Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sweet (and Sour) Home Alabama

Ah, Birmingham, the city that gave us Ruben Studdard, Bo Bice and Taylor Hicks. How could we lose? Well, apparently by a country mile. Not that there weren't good voices, some 20 tryouts snagged their Golden Tickets to Hollywood. But folks, that meant the rest of the 11,000 went home empty-handed, and Fox wanted to make sure we saw, and heard, that Southern contestants could be as hard on the ears and eyes as anyone else. However, there was a difference between the tryouts in Birmingham and other cities. These folks were almost all unfailingly polite when told "no" by the judges. Most said "thank you" as they left. Few begged to sing another song; fewer still cursed and screamed, though there were some tears.

By now, any Idol fan should know that the No. 1 way to get Simon pissed at you is to sing "Unchained Melody" badly. Yet, it seems to be the song of choice for innumerable lousy singers who, in their delusional states, actually think they're going to win Cowell over by butchering the Righteous Brothers classic. First up, Alabama homegirl Erica Skye, who said if she doesn't make it as a singer she would probably do something in the dental field. Sinking her teeth into "Unchained Melody," she chewed it up and spit it out. How bad was she? According to Simon, merely "neverending torture." And when she tried to mangle a Dixie Chicks tune after being told "no," Paula got up and left the judges' table.

The weirdness and badness continued with newlywed Katie Bernard, whose speaking voice made Paris Bennett's almost sound normal. She assured the judges that her singing voice was different, and it is. Nonetheless, we thought her version of "A House Is Not a Home" the strangest we've ever heard, her voice sometimes rich and full, other times a barely audible whisper (when we suspect she couldn't hit the right notes). Shockingly, Randy wanted to give her another chance in Hollywood, but Paula wisely told her to stay home with her new husband, an idea that seemed repugnant to Katie, compared with becoming the next Idol. After bringing her husband into the room and pleading with the judges, in a stroke of madness, Paula let her through. Yeah, she'll be gone in a Hollywood flash, but what about all the other, better singers (Memphis' Frank Byers Jr. anyone?) who weren't given that chance?

Over the course of the hour, covering the two days of auditions, we were also subjected to Brandy Patterson, who murdered Madonna's "Like a Virgin" than gave judges Jackson and Cowell (Paula did not show up for Birmingham's second day because she had to return to Hollywood on family business) no end of lip, first sarcastically, then profane.

Then there were the twin fashion and voice disasters. The first was Diana Walker, a big girl who claimed to be a former cheerleader, who badly mangled Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love." Her dress, with its pink netting top and tight black bottom, made her look as if she had no breasts but had ingested a beach ball, and seemed to amuse Simon even more than her voice. And we suffered through Margaret Fowler, who at first claimed to be 26 but later fessed up to 50 (which we even doubted) and whose name seemed to be the inspiration for her head-to-toe yellow feathered Big Bird-like outfit. Question: Did anyone intentionally blind themselves after Fowler lifted her blouse TWICE and exposed her abdomen and tight stretch pants? Margaret, if we want to see flesh badly in need of diet and exercise we'll look in a mirror. We really don't need to see yours.

Lakia Hill, who told the judges she had "the whole package," was sadly pathetic, but polite, and left without a fuss after being turned down. And then there was Cousin Itt Victoria Watson and her mom (what is it with the bizarro mother and daugter look-alikes this year?), who has been growing her six-foot-long hair her whole life. Actually, her rendition of Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" sounded just as good as Kevin Covais' audition last season, but there was no Paula to save her, and Randy capitulated to Simon's not putting her through.

Nichole Gatzman was another borderline singer who
probably deserved to make it to the Hollywood round (especially since helium-voiced Katie Bernard was going). She sang a fairly decent version of "Something to Talk About," and for a second we thought Simon and Randy would give her a thumbs up, in spite of what Simon called her nasally voice. But in the end, with no female presence to defend her, she, too, got the boot from the boys.

In a bit of a surprise, Paula was the reason that Bernard Williams II almost didn't make it to Hollywood. We liked his performance of Michael Jackson's "Rock With You," as did Simon, who gave him a "100 percent yes." Then Paula said she liked the tone of his voice but that he was totally off key. Luckily for Bernard, he and Randy had a "dawg" moment and he received his Golden Ticket.

There was no such hesitation with Tatiana McConnico, a 17-year-old student attending a performing arts high school, who said she was born to be a singer. She loves the show and the judges loved her version of “I Never Loved a Man,” putting her through easily to Hollywood.

The "I Wannabe Kellie Pickler Sob Story of the Night" award is presented to 17-year-old Jamie Lynn Ward. You see, Jamie Lynn's daddy isn't in prison, he only should be. But he is paralyzed from the neck down ("but it's OK") and po' l'il Jamie Lynn helps her grandma take care of her daddy ("but it's OK"). Apparently, daddy caught stepmommy cheatin', so he shot her. Then he shot himself ("but it's OK"). This backstory was so melodramatic, we wondered whether it was fabricated (but it's OK). And we were incredibly annoyed by her "but it's OKs." OK for whom? Your cheatin' bullet-ridden stepmommy? You're paralyzed from the neck down daddy? You? And yes, we couldn't help wondering who was going to help take care of daddy while Jamie Lynn is Hollywood, a reward she received for an adequate rendition of Christina Aguilera's “Reflection.”

Most enjoyable performance of the evening goes to Chris Sligh, who entertained with his humor as much as with his singing. He did a respectable version of Seal's "Kiss From a Rose." And he was FUN-NY. He said some people say he looks like Jack Osbourne, while others say he looks like Jack Black, but he looks in the mirror and sees Christina Aguilera. When Simon asked him why he was there, he answered that he wanted to make David Hasselhoff cry, in a reference to the big teardrop dripping down Hasselhoff's face after Taylor Hicks won last season. And after he got his Golden Ticket to Hollywood with three "yeses," he said that he won the judges over with his personality: "I just looked at Paula and she crumbled into my chubby little hands."

Could Hollyweird be any weirder than this? Check it out tonight, when the road show moves home to Los Angeles (San Antonio was on the original schedule for tonight).

Love for Idol?

In a move that could only be described as jumping from the frying pan into the fire if true, says that Courtney Love exclusively told the site that Idol executive producer Nigel Lythgoe called her office last week inquiring into whether she would be interested in sitting in as a judge on the hit FOX show.

"He called," Love said. "He was wondering if I was interested. I thought it was kind of weird but brilliant." Love, who is currently in L.A. recording a solo album, declined to reveal any more specific details. But a source told that Lythgoe was considering having Love "replace Paula."

American Idol reps could not immediately be reached for comment.

Alumni News

According to Newsday's Robert Kahn, "Broadway Backwards 2," where singers perform standards traditionally associated with members of the opposite sex, has its second coming Feb. 26. Rosie O’Donnell, Betty Buckley, Bebe Neuwirth, Tony Roberts, Jose Llana, Liz Callaway, Len Cariou and downtown theater legend Charles Busch are already signed on for the gender-bending benefit, to be held at 37 Arts in Manhattan.

Last year’s inaugural concert featured show tunes with a twist, such as Andrea Burns’ rendition of "Maria" from "West Side Story." This time around, expect curiosities such as "I Don’t Know How to Love Him," from "Jesus Christ Superstar," as performed Season 4 American Idol finalist Constantine Maroulis.

The concert, with musical direction by Seth Rudetsky, benefits New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Tickets are $35 to $250; call 212-307-4100.

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© 2007

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