American Idol: Season Premiere: Phoenix Auditions
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American Idol: Season Premiere: Phoenix Auditions

 So here we are again, American Idol  viewers.  I like this part of the season--everything is fresh-ish and kind of new and the tedium of the audition episodes has yet to become unbearable.  
 
Season 7 saw a decline in ratings, so in order to spice things up, a fourth judge, songwriter Kara DioGuardi, was brought on board. More on her later, but she seems promising: she arguably adds a new dimension to the panel with her experience (she's written for Jewel, Pink, the Pussycat Dolls,  Celine Dion, and past Idol winners--albeit songs I've never heard of, despite Ryan Seacrest calling her a "superstar hitmaker") and education (she graduated from Duke so we can assume she won't say "What?!?" whenever Simon Cowell uses some turn of phrase she hasn't heard before, unlike Randy Jackson or Paula Abdul).  
 
 Other than the addition of DioGuardi, thus far season eight doesn't appear to be that different (some tweaks are promised for later in the season, but don't hold your breath) from those past.  Any mild excitement I felt for the new season was immediately tempered by the intro, a montage set to "What a Wonderful World" featuring William Hung and Sanjaya Malakar's crying fan alongside the triumphs of Chris Daughtry and Kathryn McPhee. It seemed to say "If you want freaks, you'll get them!" 
 
 Auditions span eight cities, and tonight we spent two hours in Phoenix (I would make a joke about how that's two hours too many but it's currently 2 degrees in Chicago, where I am writing this, so I'm in no spot to make fun of Arizona). 
 
 We started off inauspiciously, with the kind of guy we've all seen before who we know would have no chance of making it to Hollywood, namely Tuan Nguyen, the Vietnamese kid with an Afro who wore Kanye West-style shuttered shades and wanted to tap-dance while singing Michael Jackson and then of course cried with shock and disappointment when he didn't make it.  So this is how it begins. 
 
 Things seemed to improve with Emily Hughes, a very cute girl with horribly unattractive ear spacers and a bunch of tattoos she got so that she'd "never be forced to sit in an office" (what about the office of a tattoo parlor, Emily? Or maybe a bakery, since you like cupcakes so much that you got one tattooed on your neck?)  She sang "Barracuda" well, and Simon proclaimed her "different," which I guess meant "You do not look like Carly from last season, who also had tattoos and sang Heart."
 
 Then there was Randy Madden, the guy who thought that dressing like a "rocker" (not a mocker) meant that he deserved for someone to tell him that he's great, which is all he wants in life, goddammit.  He stunk, he cried.  Paula was strangely lucid and advised him to gain some chops by being in a band, and then she gave Simon the finger. I did laugh when the producers added a little bling-star to Randy clicking his heels as he left the show. 
 
 Like Emily Hughes, all the "good" performers reminded me of singers from last season. J.B. Ahfua, who also cried, but because that his golden ticket was going to save his family, was clearly David Archuleta 2.0.  Another singer who made it through, Arianna Asfar, was similarly boring in that you could see her making it to Hollywood from a mile away: she's pretty and has a charity that involves being nice to old people so of course she was a good singer. 
 
 Michael Sarver (Southern gentile Seth Rogan) was another type who the judges claimed was so "different" despite being a character we've seen on the show a million times--the big lug with the sensitive, smooth voice.  I could see him being painfully cheesy onstage during the semifinals.  He did earn Simon's first wink of the season though. Ding! 
 
 And THEN we got to Katrina Darrell, who the show called "bikini girl."  Yes, she had an extremely hot body, and a pretty face if you like big noses and dead eyes.  But there's not need for me to hate on the girl when Kara DioGuardi handled the job so easily for me.  This is when I decided that I'm pro-Kara--she wasn't going to tolerate this girl's Paris Hilton-type schtick, even if, I hate to admit it, she wasn't a horrible singer. And I'll give it to yeast infection girl--Kara's version of her audition song wasn't much better than her own.  As annoying as I found Katrina, I hope she makes it far just for the sake of keeping things interesting.  She's going to have to put her clothes on eventually.  Kara should know though that she's much prettier than Katrina anyway.  I'm going to put it in my slam book and pass it around at homeroom. 
 
Kara further cut her bitchy teeth with a guy who called himself "sexual chocolate" by questioning whether the eponymous tattoo on his back was spelled correctly.  If she keeps this up she'll be a good foil to Paula, who is rarely nasty tocontestants. 
 
The parade of contestants who reminded me of other contestants then continued.  There was Deanna Brown, who sounded like a better-tuned Amanda Overmyer when she sang, sounded like Kellie Pickler when she spoke and looked like Brooke White.  And also Cody Sheldon, the blue-eyed Danny Noriega-esque horror film buff. 
 
I liked Alex Wagner-Trugman (who will have to drop the "Trugman" if he ever wants to make it in this business) the nerd who practiced in his closet who looked terrified when he sang.  Simon proclaimed "You can't do well" in this competition which may mean that he'll win the whole thing, and get a nifty new haircut in the proceedings.
 
We closed with the truly inspirational story that WILL give you hope, god damn you!  That's Scott the blind guy, whose audition was teased for about an hour before it happened. It will give you hope! It's a touching story!  I hoped he wouldn't make it, to be honest, but he's overcome everything and I guess he's going to overcome me as well. 
 
Tomorrow we hit Kansas City.  I'm trying not to look too past the surface of Idol this season (because there's not much to find), but I did ponder whether this might be a great year for Idol. Other than some excitement that will go down a week from today, this country needs some cheap entertainment, namely can-do youngsters who will sing and awkwardly dance their way into our hearts.  Plus, Ford will get that much-needed boost from the Idol commercials.  And you know that Sasha and Malia Obama probably watch, so maybe this season of Idol become the Labradoodle of television: immensely popular, cuddly, trendy and maligned by over-educated people who like to complain about shit.
 
Grade: B-
 
Stray observations:
 
--As a brown-eyed brunette I must applaud <i>Idol</i> for putting more of us on prime-time television. I feel like our population is now more accurately represented.
 
--I was tickled that the episode featured this Youtube clip of the worst day in the history of the world for a few David Archuleta fans.  I think I saw blood pouring out of their eyes.
 
--I have an idea for why Will Kunick's version of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" sounded so weird--it was because he was singing the Gary Jules Donnie Darko version.  That still did not excuse it, though. 
 
--Brianna Quijada absolutely slaughtered the end of "Killing Me Softly" (when in doubt, Idol contestants--don't do the runs) but I did enjoy her calling Simon "Simey."
 
--Let's play a game: which of the non-finalists will be arrested this year? I predict X-Ray. 
 

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