When Gilberto Rivera showed up at the American Idol scene Sunday — rocking his Fabio/Andrew WK mane, red PVC Pretty Woman/Wonder Woman boots, and a scoop-necked sequined rainbow top that revealed a thick thatch of Paul Stanley chest hair — he seemed like a joke contestant, the Season 18 answer to William Hung. And the 23-year-old Miami showman certainly was a good for a laugh: Within seconds of entering the audition room, he’d already charmed the judges so thoroughly that he’d turned the tables, almost literally, and had convinced Lionel Richie to audition for him, singing “Hello.”
But the real surprise came when Gilberto joined Lionel for a spontaneous duet — and hello! He could really sing! The shocked expression on Lionel’s face was like a real-life, real-time GIF. “You just fractured me completely,” Lionel gasped.
The panel really just should’ve given Gilberto his golden ticket right then and there, but Gilberto had more surprises up his rainbow sleeve. His actual audition of “Proud Mary,” complete with frenetic Tina Turner choreo — no easy feat in stiletto stripper heels — and Willow Smith-worthy hair-whipping, was not only damn entertaining, but vocally impressive as well. Tens across the board! Judge Luke Bryan, who appeared “fractured” as well, said, “You have a lot of neat things in your voice. That wasn’t what I was expecting.”
“We’re in this business of uniqueness... and you, my friend, are unique,” admitted Lionel, who thought Gilberto might be better for Broadway than Idol, but was still willing to give this all-around razzle-dazzler a shot. Katy also expressed doubts over whether Gilberto was too gimmicky for the show. “Your voice is the rainbow flag. Your voice is the red boots. You need to put all your attention into your voice,” she said. But Gilberto assured her, “If you give me this opportunity, I will strip it all away, and give you just my voice.”
I don’t really want Gilberto to strip it all away. If anything, I want more rainbows, more sequins, more patent leather! But I appreciated his work ethic — especially since he agreed to another one of Katy’s other stipulations: that he strip away his chest hair. He proved he was willing to suffer and sacrifice for Idol, by heading straight to a salon and waxing it all off for the cameras. And that’s when he gave viewers the biggest laugh of all, reenacting the famous “Kelly Clarkson!” wax-salon scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin. (Side note: That movie came out 15 years ago. How on earth did it take Idol this long to spoof it?)
An extended YouTube clip of Gilberto’s fuzz-removal session features him shouting out not only original Idol Kelly’s name, but also “Rooooben!!!,” “Fantasia!,” “Carrie Underwood!,” and all three current judges’ names. I could have watched him do that all day, or at least until he made to “Lee DeWyyyyyze!” But anyway, I hope it was worth the pain he just endured. I think Gilberto could make this season super-fun, but considering how America once reacted to flamboyant contestants like Uché or Ada Vox, or to funnymen like Norman Gentle and Heejun Han, I don’t know how long someone like Gilberto can last on this show. Hopefully longer than it takes for his chest hair to grow back.