'American Idol' Auditions: Acts of Charity

The homeless and the orphaned -- and the current reigning Miss South Florida Fair -- are called forth last night to be healed on "American Idol" in Atlanta.

But first, show host Ryan Seacrest's parents show up spontaneously, because going to a convention center dressed in a suit and tie is how they like to spend an afternoon. And lookee there, it's Sonny!

"Hey, Dad. Hi, Mom, how are you?" Seacrest says in the most awkward "American Idol Moment" ever. It's so awkward it should have an official sponsor. Maybe Coke.

"Idol" hopeful Josh Jones (Fox)

On to the auditions:

Josh Jones likes working with glass but, turns out, not really and he wants to sing but his crazy-eye thing he does while singing creeps out Judge Simon Cowell in the way clowns do some children. So they make Josh sing with his back to them and, gotta say, he sounds much better.

JP Tjelmeland auditioned in Season 4 and was thisclose to Carrie Underwood and he's kicking himself he didn't get to know her and stay in touch so she could be his BFF. He's a terrible singer and, when the judges start to tell him so, he begins to beg, "I really, really want to do this -- I don't want to do four years of school!"

"You don't want to go to school?" judge Randy Jackson asks.

"No, and I'm a music major," JP wails.

"No!" Randy says.

"In music composition?" Randy asks.

"No, in singing," JP groans.

"No!" Randy says.

"Was I that bad, Paula?" JP whines.

"You seem like a really nice person . . . ," Paula Abdul starts.

The show suddenly erupts with a recording of the B'way tune "I Cain't Say No" -- sung by Ado Annie, the town floozy, in the musical "Oklahoma." No, it didn't work, but they get points for the Rodgers & Hammerstein nod. Then, "Idol" takes a dramatic turn to the sad. Or reprehensible, depending on how you take to a competition show using someone's death to push your buttons and goose its ratings.

Asia'h Epperson is a self-described "small-town country girl" who doesn't "come from a family that has a lot of money . . . We work for everything we have." Two days before her audition, she tells the camera, she phoned her dad to tell him she was on her way to her audition and that she loved him. Thirty minutes later, she says, a family member called to say Dad had died in a car accident.

Asia'h changes her mind about her audition tune, and sings a love song to her dad. Paula chokes up. Simon cuts Asia'h off, saying, "I've heard enough and you're very brave to do this and I wouldn't be able to do that." Randy says she was excellent under the circumstances and votes "a million percent" to put her through to Hollywood. The other two agree. Camera hangs on a weeping Paula who finally moves out of range of the camera, which is lapping it up. Outside the audition room, Seacrest asks Asia'h how she maintained her focus while singing her sad, sad song to her dead, dead dad.

Headed to Hollywood: Brooke Helvie (Fox)

"Knowing this was what my dad wanted more than anything," she replies.

Next we see Brooke Helvie, the reigning Miss South Florida Fair.

The reason we continue to love "American Idol," despite its horrifying milking of people's sorrows for ratings, is because of its complete and utter contempt for beauty-pageant queens. Particularly the blond ones.

Miss South Florida Fair explains that being Miss South Florida Fair involves kissing a pig and milking a cow. "I got kicked by him -- or I guess it would be 'her,' " Miss South Florida Fair says of the cow, accurately.

"Since I was 4 I've known what I wanted to do with my life," Miss South Florida Fair tells the "Idol" camera. "Performing, singing -- nothing is above that -- other than God -- and my mom and dad," she says, smiling her bright smile.

She says she will continue to make the world a happier place singing even if she does not do "Idol," though "I hope I do do 'American Idol,' " she says, adding, "I just said 'do do' 'American Idol'!"

Points to you if you'd like to hit her over the head with a large blunt object.

But there's more:

Seems Miss South Florida Fair woke up the morning of her audition and "took a deep breath and prayed a little bit" and said, "Please, God . . . just please help me through this day. Help me be the best I can be."

"I'm going to cry," Miss South Florida Fair said, moved to tears by her own touching words/performance.

She sings. She's good. The three judges can't hide their disappointment. We love them for that. They put her through to Hollywood.

Alexandrea Lushinton arrives with family in tow, including her 93-year-old great-grandmother. Alexandra is terrific, singing "My Funny Valentine," and she's through to Hollywood.

She hugs her great-grandmother outside the audition room. "Don't let me cry, because they're taking pictures," Great-Grandma scolds. Great-Grandma appears to be the only person who understands how repugnant it is to milk very personal family moments for "Idol" ratings.

Amanda Overmyer is a tough rocker/biker-chick nurse with a voice that sounds a little like Janis Joplin's. There's been a lot of Joplin-izing going on this edition of "Idol" but Amanda is the first to do Joplin some justice.

"She's a female Chris Daughtry!" Paula marvels.

All three judges love their newfound biker nurse. We love her, too, especially because she tells no stories about patients who have died tragic deaths that might have been prevented if only she'd gotten to them sooner which has scarred her for life though she's soldiering on.

And, finally, 18-year-old Josiah Leming, from a little town in Tennessee, who dropped out of school at 17, left home and has been, for the past 10 months or so, living in his car.

"I would definitely not call myself homeless," he says chipperly. "I love living in my car -- it's home. My family has not a clue I have been living in my car. They think I've been living with friends."

But then -- no doubt after persistent "oh really?" questioning from show producers -- he breaks down: "It's scary, and lonely -- you don't have anybody to hang out with, or talk to, but it's going to be worth it some day -- I know it is."

He sings a song he wrote -- with a British accent.

"It is weird -- the accent," Brit Simon says.

"I like you -- usually I don't like people from where you are from, Tennessee, singing with British accents," Randy adds, making a distinction apparently between Josiah and all the other singers from Tennessee with British accents he's heard in his long music-industry career.

Like Britney Spears, maybe. Oh, except she's from Louisiana.

Josiah gets three thumbs up. "You'll never regret this -- not a day in your life," a thrilled Josiah tells the judges -- in a British accent.

Outside, Seacrest tries to wring a few more tears out of this episode: "You got three people to like you," he says hopefully.

Josiah doesn't bite, he's too happy to well up.

Next episode, "Idol" restores sight to the blind.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  February 6, 2008; 7:52 AM ET "American Idol"
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Please email us to report offensive comments.


Posted by: Fairfax, VA | February 6, 2008 8:47 AM

You win?

Posted by: LdeM | February 6, 2008 10:01 AM

Glad to see I wasn't the only person astounded by the 16 yr old auditioning 2 days after her dad died. Umm, honey, American Idol auditions will be there again next year -- if you were such a close family, you should probably go home to be with your family, even if you "think" that staying in ATL was "what your dad would have wanted".... Amazing.

Between her and homeless high school drop-out boy, last night really infuriated me.

Posted by: Wow | February 6, 2008 10:13 AM

Lisa - I'm not watching the "auditions" this time but your columns are priceless. Thanks for the giggles!

Posted by: WI | February 6, 2008 10:25 AM

I know I'm playing right into the producers' hands, but this is my favorite crop of auditions ever, because the focus is not on the horrible singers, but on the good singers. And I admit it, their back stories are sucking me in and just making me root for them more. I think I've teared up almost every episode, and I'm ok with that. If being on this show is giving some of these folks something positive in their lives to focus on and help them deal with the negatives, then hey, that's ok by me. I know Idol's only doing this to make money, but I can't deny that the results are (perhaps unintentionaly on the part of the producers) really darn nice.

Posted by: Amanda | February 6, 2008 12:09 PM

Of course I win!!

Posted by: Fairfax, VA | February 6, 2008 1:06 PM

Well, yes, there is that Best to Keep Busy in Times of Tragedy school of thought. But should the producers have kept after Josiah the Car Resident, when he so clearly wanted to take the stiff upper lip route in re his car/home? He's a 16 year old kid, and it appears they kept after him until he finally broke down and fessed up that it was hard. That's just cold...

Posted by: LdeM | February 6, 2008 1:13 PM

Lisa, thanks for making Idol even more bearable. After watching Carrie Underwood win it all, the talent on this show has been amazingly bad. And I'm not talking about the auditions, I'm talking about the final contestants. Save for Daughtry, there really isn't anyone who has been able to capture an audience like Carrie or Kelly Clarkson.

I TiVoed a little last year and could watch an entire show in 10 minutes (yeah, 10 minutes during audition season which means 50 minutes of commercials or that brainless, phoney and young wannabe Ryan Seacrest). Instead, I can read your column in 5 and still see that it's not worth watching.

When the contestants learn to sing songs, not over-perform songs, then maybe we'll have someone who is worthy of a record contract. But every year I hear about this girl who has a great voice, yet it sounds like a thousand other girls who over-sing the same kind of song. Sing something that's going to be memorable and stick in people's heads while also entertaining at the same time.

The worst is hearing people attempt to sing the National Anthem at sporting events and their only qualification is they tried out for Idol. I think a law should be passed that if you sing the National Anthem wrong, you should be jailed for 30 days. Get the words right. But until we instill pride in our National Anthem, what makes us think that anyone will have enough pride in themselves to say, "Boy, do I suck".

Posted by: Centreville, Va. | February 6, 2008 2:46 PM

I'm sensing the bitterness of someone who's suffered through Clay Aiken emoting his way through our National Anthem before some game or another. I do think your 30-day sentence a bit stiff, given that Kiefer Sutherland only had to do 45 days in the slammer for his latest DUI and he might have killed someone. And, to be fair, those lyrics are hard. I mean, who talks about "ramparts" any more? Who even knows what a "rampart" is?

Posted by: LdeM | February 6, 2008 3:14 PM

You don't know what a rampart is??? Well, neither did I until I checked out wikipedia. Apparently it's a type of defensive wall consisting of a low earthen embankment topped by a parapet or palisade. But I still had to look up parapet and palisade just gave me an old amusement park.

Besides, nobody suffered when Jordin Sparks did the anthem at the Super Bowl. I cried, at how bad it was.

I agree, sing the song the way it was written, otherwise it's disrespecting our country.

Posted by: O'er the ramparts... | February 6, 2008 4:48 PM

I missed Jordin Sparks singing National Anthem at the Super Bowl -- ran late driving to Super Bowl-viewing party. How did she deviate from "the song the way it was written"? Was it Roseanne Barr/Arnold/Whatever caterwauling/crotch grabbing/spittin' bad?

Posted by: LdeM | February 6, 2008 6:32 PM

brooke helvie was not that bad! i don't understand why everyone thinks she was terrible! i mean, yeah, she looks like a ditz, but she seems to be really nice!

Posted by: julna1221 | February 13, 2008 12:55 AM

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