American Idol 7 exchanges cruelty for storytelling and attention whores

Last year, the auditions for American Idol 6 were uncomfortably cruel. Instead of abject cruelty and lingering, awkward shots of delusional people, American Idol 7 delivered long, extended biographical segments on auditioners, many of whom actually made it through to Hollywood.

By my count, 20 people appeared in front of and interacted with the judges, and eight of those auditions were preceded by long bio segments, where cameras followed them to their homes or elsewhere as they told their stories, which were meant to be heartwarming but were trying too hard. Seven others contestants’ appearances in front of the judges were preceded by short bios or conversations with Ryan Seacrest in the hotel, while the other five just appeared in front of the judges and interacted with them briefly. We did see a a number of others sing briefly, often all singing (badly) parts of the same song—and most of those people never actually appeared in front of the judges, but instead performed for producers and had their auditions cut in with reaction shots from the judges.

The judges were kind; Paula and Randy only laughed uncontrollably at a Philadelphia tour guide named James whose guttural singing style was completely laughable. The show did make fun of a couple people, or at least let them make fun of themselves; one, Alaa Youakeem, whose nickname was pronounced “yuka,” said he was from Egypt and came across like a real-life bad SNL sketch. “She told me, Yuka, you are sexyface,” he said. “I save myself until when I get the good girl. I want to love a girl from the hair to the nipple.”

Besides people like him, the show also gave time to more obvious attention-whores, discernible from the mentally unstable because they can barely keep themselves from jumping up and down with joy over the fact that the camera is pointed at them. One woman, painted with glitter, had an over-the-top, unjustified reaction to a rather kind dismissal, as if she’d already planned what to say and performed her routine even though there was no real reason to be outraged. Her name was Alexis Cohen, and coincidentally, there’s an Alexis Cohen in imdb listed as the assistant to the executive producer of So You Think You Can Dance, which shares its executive producers with American Idol.

Proving that those producers care about nothing except entertainment, they let people outside of the show’s age range audition. A 32-year-old sang “a love song I wrote for Paula Abdul,” which included the lyrics, “She hasn’t noticed me/it really gets me down/I broke into her house when she wasn’t there/took off my clothes and tried on her underwear. … I’m not much of a talker/I’ll just stalk her. … If I were Colombo/I’d just Peter Falk-her. … If she were a bathtub/I’d caulk her.” Self-identified social worker Milo Turk, 39, sang his own song “No Sex Allowed,” which he said “need[s] to be heard by millions of people.” Mission accomplished.

There was one person who seemed to be genuinely disheartened by her dismissal, a Star Wars fanatic with Princess Leia hair. She was not the worst singer ever, but the judges rejected her, and she dramatically declared, “If they want to pass on on talent because of the outside exterior, then so be it.” At the end of the show, the editors included her talking about the series, intercutting her remarks with shots of those who made it through to the Hollywood round. “They don’t want anything different, they don’t want true diversity out there,” she said. “People who have been coming out of there have been the same, normal-looking pop people. They need something different for this show, and they’re not allowing it. It’s ridiculous.” I think the footage of the golden ticket holders were supposed to argue against what she was saying, but she actually ended up making sense.

So, for the most part, did Simon Cowell, who dressed up for the occasion, wearing a ratty, stretched v-neck white undershirt and jeans. He wasn’t really harsh or cruel at all, and instead just gave people a simple “no” or expressed disbelief that they thought they were good singers. Usually, he just looked bored out of his mind. I’m curious: If the judges are so bored most of the time, why are we supposed to be entertained?

One guy, Ben Haar, showed up and revealed himself to be dressed in a skimpy female gladiator/Xena Warrior Princess outfit. (Update: Apparently, this was also a Princess Leia outfit.) “Benjamin, why should I bother listening to this?” Simon asked, and at least the guy was honest: “‘cause it might have been entertaining?” Paula Abdul said she was distracted by his chest hair, and he asked, “Can I wax it and come back?” He left, and Simon asked “Why would you bother doing that?” When Ben returned, splotchy red but smooth, they dismissed him after he sang one word.

As the contestant exited, Simon said, “All because that fat lump wants to be on TV.” That should be the tag line for these first eight episodes and 10 hours of American Idol 7.

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