Now this, this is what we’ve been waiting for. After five hours of amusing, odd, occasionally engaging, but rarely auditions, American Idol finally hit its stride in New York City, and I’m not just saying that as a native New Yorker. The producers wisely minimized the freak show element, instead emphasizing the good and relishing in the melodramatic. We had tears, sobs, monologues, and more tears, and guess what? It was riveting! Plus, the show actually managed to be occasionally surprising as hopefuls who at first glance appeared to be nothing more than that — hopefuls — but when they opened their mouths, they proved that talent can sometimes come in the most hideous of outfits. Of course, we certainly had our terrible singers — made all the more terrible and hilarious by their skilled counterparts — but really, the story was that we finally found some people who we could envision as the next American Idol. Oh, and let’s not forget the eye candy.Tonight’s two hour show began in the Big Apple… or rather… the state next to the Big Apple. Even though the auditions were held at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers, the crowds gathered at the Continental Airlines Arena at the Meadowlands, which last time I checked was hardcore Jersey territory. Ryan tried to have us guess how many people showed up, and while it was fun to hear all the estimates, I wound up totally frustrated by the fact that they never told us. Did I miss it? If I did, please fill me in.
Anyway, we had another guest judge tonight, and it was none other than Mrs. Garrett’s new rival, Joan Collins. Oh wait, never mind. It was merely Carol Bayer Sager, a sassy old school song writer who’s penned much of the songs on your local Lite FM station (not to mention my secret stash of embarrassing MP3s). If you’ve got “Groovy Kind of Love” in your CD player, you’ve got Carol Bayer Sager in your ears.
“You can call me Alexis.”
I was suspicious of CaBaSa at first, but by the time the show came to a close, I actually enjoyed her presence. She was neither harsh nor a pushover — just a gussied up old dame who knew how to deliver some straight talk and rock the leather jacket. Anyway, Carol Bayer Sager (or CBS… or if I didn’t like her, Carol BS) was significantly better than other guest judges (cough, JEWEL, cough), but her presence also completely disrupted the judging table universe. For the first time, Paula actually sat at the end of the table, no longer flanked by the men who perhaps keep her in her chair. I was afraid she might roll off into oblivion without a warm body to her right, but I’m proud to say, Paula survived this new arrangement. For those of you wondering, it went Paula, Randy, Carol, and Simon. Craziness, people. Craziness.
Anyway, first up to audition was a guy named Ian Bernardo, a flamboyantly gay reject from sister show, So You Think You Can Dance. Ian was 100% annoying, but not because he seemed like a vapid idiot, but mostly because his schtick was so transparently a ploy for camera time. We watched him galavanting through the street, spurning “illegals” and telling everyone else “How you been?” Most people were justifiably scared and recoiled as soon as he opened his mouth. This didn’t seem to deter Ian from his quest for stardom. He showed up in front of the judges and announced that he “thawt” he could be the next American Idol. He then insisted that he was already a superstar, and if we needed further proof, we could ask his friends, his family, or one of his therapists. Well rehearsed.
Up until this point, I still kind of believed that Ian was a delusional idiot, but when he started to sing “Gloria” by the late Laura Brannigan, it became obvious that this was all to get on TV. His singing style was kind of like a modified rap — a weird merger between freestyle and Barbara Streisand.
Simon immediately saw Ian for what he was and called the act rubbish. “That’s British for garbage?” Ian asked. No, that’s American for garbage, you dumb ass. Well, unhappy that the judges had so cruelly dismissed him, Ian then demanded to see Simon’s working visa, a request that unsurprisingly was not granted. Outside, Ian got the last laugh though. He hit Simon where it hurt the most: with a labored dodo bird joke. OUCH! Say what you will, but it takes a man of stone to not crumble in the wake of dodo humor.
Next up was Ohio’s Sarah Burgess, a girl who would set the melodramatic tone of the night. You see, she lied to her parents about coming to audition. She told them she was at school and at a friend’s house, but in fact, she was in NYC, hoping to be the next big star. As she relayed this to us, she began to cry, saying how her father would never approve of this on account of him not supporting her dream to be a singer. “He never believes in me,” she sobbed, suddenly turning all of America into her therapist. She just wanted to hear her father tell her he’s proud of her. “I never live up to his expectations. Never,” she said. To be fair, the one expectation he had of her was to never cry on national TV. OH WELL!
Well, Sarah marched into the audition room… and cried some more. She told the judges that she had come to the auditions against her dad’s wishes because she wanted it that bad, and because she was pretty and sympathetic, the judges actually seemed moved by this story. Of course, if there’s one thing we know about domineering, hardheaded fathers, it’s that nobody puts Baby in the corner. Sure enough, Sarah sang a rendition of Blondie’s “Call Me” that wasn’t excellent, but it was pretty good — good enough for Carol Bayer Sager to pop on her sweeeet blue shades. The BaySager — keepin’ it cool!
Anyway, Simon didn’t think she was the best singer, but he admired her winning spirit, labeling her as a “trier.” Carol, meanwhile, did her best to put those tear ducts into overdrive as she told Sarah that she wanted to sit at home with her dad and make him take back her words. The poor girl looked like she might pass out from dehydration with all the tears she shed, and it only got worse once the judges gave her the golden ticket. Sarah emerged from the room, and guess what? SHE WEPT.
Of course, there was only one thing left to do: call Dad! With Ryan Seacrest hovering over her like the meddlesome DJ he is, Sarah called up her father, BOB, and immediately began crying into the phone. If I were him, I would have thought a) she’d been mugged, b) she was pregnant, c) she was raped, or d) all of the above. Of course, that’s assuming he even knew who she was, which he didn’t.
“Please don’t be mad at me, Dad,” she said, causing Bob to reply, “Who is this?” The dreaded truth comes out: SARAH HAS NO DAD!
Okay, no, she does have a dad. He probably couldn’t recognize her voice amidst all the sobs. Nevertheless, Sarah informed Bob that the girl who was calling him “Dad” was in fact his daughter (a stretch, I know) and then told him that she skipped town and auditioned for Idol and now she’s going to Hollywood. Bob let out a happy “Great!” and then told Seacrest, “As long as she gets home safe…” Yes, that is when the lashings shall begin!
After the commercial break, the producers made a tragic hairpin turn by then flashing Constantine Maroulis’s face on the screen. Please. Never again. When I was done vomiting, I discovered that the reason for presenting this horrifying image was because his female equivalent had shown up to audition. She was proudly Greek, and about as attractive as Connie, which is not saying much. Her name was Fania Tsakalakos, and according to her, she was invited to participate in an Idol-ish show back in the mother country. However, Fania turned down Grecian Idol for whatever reason, instead opting to be a backup dancer. She always regretted the choice, and now she was here to fulfill her dream of being an idol in some form or another. And hey, if she was good enough for Greek Idol, she had to be good enough for America, right?
Well, Fania happily stood in front of the judges and butchered an all time fave of mine, “Africa” by Toto. This did not bode well for Hellenic Idol. “That was actually appalling!” Simon said, clearly not realizing that Nia Vardolos’s huge family would surely vote this girl into the finals. Oh well. I guess he wasn’t a big fan(ia).
“I call this move The Baklava!”
Next up was one of the highlights of the night. This singer was not bad. She was not good. But she was crazy memorable. Her name was Ashanti Johnson, and she’d actually made it to Hollywood twice before. Third time was the charm, and she was determined to finally break through into the semis. However, Ashanti made the bold move of singing “Loving You,” or as it’s commonly known, “The Song with Girl Who Squeaks A Lot.”
Here’s the truth. Ashanti was good. She hit all the notes, even the super high ones, but the song choice killed her. It made her seem old fashioned and dull, and while I thought she probably deserved a golden ticket, in the context of her having been to Hollywood twice before, I understood why the judges weren’t so quick to advance her. Simon lobbed the old “cabaret” label, and Carol Bayer Sager said she should seriously consider a career in Broadway. Ah, but bright lights in the big city were not what Ashanti wanted. She wanted to be on stage on TV — up there in the final twelve. And so began one of the most melodramatic moments in Idol audition history (underscored by the show, which graciously scored Ashanti’s ensuing rant with a moody piano).
“Simon, you don’t understand!” Ashanti pleaded. “I have fought so hard!” But Simon could care less. She then desperately begged for feedback, asking, “How’s my intonation? How’s my timing? How’s my pitch?… What do you need to hear from ME???” I swore at any moment she was gonna go all Schindler’s List and yell, “I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just… I could have got more…. I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t! And I… I didn’t! “
“This is totally ruining my high.”
Anyway, Ashanti then launched into a monologue worthy of Mary Catherine Gallagher, ultimately climaxing in the dramatic insistence that “If America saw me, they would love me. THEY WOULD LOVE ME.” Anyone else have “AND YOU! AND YOU! YOU’RE GONNA LOVE ME!!!!” racing through their heads?
“Aaaand I am telling you. I’m not going…”
Once Ashanti’s torch song of an existence was pathetically ushered out of the room, we then met Amanda and Antonella, two prototypical, and hot, Jersey Girls. They filled us in with all the banal details of their lives, with Antonella explaining “We hang out, go to the beach together,” and Amanda adding, “Sometimes we like to, you know, play with a beach bawll.” Don’t get too crazy now, girls! You see, this is what happens when the youth of America goes unchecked. Total beach ball mania!
Anyway, I was highly doubtful of these two girls, especially when they proposed a dual winner for Idol, noting that a duo would sell a lot of albums, especially if it were them because they’re hot. Hey, I wasn’t going to argue that point. Antonella in particular was quite the specimen, despite her fake boobies.
Well, Amanda was first to audition, but when she mentioned that she came all this way with her friend, who was also auditioning, the judges told Antonella to come into the room also. Sure enough, as soon as Antonella entered, everyone perked up. Oh, ANTONELLA, my Jersey goddess!
Anyhoo, the girls commented that they sing duets quite often, and so of course the judges asked them to perform one. Truth be told, it was a chaotic mess, BUT their voices didn’t sound hopeless. It was just hard to focus on the singing when the back-and-forth was so distracting. The judges decided to have them sing one at a time instead. Amanda was first, and she sang pretty well. Nothing too great, but because she was cute, she managed to get the golden ticket with a rather unenthusiastic consensus of “Sure…” Hey, why not? Gotta have some lookers, right?
Next was Antonella, who said she had less (read: no) training, but that didn’t matter. She was a much better singer than Amanda, and easily earned herself a golden ticket. Plus, Simon gave her some advice about dealing with her friend: “When somebody’s down on the floor, kick them.” OH SIMON! You scalawag!
By the way, I had to hand it to Antonella and Amanda. I thought they’d be total disasters, but instead, they were pretty impressive. Guess you can never judge a book by its cover. A lesson for all of us! (Insert NBC shooting star and “The More You Know” here).
Our next hopeful was Clifton Biddle from Delaware. He described himself as “just your Average Joe.” Emphasis on “average,” if you will. He performed some odd beatboxing for us, and then told the judges that he worked at a bank, which he loved because the people made him feel like he was on a reality show. This induced uncontrollable cackling from Simon, but he was soon silenced as Clifton began his fairly dreadful ZZ Top performance. The audition was lively, for sure, but not particularly good. Clifton then followed it up with a little harmonica bit, but that wasn’t enough to save himself. Denied.
We were then treated to a medley of bad singers, such as Philip Burton, who screamed through some awful song. There was also an astronaut (why? why?), and one soft-voiced boy named William Van Stone Jr. whose rendition of a Selena song had me laughing way harder than I expected.
As Day 1 came to a close, Kia Thornton took the stage and sang Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way.” She was really good; although, I must admit I was distracted by some email in my inbox at the time. No matter. The judges told her she was the best of the day, she cried, went nuts, and all that other good stuff. Good singer but kind of boring in my opinion. Hence, checking the email.
We then headed into Day 2, and because Simon had a hangover, the auditions had to start without him. This meant we had the bizarre sight of a Paula/Randy/CarBaySag arrangement at the table. It just keeps getting stranger and stranger, I tell you.
Well, the day started off with a guy who was sure to set the ladies’ hearts aflutter. His name was Jenry Bejarano, and he was pretty much the male answer to Antonella. At only 16, he was guaranteed success as either the next American Idol or the heir to Tyson Beckford’s throne. Or both.
Honestly, it’s like looking into a mirror.
Anyway, Jenry had been adopted into a Bolivian family when he was a baby, which meant we got to meet his mother, who seemed like a total sweetheart of a woman, and then finally it was time for the audition. Paula and Carol’s jaws nearly hit the floor when Jenry walked in, and I was shocked that Paula didn’t jump out of her seat and hop into his arms. Well, turns out Jenry could sing. In fact, he could sing really well — probably one of the best males so far. Like Antonella, he easily made it to Hollywood, and not just because of his looks alone. I know it’s early, but I would be shocked if Antonella and Jenry don’t make it to the finals, based on their double threat of talent and beauty. Hey, it’s a superficial world. Looks matter in entertainment (for the most part).
“Mama like! Mama like!”
Speaking of hot, next up was a girl named Nakia (not to be confused with the phone company, Nokia). She was short, heavy, and goofy looking, but she also had bundles of affable, if not bizarre, energy. She told us that she had to keep her composure because “You don’t want people to think you’re crazy.” Uh, yeah. Too late for that.
Anyway, this lovable spaz entered the audition room like a whirling dervish. I could almost hear a dixieland band scoring her every move. She decided to sing “Dancing in the Streets,” and the shock was that she wasn’t as awful as I thought she’d be. Nakia was full of energy, pep, and vibrato. However, when the judges asked her to sing something else and bring it down a notch, the flaws in her voice became apparent. The judges, who were formerly smiling and cheering, were now grimacing and recoiling. Paula told Nakia that she needed work, and Carol observed that the first song had won them over with its pizzazz, but that the second song revealed bad pitch. Sorry, Toots. It’s over.
Nakia walked dejectedly to the door, and just before leaving, she took a page from Ashanti and turned all melodramatic on us. “I gotta lot of people that really want me to go. I can’t let ‘em down,” Nakia pleaded. The judges tried to reason with her, but it was to no avail. She tearful pled for another chance, at one point asking, “What is it about my pitch?”
“It’s off,” Carol said, cold as ice. Don’t cross the Carolmeister. She’s burn ya! She’ll burn ya!
Finally, Nakia slunk out of the room, bawling into her mother’s arms. “I just wish I could change their mind. I just wish I could change their mind…” she said, again tugging at the heartstrings of America. Hey, Nakia should just thank her lucky stars that Simon was MIA because she would have been suicidal after the things he would have said.
Most depressing screencap EVER.
Trying to make Nakia feel better was the next auditioner, Sarah Goldberg. She got up in front of the judges and sang a totally flat, nasal version of Selena that at times sounded like Lisa Simpson. When the performance was done, Carol Bayer Sager had only one question:
“Do you in your heart really think you can sing?”
Shockingly, Sarah replied with “No.”
Sarah explained that all her friends made fun of her for being tone deaf, and after a lot of back and forth between her and Randy, she then got around to her point. She felt she could be the next American Idol because she could be taught. Uh, yeah. Not so much. Soon, she too was crying and shrieking and occasionally dipping into bouts of bitter, angry, and defiant laughter, and because tonight was Bombastic Histrionics Night, she too launched into a monologue that climaxed with “I can be the only American Idol that has never sung before. LOOK AT THIS!!! I’M UNIQUE!!!!! WOOOO!!!!” There was something amazingly wonderful and depressing and sad and pathetic about the whole scene. One girl’s desperate attempt to prove she was more than just another face in the crowd. Normally, such an over-the-top effort would be recognized. But on a night like tonight when seemingly everyone was delivering impassioned monologues, Sarah was ironically just another face in the crowd, unique no more.
Ha, who am I kidding, trying to get all meaningful? She sucked and was crazy. After her proclamation of uniqueness, Sarah then dramatically stepped towards the exit and meekly concluded, “I wanted to be the next American Idol.” She then pressed her weight against the door, but like so many others this year, it was the wrong, yet appropriate, door.
Afterwards, the Sarah Show continued as she revved up another rant, saying how all the auditioners were people and they deserved resepect and yada yada yada. “I HAVE BECOME FRIENDS WITH THESE GUYS! I HAVE BECOME FRIENDS WITH RAY AND JEN AND RAY THE SECURITY GUARD,” she yelled. “And they told me that THESE PEOPLE went out last night DRINKING in New York City until three o’clock in the morning, and THAT IS RUDE!!!!” Amen, sister. Now shut up and go away.
Speaking of drinking, Simon finally showed up at noon, just in time to hear Antonio Torres Jr., a fortysomething creepy dude, singing “New York, New York,” or as he pronounced it, “New Yore, New Yore.” We never heard what the judges had to say about him. The horrified looks were enough.
Then came Jory Steinberg, another cutie (despite her omigawd hair and the distractingly large metal plate covering her navel). Anyway, Jory was from Ottawa; although, she currently resided in Santa Monica (a.k.a. the other side of the country. Did no one tell her about the Pasadena auditions?). She informed us that as a child, she met like every prince, princess, president, prime minister, and queen EVER. Why? Never really explained. Her dad was probably a diplomat or something. Nevertheless, she told us, “If I can hang out with the Queen of England, I can definitely kick it with Simon Cowell.” Hahahaha SHUT UP.
Well, Jory resurrected an old Tina Arena song I hadn’t heard in about ten years, and she was pretty good; although, I found her a tad boring. Simon called her “Terrific,” but I think that’s probably because he wanted to get in with Camilla Parker Bowles. Anyway, no shock here. Jory got the golden ticket. Somebody call Queen Elizabeth! Her BFF is going to Hollywood!
Next up was Porcelana Patino, a girl who claimed to be repping Queens, despite blatant Rocky music playing in the background (isn’t that more iconic for Philly?). Well, the reason we heard this music was because Porcelana had been training for this audition for a year. She used to be a chunky monkey, as we saw in pictures, but after a year of hard work and determination, she’d shed her baby fat, much to her credit. In the pre-audition interview, we only saw her dressed in baggy sweats; so it was a pretty big shock to see her walk into the room dressed like a Pussycat Doll, but hootchier.
This had disaster written all over it, but… she didn’t suck at all. In fact, Porcelana was really good (and in HD, you could actually see her pubes poking out over the top of her pants. Sorry, it had to be noted). Anyway, Paula, Carol, and Simon all liked her, and somehow, this scene wound up as a big Golden Girls-esque group hug (minus Simon, natch). If I had to take a guess, however, I’d put my money on Porcelana clashing with someone in Hollywood and never making it to the semi-finals. But who knows?
Sounds like it’s time for some cheesecake in the kitchen.
After a nifty montage which featured the judges mispronouncing various names, we then met Christopher Henry, a plucky kid who claimed to be often mistaken for George Michael and Simon Cowell. I’d have thrown in Donny Osmond before Simon, but hey, that’s just me. Truth was he didn’t look anything like Simon, except that they both had a penchant for low necklines. Well, Christopher decided to sing a Kelly Clarkson song, always a bold move for a male, and while his voice wasn’t awful, it sure was irritating, especially in the higher, feminine registers. It sounded less like a falsetto, and more like a female impersonation. Therefore, it was no surprise that Simon told Christopher that he should be in a dress and stilettos. Christopher then offered to do a song that was less jarring, but Simon wouldn’t hear it. Why didn’t he just do the non-feminine song first?
Anyway, Paula was absolutely livid that Simon told Christopher that he’d be a better drag act (it was true), and she became increasingly angry as she tried to give constructive criticism and Simon kept interrupting her. She eventually got out of her chair and faux-wrestled the surly Brit, but finally, she returned and gave her verdict to Christopher, which was “Not right for the competition.” Simon then asked her to repeat it, and she sneered, “I said ‘Not right for the competition,’ JERK!” Say it, Paula: He’s a COLD HEARTED SNAKE.
Next up was a colorful girl, literally. She seemed to be wearing every color in the rainbow on her outfit, saving hot pink for the choice spot on her lips. Her name was Rachel Zevita, and she said something about how coming to the Idol auditions might cost her a scholarship or something like that. Sorry, I was still distracted by the kaleidoscope of hues on her face.
“Excuse me. I look for Eastern European Arts & Crafts fair. You know where?”
Anyway, Rachel’s first song wasn’t very good, but it had hints of promise. Carol actually liked it, prompting Rachel to sing some Oleta Adams instead. It was better, but still weird and very different. Finally, the judges asked to hear her opera (because that’s what she was training in, I think), and sure enough, that was definitely her best performance. However, Rachel wanted to be a pop star, not an opera star, and for whatever reason, the judges decided to go out on a limb with her. They actually gave her the golden ticket, again sending an unlikely hopeful to Hollywood. Crazy night!
We then sat through a montage of bad singers crooning “All Night Long” by Lionel Richie, leaving us to once again groan through this very old “let’s mash up the crazy people” joke. Finally, it was time for more auditions, and walking into the room was Christopher Richardson, who would be singing a song that had been “interpretated” by Donnie Hathaway. Despite his grammatical failings, Christopher was actually really good, and the judges even compared him to Justin Timberlake. Needless to say, he earned a trip to Hollywood, causing his dad to later go absolutely nuts in the holding room. Somebody get a taser…
Next up was Nicholas Pedro, who made it to Hollywood last season but bowed out after he failed to remember the lyrics to “Buttercup.” Personally, I didn’t remember this guy at all, but everyone else did — even Carol. Yes, the Carol Bayer Sager. Well, not much to say here. Nicholas once again won over the judges, causing Paula to get all loopy(er). Without debate, he earned a spot back in Hollywood, and afterwards, Carol remarked, “I like him!” Looks like Alexis Carrington has found her new prey!
Alas, we were now at the end of the show, and there was only last girl to audition. Ryan had hyped her up to be “the end of music as we know it,” so as you can imagine, I was very excited. Two years later, it’s still hard to top Mary Roach in my book, but I was willing and open to hearing other freaks. Well, this last girl was Isadora Furman, and she seemed to be fond of strumming her guitar on street corners. You know, like a bum. Her first name started with a J., but for whatever reason, she was deeply ashamed to say it. Ryan kept calling her “Julie,” and at one point, she seemed to recognize that that was her name, but I still wasn’t sure. Nor did I care. It should be known that I would have been really intrigued had her name been Juanita, or better yet, JACAMO! But that’s besides the point.
Anyway, Isadora revealed that she was a professional clairvoyant, ie. she read palms, ie. she had no tangible skills. She then boasted that her voice sounded like Pat Benatar or Stevie Nicks or Janice Joplin. Or a garbage disposal, but that’s neither here nor there. Isadora stepped in front of the judges and immediately clammed up, saying she was thankful for God’s gifts, the main gift being MASSIVE DELUSION. After a few nervous moments, she then began singing “Lady Marmalade,” but honestly, using the word “singing” is entirely too generous. It sounded like one big, breathy orgasm, replete with squeals and gasps. Yeah, it was fairly terrible, especially because in conjured up images of this girl having sex, and that was unwelcomed.
If KT Tunstall and Gretchen Wilson had a lovechild with something AWFUL…
Nevertheless, Isadora was rejected; although, she really wasn’t the craziest, most awful singer by a long shot. She was, however, a fun note to leave off on. Next week, we head to Alabama, which can only mean more insanity. What did you think about tonight’s show? Do you agree that it was the perfect blend of talent, awfulness, and melodrama? Or am I being too gushy?
Who were your favorites? Who was snubbed, if at all? And how will Antonella and Jenry’s looks help them in the coming weeks?