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Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Welcome to Dollywood"

"American Idol" auditions wrap up

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2008 at 5:05 PM

The long, dark night of American Idol auditions are over, and now we're off to Hollywood.

Or Dollywood. That one poor squeaky-voiced girl who went on the judge-enforced Dolly Parton crash course was likely voted through out of their own shame and embarrassment; she was so earnest. But frankly she'd be as lucky to see the Tribute Stage at Dolly's theme park as the second round in Hollywood.

As irksome as I find the so-obvious structuring of the audition segments to be -- freak, great singer, fake contestant, not-so-bad-singer, object of Simon's ire, second freak, decent singer with weird hobby, and so on -- I still tune in. At minimum, there's a guaranteed belly-laugh in each show.

Tuesday night, for instance, offered the bizarre spectacle of Joshua -- he with the crazy, popping "demon eyes" -- who was ordered to deliver his audition with his back to the judges. Afterward, there was agreement that Joshua's voice wasn't so bad, but that no performer could ever work with his back to the audiences all the time. (Just saying, the Catholic Church had centuries of success with the back-to-the-people thing …)

Or what about the guy whose rim fell off just as he was braggin' it up to Ryan Seacrest? Or the perky but deluded blonde who didn't comprehend the judges' utter dismissal of her singing and asked, "Is it opposite day?" Yes, it is! (OK, now I'm worried that there might actually be such a thing as an opposite day and nobody ever told me.)

Or what about the gal who was the walkin', talkin' Bud Light ad? Respiratory nurse by day; bodacious biker by night. And when she belted out a couple of Joplin tunes full throttle, I thought: There's a woman who never has to buy her own drinks at a biker bar.

So, for the juicy nuggets, I slog through all the extra time the producers seem to have devoted to the judges nattering on amongst themselves; the ersatz Mariahs, Celines and people who actually listen to Rascal Flatts; and all the sad-sack stories – I live on a farm; I live in my car; I'm a single mom; I'm a single dad; I tried out before and was humiliated …

Because the grind makes the upcoming Hollywood rounds that much sweeter. Hollywood is my second-favorite part of Idol. My fave part is the early part of the actual competition, when we discover which not-so-talented folks somehow snuck in, and when there's real cringe-worthy entertainment to be mined from ill-conceived theme nights. (I'm still rooting for New Wave night; also Cher night and The Jim Steinman Songbook.)

And Hollywood is when I make the slightest effort to care about the contestants -- to pick favorites, underdogs and people to hate. Like presidential campaigns, there's no point in paying attention until the field is winnowed down to clearly defined personalities, and all the jokesters (hi Mike Gravel!) and perpetual dreamers (I see you, Joe Biden) have headed back to their hometowns.

Also, the face-to-face nature of this round promises plenty of diva fits, pretty-boy spats and the marginalized weirdos wondering hotel hallways in teary befuddlement. It's like a high-stakes talent show at a high school you blessedly don't have to attend.

And this season promises the extra -- I don't know -- drama? humiliation? pointlessness? of letting the contestants play their own instruments. If previous seasons are any indication, these are kids nervous enough to forget the words to a song they've been rehearsing for 48 hours. Tossing an accompanying instrument into the mix can only bring more fumbles and outright disasters.

The previews showing singers banked up against an electronic keyboard or buried beneath a huge drum kit have got me a-tingle.

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