgh, where nerves inside the holding room are rampant and Steven asks for compliments on his butt from the other judges. Okay, now we’re ready for Reed Grimm, a 26-year-old Wisconsinite who’s been in his parents’ band since age two. He sings a more passionate and committed rendition of the theme from Family Matters than anyone in the world has, ever, including the people who originally recorded it. The judges are so excited about the novelty of him that they totally over-yes the guy. I think we can look forward to a whole season of fairy-tale puns as long as this Reed Grimm is around.
A soul singer named Aaron Marcellus also sings well, as does a 20-year-old country singer named Chase Likens, and a montage of several other people who are also going to Hollywood. Given the success they’re having, Ryan wonders why they waited so long to come to Pittsburgh. “But you never know what lies on the horizon.” Cue Ryan talking to a couple of blonde girls, one of whom is not a singer but a planker. Yes, her thing is planking. I already covered this on The Office last fall so I’m not going to explain it again. Apparently she’s there to plank her sister Samantha Novacek to Hollywood, and the cameras capturing her planking all over the place are only encouraging her. “She sings better when I plank,” she claims. Indeed, she goes right into the audition room with Samantha sister and quietly planks down in front of her while Samantha talks to the judges like this is normal. Samantha then sings a Faith Hill song while her sister gets her own subtitle like she’s an actual contestant, or worthwhile human being: “Patricia Bell, Suttersville, PA, Planker.” Samantha and the judges, to the credit of all of them, seem a lot less distracted by the planking than the cameras are. Jennifer liked the voice, Steven says she had “good notes,” and all three of them say yes. But do they both get to go to Hollywood? Well, they each come out with their own golden ticket, and the family celebration takes the form of a mass planking. “Season eleven, everybody,” Ryan deadpans.