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Ah, Tennessee. Home of the blues and the King of Rock n’Roll, Al Gore. Oh, relax, people, I’m kidding, I’m kidding. It’s audition day in Memphis, and there’s a bunch of wanna-be singers – 16,000 to be exact – who think they’re the next American Idol, if not the next Elvis Presley. There may not be any Elvis sightings today, but there’s something even more exciting – the AI producers have found Osama. Oh, you think I’m kidding again, don’t you? You think Osama wouldn’t want to be the next American Idol? Listen, the producers need some kind of hook to keep the people watching…another 6 seasons of crappy auditions just aren’t going to cut it.
Simon doesn’t love a parade
First up is 21-year-old Frank Byers. Frank is a cheerleader/cheerleading coach. To prove it, he’s brought along his cheerleading team and the school marching band to, well, cheer him on. If that wasn’t enough to distinguish him from the crowd, we’re told his nickname is “Frank n’beans”. I bet he gets lots of girls with that kind of nickname. Anyway, Frank n’beans has chosen to perform the never-before-heard song on Idol, Heard It Through The Grapevine. Yeah, that’s sarcasm you hear, and that’s only because I hate marching bands. Frank actually isn’t that bad of a singer – no one will mistake him for Marvin Gaye, but it’s passable. Simon hates it – cabaret, he sniffs – and Frank decides to wow him even less by breaking into Unchain My Heart. Turns out that’s worse, and Randy & Paula nix his gold ticket hopes as well. But heck, that’s no reason not to strike up the band, right? You can hear the band and the cheerleaders from inside the audition room, and an uncharacteristically gloomy Paula comments that cheerleaders are just a happy bunch. Guess she won’t be going out there and showing them any of her past Laker girl moves. The noise of the band gets louder, and Simon storms outside and tells them to kindly shut up. Two, four, six, eight, who do I appreciate? Gooooo Simon!
A little misunderstanding
Timika Sims, 16, is Ryan Seacrest’s worst interview ever. She stares at him with dead eyes and answers his questions with an odd little “h’m” sound. No matter, though, because Timika thinks she can be a Mya. Simon’s British ears cannot distinguish the sounds that are coming from her when she speaks, and after she sings…something…in a completely tuneless, nasal voice, Simon still can’t understand her. Randy and Paula are equally mystified/underwhelmed, and Timika is sent on her way, flipping the camera the bird on the way out. Well, she may not be able to talk or sing, but she sure rocks the sign language.
Christopher Riviera is next, and I’m guessing the only reason he garnered any camera time is because he’s a cutie-pie with mussed-up blonde hair and frayed jeans. He sings Superstitious, and his lyrical stylings don’t translate to Simon, either. 20-year-old Alexis Partee performs a very weird version of Where It Is, and now Randy’s the one looking confused. Is it time for some real singers yet?
This Sundance Kid don’t need no Butch Cassidy
No, Sundance Head is not the name of a rock festival in New Mexico. Instead, it’s the next contestant, a genial-looking 27-year-old whose odd moniker was bestowed by his hippie parents. Sundance hails from a musical background – his dad was Roy Head, whose hit song from the ‘60’s, Treat Her Right, was knocked off the charts by the Beatles. Sundance has been onstage since he was knee-high to a moonbeam, and although he says he can’t dance, he can out-sing his one-hit-wonder dad. He strolls into the audition room and Simon chats him up about his new wife and impending fatherhood. It’s his lucky year, Sundance claims – but is it his lucky audition day? He breaks into the bluesy Stormy Monday, and damn, Sundance CAN sing. OK, I admit I’m a very biased recapper, because I love the blues – hell, I’m listening to David Wilcox as I type – but Sundance is undisputedly a talented guy. A happy Simon proclaims Sundance to have one of the best voices this year, Randy says he blew it out, and Paula agrees it’s great. Obviously it’s a yes all around, and Simon seals it by telling Sundance that he’d be amazed if he didn’t make it to the finals. He damn well better, or it’s going to be a long, loooong season.
Finally, someone who can sing! So, are we on a roll now? Well, I thought so after Sundance, and I felt the same after listening to 23-year-old Wandera Hitchye. Wandera sings the blues, and I think she’s pretty darn good. So what’s up with the judges? Simon sighs that there’s so many singers just like Wandera trying to get record deals. And this is a bad thing because….? Randy shrugs and tells Wandera that there’s nothing there that makes her “next level”, and Paula concurs. Wandera flounces out and cusses at the camera for good measure, and frankly, I don’t blame her.
Not so sweet emotion
Travis McKinney is going to be The One to bring emotion to American Idol, with a song about his girlfriend. Well, this may not necessarily be a bad thing, right? Or…not. Travis starts off with an epileptic seizure that I think is supposed to convey emotion. Well, I do feel a little sorry for him, at that. His vocal style is so bizarre it almost defies description – the closest I can come is to tell you to try to imagine a rap performed by a heavy breathing phone perv. No, no, no, says Randy. Bye, bye, bye, says Simon.
Another blonde cutie, this time female, is 18-year-old Danielle McCulloch. Danielle’s going to sing Aretha, and it’s not half-bad. She’s not Aretha, and she’s not even Joss Stone, but she’s pretty good and does have an interesting blues edge to her sound. Simon & Paula like it, but Randy wasn’t blown out (a new catch phrase this year from Randy! Attention, those of you playing AI drinking games – listen for variations of “blew it out”, “blown out”, “you can blow!”, etc. Take a sip!). Well, blow on this, dawg – Danielle’s going to Hollywood, courtesy of Simon & Paula.
My sweet, embraceable you
The locals are starved for a lil’ lovin’ from lil’ Paula – on Day 2 in Memphis, Paula barely makes it to the elevators. She’s getting hugs from random men in the lobby, and the Valium must have really kicked in by now, because she meekly submits to the mauling. And the Paula-love is just getting started, because first up today is the president of the Memphis chapter of her fan club, 28-year-old Christopher (“Topher”) McCain. Topher at first seems like a cuddly, chubby little teddy bear who is just ever so excited to meet Paula – and then things get kinda icky. Topher tells us that he just split up with his cheating wife, and wants Paula to know that he’s available, nudgenudgewinkwink. As it turns out, Simon and Randy are more than happy to play matchmaker for Paula. Simon asks Topher why his wife left him, and suddenly, Topher doesn’t seem so cuddly, as he calls his wife a name that the AI censors bleep out. The talk about the ex is kind of a buzz kill but it doesn’t stop Topher from swinging into a rousing version of Footloose. It’s not the absolute worst thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s unlikely to bring Paula swooning at his feet. Simon likens him to a drunk at a wedding (now, Simon, remember that descriptive phrase didn’t stop people from voting in Taylor Hicks). Randy agrees that the performance is just bad karaoke, but Simon gives Topher a silver lining in his cloud and remind him that he just got to call his ex-wife names on TV. Apparently that’s reward enough for Topher, and he sashays out with a couple of his new groupies on his arm, off to the karaoke bar.
Time to cover the kids’ eyes, because if Janita Burks’ dress could talk, it would be crying out for a bra. Janita thinks she’s sexy, but not too over the top. She sings Disco Inferno, and Simon proclaims her to be a handful. Snicker, snicker. Her, um, “assets” are not quite enough of a handful to overcome her sour notes, and she’s sent packing.
Did you miss The State of the Union Address? Osama is found!
OK, so not really. Sean Michel isn’t Osama, he’s just a 27-year-old guy with a big beard and a slightly sinister look. People just think he looks like Osama – or Jesus, Castro, or some random homeless guy. I’m thinking Castro, with a touch of homeless guy thrown in. And I don’t think Osama could sing Johnny Cash like Sean does, because this guy is good – way too good for this. Simon, with the best line of the night, tells Sean that he was expecting to hear something about a revolution. Randy thinks this dawg can blow (drink!) and tells him it doesn’t matter what he looks like. Uh, Randy? The guy shows up for a TV show audition looking like he just left a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert (in 1974) and you think he’s hung up about what he looks like? Paula also digs Sean’s soulful tone, and he’s headed to Hollywood.
Melinda Doolittle is a professional backup singer. Is it Melinda’s fate to be always a bridesmaid, never a bride? Simon teases her a bit, asking her if she hates the people she backs up, but Melinda is sweetness personified, for real – she’s so nervous that she’s actually clutching her stomach, and she just loves being a backup singer, but wants to step out of her comfort zone. She sings For Once In My Life, and turns out to be one of the few and proud that does justice to a Stevie Wonder original. The judges all love her, and Randy proclaims her to be one of the best vocal auditions, ever. Simon loves Melinda’s humbleness, and he & Paula encourage her to believe in herself and try to find some confidence.
Hunka hunka burnin’ crap
Did you think we were going to leave Memphis without at least one deluded soul who thinks he’s Elvis? One thing Robert Lee Holmes has going for him – he’s not actually dressed like Elvis. And he’s multi-talented – he can sing, dance, act, and write stories. And how does this story end, asks Simon. With a period, replies Robert. Bada-bing! Robert tells jokes, too! And sings them! Do I need to tell you that he doesn’t sound anything like Elvis? I didn’t think so.
But it’s still the perfect segue into a bunch of bad audition clips, where we can enjoy the sight of way too many people butchering Burnin’ Love. One guy is even wearing something that appears to resemble a bonnet. Oh, well, at least it’s the last freak show of the evening.
Baby, it’s just you I’m thinking of – or, Chris Daughtry Redux
Our final contestant of the night is 28-year-old Phil Stacey. Phil’s got a shaved head, a wife, and two kids – remind you of anyone yet? So why isn’t Mrs. Stacey standing by her man, supporting his lifelong dream? Turns out she’s busy delivering Phil’s second daughter. Phil’s missed the birth because he’s attending the auditions, but he’s pretty lighthearted about it – he jokes that he’s going to sing Let’s Get It On, the last thing his wife wants to hear from him today. Hopefully one of the female contestants gave him the smack he deserves for that crack. He redeems himself in the audition room by telling the judges that the baby is more important than the audition – Simon pooh-pooh’s such sentimentality, but Phil’s determined to win the judges’ hearts, and tells them he’s changed his song choice to My Girl, dedicated to his own three “girls”. Awww. He starts off rough, but ultimately delivers a respectable rendition of the Temptations classic. Randy likes him, albeit with his eyes closed. Paula comments on the “weird” beginning, and Phil starts into Let’s Get It On. I think it sounds better, and so do Paula & Randy, but Simon, surprisingly, doesn’t like it. There’s a brief spat, but Paula & Randy prevail, and Phil gets the last golden ticket of the day.
So ends our sojourn in Memphis, with 22 hopefuls headed to Hollywood. We close with proud papa Phil Stacey cradling newborn daughter Mikala and singing the praises of the most forgiving wife in the world. The witty and wonderful Dinahann will be here tomorrow to recap Wednesday’s auditions in the Big Apple – that’s high classed, and that’s no lie!
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