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'American Idol' Treacles In

First night of the traditional lousy-auditions phase of "Idol" -- three glorious weeks on the road meeting delusional pop-star wannabes -- takes us to Philadelphia.

But why are the judges being so well-behaved?

Aspiring veterinarian Alexis Cohen comes in with her face covered in glitter and channels Grace Slick, after which judge Simon Cowell spits out, "You'll either end up as a country vet and be quite normal or wind up in a band. I don't think this competition is right for you."

Huh?

Alaa Youakeem, from Egypt, who just wants to find a girl "to love from here [pointing to to top of his head] to the nipple," slaughters a song by "Mr. the Bee-Gees." Does Simon go in for the kill? No! He throws it to America's Sweetheart Paula Abdul, who tells Youakeem, "I'm very impressed with how you phonetically learned the song and I appreciate the work you put into it."

Adds Simon, "Nice to meet you."

Say what?

Sixteen-year-old Temptress Brown butchers her number and Simon responds with, "Let's start with the positive. You are a sweetheart . . . the not so good news is you're not a great singer, sweetheart . . . don't be sad."

Don't be sad? What is this -- Dr. Phil?

Then Randy Jackson, who has grown a strike goatee and strike sideburns, like Letterman's beard and Jon Stewart's unibrow, and Paula give Temptress a hug and all three judges walk her outside the audition room to her waiting family, which, Randy notes, "is very proud of her."

"I like Temptress," Simon adds. "Sweetheart, see you later."

Can this be the same Simon who just last year mocked a mentally challenged competitor and told another he looked like a bush baby?

Practically the only sign of a pulse we got out of Simon, the resident snark, came when Paul Marturano sang a "love song I wrote for Paula Abdul."

It's about how he broke into her house when she wasn't there, to doff all his clothes and try on her underwear. It went something like this:

I'm not much of a talker so I guess I'll just stalk her.
If she were a doggie I would walk her.
If she was a blackboard I'd chalk her.
If she were Columbo I'd Peter Falk-her.
If she was a bathtub I'd caulk her.

"I think you should leave. That was really creepy," says Simon to Marturano, who by that time has sidled up to the judges table and is leering at Paula.

"Seriously, I really want you to leave," Simon says, and asks security to escort the guy out.

It was like an episode of "Criminal Minds." Only without writers. Oh wait, "Criminal Minds" doesn't have writers either these days.

Ben Haar gave the shortest performance in "Idol" history -- about two notes -- before Simon sent him packing, but that was totally reasonable, given that the guy had shown up -- twice -- in a belly-dancer costume. The first time he sported thick chest hair but Paula said she found that too distracting; the second time he was waxed hairless -- equally unpleasant to look at.

Milo Turk, the songwriting social worker, was allowed to perform his entire number -- a little piece he'd written called "No Sex Allowed." He said it needed to be heard by millions of people because it has a "sex is weak, love is strong message." Milo called the song "uplifting and clean."

"In Britain we call it creepy." Simon said. Again, truth was his best defense.

This year, as promised, the producers introduced us immediately to more people with actual talent. They felt that last season, the first in which "Idol" experienced a ratings decline, viewers were not invested in the finalists because they knew so little about them owing to the fact producers treated them to so many lousy auditions in the early days of the competition. The result? Sanjaya Malakar.

Sadly, last night's result was a kinder, gentler "Idol" season debut we're not sure we altogether approve of.

It's like all the nasty has moved over to that new Fox reality series "Moment of Truth," in which average Joes agree to get strapped to a lie detector and answer wildly inappropriate questions for cash:

"Do you really care about the starving children in Africa?"

"Do you think you'll still be married to your husband five years from now?"

"Have you ever touched a female co-worker inappropriately?"

("Yes," says some henpecked guy, nervously.

("That's why you sleep on the couch," his wife snaps.)

Among the Genuinely Talented we got to know on "Idol's" first night back was 26-year-old singer and single mom Angela Martin. Very pretty and bubbly, with a lovely voice that's only slightly wedding-ized, as Simon explained, from too many gigs at weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Angela has a little girl with Rett Syndrome. The heartbreakingly cute child cannot walk or talk.

"When she was born there were no complications . . . after two years she started having seizures," Martin explains.

"Her feet started to turn in . . . her face wasn't growing, her brain wasn't growing. It's like she fell asleep and woke up and that was it," she tells the camera while tens of millions of viewers at home choke up.

"It's not about fame for me, it's about getting her the best care, the best therapist. The doctors told me my daughter was never going to walk or talk. I'm gonna get that for her."

Has Angela Martin got this competition sewn up already? Seriously, can you vote her out of the competition? Me neither.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 16, 2008; 7:08 AM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
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