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Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010

Eleven thousand hopeful Los Angelinos filled the Rose Bowl to audition in front of Randy, Kara, and Simon, plus the wizened gaze of guest judge Avril Lavigne. It may be the City of Angels, but Avril showed up in a devil-horn hoodie, which fit her giggly, sneery ridicule of the contestants. Perhaps it was her snaggletooth, but Avril’s mean streak apparently rubbed off on the rest of the judges, who turned in their rudest performance of the auditions so far. At this point, the show misses Paul Abdul, if only because she was often the only one with the decency not to humiliate people to entertain the home audience. Ellen Degeneres will likely be helpful in this regard although by the time we get to her, the worst of the singers will have already been laughed off the stage.


Indeed, Avril is too old for this type of giggling (or the hoodie), and she’s also too young to scoff at some of these hopefuls. The worst it got was the reaction to A.J. Mendoza, an Adam Lambert wannabe—they are, predictably, out in droves this year—who made the unfortunate choice of singing Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality”. Mendoza badly oversang, yes, but he seemed like a nice enough guy and claimed to have gotten some encouraging feedback from Lambert himself, which gave him confidence going into the rehearsal. The judges did their best to deflate him with a blast of snickering ridicule, even though Mendoza was trying to listen to them for genuine criticism.


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Thursday, Jan 21, 2010

Another night, another round of morbid auditions. Welcome to Orlando and, yes, it was a Mickey Mouse operation from the get-go. The producers tonight tried to hook us with a fiasco, a flamboyant fella named Theo who wore a cape and had glued several nickels around his right eye and sang Pat Benatar, who has been mercilessly butchered in this young season. It’s only four shows into the new Idol, and the formula is already pretty nauseating with the farcical auditions toggling with semi-talented dreamers who have a heart-wrenching story at home.


Put your hands together for Broadway darling Kristin Chenoweth of Wicked fame. The story tonight was that Kara and Kristin were BFFs, throwing a sorority girl party at the judges table, hanging all over each other and laughing constantly. Not to get all Captain Kirk on you, but I liked Kristin better with green skin. She was barely present tonight, by the way, disappearing midway through the show without a trace. When she did speak to the contestants, her voice suggested that she should have played one of the munchkins in Wicked rather than the witch.


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Wednesday, Jan 20, 2010

Last week’s American Idol auditions in Atlanta gave us a reminder of how bizarre things can get when DVRs, Twitter, and YouTube mix with the nation’s collective impulse to latch on to a single cultural moment, no matter how asinine. It also demonstrated, much to the delight of Fox and the Idol producers, that people are paying attention to and talking about this season in the early going. Within minutes of “General” Larry Platt’s “Pants on the Ground” performance, hordes of dorm-boys around the country rushed to their guitars and camcorders to be the first to have a Dave Matthews-style “Pants on the Ground” cover up on YouTube. By morning, thousands of people had changed their Facebook statuses to “Pants on the Ground”, the most number of spontaneous status updates since Obama won. The next night, Jimmy Fallon performed a sober version of the song as Neil Young, and by the time Brett Favre sang it in the locker room after thumping the Cowboys on Sunday, the joke had run its course and “Pants on the Ground” fatigue had started to take hold.


Surprisingly, there was no mention of the General or his song on tonight’s episode, the third auditions show, this time from Chicago featuring guest judge Shania Twain. Thankfully, Twain was a much more constructive critic than previous guest celebs Posh Spice and Mary J. Blige. She didn’t yield to the temptation of a summative “That don’t impress me much” although she did tell one contestant that he had “a beautiful bottom end”, and you could sense Mutt Lange armageddoning it at home. The singer in question was an 20-year-old Asian undergrad named John Park, one of the few hopefuls worth a damn tonight, and even he was fairly lifeless.


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Thursday, Jan 14, 2010

The American Idol auditions moved to Atlanta on Wednesday, and the producers eased up on the personal stories of overcoming hardships and, while they were at it, cut from the show all but a few decent auditions. Instead the episode was an unremitting parade of yokels and loose cannons handpicked by the show not as legitimate contenders but as sure meltdowns and freakshows, propped up as easy targets in front of the judges, who in turn pummeled them with uproarious guffaws.


The most shamefully manufactured humiliation was at the expense of a simple little country fellow named Jason, who claimed he had “almost died” three times, each scenario given Unsolved Mysteries-style dramatization spoofs. The guy couldn’t remember how to start the Garth Brooks song he’d planned to sing, and the judges made him stand there for several minutes while they cracked each other up trying top each others’ putdowns, playing the dozens with a guy who had no interest in keeping up. It was a cheap shot in letting the poor bastard get that far.


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Wednesday, Jan 13, 2010

American Idol, the phenom that helped to forever define musical milieu and cultural temperature of the aughts, returned Tuesday night for its first episode of the teens and hit the ground running in hopes of proving that the show still has legs amid steadily falling ratings, the disappearance of its worst but most car-crash-fascinating judge and, just announced this week, the end-of-season skedaddle of head judge Simon Cowell. The show shakes things up this year—Randy Jackson promises “interesting wrinkles”, quite a commitment, but one of them, of course, is Paula’s replacement, the sweet and likeable Ellen Degeneres, whose experience evaluating music mostly involves dancing in the aisles during her talk show.


Bringing in Ellen is like having Dennis Miller provide color commentary for Monday Night Football, and part of the fun this season will be in seeing if her seat at the table turns out to be the payoff the show badly needs. Ellen hasn’t arrived yet, however; Tuesday’s airing gave us highlights and humiliations from one of the show’s massive auditions, this one in Boston. Instead, an emaciated Victoria Beckham, sat in as a fourth judge, cocking an odd stare at contestants. She was a fairly good Paula stand-in, offering the same sort of sympathetic support that Paula was famous for, perhaps because both Paula and Posh suffer from the sneaking self-awareness that they themselves can’t actually sing.


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