January 15, 2008 8:37 PM
American Idol goes to Philadelphia
If aliens in a distant galaxy ever saw the opening night TV signal from season seven of Fox's American Idol, they'd probably send an armada to blow up the earth.
Taped in Philadelphia, these auditions proved a parade of the bizarre, the barely talented and the besotted with delusions of grandeur.
There were also fleeting moments of genuine talent.
The audition shows are designed for two purposes: to feret out the 12 contestants who will go to Hollywood and compete for the crown. And, of course, to answer the age old question "Have you no shame?"
For many wannabe idols, the answer is a fervent "No."
In a recent conference call, judge Simon Cowell remarked that doing these auditions were torture. No doubt. What proves highly entertaining for TV viewers must be the visual and aural equivalent of the Inqusition in person.
The low lights of Tuesday's show:
James Lewis, a 22-year-old tour guide, likened his singing style to both Paul Robeson and Eddie Vedder. He launched into a low, gutteral version of Go Down Moses that sounded like a Bassett Hound being strangled.
The show was taped last summer. Paul Robeson is probably still spinning in his grave.
Judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul couldn't stop laughing. Simon looked like he was suffering a stroke.
Temptress Brown, a 16-year-old lass, whose ample size allows her to play middle linebacker for her school football team. The show played up the heart-tugging fact that Temptress cares for her wheelchair-bound mother, then sent her into the lion's den. Temptress has lots of heart and minimal talent, as her rendition of Jennifer Holiday's There's No Way from Dreamgirls proved. Upon her rejection she burst into tears, prompting the judges to escort her into the lobby to explain things to her disappointed family.
Good thing Simon hadn't heard Temptress' statement during a pre-performance interview: "Make me mad enough and I'll break your bones."
Paul Marturino, a nut job who dedicated a song to Paula about stalking her and breaking into her house and wearing her underwear. It included the line "If she were a dog I would walk her." Like who hasn't had that sentiment before? I was sure it was going to be the show's strangest moment.
Until I got a look at Ben Har, a Kevin Smith look alike who wore a cloak into his audition and threw it back to reveal himself in a brassiere and skirt left over from a Bette Midler mermaid routine. Paula said she was distracted by his chest hair, so he left and had it waxed and returned in the same costume to sing the first five bars of the Pussycat Dolls' Dontcha before he was expelled.
Alexis Cohen, 23, looked like she was channeling Ziggy Stardust with her wild hair, heavy eye shadow and facial glitter. She sang Grace Slick's Somebody to Love in a manner so confrontational Simon said it was "all a bit possessed for me." She didn't take rejection well, heading into the lobby to vent her anger at Simon and declaring "I will leave with my dignity! . . . I'm going for actressing!"
She repeatedly flashed her middle finger to the camera. So much for dignity. Better luck with the actressing.
Christina Tolisano, 24. This Star Wars fanatic was determined to strike a blow for dorks everywhere. The Princess Leia hairdo made her look like an Amish girl trapped in George Lucas' master bathroom. Her version of Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me would've caused R2D2 to rust in his tracks.
Naturally she was rejected. Said a snide Simon: "Give my love to the Wookie."
Outside, she vented like a space tourist swindled into a vacation on the ice planet Hoth. They only want the pretty girls, she complained. They want cookie cutter idols, not someone original and clearly emboldened by The Force.
Given her petulance, I'm convinced she went home to build a death star.
For the record there were a number of solid performances, including Angela Martin; a backup singer for Taylor Hicks named Melanie Nyema; and a Maxwell clone named Chris Watson.
Paula, as usual, was nicey nice, although she has one brilliant moment where she struggled to say something kind about a singer: "I'm impressed with how you phonetically learned the song."
Simon's best insult of the night? "It's exactly identical to nightmare I had last week."
Tonight, more auditions from Dallas. And, no doubt, more cultural carnage.