If you haven’t heard, Simon Cowell recently went on record admitting that last season’s American Idol was a bit light on talent, something we all already knew but never thought those responsible would ever own up to. To rectify the grievous wrong that was Season 6, Simon has promised that there would be no more Sanjayas, and an overall improvement in the talent pool. And indeed, last night’s audition show made short work of the freaks and geeks, and spent at least as much time featuring real singers as they did trainwrecks. That’s the good news. The bad news? The auditions are now a little light on entertainment. Unless you’re into chicks with multiple personalities and glittery eye makeup, Star Wars convention rejects, and guys with excessive body hair. Let the wild rumpus begin! This…is…American Idol!
Welcome to America, Mr. Bee Gees
Audition fun begins in Philadelphia, home of my husband’s favorite hockey team, cream cheese, and lots of American history. Showing up to make asses of themselves on TV is the largest AI audition crowd ever, who cheer lustily as the camera pans over their eager young faces. Starting off the festivities is 19-year-old Joey Catalano, who has recently lost 204 pounds. Joey is rightly proud of his accomplishment, and shows off his new body by displaying his ability to click his heels in the air. But can Joey sing? The judges – you should know this stuff by now, but in case you’ve been under a rock since 2002, our panel is Randy Jackson, music producer and guy-who-used-to-be-in-Journey, Paula Abdul, ‘80’s pop darling, and Simon Cowell, meanie music exec – welcome Joey and congratulate him on his weight loss. Joey is singing Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning”, and does a very nice job. It’ll do for the first audition, anyway. Simon thinks he has a great voice, but is unsure he’s “Idol” material. Same old Simon. Randy votes yes, as the boy can definitely blow. Same old Randy. Paula smiles graciously and tells Joey it’s yesses across the board. Now here’s a welcome change – a sober Paula who speaks legibly. Whoever orchestrated the intervention, we thank you. Joey’s the first one to get the golden ticket to Hollywood, and celebrates with his family outside, while host Ryan Seacrest makes off with Joey’s grandmas. Hey - I saw one of Seacrest’s exes on The Amazing Race, and the grannies are a definite step up for him.
Next up is 25-year-old Yuka. He has another name, long and unpronounceable, and I was getting a headache trying to write it down. So Yuka it is. Yuka is a recent arrival from Egypt, and he loves America, American music, and American girls. He also loves the Bee Gees, and apparently no one has the heart to tell him that the Brothers Gibb actually hail from Australia. Yuka’s goal is to “sing like Mr. Bee Gees” because their (his?) music makes him “feel so special”. Yuka’s broken English is a goldmine for the AI producers, and his lengthy pre-show interview features memorable quotes like “sexy face” (his lady friend’s pet name for him), his declaration that he intends to “save myself for good girl”, and his desire to “…love a girl from the hair to the nipple”. Oh, and he likes Paula, too. If you think he sounds scary, wait until you meet Stalker Boy. Yuka is going to sing one of Mr. Bee Gees’ greatest hits, “How Deep Is Your Love”. Although Yuka’s English improves markedly while singing, and he gets points for enthusiasm, his talent for singing is nonexistent. Paula kindly tells Yuka that she’s impressed with how he learned the lyrics phonetically, and appreciates his hard work. Goaded by Simon, she stumbles when trying to explain exactly what’s wrong, and finally says that this isn’t the competition for him. Randy and Simon decide to take the humanitarian route and kindly tell Yuka that it was nice to meet him, but singing’s just not his thing.
Friends in low places
Melanie Nyema, 26, isn’t just a pretty face – she’s also a former backup singer for Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks. (And she still wanted to come to an AI audition. Go figure.) Melanie is going to sing “Unwritten”, a song that I will forever associate with Pantene hair products. She does a fine job, as would be expected from a professional singer, and though Paula likes her, Simon’s “neither here nor there”. Randy suggests that she “emote” more, but gives her a yes, and Melanie is off to Hollywood.
James Lewis is a 22-year-old sharp dresser who earns his keep as a tour guide in The City of Brotherly Love. James compares himself to Eddie Vedder, and says he specializes in songs that are “low”. As it turns out, “low” means “bad”. Really bad. James has chosen a spiritual called “Go Down Moses”, and utters sounds best described as what emits from an old vinyl record spun backwards on a turntable. (Seriously, he could have recorded the satanic prayer you hear when you spin Led Zeppelin’s fourth album backwards. What, you didn’t hear it when you tried it back in 1981?) The judges collapse in an uncontrollable fit of giggles, and as Randy starts to tell him to go away, James starts to sing again. The judges wail in protest, and Randy states the obvious – singing is not James’ thang. Paula apologizes for laughing, and James leaves dejectedly, but plans to return next year with some more current material.
Time for the first bad-audition-clip-montage (BACM, a lousy acronym but much easier to type, thankyouverymuch), which features a couple of shriekers and an IBM employee who got lost on his way to work. To keep us from turning the channel, next featured is a good-audition-clip-montage (GACM) – Junot Joyner, 25, takes on “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”, Jose Cadelaria, 23, sings in Spanish, and 17-year-old Jonathan Baines impresses with his mature voice. All three are rewarded with golden tickets, and our ears are given a brief respite.
And the Grinch’s heart grew 3 sizes that day
We all want Temptress Brown to be a great singer. She’s an imposing 16-year-old middle linebacker, who notes that if you make her mad enough, she’ll break your bones. Don’t be afraid, though – Temptress is a softhearted young lady who looks after her sick mom, who’s wheeled into the holding room with an oxygen tank. Mom pats her daughter’s arm and tells her to do her best, and I suspect Mom knows that Temptress’s best is probably better displayed on the gridiron and not onstage. Temptress is taking on Jennifer Hudson, and makes a grim mess of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”. One place poor Temptress is not going is Hollywood, and the judges are loath to criticize her. Simon, in an unprecedented display of kindness and sincerity, tells Temptress that she’s a sweetheart but not a great singer. Paula begs her not to be sad, and all three judges “sweetheart” the sobbing young girl several times and end up escorting her to her waiting family, where Simon shakes Dad’s hand and Paula gives Mom a hug. A kinder, gentler Simon? Who’s drinking the spiked Coke now?
The real-life Michael Scott
*sniff* After all that lovin’ feeling, time for a little comic relief in the form of Mark Hayes, who can do a smashing imitation of the sound a cricket makes. That’s the best noise that comes out of his mouth, as his “White Christmas” is a tuneless waste of time. Plus, I think he’s high. The AI producers chime in with some cricket noises of their own after his performance, and Mark heads back to his mom’s basement.
Ever watch “The Office”? OK, for those of you that do - Udi Sampat is Michael Scott come to life. Udi is a corporate worker in “finance”, because “accountant” probably sounds too dorky. Udi is a self-styled visionary who decided that music and MC Hammer costumes were lacking in the workplace, and apparently showed up for a meeting dressed as the former rapper. Udi claims that he’s been compared to Barry Manilow and Frank Sinatra, and the judges are first intrigued, then horrified as they sit through a massacre of “My Way”. Jim & Pam must have tricked Udi into auditioning. Simon is annoyed, and asks Udi if he honestly thinks he had a chance, then interrupts himself to say he’s “nuts” if he truly thinks so, and complains that Udi sang the same note from start to finish. That’s our Simon, back in form – oh, wait, he’s not done yet. He snarls that singing is “plainly…not part of your career” and advises him to “keep batteries in your calculator”. Whew. I was afraid Simon was going soft in the head after sitting beside Paula and Randy for six years.
Another round of BACM, this time with singers compelled to ruin Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”. This one goes on far too long, and the stadium crowd even gets in on it. I know there’s a writer’s strike, but really, FOX, you could still cut the show to 90 minutes and then throw in a repeat of “Til Death”. I’ll even leave the TV on so you actually think I’m watching it, I promise.
And you thought Britney had “issues”
It’s just not audition week unless there’s an added-extra-bonus freak show thrown in. Freak-of-the-week honors go to 23-year-old Alexis Cohen, who is a vision in sparkly eye shadow and matching lipstick, a bedazzled shirt, and the giant star-shaped earrings that Madonna wore in her “Holiday” video. Alexis says she likes “things that shine”, and initially I’m thinking that maybe Alexis is one of those “special” people. However, she claims to be studying to become a veterinarian, and proves her love for animals by showing off her two cats and a dog, which share a one-room apartment with Alexis and her mom. Alexis is also an artist, and we see her sketching on the last available square foot of her apartment. She gives an odd, rousing little speech about America and victory, and at this point she sounds eccentric but sane overall. In the audition room, she claims to sound like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, and Pat Benetar all rolled into one odd little person. The judges raise their eyebrows but look appropriately surprised as Alexis sings “Somebody to Love”, because this strange duck is actually a pretty good rock singer. She has a nice, raspy edge to her voice, and it’s easy to ignore that she’s occasionally out of tune. Alas, we’re not in the business of finding good rock singers, and Simon says he finds her a “bit possessed”, like she was channeling her singing idols, and advises her to find a band to front as she’s not right for this competition. Randy agrees, and Alexis awkwardly admits she’d love to be in a band but has trouble working with musicians. Uh-oh. Paula also nixes Alexis, who leaves quietly, bidding the judges a humble farewell. When she steps out of the audition room, however, Alexis morphs from being tolerably eccentric to a stark raving lunatic. She declares Simon to be a “big fat bad-word”, and then decides to say the bad word anyway and flip the camera off. Ah, but Alexis is just getting started on her total meltdown – she announces she’s “going into the actressing” and to hell with American Idol. She gives us the finger a few more times for good measure, and Mom attempts to calm her down by telling her that Simon’s problem is that he’s British. Well, it is nice to know that Alexis isn’t alone on the crazy train. We get another version of her victory speech from earlier, and we leave Alexis flipping the bird and screaming, “Take it, Simon! Take it!” I suppose we should thank her for waking us up halfway through tonight’s two-hour marathon, anyway.
The Wedding Singer
26-year-old Angela Martin has ulterior motives for wanting to be the next American Idol, in the form of her daughter Jessica, who suffers from Rett’s Syndrome, a debilitating disease that has limited her development and affected her ability to walk and talk. Angela aims to get the best care available for her daughter, and her entire family is in attendance in the holding room for support. Angela is an actual working singer who has her own band and performs at corporate parties and weddings. She’s tackling Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and does a great job – she has a lovely voice and emotes well. Simon wants her to dial it down a bit, though, and says she needs to “de-wedding-ize” her performance. The judges all like her, and it’s three yes votes – Angela is on her way to Hollywood. The panel listens to the wild excitement in the holding room as Angela brandishes her golden ticket, and Simon muses about the odd American custom of being genuinely happy for someone when they succeed.
Like a virgin
On the dawn of day 2, Randy expresses amazement that it’s season 7. Since there’s been maybe two and a half really good seasons of AI in total, I agree, it’s pretty amazing. Especially when you consider contestants like Alyce Long-Polish-Name, who is the loudest little person I’ve ever heard. There’s a couple more eardrum-mashing performances, and then it’s on to the good stuff, in the form of 39-year-old Milo Turk. Ryan’s getting bored in the holding room – no grannies to goose today – and maybe he just likes the fact that Milo is draped in what looks to be a dead cheetah, because he sends him into the audition room with his “message”. Milo’s message is that sex is bad. Well, if you didn’t have a hope in hell of ever having it, you might think so too. Milo has a song he wrote called “No Sex Allowed”. Simon is annoyed, but Randy & Paula happily join in the song’s chorus (sample lyric: “Sex is weak, love is strong”). Simon’s had enough, though, and kicks him out mid-song.
Kristy Lee Cook is 23 and apparently perfect. She lives in a log cabin in Oregon, fishes, rides and trains horses, and is training for cage fighting. OK, so that part is a little weird. She’s also extremely attractive, spurring Simon to ask if her goal is to Jello-wrestle other good-looking girls. Kristy Lee has chosen “Amazing Grace”, and naturally she can sing well, too. Simon likes her, Paula approves of her tone and control of her voice, and Randy is an absolute yes, and no surprise, Kristy Lee is off to Hollywood.
Paula’s Number-One Fan
Next, some guy named Ben shows up in a black hooded cloak, which he drops in the audition room to reveal his pot belly and hairy chest on display in a belly-dancer’s outfit. Simon glares at him furiously, and Paula tells Ben that she can’t get over his chest hair, saying it’s like a “centerpiece” on top of his brassiere. Ben promises to wax and then return. Ooooh, can’t wait.
More BACM, including Shekeniah, last seen hitting on Mr. Bee Gees, now caterwauling her way home, and a bunch of people cursing. All are preferable to Paul Maturano, who gazes at Paula with an intensity similar to Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lecter. Paul announces he’s written a love song to Paula, and proceeds to stare frighteningly at her as he emotes. Paul’s lyrics are actually Saturday Night Live-worthy, and include such gems as, “If I was Columbo I’d Peter Falk her…if she were a bathtub I’d caulk her”. Paula giggles nervously, but Simon is out of patience and has security throw him out.
Beth Stalker, 28, is a former child star – well, she made an album of Sunday-school songs called “Jesus Loves Me” at age 4 under the name “Little Liz”. She’s taking on “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and at least we’ve got something new – a girl singing the standards, and not even on standards week. She’s pretty good, sort of a modern-day Peggy Lee, but Simon doesn’t believe she’ll stand out in the crowd. Randy thinks she’s worth one more shot, however, and Paula likes her, so Little Liz gets her golden ticket.
20-year-old Chris Watson wants to be a legend. A lofty goal, indeed, but I’m inclined to like Chris, a handsome, dreadlocked young man who’s a fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nirvana. He’s singing Uncle Kracker’s “Follow Me”, and doesn’t disappoint with his voice. Simon is pleased with his singing ability and his look, adding that “the chicks will like you”. Randy also likes him, and Chris gets a unanimous decision to sending him to Hollywood.
When The Force lands in the wrong hands
Christina Tolisano is a Star Wars fan, and in case the Princess Leia hairdo and Star Wars belt buckle wasn’t enough of a clue, she regales us with tales of the Star Wars convention that she recently attended, commenting that the men there loved her. It helps to be the only girl in the room, of course. Christina, not acquainted with the notion that it’s possible to give out too much information about oneself, peppers her speech with several utterances of “DUH!” and drones on about how her acne has improved, and that she’s trying out for AI because there’s nothing else to do in her hometown except become a corrections officer. So now there’s two reasons to never go there. Ryan smirks and hopes the Force will be with Christina in the audition room. Christina is attempting “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”, and at first, I was thinking there were worse singers today – and then I realized that no, there wasn’t. Randy looks befuddled, and votes no. Christina launches into a defense of her Star Wars fanaticism, but the judges aren’t interested and send her packing. Christina, in a very un-Princesslike fashion, is bitter and resents being overlooked because she’s different.
Nanny Brooke White, 24, has a toothy Julia Roberts smile and a mop of blonde hair. As completely unlike Christina Tolisano as it’s possible to be, she has an engaging manner and chats with the judges about her husband of three years, and the fact she’s never seen an R-rated movie. Brooke sings “Like A Star”, and if she’s not quite like one, she has a lovely, controlled voice, and there’s a genuine joy about her that’s very appealing. Randy likes her “purity”, while Simon commends her sincerity. He jokes about bringing her over to “the dark side”, and Brooke smilingly dares him to try. Paula adds her yes vote, and Brooke receives the final golden ticket of the day.
Oh, you thought we were done with Christina, did you? Well, Christina’s not done with us either – as the golden ticket winners are shown waving their prize triumphantly in the air, the producers amuse themselves by giving Christina voice-over duties, as she rails about the sameness of all the other contestants, how they didn’t like her because of her lack of makeup, etc., etc. The Force should only be used for good, Christina. Good luck in your career as a prison guard.
Tomorrow, our AI analyst extraordinaire Leo saddles up for recapping duties on the way to Dallas, Texas, the next stop on our journey, where everything is bigger, but the auditions aren’t necessarily better. See you next week!
What rhymes with “Falk” and “caulk”? PM me.