Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Philly Freak Show

Ah, it must be winter. How can you tell? The freak show has come to town ... well at least on TV. And when it comes to freak shows, who does it better than the "American Idol" auditions?

Oh, yes, there are a scant few actual singers we are shown on the audition shows, but Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick et al, have made the auditions more about the memorable weirdos than about the singers we're going to spend the better part of the next five months with, both on TV and in every other form of media on earth.

On the season premiere -- the Philadelphia auditions -- the freaks ruled. There were so many freaks -- scary freaks, sad freaks, funny freaks, out-of-touch-with-reality freaks -- that you'd have to have freak-off to determine the King of Freaks in Philly. By far, the scariest freak of all was the Stalker Freak, Paul Marturano, who
wrote a love song for Paula Abdul whose lyrics rhymed with stalk, and included breaking into her house and putting on her underwear. He was big, scary looking, loud and as the song got worse and worse he kept getting closer to the judges' table. Simon Cowell tried to stop him several times and finally had security escort him out of the room, saying, "I think you should leave. That was really creepy."

Watch video of Paula stalker Paul Marturano :

Then their was the hairy freak (well for a time, anyway) Ben Haar, who entered the room in a black cloak because he wanted his "costume" to be a surprise. (Simon: That isn't your costume?") Sadly, he uncloaked to reveal his hairy overweight body clad in, well, very little. Paula couldn't get past the hairy chest accentuated by his breastplate. When Ben offered to get a wax job and come back, Paula accepted, much to the digust of Simon, and we got to see him getting plucked. Yuck! He returned later to sing "Don'tcha," by The Pussycat Dolls. Thankfully, Simon allowed him to emit only four words note before shutting him up.

Watch video of hairy then hairless Ben Haar :
Hairy Ben

Hairless Ben

Saddest (and funniest) Philly freak was tour guide James Lewis, who said his "unique" voice -- he compared it to Paul Robeson's or Eddie Vedder's -- would bring something different to the show. It's low, get it? How low could he go? Low enough to keep us laughing throughout his segment. When he sang "Go Down Moses," yes you read right, each time he got to the refrain "let my people go" his enunciation of people cracked us up. But not before it cracked up Paula, who started laughing on the first note. Randy Jackson was just a few seconds behind her and had to cover his face with his notes. Admirably, Simon kept a straight face until nearly the end of the performance. What was sad? Like most of Idol's losers, Lewis didn't get what they were laughing at and offered to sing another song. Yikes!

Watch video of James Lewis singing with his "low" voice:

Most tiring freak was Zhengzhong Yu, who put us, and the judges to sleep, with his lullaby.

Watch video of sleep-inducing Zhengzhong Yu:

There was the freak who "bugged" us the most, Mark Hayes, who makes cricket chirps to amuse his friends, when someone makes a joke and it's not funny. Hmmm. Guess what happened after his frightful rendition of "White Christmas"?

Watch video of cricket boy Mark Hayes:

Most full-of-himself freak was Udgeet "Udi" Sampat , who "dances" through business meetings and who says people tell him he sounds like Sinatra or Manilow. Perhaps he meant Chuck Sinatra and Johnny Manilow? After his "performance," Simon inquired, "Did you honestly think, Udi, and I'm gonna ask you this question seriously, that you had any chance of getting through and winning?" Udi: "Yes I did." Simon: "Then you're nuts."

Watch video of dancing man Udgeet "Udi" Sampat:

Most sparkling and obscene freak was 23-year-old Alexis Cohen , who wears glitter makeup because she likes things that shine ("I'm a pirate") and lives in a one-room apartment with mom, dog and cats (the dog smartly was hiding under furniture when the "Idol" cameras arrived). Her command of the English language left something to be desired, with remarks such as "Judges, I plan to knock you on your feet" and "I'm going for actressing." She compared herself to Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and Pat Benatar, and, truth be told, we thought she did a pretty good job with Slick's "Somebody to Love." But as she might say, she was too f---ing freaky and the judges took a pass. Up to that point she was just strange, but after they rebuffed her, she went on a cursing tirade outside the audition room, especially against Simon, and gave him the (well, two) finger/s. She even demonstrated (with her pants on) how she wanted to moon him.

Watch video of glitter girl Alexis Cohen and her finger popping:

There was petite shreiky freak Alyse Wojciechowski, who first demonstrated her Elaine Benes dance moves outside the audition room, then, after telling the judges her main musical influence was Eva Cassidy shreiked her way through "Feeling Good," inspiring Simon to comment that her performance was "identical to a nightmare I had last week."

Watch video of shrieker Alyse Wojciechowski:

There was overage, balding celibate freak Milo Turk, wearing a leopard-print vest who told Ryan he needed to get his message out to the American public, and especially Simon, through his self-composed ditty "No Sex Allowed"

Watch video of chaste Milo Turk:

And, finally, there was "Star Wars" freak Christina Tolisano dressed as Princess Leia, right down to her fake ear-muff looking buns (that kept coming off). She tells us her children will have "Star Wars"-inspired names. She wants out of her Connecticut hometown because there's nothing there for her unless she becomes a corrections officer, which is a possibilty (may the force be with the prisoners). After she left the room, rejected for her Roger Daltry version of "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," Simon said "Give my love to the Wookie." She too, bitched outside about how American Idol only wants cookie-cutter pop stars.

Watch video of the power not with Christina Tolissano:

And what would an audition show be without a video medley of the lame-os all trying to sing the same song. In this case Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll."

Watch video of the chorus of weird destroy a great song:

Now, of course, there were the poignant moments in the show -- you need some normalcy to balance all the crazy. The ill-named Temptress Brown , a 16-yer-old with a mother with a chronic illness appeared both for herself and her mother. Temptress is built to be the middle linebacker she is and struggled terribly with "And I am Telling You I'm Not Going," the song that both Jennifer Hudson and LaKisha Jones do a grand slam on. Of course, after seeing her supportive, wheelchair-bound mom there to support her "little" girl, we were compelled to feel bad when the inevitable happened -- she failed. Her crying brought Paula and Randy to their feet for a group hug. Simon joined them to walk Temptress out to her parents when she said she couldn't face them.

Watch video of dutiful daughter Temptress Brown:

There was also Alaa "most people call me Yuka" Youakeem, an Egyptian who came to the United States a few years ago. He loves America, he loves American girls, he loves American music. He loves the Bees Gees, especially Mr. Bee Gees. Uh, OK. He sings "How Deep Is Your Love?" Answer -- sorry, not that deep. We love you too, Yuka, we just didn't love your singing. Watching Paula try to tactfully tell Yuka his voice sucked took 5 minutes before she meekly said singing wasn't the field he should be pursuing.

Watch video of Bee Gees backer Alaa "Yuka" Youakeem:

There's always a sad story where the contestant makes it through. Philly's belonged to Angela Martin, whose daughter has Rett Syndrome, similar to cerebral palsy. We were shown footage of her daughter to be made keenly aware of the struggle her young mother is going through. Martin said, "It's not about fame for me. It's about getting her the best care, the best therapists. Because the doctors told me my baby was never gonna walk or talk, and I'm gonna get that for her."

A singer in a wedding band, Angela is also attractive and Simon tells her so. While she didn't wow us with her rendition of "Signed Sealed Delivered," she didn't embarrass herself either. Simon advises her to "de-wedding-ize" her performances.

Watch video of Angela Martin do Stevie Wonder:

And then there was Joey Catalano, who is less than half the man he used to be. But that's a good thing. It's because he has lost over 200 pounds. Fortunately, he didn't lose his voice as well. He sang "Sunday Morning," and we actually liked him better than Elliott Yamin. Paula and Randy were thumbs up. Simon agreed on his voice but wondered if Catalano could actually be an Idol. He doesn't exactly fit the mold, but then, neither did Clay Aiken. But Joey with the great backstory got through on Randy and Paula's votes alone.

Watch video of The Thin Man Joey Catalano:

Also getting through -- barely was Melanie Nyema -- who didn't have the sense to hide the fact that she's been touring as a backup singer for Taylor Hicks. In case you need any proof that there's no love lost between the producers and Hicks, check out the show's new opening. Hicks has been virtually removed -- if you do a frame by frame, you can catch his chin -- and Jordin added (of course, they could both easily be included). And the backdrops at the auditions? Taylor has been moved so far off to the side, it is almost guaranteed his face won't get on camera. Check out the picture at the top of this post. His face is literally behind the potted plant. Melanie's version of "Unwritten" was unimpressive, but she squeaked through because of Randy and Paula.

Watch video of Hicks chick Melanie Nyema:

Others who made it through in Philly were Jose Candelaria , who sang "Unbreak My Heart" in Spanish and sounded pretty decent.

Watch video of Jose Candelaria and his Spanish serenade:

Junot Joyner, who did a surprisingly nice job with Elton John's "The Blues."

Watch video of Junot Joyner:

Even though she didn't impress Simon, we enjoyed Beth Stalker's styling of "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." Fortunately Paula and Randy agreed.

Watch video of the bewitching Beth Stalker:

Simon seemed to be entranced by Brooke White, Philly's last auditioner. Brooke is a nanny who has never seen an R-rated movie. She doesn't drink, she doesn't smoke. She is so sweet and innocent she makes sugar seem sour. She sang Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like a Star," but we don't think she'll ever be one. She was just a bit too sweetsy to be palatable. Makes Carrie Underwood look like a tramp. Simon said they'll have to bring her over to the dark side a bit and she answered, "I dare you." He said, "Just give me a week, Brooke."

Watch video of sweet young thang Brooke White:

Here are our two favorite contestants from Philly:

Chris Watson just seems custom-made for the Idol mold. Young, black, good looking, nice voice (and didn't sing R&B). He did a fine job with "Follow Me" by Uncle Kracker. According to Simon, he looks like a star (we agree) and told Chris the chicks will like him. Randy wasn't especially impressed. He made it through and we think you'll see more of him.

Watch video of Chris Watson:

Best voice of the night award goes to pretty blonde Kristy Lee Cook, who lives in a log cabin with her family in Oregon. She rides and trains horses, does martial arts, is a cage fighter and kickboxer. Her voice control and modulation on "Amazing Grace" were great. She is personable yet humble. Another blonde who the Idol folks probably would love to mold.

Watch video of country cutie Kristy Lee Cook:

Next it's on to Dallas ...

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