'American Idol' : Nice Simon, Mean Randy

"American Idol" bad auditions season kicked off with the most bafflingly clueless yet highly resilient tone-deaf wannabes yet.

That included the world's only female Bert Lahr/Cowardly Lion imitator, an "urban Amish" guy who claims not to watch television and yet knew all about "American Idol," and an Apollo Creed/Luciano Pavarotti impersonator.

But something has changed on America's favorite TV show. Judge Randy Jackson has gotten in touch with his inner sadist this year. Simon Cowell played this strange walk-on guest role as defender of the weak. The two clashed when Randy suggested a vocal-coach contestant give his students back their money, and Simon jumped in with "Enough!" asking Randy whether he'd been abused by a voice teacher in a past life.

Judge Paula Abdul has become so shy and retiring you were left wondering whether they edited out her good stuff or she's finally edited out too many brain cells.

Show host Ryan Seacrest has been reduced to show grief counselor, comforting rejects in the lobby.

Singer Jewel, who also hosts USA Network's country-singer competition "Nashville Star," guest hosted. She was a calming presence. Who wants that on "American Idol"?

In short supply during "Idol's" visit to Minneapolis, as always during early-audition season, were genuinely talented people.

But the "Military Idol" segment was back, including an officer who won the "Reagan Idol" competition -- I know the mind reels -- on the USS Ronald Reagan. His performance was utterly mediocre, but he sailed through. And a female reservist got double points for not only showing up in camouflage but having a husband on active duty in Baghdad. The camouflage came in handy since she accidentally changed keys during her song, but she also sailed through to the next round, as do all "Military Idol" contestants.

Veteran "Idol" watchers know that if producers give you a contestant's backstory, that signals "going through to Hollywood."

Like Matt, whose mother and father did not bother to accompany him to the audition because, Matt explained, the years they've spent supporting him in his pursuit of a singing career have been trying. He said it was hard being there surrounded by other contestants who were there with family. Matt sang "California Dreamin'." The judges sent him through.

"Hello, Mom? Guess what. I made it to Hollywood," Matt said happily into his cell phone.

"You're kidding!" his mom could be heard saying, excitedly. Matt started to cry.

"She's proud of me," he said quietly, kneeling down and weeping.

But this year, producers pulled a big switcheroo on viewers, introducing us to a secretary/singer who was flown to Minneapolis by her boss, Gary. Simon and Randy naturally decided Gary had the hots for her and demanded to meet him.

Gary seemed like a nice guy.

"Gary, you're a nice guy," they said, surprised, like they'd never met one of those before.

"There's a lot of nice people out there," Gary responded.

Then, the judges whacked her.

What did you think about last night's show? Chat with me about "American Idol" today at 1 p.m. ET

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 17, 2007; 2:44 AM ET "American Idol"
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I've never been a fan of the show but when my wife was watching last night I couldn't help but notice Paula Abdul seemed out of it. Anyone with some medical education out there have a thoery what is going on with her?

Posted by: Medical Opinion? | January 17, 2007 9:04 AM

Yeah, Paula seemed "on" something. I wonder if that's why they brought in Jewel.

Posted by: Justin | January 17, 2007 10:21 AM

Every year I comment on the weirdness that is American Idol Paula Abdul and every year, she seems to get weirder. She was next to comatose last night (although, it was kind of neat not hearing her canned "opinions"). Perhaps she's finally remembering doing a music video with a cartoon cat? Latent post-traumatic stress disorder?

Posted by: Shirley | January 17, 2007 10:27 AM

When are these military people going to stop telling us they are "protecting our freedom". Iraq never was a threat to the U.S. I respect those in military service, because the existence of a strong military presence does protect our freedom. But not in Iraq. That is "Bush's Folly".

Posted by: draftdodger | January 17, 2007 11:14 AM

I thought Jewel was completely unnecessary. However, in light of Justin's comment, she may have been brought in to balance Paula. She was kind of mean too.

I will give Jewel credit for being a poet and lyricist, but I don't think she has a nice singing voice. The contestant who warbled and wobbled her Jewel immitation sounded only marginally worse than Jewel herself. Truly, she sounds like an English speaking sheep.

Posted by: Not a Gem | January 17, 2007 11:29 AM

"Anyone with some medical education out there have a thoery what is going on with her?" asks the first commentator. Paging Dr. Frist ....

Posted by: idle idolater | January 17, 2007 11:32 AM

As usual, this show is a complete waste of time. It should be called "American Idiot" because everything is rigged: if they don't want someone to move on, they'll make sure they look like it even though the talent is there.

Posted by: Idol-Hater | January 17, 2007 11:59 AM

I think that she's brain-dead. Pull the plug on her. Not like that Terri Schiavo woman though. Terri loved balloons.

Posted by: Dr. Frist | January 17, 2007 12:01 PM

A minor correction, I believe. The contestant from the Ronald Reagan is an enlisted person, not an officer. I think he was a Petty Officer, 2nd Class, which has supervisory responsibilities, but he is not a Commissioned Officer. Am I wrong?

Posted by: Greg | January 17, 2007 12:49 PM

I just wanted to add that some of us LOVE Jewel's voice! Her songs are some of my favorites, and I've heard she gives up to 50% of her earnings to charity (without making a fuss over it). I wish we had more entertainers like her.

Posted by: Dsmac | January 17, 2007 1:20 PM

Jewel...ugh. Saw her before she was a big star and she just acted like a total brat. At 2 separate performances, one of which she wasn't even supposed to be at.

Posted by: Jennifer | January 17, 2007 1:31 PM

Yeah, I watch, but it's like gawking at a car accident - the lizard brain overcomes the fragile superego and we can't help ourselves. (Or maybe the superego is saying: See? Now learn from that and never do the same thing yourself.) Or something. Here in Canada, they don't show the deluded tone-deaf pitiful fools - they wait until the lower-level finalists, who don't embarrass themselves or shame the viewers...

Posted by: Gina | January 17, 2007 2:51 PM

Oops, I didn't mean to imply that Canada somehow censored American Idol awful episodes. I meant that the Canadian Idol is much *nicer*.

Posted by: Gina | January 17, 2007 2:52 PM

Actually, watching Paula is equal-opportunity car-crash gawking...also the other judges. Randy used to be Jolly Fat Man. "Nice" Simon is no substitute. And, yes, what someone mentioned in the chat - I think every season the judges should audition at least once, and let the most outraged rejects be the judges for the occasion. That's a car-crash I could watch with a (practically) clear conscience.

Posted by: Gina again | January 17, 2007 3:09 PM

Wrote my blog entry this morning before reading Lisa's column. Some similar opinions, but they did seem to give a lot of airtime to the Singing Cowboy, just to throw us off. And is it just me, or are they nice to the bad but pretty singers and mean to the bad but ugly singers?

Read the rest of my writeup at FitzFacts.com

Posted by: Bill Fitzgerald | January 17, 2007 3:44 PM

You know the ones they let 'slide' through are going to be kicked out on the first round once they get to Hollyweird.

I think they do it because they're bored, tired, and need some entertainment. But I know these are the ones that will be kicked out in rounds 1 or 2. They give these people false hopes and when they get to Hollywood, they simply crush them to death.

We all know they won't survive . . . too bad they're going to learn their lesson the hard way. We all hope they're prepared for the hard fall . . .

Posted by: Apres Ski | January 17, 2007 8:36 PM

When are these morons going to stop turning any discussion into a commentary on the war in Iraq? I respect their "speaking truth to power," because freedom of opinion is part of what makes America the best nation on Earth. But why can't they realize that? That is "Pelosi's Folly."

Posted by: Anonymous | January 17, 2007 11:53 PM

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