"American Idol's" Mocking Birds

"American Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, and particularly Paula Abdul and new Karen DioGuardi look very Lovey Howell in Louisville, Kentucky -- serious how-did-we-get-here overtones to this episode. On the bright side, host Ryan Seacrest gets to make racetrack jokes about the 11,000 wanna be Idolettes auditioning at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

Photo: Michael Becker -- Fox

Tiffany Shedd's dad is very proud of her and her mother's heart melts when she sings. "If people say no to me I'll still walk out with a positive attitude," says Tiffany -- a sort of consomme of Paris Hilton and Tammy Faye.

She slaughters some Mariah Carey tune, which we thought was technically impossible. Simon likens it to 22 horses running a race around the track outside -- with a donkey. That would be Tiffany.

"They're not looking for talent, they're looking for nerds and freaks!" Tiffany hisses, forgetting all about her "positive attitude" platform.

Joanna Pacitti tried moving to L.A. on her own when she was just 16 to try and make it as a singer which, she notes, was "much hard than anybody could imagine" and now she has "lost a lot of confidence."

"Wait a minute, weren't you on A&M Records?" Kara says when Joanna enters the audition room. "You were signed, right? This is Joanna Pacitti. I know this girl!"

"Yes, that was a while ago," Joanna offers. Simon wonders what went wrong. "It just didn't work out," Joanna says, evasively.

"So, it was their fault?" Simon sneers.

"I hope to say that, yeah," Joanna responds. She also appears to have been let go from the lead role in a revival of "Annie" just four weeks before opening night, way back in the 90's, when the producers decided she was hopeless as a child actress, though that doesn't come up in the conversation.

Joanna sings very professionally for the "Idol" judges, though technically she has to be non-pro now and sans contract. The judges pronounce her "worthy," noting that "based on the voice you've definitely got a voice. She's Hollywood-bound.

Mark Mudd Jr. says he has been in "two really bad car accidents" and "almost died five times." Meanwhile, noted scholar Seacrest reminds Mudd his great great great grandfather was the doctor who fixed John Wilkes Booth's leg when he broke it after shooting President Lincoln, which landed Dr. Samuel Mudd in the slammer. Seacrest weighs in on the whole "your name is mud" controversy, asserting Dr. S's dubious choice of patients is responsible for the expression, though other scholars insist the earliest recorded instance of the phrase crops up a decade before Sammy Mudd's birth. And you said "Idol" was not educational!

"That's not a gun, is it?" asks Simon as Mudd enters the audition room. Quite the jokester, that Simon. It's only Mudd's cell phone -- but Mudd does murder his song. The judges give him the hook and as he leaves, he says genially, to take care and "be careful" which Simon and Paula decide is a threat and tell him so.

Brent Keith Smith is very cute so Paula makes eyes at him. "I was surprised you even had that in you," she purrs after he sings. Simon thinks the song is ridiculous and the performance "buskerish." Go ahead -- I had to look it up too. Paula and Kara become hysterical at the thought Simon is about to exercise his veto power to eliminate this bit of eye candy from the competition, figuring Randy will also vote "no" because he's pretty much putty in Simon's hands these days.

"Calm down!" Simon orders the two chick-judges. When he reveals his vote is "yes" and "I was always going to say 'yes'," Kara and Paula slide down under the judges' table, which intrigues Smith. The American Idol Decency Police go on orange alert.

A few bad singers, and one better dueling-piano player later, we meet Ross Plavsic and it's time to play "Idol" Mocks Geeks.

Ross likes organizing characters of the Chinese alphabet based on structural similarities; the judges mock that. He sings, badly; they mock that too by joining him in his song. Simon asks him to imagine he just won "Idol" and facetiously wonders what song he could possibly sing. "Probably whatever I just sang" to win the competition, Ross says, reasonably.

"I want to see him take his tie off!" Kara interjects, though, of course, she doesn't, she's just mocking him. Paula offers him a sip of whatever Crazy Juice she's packing in her Soda Product Placement Cup when Ross explains his throat is dry, then she feigns horror when he drinks through her straw. Ross apologizes for his performance, because that's what geeks do when the popular kids mock them. He leaves.

Pretty, petite blonde single mom Alexis Grace has a big voice, which surprises the judges. For the second time tonight, a judge uses a variation on "based on the voice alone I'd say you can sing" and a new "American Idol" cliché is born. The judges love her and send her to Hollywood, but they make her promise not to wear pink and advise that she first go home and have sex with the father of her child, aka her fiance.

And then, we are given a hint as to this night's "American Idol" Sob Story: a wannabe Idolette who had nothing and was homeless.

But first, Aaron Williamson, who stomps and howls his way through his audition number, while the judges stomp and howl along; Kara even breaks a ring in her enthusiasm. There appears to be no end to the mockability of Louisville! Seacrest comes into the room to make sure everything is okay. Simon advises Aaron to find something to do in life which involves shouting. Paula says "We had fun with you." But, of course, what they actually did was have fun at his expense.

Rebecca Garcia has written the lyrics to her song on a piece of something she's strapped around her arm, and she jerks her arms about as she sings, badly. Kara dares to attempt Simon Cowell-Quality Cruelty and tells Rebecca her audition was quite the laugh riot, noting Rebecca's bio says she was voted most humorous in high school. Rebecca tears up. Brava, Kara!

Finally, it's time to make us cry too:

To most "Idol" wannabe's, the auditions are "the stuff dreams are made of," Seacrest says. But to tonight's final contestant, Lenesha Young, "it's the latest chapter in a story of struggle and determination." We re-hear the homeless-with-nothing material. Her single mom says her single mom-dom has been very diffcult, what with the father of her several children not supporting her in any way. They have lived in shelters, which she calls "embarrassing."

"It seems like you are going through some tough times," Kara tells Lenesha. "Yeah, but I'm not letting it stop me," Lenesha says determinedly. The judges gobble her up, though Simon calls her "current" which is usually the kiss of death. Lenesha leaves the room to tell her family the happy news about going to Hollywood.

"One of the most polite families we've ever hand on 'Idol'," Seacrest marvels.

Join Lisa for a live discussion every Friday at 1 p.m. ET.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 22, 2009; 8:08 AM ET "American Idol"
Previous: Idol: The Inaugural Edition | Next: Paula vs Kara in Randy-land


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While not as overt, I think Simon and Paula were likewise mocking poor Mr. Mudd when they took his amiable "Be careful," like you note a (Southern) variation on "Take care," to be a "threat." He couldn't sing and he was a tad too (ahem) country for my tastes, but he was harmless and polite and the judges' wide-eyed threat assessment revealed how insulated they are from the non-A-list public.

Posted by: Booklover1 | January 22, 2009 8:38 AM

The new judge becomes a bigger irritant with each episode, and not in a "so bad it's fun to watch her" kind of way.

Posted by: sarahabc | January 22, 2009 9:35 AM

Kara's comment re "most humorous" was snark to the nth degree. The girl was absolutely not a good singer, but I wonder if the pure nastiness of the judges at times is really necessary.

Paula seems to have the left the booze or wacky weed or whatever back in the hotel room. She seems to be a little more focused this year, maybe because she has some female competition at the judges' desk.

There were some good auditions last night, and I'm looking forward to the future audition weeks and Hollywood.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | January 22, 2009 9:56 AM

Joanna Pacitti...didn't she do that "Watch Me Shine" song for the first Legally Blonde installment? Or am I confusing her with someone else?

Posted by: forget@menot.com | January 22, 2009 10:40 AM

I'm not a fan of the judges being so nasty either. I liked Kara earlier but am not so sure that her observations are any better than Paula's . . .

Posted by: MILW | January 22, 2009 11:55 AM

I thought the last girl has promise.

BUT, how many of those kids are from the same family, because it looked like A LOT? Seriously, no disrespect intended, but if you cannot afford to support yourself - or the first kid - WTH is up with having a brood? AI made it sound like they'd been homeless and dirt poor the girl's whole life and it looked like she was one of, if not THE oldest.

Posted by: cakask | January 22, 2009 1:24 PM

What is it with Lisa's Idol column hopping all over the place? This is even in the wrong category on the Style page.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | January 22, 2009 5:29 PM

I wasn't impressed with the dueling piano singer. He was out of breath from the first note, and the judges went crazy over his performance. Very Archuleta-esque in that the judge's reality was so far different than what I thought it would be.

I totally agree about that the judges want it both ways. They want to mock and laugh at the contestants, but then act as if was all a friendly, gentle tease.

I disagree with 'Booklover1', Mark Mudd's comments were a threat. Had he meant his comments to be amiable, he would have quickly clarified himself after the initial confusion. But he didn't, he continued to invoke the phrase. His body language and facial expressions also signaled threat.

I thought Lenesha Young was good - deserving of a yellow pass - but not quite as good as the praise she received.

Posted by: niceshoes1 | January 23, 2009 5:28 PM

The Biggest Scam Since Payola? I feel the American people are being duped by American Idol. As a prime example, take a closer look at the history of "meek", "unsure", Joanna Pacitti, she has opened and toured with Nick Lachey, acted on TV, been signed with a record label that is affiliated with American Idol. Yes, she did sing, "Watch Me Shine". American Idol, are they plucking people out of obscurity to give them a chance as they portray themselves? I think not! It is all about ratings. Put a few goof balls on the show, and make idiots of them, humiliate them for the American people, but then, show them the real talent they have warming up in their bullpen. Do you think that they are going to really let, you, the American public, decide how they are going to invest THEIR millions? Wake up! Do you think really the votes count?

Posted by: Mon74 | January 24, 2009 1:59 PM

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