Thursday, January 25, 2007

New York State of Mind

Come you ladies and you gentlemen, a-listen to my song.
Sing it to you right, but you might think it's wrong.
- Bob Dylan, "Hard Times in New York Town"

Start spreading the news: 35 wannabe Idols left the New York auditions clutching those coveted Golden Tickets to Hollywood in their hands. The lyrics "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere" have never held true for New York and Idol. Will this year be the charm?

Certainly, the New York auditions turned out better than we expected. We thought they were the best session to date this season. Crazies, sure. But also a lot of talent. And that's what America has been waiting to see and hear.

Guest judge for New York was Carole Bayer Sager (note to the Idol Chyron folks who super the names onscreen: Carole spells her first name with an "e." You guys should really be embarrassed misspelling it). Sager, a lyricist, songwriter and singer who collaborated on many of her songs with ex-husband Burt Bacharach, has certainly paid her musical dues. She's written songs for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Aretha Franklin, some of the most famous being "That's What Friends Are For," "A Groovy Kind of Love," "Come in From the Rain," "When I Need You," "Don't Cry Out Loud," "It's My Turn," "Arthur's Theme (Moon and New York City)," "Midnight Blue," "Heartlight," "On My Own" and "Moonlight Lady."

Of her experience on Idol, Sager, who looks as
if she could be Joan Collins younger sister, writes on her blog, "Spending two days in New York taping American Idol with Simon, Paula and Randy was surreal, since I usually watch the show every week lying in my bed with my one and half year old Yorkshire Terrier, Bennie, and with my husband, Bob.

"So being there felt a little like the 'Twilight Zone,' but I got used to it very quickly. By the second day, it felt a bit like work, just hoping someone brilliant would walk in and audition."

The evening didn't start off too promising. First up was
wacko Ian Benardo, complete with faux chinchilla stole and a T-shirt with his name on it. Anyone who watches "So You Think You Can Dance," another popular reality show from Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, probably recognized this miscreant right off. Yes, Ian thinks he can dance, sing and do many other things. But his lack of any talent and belligerence are a hard combination to endure. At the same time, his fearlessness to say anything he is thinking can be pretty funny. He got into such a pissing match with Simon, that he had to be escorted out of the audition room by a bodyguard.

Was New York going to be a repeat of Seattle? Were we going to have to endure two hours of nut cases? Fortunately, no. There were some more crazies, but the night was tempered by a lot of talent. The theme, however, for the evening seemed to be tears -- especially from the contestants who made it through to Hollywood.
Pretty Sarah Burgess, who hails from Ohio, started off the waterworks with her great backstory about how she skipped out of school to come audition and how her father would be furious if he found out because he doesn't believe in her singing career. She broke down telling Ryan the story, then again in front of the judges before singing, and, of course, after, when she received her Golden Ticket to Hollywood for her rendition of Blondie's "Call Me." But she cried the most when Ryan had her call her father to tell him what she had done. And, of course, he seemed just fine about it.

Another success story moved to tears was Kia Thornton,
whose performance of Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way" we loved. Simon was wowed by her voice as were the other judges, but Sager cautioned her not to oversing, she doesn't need to. We think Kia will make it through Hollywood to the group of 24 semi-finalists.

Also crying, but not happily, was Ashanti Johnson, who has made ,it to Hollywood two times previously, but failed on this third attempt. After getting a no for her performance of Minnie Riperton's "Loving You," she melodramatically begged and pleaded for what seemed like five minutes for them to reconsider, and when they wouldn't, tried to sing another song. After she departed an annoyed Cowell muttered, "Oh, for god's sake." Nakia Claiborne started out extremely bouncy, bubbly and optimistic with "Dancing in the Streets." She had the three judges (Simon missed the before-noon second-day auditions) really rocking, but when Paula asked if she could bring it down, she sealed her fate with a second, disasterous performance. Not so caught up now, Randy, Paula and Carole realized Nakia couldn't stay on pitch at all. She left awash in tears and bemoaning how she can't take hearing "no," anymore, whether it's about singing or anything else.

And then there was scary Sarah Goldberg, whose started out likable, if talentless. After her performance, she smilingly admitted to the judges that she knows she can't sing, but that she still thinks she can be the American Idol because she could be the first Idol that couldn't sing that they could teach to sing. O-K. Then Sarah started turning borderline psycho, getting argumentative and nasty and weird when they told her this was a competition for America's best singer. Good thing they have those burly bodyguards in the audition room. Hope they have a metal detector, too.

The talentless pool also included harmonica player and "average Joe" Clifton Biddle who said he wanted to be the center of attention. He remarked that the people he works with in a bank make him feel as if he's on a reality show. (Hmm, guess we could all legitimately make that claim). He stomped and screamed through one song, and when the judges requested a nonstomping song, played his harmonica instead. No surprise, he received four no votes.

Borderline bizarre was Fania Tsakalakos, who said she regretted not trying out for Greek Idol before moving to the U.S. Claiming to be a dancer who could also sing, she said she wanted to bring an ethnic feel to her music. After butchering Toto's "Africa," Simon told her she was appalling and could neither sing nor dance. She put up no resistence and quietly left, head down. Not really weird but treated shabbily by Cowell was Christopher Henry, who said his looks are frequently compared to George Michael and Simon. Er, do we need new glasses? You be the judge. We were justifiably worried when he chose to sing Kelly Clarkson's "Before Your Love," and sang it in a higher vocal range than she does. When Christopher said he knew he had a high voice, Simon cruelly told him he should be performing in a dress and stilletos, which led to bickering between him and Paula.

Then there were the slightly strange contestants who made it through. Porcelana Patino said she treated the Idol audition process like bootcamp, training her body and voice for the past year. Wearing thong-high jeans and a short top, her body looked pretty taut during her audition, which we thought was weird because footage shot at her home made her look like she had some rolls of fat. Was the home footage shot months before the audition? How could that be? She had a somewhat odd look and wore about thirty bracelets on each arm, but her rich husky voice when she sang Mary J. Blige's ''Love No Limit'' not only put her through, but earned her a group hug (Simon excluded). Stranger and a bit creepy was opera singer Rachel Zevita, who sounded better to us singing opera than pop. We think she'll suffer the same fate as Stevie Scott, another classically trained singer, did last year. It'll be a miracle if she makes it beyond the top 24. Her build and face even look a bit like Scott's.

Of course, there were the bona fide good singers and apparently normal people. Paula seemed to have eyes for Jenry Bejarano, a tall, slim 16-year-old (yes, 16) who was adopted into a Bolivian family at the age of 1. Abdul told him he has a nice texture to his voice after his performance of "I'd Give Anything to Fall in Love." She also thought the girls ?)(and she would go crazy for Christopher Richardson, who reminded Randy of Justin Timberlake in both looks and voice, and who Simon thinks could be a surprise in the next round.

Returning to Hollywood after quitting in Season 5 following a terrible group performance in which he forgot the words to "Build Me Up Buttercup" is Nicholas Pedro. His rendition of "Fly Me to the Moon" solidly landed him his second Golden Ticket in two years, though the judges admonished him not to screw up again. Best friends Amanda Coluccio and Antonella Barba also made it through. When asked by the judges who was the better singer, Antonella demurred that Amanda was a trained singer and therefore better. They sang a disasterous duet, then performed separately. Amanda sang Patsy Cline's "Crazy," a bit too affected for our taste, and (reluctantly?) was given a Golden Ticket but not much acclaim. Antonella fared much better with her solo of Debelah Morgan's ''Free,'' and the judges told her to never say Amanda's the better singer because she has training. Simon added that to make it in Hollywood she had to learn that when someone is down on the floor, you kick them, but Antonella said she could never do that to her best friend. We think this friendship is going to suffer when Amanda, who made it clear that she thinks she's the better singer, gets kicked to the curb during the Hollywood tryouts.

The weirdest and worst contestant award for the evening is bestowed on (Julie) Isadora Furman, who said she reads palms, but certainly couldn't predict her failure in the audition room. She told the judges she is grateful that she can sing and dance, then proved she couldn't (sing at least) with a caterwauling performance of "Lady Marmalade." After being pronounced horrendous by Simon, she told them they they don't like her because they only want pop stars.

Most engaging and best performance of the evening goes to
Canadian-born Jory Steinberg, who has met prime ministers and even the Queen of England. She totally won over Simon when she nailed Tina Arena's ''Chains.'' With four yes votes sending her off to Hollywood, Simon said after she left the room, "I wish they could all be like that."

Next week we move on to Birmingham, Ala., which so far has given us Ruben Studdard, Bo Bice and Taylor Hicks. Can't wait.


TV Guide Channel has green-lit a second season of "Idol Tonight," its live "American Idol" preshow that will begin airing on Wednesdays beginning in March. Season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini will join the show as a corespondent, sharing the spotlight with "Idol experts" Kimberly Caldwell (a Season 2 finalist) and Rosanna Tavarez (winner of “Popstars”).

Chris Daughtry, whose debut album "Daughtry" has gone platinum and now moved up to No. 1 on the Billboard charts after seven weeks, knocking off "Dream Girls," will appear on "The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" tomorrow (Friday) at 12:35 a.m. This is a repeat of a show telecast recently.

Kevin Covais will be making a a couple of appearances on Long Island. On Feb. 2, he performs in concert at the YMCA Boulton Center, 37 W. Main St., Bay Shore. Click here for tickets or call 866-811-4111. Kevin will perform and entertain with behind-the-scenes stories from Idol and then attend a meet-and-greet autograph session.

On Saturday Feb. 10th, between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., he will appear at the auditions for the "I Am an Energy Star" singing contest for kids 5-18 held at Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City. Go here or here for contest rules, additional information, music and song lyrics.

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© 2007

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