I feel for the guy, in a way; he’s dug his own grave, with this whole American Idol thing. There was a time, long ago, when he used to sit in a nice office, perhaps with a lovely view of The Thames River or Big Ben or whatever, and partake in a legitimately creative enterprise: the development of popular musical talent, at which he was quite successful.
Then he became a judge on a reality-TV competition, a show that industry professionals scoffed at when it first hit the airwaves. No one had any idea how pervasive it would become. Or how it would consume his identity and career. What was once a little show on a crappy network has now become Simon’s entire identity in the industry; and his days are now spent working on this modern-day Gong Show, sitting before hordes of idiots who act as stupid as possible to find out what it feels like to be on TV. Yeah, he gets paid millions of dollars for it. But once in a while, it must get really annoying.
The San Francisco auditions were one of those moments.Things started out so well, too. The show opens with the obligatory “San Francisco is pretty” footage: shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, shots of Ryan Seacrest riding the streetcars probably on his way to The Castro, etc. Things seem so optimistic. For our first auditioner, we meet “Happy Heidi” Fairbanks, a lovely blonde woman who sings a fierce Verdi aria. So good. They ask her to sing something more contemporary; she’s alright, pushes too hard. No golden ticket. But she gets praise from the judges, as she’s not a pop-star candidate but she can definitely sing. Such talent! San Francisco will be great!
And then we meet Shawn Vasquez.
Never mind the fact that he dressed like a bar code on a cereal box. He sounds like Kathy Najimy when she was a singing nun in Sister Act High, warbling, screeching, I imagine Shawn’s voice is what you will hear when you encounter the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You hear that sound, and for some reason, it’s like you know the world is going to come to an end very very soon. You panic. You want to flee. But where? Anywhere but where you are right now, listening to Shawn sing. Run, run away.
Seriously, when Shawn sang, my dog walked across the room and started sniffing the TV speakers.
“That was the loudest, weirdest…” starts Randy, before he finds himself speechless. “It was just weird.”
“Almost non-human,” says Simon. (See? Simon saw the Four Horsemen too!)
“Oh, it’s not non-human,” corrects Randy, in an effort to spare Shawn’s feelings. Oh, thanks, Randy. How nice of you to stick up for Shawn and claify that.
Welcome to the Downward Spiral of Simon Cowell.
A few singers do get through. Jose “Sway” Morales, whose name is advertised on his belt buckle lest you ever forget it, zig-zags through his audition with the up-and-down runs of a singer who isn’t confident enough to actually hit the notes he’s singing. But his voice is good, so golden ticket goes to Sway. He won’t last long but congrats for now. Then John Williams, recently returned from military duty somewhere out in the desert, performs a song-and-dance routine a la Michael Jackson that would fit in well amongst the street performers in Times Square. But again, decent voice, so he gets through, which irks Simon a little.
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Then Katherine McPhee sings a song I found to be utterly average, but Randy announces her as one of the best voices he’s heard EVER. “You are what this competition is all about,” he tells her. So Katherine gets the golden ticket. Yea. But I don’t see Top Ten status in any of these people. And I’m guessing, neither did Simon.
But Simon seems to still be in good spirits; when Shalicia Carlisle informs the judges she quit her job to come audition for American Idol, Simon says her audition was so bad, he would even call her boss to ask for her job back. And he does. Funny, right? But there’s something in Simon’s eye…he’s just not dealing well with the proliteriat today.
Enter Shawna White. You notice her because her dad looks just like Constantine Maroulis. But her first song, “There Are Worse Things I Could Do” from Grease, is blech. They give her another chance; she sings “Falling” by Alicia Keyes, and sounds pretty good. No golden ticket, but Randy thinks she’s alright, based on the second song. Simon says she’s annoying, based on the first. Randy jumps all over for Simon for being rude, and starts to repeatedly asks Simon “What’s up, dawg? What’s up? What’s with you today?” That’s exactly the kind of passive-aggressive questioning that can really piss you off. Randy is in an ornery mood today and he’s taking it out on Simon. Uh oh.
Then self-proclaimed “All-Terrain Entertainer” singer/songwriter/actor/comedian/weirdo Marcus Phillips comes in and starts acting like a nut. Even though he obviously sucks, Randy and Paula waste everyone’s time and play along with him, having fun. Marcus dances as he sings in falsetto, and it’s not pretty. No golden ticket. Simon looks like he’s constipated.
Jayne Santayana sings “Sweet Love” by Anita Baker, which everyone dislikes but Simon especially hates. And he tells her so. Randy announces Simon is “having a tough day.” In itself it isn’t an infomatory remark, except for the fact that he’s still doing the whole “What’s with you today?” routine that is even making me mad. And I’m not even in the room, I’m just sitting on my couch in Texas, far far away, hiding from Shawn Vasquez.
And then we come to Deborah Dawn Tilley, whose hair looks like the “before” picture of an Alberto VO5 hot oil commercial. She says she is a rocker chick. If by “rocker,” she means “scream instead of sing” chick, then yes, she is a rocker chick. On-stage in a smoky bar in Knoxville, Tennessee, I bet she’d be great. But here? Not so much. And let’s face it–she looks worse than Clay Aiken did before his make-over.
Simon says, “I need to hear you sing with my eyes shut.” Randy gets all malignant on him and starts the “What’s up, dawg?” pokes. They all get into an argument. Simon seems to reflect on the present state of his career: lots of money, lots of success, not much artistic merit. Much like American Idol itself.
So he throws his pen and walks away. “You can do this without me for a while.” Cowell OUT.
Where’s he’s going, no one knows. Yes, he actually takes a car to his hotel, but where is he really going? Because this is it. This is what American Idol has become. These judges nagging him for no reason; these tens of thousands of people screeching their way through their dreams of being an international sensation, and it is up to Simon to tell them all they are worthless.
It’s a lot to deal with. It’s a lot of pressure to put on one guy, all that dream-ruining and nag-listening. You’d snap once in a while, too.
Dan Renzi is a super-cool dude who writes for the TV section of the New York Post. He needs to get out more and stop watching reality shows. Go read is weblog at