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Last night the Idol Thunderbus rolled into Austin, Texas for a sweet sampling of country jams. It was an episode that was as laid-back and easygoing as the city in which it took place. Giddyup.

"SCREEEEEEEEECH" went the sere old hat-witch that oversees the proceedings, pulling the invisible strings of life with knobbly fingers. She and the other two judges, Randree Jackson and Jennifer Lo, had settled into their chairs and were ready to see some singers. And so the singers were brought in!

We met a boy of trundling gait and glazed doughnut smile who was there with his sister. Their story was strange: Their parents had some issues when they were very little and so they were separated and they didn't even know each other existed until the boy was fourteen, they'd even lived just a few streets away from each other growing up. It was like The Parent Trap, only way more sad and weird. I mean, actually, if you think about The Parent Trap, that is a pretttty fucked up little concept right there. "Oh, there are two of them! So we each get one. They're interchangeable. Perfect. We're great parents, la la la." And, like, your divorce would have to be really bad if splitting up your twin children and lying to them for the rest of their lives lest you ever be forced to see your former spouse again was the Best Solution. I mean, that's a bad enough divorce that I don't imagine you could meet cute again eleven years later and everything would be hunky and/or dory, y'know? The Parent Trap should be a serious, strange drama movie, and yet it's two delightful comedies! Oh well. Back to our little pastry puff with the long-lost sister. He sang well. A little shrieky, but that pleased the smoke-witch and he was sent on to Hurlywerd. So he'll leave his sister once more and she'll walk around town kicking cans and ripping up flowerbeds, remembering the time when she had a brother for a bit.

Last night Ryan met his new boyfriend. Oh don't worry, Tim Urban is still the queen of the castle, but if Ryan wants a little wink-wink on the side, we know where he's going to look for it. (For the time being, we still might meet the poptwink of Ryan's dreams. We still might.) The fellow I'm speaking of is the cowboy stud who sang some Brooks & Dunn song last night and melted Ryan's heart with his aw-shucks rancher ways. The cowboy, let's call him Rance, had his whole cute family there, and his mom was wearing this big pin that had a picture of Rance in his high school football uniform on it. And swooooon, ain't that just the perfect Texas dream? The football playin', singin' cowboy. Basically this dude, if that dude sang. Ryan could barely keep his ass in his assful chaps, so titillated was he by this big ol' slice of American meatpie. Rance charmed the judges as well, with his deep crooning voice and his friendly smile. When he came out with his Golden Ticket everyone cheered and hugged and omg the moon did stop in its silver orbit and the foxes did howl and the whip-poor-wills sang with the katydids because Rance grabbed Ryan, hugged him, picked him up, and twirled him. For a second there Ryan totally lost himself in a ranch life fantasy, pictured himself standing on a crooked-but-cute porch, beating a rug clean, watching as Rance's pickup truck came rumbling down the dirt road toward home, dust kicking up like a mist of earthly angels, Ryan swell of heart and groin, knowing his cowboy captain was home. It was a brief beautiful flash, but then of course he remembered Tim, padding nude around Ryan's glass and bamboo Hollywood Hills mansion, drinking cream from his saucer, curling up in a patch of sunlight, and Ryan knew where his heart truly belonged. He could never be a rodeo bride, not truly ever. But a rodeo mistress? Well, who's to say?

Who else? Oh there was a scrabbly haired kid who said he looked like Seth Rogen (but then a producer told him he looked like a Fraggle) and who played a symphonia or a mandolute or something, it was a whistle with piano keys basically, and when he walked into the audition room it wasn't yet entirely clear if he was going to be a joke contestant or not. But then he opened that flappity mouth of his and out came sweet growly sounds and yowls and runs and whatnot and it was good! Randruh Jackson could not stop hooting about it and even the mean old stump-witch smiled a toothless smile and muttered an incantation of approval. So that was a fun surprise! The kid played his symphonia and there was much rejoicing, J.Lo even joining in the dance circle hootenanny while the old peat-witch shook her crone cane and thanked the dark heavens for this gift.

Oh, there was this horrible girl, this truly dreadful girl, who showed up and was all "I'm so in love with Ryannnnnn omigod omigod" and she played up this whole thing about being obsessed with Ryan and it was so fake and so stupid and just a desperate ploy to get airtime. And it worked! It worked probably too well, as we saw enough of her to truly dislike her. When she went into the audition box, she sang well enough and they put her through, and then the girl thought she'd try to be funny again by being like that girl that's so annoying that you know, maybe she's in an improv troupe or writes a blog, who thinks she's really funny but her sense of funny is something that was maybe vaguely funny five years ago? Like, she did this thing where she was like "This is my victory dance..." and then was dancing all stupid, like that was the joke, that it was stupid, but ohh look at her, we were supposed to think to ourselves, she also had the confidence to dance stupidly in front of celebrities, so she must be cool too. But she was not. Not when she was dancing, not when she did her stupid chicken impersonation, and certainly not when she was acting all jokily "street" with Randy saying "You're my dawg! You're my dawg!" and flashing him street signals and chest pounds as she walked out and was then caught doing that by Ryan and clearly had a moment of not being sure which hackneyed character she should go with, the jokey Funny Girl bullshit or the I Love Ryan nonsense. Basically I've known this girl many times in my life of hanging around people in the performing arts, and this girl is awful. Least funny girl on the sketch team, but the one who talks about it the most. Ugh.

The true laugh of the episode was the strange couple that came on together, all kissy kissy and twirling in fields and making huge terrifying smiles. They met in a college singing group or something and it was love at first sight. "He's basically a male version of me," the girl said as her beloved boyfriend giggled and stared at the cowboy, sizing up his competition, I'm sure. "We have the same mannerisms and everything!" the girlfriend said, as the boyfriend walked into the bathroom thirty seconds after Ryan. I'm not trying to SAY anything, but I'm just SAYING. Anytits, when the happy couple entered the hyperbaric audition chamber one stood off to the side while the other sang. While the girl was singing the guy bee-bopped and smiled his Grand Canyon smile and it was the wiggly stuff of true college love, the kind of love a 19-year-old boy who sings a cappella often has for the older, slightly needy seeming girl he can kiss lightly on the lips but mostly just sing and giggle with. We've all seen it. We all have. Sometimes that same 19-year-old boy dates the improv/sketch girl, but that's rarer. But it sometimes happens. Ahh college! Take us away, Asher Roth! (No, do not. Do not take us anywhere, Asher Roth.)

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My favorite part of the episode was when the little blonde, translucent Liverpudlian girl auditioned. Wasn't she so cute? What is a little wispy fairy creature from Liverpool doing living in Texas with her cute little parents and singing sweetly? What's that story? Very strange, I imagine. Of all the places to move when emigrating to the states, Texas! Yikes. But yeah, when the girl sang she was good. Or rather her second song was good. They let her try again after she sang the words to Etta James's "At Last" to a completely different, made-up tune. At first I was like "Oh... I've not heard this version..." but then the judges were like "We don't know what that was." But J.Lo was kind and let her sing another song and the song was that "The Climb" song by Miley Eye-stye-rus that's all about overcoming odds and whutnut, so of course it was germane to the moment at hand and she nailed it and was basically more tears than girl at that point and it was nice.

She came out with her little Golden Ticket clutched in her feathery hand and her parents were very excited. What a nice thing for her. I'm sure the move had been tough on her, I doubt a lot of Texan high school kids take kindly to a new girl from somewhere in England who is made of cellophane. A tough couple years, but then this. The American dream. Or the beginnings of it, anyway. The first crunch of the wagon wheel or clank of the hammer or wail and whistle of the locomotive. The way American stories start, with gumption and guts and motive and modesty and a whole bunch of dead Indians. It's nice to see even new arrivals flexing that American muscle. Sure if she'd been in the UK she'd be on Britain's Got Talent or The X Factor, but those aren't real. Not compared to American Idol. No, this is truly a singular sport we've got, and little Penny Percival or whatever her name was, well she's one of its light-filled stars. Welcome to America, kiddo.

Well, I see that sun's goin' down out over the mesa, so I reckon it's time we packed it in for the night. You all have a good sleep, full of pleasant ranchboy dreams. If you hear a few coyotes howling in the night, don't be scared. Because, well, it's likely not coyotes at all. There's a sound that Ryan and Timmy make when they're real, real happy. Like when a cowboy comes strutting into their bedroom wearing a six shooter, a ten-gallon and nothing else. It's a yelp and a hoot and a bark and a growl all at once, and then there's just the muffled hush of sheets rustling, and then a little bit of crying, and then finally the new day racing up from the east, burning off the delirious haze built by the dangerous night.