The fourth episode of American Inventor featured the fifth and final hour of auditions from across the United States. Next week's promise of whittling down all the yeses into the final group of 12 made tonight's episode feel a little like the Brussels sprouts I had to finish as a kid before I got dessert--it'll be a treat to see all the inventions that have made it into the final round at once.
The show started out with Joey, a quite awesome native New Yorker, who seemed to have stepped straight out of The Sopranos and made "Ba-da-bing!" sound like a natural exclamation. His invention was the clever Dial-a-Cup, a coffee pot with a special six-compartment filter for different types of drinks or even soups. His prototype, modeled after the barrels of a gun, looked ready for sale. He was advanced to the next round.
Last week, inventions expert Doug Hall was in the montage spotlight as "Mr. Know-It-All." This time around, it's ad guru Ed Evangelista who gets ribbed for always finding something in common with the inventions and inventors they're reviewing: He's a native New Yorker like inventor Joey; he works out; he fixes things; he's Italian; he's even scaled a fish! Doesn't quite compare with the revelation last week that Doug fell in ice in Antarctica, but it's something.
Next came another toilet invention. Donald created a toilet seat that removes smells from the toilet bowl air before they hit the rest of the room. Doug was completely bowled over by the engineering of the invention; he thought it "ingenious." The rest of the group didn't agree. Judge and entrepreneur Peter Jones said he'd just change his diet if the bathroom smells were that bad, and Doug implied that Peter was very British upper crust to think that way.
Then came the first, truly painful audition of the night. Angela had practiced her centerpiece invention pitch for weeks, but she completely flubbed it in front of the judges. Her nervousness took over, and she forgot her lines and repeatedly started over, even going so far as to reintroduce herself several times. Doug finally showed some mercy and put a stop to the audition. It was nos all around for Angela.
Next up was this episode's failure montage: a crazy Hula-Hoop-like exercise contraption, a light-up sprinkler (hey, that could be fun--like a disco on your lawn!), an under-under bra, and a shock absorber for high heels. Doug was particularly rough on the last inventor, barking at him when he couldn't instantly name the podiatrist who tested his device.
The judges also rejected the two inventions that came next. (Very few yeses were handed out this week.) Steven offered up a TV remote controller leash, which is basically some really nice tapestry ribbon glued to a remote control. And Christine and Rob had created Car Armor, a protective panel to use when transporting cars. This audition featured the first sympathy music of the evening, which continued to play as Doug described how the inventors they see are either goofballs or people who try to solve real problems and that Christine and Rob are the latter but that their invention just wouldn't attract a wide enough audience.
And now a yes medley of auditions: the "omni-directional toy figure manipulator," cookie stands, a u-shaped exercise step, a protective vest for children playing baseball, and an amazing-looking, big bouncy thing that I couldn't, for the life of me, explain what it's for. (Visit our American Inventor page to see a photo.)
The next inventor, Joan, is the creator of the Character-Building Buddy, a bear that comes to life when you stuff pillows that have character traits on them into it. Ed, officially the sappy parent, talked about spending precious time with your kids and how this invention could encourage that. Doug mentioned his expertise in the toy industry, and said he believed this toy could make it.
Two more rejections: Rowena had created what might possibly be the most annoying invention on earth. It's a repetitive CD soundtrack of her telling kids to get out of bed because she believes kids need to be told things over and over again. Hector, meanwhile, had developed a new drinking system for parties--a beverage container with a circle of cup holders on the outside. Each cup is numbered so you can leave and return to your drink. When Doug finally got a chance to interrupt Hector's persistently ongoing speech, he dismissed it as just a cup holder.
The producers then treated the audience to some quick quotes from several inventors saying how many years they've given to their invention: 25, 7, 5, 17. Victor's given three years to his invention--but also sacrificed his marriage, his job and a kidney! This confession made it all the more devastating when Doug told him that he had already seen Victor's invention--a way to brew coffee inside a travel mug--while he was traveling in Antarctica.
Finally, we met Janusz (a case of saving the best for last). Janusz was heartbroken when he lost his infant daughter in a car crash seven years ago. He channeled his anger and sorrow into creating a better car seat. His spherical design places the baby seat on bearings inside a round cushion, so that instead of the car seat having to fight the force of a crash and stay put, it can roll with the impact.
Marketing expert Mary Lou Quinlin likened it to a "womb." Peter said no, but Mary Lou said yes, as did Ed. It was then up to Doug, who had reservations regarding the significant testing involved. Janusz appealed to Doug's engineering side by saying that it follows the laws of physics and managed to sway his vote to yes. Frankly, I agreed with Doug--I can't imagine the hurdles you'd have to surpass to get a new car seat approved. But this was one of the few inventions I've seen thus far that could truly impact our lives as we know them.
And the auditions are done! Five televised hours, dozens of inventors and their dreams. Next week (and I'm guessing the week after), each inventor will get 60 seconds to wow the judges and become one of 12 finalists, who will each receive $50,000 to work on their product.