Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Memphis Blues

Yeah, we've got the blues all right. Memphis, birthplace of
singing legend Aretha Franklin. Famous for Elvis Presley, who moved there in 1948. Where were all the great singers from this area? Apparently not at the American Idol Season 6 auditions. Even native daughter Cybill Shepherd has better pipes than most of the tryouts we were shown -- and that's not saying much.

We were promised Memphis was going to be a winning city, filled with talent. After sitting through another boring audition show loaded with mostly losers, we learned that only 22 of the thousands of auditioners received coveted Golden Tickets to Hollywood. Wait, let's see, that's only 5 more than Minneapolis (the boring city) and 8 more than Seattle (the freak city). Now we know why they're singing the blues in Memphis.

And, no matter what city we are in, this year's trend appears to be for every losing contestant to ask for a second chance, to sing another song, after they've received a thumbs-down appraisal. And when they're told "No," that it wouldn't matter, they begin to sing another song anyway, sometimes two! What is it about N-O that these idiots can't understand? Do they really think they're magically going to turn a frown upside down on the judges' faces by a second lousy audition? Our guess? Just trying to add a few more seconds to their 15 (more likely 1.5) minutes of fame.

The evening started off with male cheerleader Frank Byers Jr. Loaded with enthusiasm (well, he is a cheerleader) and great hopes. He was accompanied to the audition site by his cheerleading squad and a marching band. We didn't think his rendition of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was that bad (especially considering some of the contestants put through in Minneapolis), but the judges all agreed he was too over the top and cabaret. Yeah, guys, but his singing didn't stink. Frank was the first contestant of the evening who, instead of heading for the doors when he was rejected, decided to refuse defeat and broke into a second song. After he finally left the room, he and his companions began doing cheers accompanied by the marching band. In one of the funnier moments of the evening, a testy Simon Cowell opened the audition room door and shouted at them to shut up.

But little did we know that would be one of the high points of the evening. The next contestant, Timika Sims, was probably more boring than the State of the Union address. Everything about her demeanor was flat and emotionless, almost as if she was an automaton -- a linguistically challenged automaton. The judges could barely understand a word she uttered. She told Simon she wanted to be the next Mya, he kept saying, "You mean the next mayor." She would answer flatly, "Mya." They went back and forth on this about five times, which was four times too long for us. It goes without saying that she couldn't sing a note on tune, or a word the judges understood. When they said no, she asked to sing another song. Told it was pointless, she, of course, began singing another song. Already the show was getting too long. In what seemed to be the beginning of a trend, we suffered through two other linguistically challenged contestants, Christopher Rivera ("Superstition") and Alexis Partee who sang a Teena Marie song that neither Simon nor the viewing audience could make out. Was it her braces? Let's hope so.

The string of people who should be doing anything but singing included Janita Burks, a wardrobe malfunction waiting to happen, who auditioned in a very low-cut dress. In what she described as her sexy but not over the top style, she proceeded to sing "Disco Inferno" by shaking her shoulders while bending at the waist, giving us a Kelis-like milkshake and almost throwing her "girls" straight out of her clothing. She had to hitch up the top of her dress a couple of times, and even had a startled Paula pulling the two sides of her own blouse together in reaction. When she was done, Simon told her she was a handful (Uh-huh, maybe even two?), but it was a "no," so, of course, she wanted to sing another song.

And then there was Christopher "Topher" McCain, whose
wife left him after she cheated on him twice. When Simon asked why his wife left him, he said "because she's a ?*&?*!." Not a big fan of marriage, Simon seemed to throughly enjoy that answer. Topher's rendition of "Footloose" made us want to run for the hills, and Simon quipped that he was tempted to ask if Topher had sung that to his wife the night before she left. Then Cowell went into the rap he frequently used on Taylor Hicks last season, telling Topher he sounded like a guest who got drunk at a wedding, began singing, then fell off the stage. But Topher almost seemed normal next the Travis McKinney, who promised to win the judges over with a love song that turned into something akin to an epileptic seizure of jerky movements and jerkier singing. And guess what? Yes, after being told, "No," Travis wanted to do another song, until Simon told him, "Bye, bye, bye."

We were also forced to sit through Elvis-wannabe Robert Lee Holmes, who boldly told the judges he could sing, dance, act and write stories. But when Simon asked him how his current story ends, Lee answered "with a period." Needless to say, his "Burning Love" let us cold.

There were some singers who were borderline, according to the judges. Some won a Golden Ticket, others didn't. Compared to all the bad we had seen, we thought Wandera Hitchye was OK, but the judges seemed ambiguous. Paula seemed to waver, but ultimately gave her a no along with Randy and Simon. However, we really liked Danielle McCulloch, who sang Aretha Franklin's "Baby I Love You" with sass. We were surprised that Randy didn't care for her. Fortunately, Simon, who liked the bluesy part of her voice, and Paula, who said she was an old soul, put her through.

Personable Philip Stacy, who only that morning had become a dad for the second time, sang a pleasing version of "My Girl," dedicating it to his wife and daughters. The judges let him through, but just barely. And then there was Sean Michel. Let's put it this way -- if Fidel Castro and Jesus Christ could have mated, their son would most likely have looked like Sean Michel. Wearing Fidel's green fatigues and hat, but coiffed like Christ, Michel went into Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down." Maybe because he amused the judges, especially Simon, who said he expected a song about revolution, he got through, with Paula saying she liked his tone and Randy telling him he could blow. Us? We weren't blown away.

There were two standout performances of the evening. Jason "Sundance" Head comes by his voice genetically. His dad, Roy Head, scored a hit with his group, The Traits, in 1965. It's a little number called "Treat Her Right." Vocally, Sundance so knocked the judges out with T-Bone Walker's "Stormy Monday," that Simon told him it was one of the best auditions of the season and that he'd be amazed if he didn't make the finals. After Sundance left the room, Simon muttered that Sundance blew Taylor Hicks completely out of the water. Well, we grant you that Sundance, whose looks and King Tut-like beard we found completely distracting (could he be the Scott Savol of Season 6?), can blow, but for us he didn't have the charisma of the Soul Patrolman.

Our favorite of the evening was Melinda Doolittle, a shy professional backup singer who lacked self-confidence but not voice. Perhaps taking the song she chose quite literally, Stevie Wonder's "For Once in My Life," she stepped into the center spotlight and owned it. But she seemed surprised by the unanimous praise she received, especially when Cowell told her that most people come in with attitude and confidence but no voice, but that she was the opposite of that. For our money, Melinda is the contestant from Memphis to watch.

Wednesday, the road show hits New Jersey for the New York City-area auditions with guest judge Carole Bayer Sager.


Congratulations go out to our Dream Girl, Jennifer Hudson, on her Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in "Dreamgirls." Although her story is not quite as dramatic as Effie's, the role she played in the film, Hudson has shown that careers don't end if you don't win Idol. She could potentially become the biggest star in the history of the show.

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