‘American Idol’ recap: Chris Medina shakes us out of our stupor

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Is it over yet?

“American Idol” blew into Milwaukee in search of new talent in Wednesday night’s audition show for what felt like the looooooongest episooooooode eeeeeveerrr. Note to “Idol” producers: Two hours is too long. Fine, we’ll grant you the double-length season premiere, take your time there, you’re just getting re-established, but after that, please keep it to a tidy hour and don’t wring every bit of goodwill out of your viewers.

Last night’s episode was like chewing gum that’s flavorful enough and snaps and pops at first, but then loses all its flavor. Except, come to think of it, it actually happened in reverse, with the burst of flavor coming at the end, in the form of Chris Medina, a 26-year-old from Chicago who struck the only deep emotional chord of the evening. (Yes, there were a few other keepers; we’ll get to them in a minute.)


Medina’s story is a heartbreaker of the first order: In love with a beautiful young woman named Juliana, he proposes (we see photos of the happy, smiling young couple, then what appears to be him, down on one knee, proposing to her in the Starbucks in which she worked). The couple look forward to a bright future together, busily planning their wedding. Then, two months before the big day, Juliana has an accident that leaves her with a traumatic brain injury. The doctors didn’t expect Juliana to live, Chris tells us, but he knew she would, and he was right. He has since dedicated himself to helping her mother care for his beloved. He was only months from taking vows to stick by her “through thick and thin, till death do us part, in sickness or health, for better or for worse,” he observes, ‘What kind of guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me the most?’

For reasons that aren’t exactly clear, but we’ll have to trust him on, Chris thinks that, were he to earn a golden ticket to Hollywood, it would mean the world to Juliana. So we’re very relieved to learn he can sing. He does a heartfelt rendition of the Script’s “Breakeven,” impressing the judges, who immediately (oh no!) ask him to bring in his girlfriend.

Juliana, accompanied by what we assume are family members, is wheeled in, and she appears to be in worse shape than the judges maybe expected. Randy and Jennifer shake her hand and introduce themselves, formally, awkwardly, bodies held at a distance, but then Steven Tyler, who has done nothing but annoy us all episode long (I know, but it’s a girl’s right to change her mind), moves in close.

“Hi, girl, I’m Steven Tyler, I just heard your fiancé sing, and he’s so good. You know because he sings to you all the time. I could tell,” he says, moving in to give her a close hug and whisper in her ear. “That’s why he sings so good, because he sings to you.” He gives her cheek a kiss and smooths her hair, sweetly, paternally.

Randy gets back to business, letting Chris (who is now a veritable Internet sensation) know he’s made it to Hollywood, prompting us to worry a bit about Juliana, who appears confused, but then there’s jumping up and down and celebrating and we too feel pleased, joyful even, because at last, and on a moving note, the show is over.

Other moments that shook us out of our stupor:

Scotty McCreery, a 16-year-old from Garner, N.C., reminded us a little of a young Elvis Presley with his down-home country twang and sideways delivery. His performance prompted Randy to proclaim that he had “hope for America yet” and elicited some random foul nonsense from Steven Tyler, whose bleep-baiting shtick is wearing thin fast, as is his penchant for punctuating the proceedings by abruptly singing a peculiarly high note, his habit of leering at comely young female auditioners and suggesting that they could be his daughters (now we have a “dawg” and a wolf at the judging table), and his fondness for the words “baby” and “beautiful.” (Must … remember … nice moment with the girl in the wheelchair.)

And while we’re on the topic of Steven, don’t call him Steve. Jennifer Lopez learned that the hard way.

Actually, you know what? If I don’t speed this up, reading this recap will take as long as watching the show. To prevent that, let me just say I really liked Naima Adedapo, who has spent years cleaning toilets at a concert hall and dreamed of being onstage; Jerome Bell, who apparently traveled all the way from New York to sing a Marvin Gaye song; and Thia Megia, who sang Adele’s “Chasing Pavements” and has reportedly competed on a TV talent show before (“America’s Got Talent,” in which she was a semifinalist). Tiwan Strong was probably my favorite of the evening, and we got a sense of what he was hoping to leave behind when one of the people he’d brought along with him totally stomped on his big moment by dramatically getting a leg cramp and leaning on a highly amused Ryan Seacrest for support. “We got a charley horse here,” he kept saying.

We’re sorry to admit that, though Harvard graduate and White House intern Molly DeWolf Swensen has a lovely, smoky voice and plenty of charm (post-audition smug smile notwithstanding), we do not wish her continued “Idol” success. Here is a young woman who clearly can have pretty much anything she wants. It would seem horribly unfair for her to snatch the “Idol” dream away from someone for whom a shot at “Idol,” and all that it brings, represents their only real hope to bust out of whatever life they’re stuck in. I know, it’s a talent contest. But as Chris Medina’s instant Internet fame attests, it’s also much more.

We’re posting a bunch of videos below so you can judge the performances for yourself. And let us know what you thought of the episode in the comments section: Too sad? Too strange (the civil war re-enactor with the dad who is NOT a hippie)? Too long? Should the producers have trimmed the radio-voice guy and the Packers fan segments to the size of the guy with the giant toothbrush? Weigh in. -- Amy Reiter

Chris Medina:

Naima Adedapo:

Thia Megia:

Molly DeWolf Swensen:

Tiwan Strong

Thia Megia on ‘America’s Got Talent’

Photo: Megan Frazier, 20 from Green Bay, Wisc. performs in front of the judges on Wednesday, Jan. 26 on Fox’s ‘American Idol.’ Credit: Michael Becker / Fox.