Top Chef: Seattle – Episode 12 – The Colonel Would Be Ashamed

I love the complicated challenges and the elaborate set ups that Top Chef puts their contestants through each and every season, but sometimes it is the simplest of challenges which proves to be the most difficult. Case in point – this week’s challenge to make something moms (and dads – no sexism here) around the country have been making for centuries. Something you can take a short ride from your house to seek out and find dozens of restaurants and fast food joints that will serve it to you with fries, slaw and a large soft drink.

Fried chicken. So easy, but perhaps too easy for these six over-tired, talented chefs. Tom made it clear to them – nothing fancy needed, just make good fried chicken. Did you ever hear of Popeye’s? That line of instruction is probably what doomed them. These chefs are too creative and have been plowing through so many huge challenges with minimal sleep for weeks at this point – to make them step back and do something easy is almost cruel. This is one of those challenges where bells and whistles, and fancy techniques or creative twists, would not be beneficial to them. Just make the chicken good. And amazingly, not enough of them managed to do that.

Both challenges this week focused on simplicity – make good fried chicken, and make good sushi for the Quickfire. Raw fish and deep fried bird are not really connected in any way, except that they are basic staples for two types of cuisine, and are treated as holy manna by those who love them. There are people whose sole purpose in life is to seek the best fried chicken in the world (for me, it is a truck stop in Central Pennsylvania), or the place that serves such good sushi it transcends dinner and becomes art (still looking for that place).

The chicken challenge got into the heads of too many chefs – only one chef seemed to not only make great chicken, but managed to not make any mistakes. Watching the judging, I don’t recall a recent challenge where it was so obvious who won. In fact, not only did OTV win this challenge by a mile – he was the Secretariat of fried chicken – but also this week was his finest hour. He dominated the elimination challenge and piled on the wit in his exchanges in the kitchen with Josie and Brooke. His only set back was making bacon and egg sushi. Really?

OTV made up for it later as he prepped his chicken. Josie was chirping about how her fried chicken recipe and how this style of cooking is in her blood. You know, Southern cooking. OTV asks her, “you mean…South Florida?” Because Josie’s from Miami. Let me agree here with OTV – Miami ain’t the South. Yes, it is IN the South, but it ain’t the South. It’s Havana North and NYC South. Let’s be honest. OTV makes an Arsenio “things that make you go hmmm” joke, but I would have gone C+C Music Factory instead.

Then the comedy team of OTV and Brooke took over. He asked about if she was making healthy fried chicken, because it doesn’t exist. She is only using the breast. He asked if she was skinning it. She was. He threw up a little in his mouth. In fairness, Brooke has an elaborate scheme to fool the world-class judges by infusing the skin into her batter to make it seem like it has skin. Come on, Brooke; just use the skin the way God or Gandalf intended. OTV threatens to break up with her, and Brooke breaks out her irresistible giggle. Awww….I’m rooting for these two.

But here is where I bury the lead, the Josie Show is over. Finally. It was only a gazillion weeks overdue. Greasy fried chicken on a banana leaf finally ended the insanity. Let’s check out the challenges now.

American Idol 12, Jan. 23 – The Big Fight That Wasn’t

With the first four hours of auditions last week, we definitely saw a few contenders as well as a couple of people who stole our hearts. Note that the new judges weren't anywhere near stealing anyone's hearts. Possibly Keith Urban, but definitely not Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj.

Tonight the auditions are coming out of Charlotte, North Carolina. We get shades of what is to come in an argument between Mariah and Nicki, and are then told that we're flashing back six hours earlier. Scotty McCreery is on hand to wish everyone well as they enter the auditions at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Randy is looking for another chair.

Naomi Morris, 28, a bartender, Charlotte, loves fashion as it allows her to express herself. She makes it herself, so that it's all of her coming out. She wants the judges to remember her for what she has on as well as her voice. Nicki greets her when she walks in and tells her she's popping out. It's an odd joke. Nicki wants her to change her name to Omie and also advises her to wear fake lashes.

Naomi sings Respect and doesn't show as much fashion in her voice as she shows in the way she's dressed. Nicki even clutches her heart. Naomi finishes and apologizes, saying she knows she sings better but she's just shaking so bad. Nicki tells her she shocked her. Noami does open mikes all the time. Nicki encourages her to breathe, and Keith does as well.

Restarting with Ain't Too Proud to Beg, Naomi isn't any better. Randy Jaackson votes umm, and Mariah tells her not to let it bring her down, as she's a pretty girl. Keith says no, and Nicki tells her it's a no, but “God bless you and continue to shine as a fashion designer.” Mariah wants to call her about the skirt, and Nicki likes the bra.

Joel Nemoyer, 20, a fast food worker, Carlisle, PA, is also having a hard time with nerves. He tries jumping backwards off a ledge and falls and nearly hits his face. He also can't remember how old he is. He sings better when he lies on the ground. They go back to a clip of Chris Daughtry being told to sing lying down. He checks his watch as he walks into the audition, and Randy wonders if they're keeping him. He thinks Nicki's outfit is reminiscent of cotton candy. Nicki asks him to dance, but it's a little frightening. Regardless, Nicki thinks he's cute and wants to call him Jumanji.

Joel lies down on the floor to sing Feeling Good, and the panel can't help but laugh. It's really not that great. Nicki tells him it's a first, seeing someone lay down to sing, so if nothing else, he made history. Keith tells him he's swet, but he isn't sure if it's his thing. Mariah agrees. He gets noes from the judges and bows on his way out of the room. Nicki asks him if he's ever been to Tokyo. Odd.

Brian Rittenberry, 27, a bookkeeper, Jasper, GA, calls his son his biggest supporter. In 2009 his wife was diagnosed with stage four appendix cancer, and it grew from the size of a grapefruit to the size of a basketball. The doctors couldn't guarantee two years, and it was difficult for him to watch her go through all that. But the hardest was explaining it to his son. Yet, three year's later, she's still doing well. He tells the judges that his wife begs him to go to the basement when he sings. She loves Keith Urban, but Keith is worried he'll be sent to the basement. She even got her hair and nails done knowing she'd get to meet him.

Brian sings Let It Be, and actually has a good voice, a good booming voice. Keith tells him when he came out and starting talking, he was hoping he'd sing with that voice. Mariah didn't expect it, and it took her by surprise. Keith thinks he has a good light about him, and that he's husky and he's cool. Nicki loves the tone and raspiness, as well as the commitment. He gets four yeses. His wife gets a chance to come in to see him, and of course Keith. He tells her to stop sending her man down into the basement.

Nicki checks out what Keith is snacking on, trail mix, and he sets her up with some of her own. The next auditioner, Jimmy Smith, 25, a social worker, Waynesboro, TN, walks in and says Keith is his inspiration. Keith jokes he's going to Hollywood. He saw the ad to audition for Idol on a break from work. He sings Broken Road and is quite good. He has the voice, and with some guidance, he could be terrific.

Nicki says “poppin' over and over, and says she feels like Jimmy's voice is the one she was waiting to hear today. It has the sweetness she's been waiting to hear from a country singer. Keith loves his voice and thinks he sounds like he was influenced more by Gary Levox than him. He thinks we can see his personality in his tone. Mariah thinks he has something incredible and unique that she can't wait for the world to hear. He gets four easy yeses.

Sara-Joi Crowe, 17, Columbia, TN; Haley Dvis, 26, a hairdresser, Charleston; and Na'Chelle Fullins Lovell, 19, Charlotte (with an amazing range!) all make it through to Hollywood as well. Keith is waiting to pass out from hunger. The trail mix must not be doing it for him. The judges discuss Billie Holiday on the way to lunch, but Keith isn't familiar with her stuff. Mariah informs him he needs to get with it.

While Scotty is taking marriage proposals, Matthew Muse, 23, Florence, SC, just laughs when asked how badly he wants the golden ticket. He started singing a little at a time through different karaoke clubs. He likes to communicate wit his eyes, then just gets moving. It will be an honor for him to meet Keith. He tells Keith that he's been told he sounds like Brad Paisley. Keith tell him he looks like him too.

Matthew sings When I Get Where I'm Going, and his main problem seems to be sustainability. Mariah stifles a laugh while Nicki gives him a “yuck” look. He's quite animated, causing Keith to say it's a pity Brad plays the guitar, because he could pick up some great hand gesture tips from Matthew. Randy comments on the stance and asks Matthew if he dances, while he goes into something far and away from a boot-scootin' boogie. Randy tells him he's nowhere near ready for this, while Nicki recommends he become a model. She asks him to walk like he's on a runway, and he obliges. They all agree he's a cool dude, but … no.

One day earlier Randy hopped on a school bus to go surprise Isabel Gonzalez, 16, Alpharetta, GA, who was nominated for an audition by her Aunt Bernie. She thinks she has an amazing voice, but is too nervous to audition on her own. Randy walks into the school while the principal is talking about PSAT scores. Randy calls up Isabel and gives her an audition tag.