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“I want to
start out famous”

“I want to
start out famous”

Ai_01

The sixth season of American Idol begins with weeping and gnashing of teeth. And that's just the singing.

Did you know that Carrie Underwood was voted World's Sexiest Vegetarian in 2005 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals? This is the kind of really important information you're privy to when you're a professional journalist like me and Fox sends you a press release about American Idol. It's listed there under the category "Success of the Idol Winners." Not listed, curiously, is "Best Thorn in Faith Hill's Side, 2006."

The press notes even give the ratings for all five previous seasons. For the record, it has grown from an average of 12 million viewers to 31 million. I think it's all due to these brutally cruel auditions. Everyone knows that it's fun to laugh at the delusional. Ugly people too. Because really, how dare they assume they deserve to be on television? Don't they know that only attractive talentless people get to do that?

I recapped the show last season on this site and got e-mail from readers who told me I was "hateful." Apparently, these are people who don't watch the audition episodes where Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson regularly tear new buttholes in borderline-mentally challenged people. You know, the deranged-looking ones who get ushered past everyone else, singers who are merely mediocre but not completely mental and therefore boring, told they're awesome and that "the judges are going to love you," and then get reduced to plates of pulled pork. They haven't brought in anyone with actual Down syndrome yet, but that's just because the idea hasn't tested so well. When they figure out a way to sell it, however, they're going to pull the local short bus right up to whatever hotel lobby they're using for preliminaries. In the first few weeks of each new season the show should actually be called Ha! You Signed a Release.

It's a never-ending contest to see who'll be the most cruel, Simon or Randy. They both have their moments. This week it has been Randy's show, mostly, coming out swinging in what always appears to be a desperate attempt to establish some sort of on-air personality for himself even if it means biting Cowell's rhyme. He tried the catchphrases, and he'll probably keep trying them, even though you know he envies Tim Gunn and "Make it work" to an unhealthy extent. It's a tough job, admittedly, being the one who isn't known for being mean or high. Simon and Paula have their niches; Randy's is still just to call people "Dawg." Is that how anyone wants to be remembered?

Anyway, here's what happened this week:

Wednesday's episode

We see thousands of people standing in line, filling arenas and being herded through preauditions. Most never even make it to see the judges; only the best and the rock-bottom worst do. Someone leads them in cheers of "I'm the next American idol." My favorite guy they catch on camera is a mook pulling a series of Laverne and Shirley-era "Big Ragu" faces and bugging out his eyes. I know that doesn't narrow it down much, but he was there, I promise. According to the best TV movie ever, Life Is Not a Fairytale: The Fantasia Barrino Story, this crowd-onslaught stuff was not something Miss B. had to put up with. The way it plays in the docudrama, she was late, and they almost didn't let her in. But then that might have been a fib to keep Lifetime's "human atmosphere" budget in check. Either way, it's a good story. I like to think she just waltzed in last, stolen diapers from the local convenience store in her purse, wowing the judges with a gospel screamer rendition of "Iron Man."

Cut to a girl in a cowboy hat making a high-pitched moaning sound. My partner looks at me and says, "If she put out a CD, and they chose it for Record of the Week at Aquarius (which, by the way, is the greatest record store on the planet, just so you know; they're in San Francisco and they cater to weird music-loving people everywhere. I get no money for saying that, but you should check them out at www.aquariusrecords.org), you'd totally buy it. Don't act like you wouldn't."

And he's right. I would buy a CD of that.

So, OK, they're in Minneapolis. In our house that's an opportunity to shout, "Minneapolis!" for no real reason, like the way Janet Jackson does in the song "Nasty." And they have a guest judge, Jewel, a woman whose body of work is the closet thing to aural misery I've ever heard. So I'm happy to see her here. Seacrest's voiceover talks about how she's one of the few artists who've "earned" the right to be known by one name. I suppose that some people do refer to her by that one name, but in my house she and her small praying hands of kindness come with four syllables: That Fucking Jewel. Yes, I said four syllables. I'm from Texas.

First up: A Mall of America employee who is also something of a That Fucking Jewel impersonator. She weeps over the amazing opportunity she's about to be given. Then she goes in and sings a That Fucking Jewel song for the object of her affection. Uncomfortable and stunned that the producers have already pranked her this early in the process, that object appears ready to slit her own throat. Then the audition girl breaks down and cries. Then she leaves the audition room and cries some more. Moral for the kids: Don't overidentify with the famous. You're not their friend; you're their client.

Next: Gross guy with stringy, clumpy, disgusting, possibly vermin-filled sex-repelling beard, crumpled fedora, and purple shaded sunglasses announces he "does not own a broadcast television" and doesn't know the show. Or how to dress, or how to groom himself. He probably goes to Renaissance Faires. It is also probably a fake audition. I'm convinced that those exist in numbers greater than we know. He sings a song about people pinning him to the ground and spitting on him. The lyrics also include unveiled threats to the spitter. It's a great song, but I'm sort of overwhelmed by the desire to kick him in the face.

Next: unintelligible guy who seems somewhat gay and borderline crazy or possibly mentally not quite there, the first of the new season. Simon calls him a "2-year-old." This is also the first example of a new trick they've decided to play on the aspirants: the one where they leave one of the two audition room doors locked, so that when the recently dissed push it angrily, it doesn't budge. It's not a bad one, that trick. Then comes a guy dressed as Apollo Creed. He falls for the door trick too.

Heartwarming moment: 16-year-old former crack baby Denise Jackson sings "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" loudly enough to be shipped off to Hollywood, where crack is widely available.

More people who can't sing pass on through and back to their can't-sing lives.

Shakira's best friend's cousin's sister comes in and begins grilling Seacrest about his sexual orientation. "Do you like Spanish girls?" she says.

"Yes," he says. He leaves out the part about how he likes to go buy zapatos with them, but whatever.

"Really?" she continues the interrogation. Then she calls him short. She talks about being from Colombia and coming to the United States with two backpacks and her teddy bear, as well as, I'm guessing, a stomach full of heroin bundled into those snug-fit condoms that she passed after cute-ing her way through customs. She says, "Whassup, Jewel," and calls Simon "See-mone." I kind of like her heavily accented stereotypical ways already and hope she can sing now.

Then she sings. She's just OK. But adorable. Coochie coochie!

More people who can't sing make their way through, including a cowboy guy who shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. That Fucking Jewel asks him to his face if he's serious. He says that he is, in fact, really serious, which is unfortunate.

Then a Navy guy in uniform sings "In The Navy." OK, that's a lie; but he sings, and he's OK. He's going to escape being shipped off to war for now. Did you hear that, singing people of the armed forces? You can totally escape the pointless war you might be killed in if you have the pipes. Take that, George W. Bush.

Then comes the girl who impersonates the Cowardly Lion, a vocal coach that Randy can't hate enough, a country-singing blond chick who's like Kelly Pickler 2.0, a very pretty African-American secretary who has to endure Simon and Randy's wink-wink sexual harassment, a possibly gay boy with a nose mole (maybe a zit, who knows) and some unresolved issues with his parents, and a young female mechanic Army Reservist. Of these, Pickler Deux, Mole Boy, and Army Gal go through.

They end the show with a 16-year-old juggling boy and a frightening female superfan. Superfan says that she and Idol are BFF. Simon has to ask what BFF means. Superfan is shocked. "Best friends forever," she chirps. Then she says her favorite contestant was heart-throbbity Ace Young from last season. Randy responds to this with, "Who's he?" Nice one, Randy. Ace just swallowed a bottle of pills. Anyway, Superfan also got a tattoo inspired by Ace. Then she sings "Under Pressure." It's nasty, of course. Then she claims to have a degree in vocal performance, which means she should sue whatever university gave it to her.

But it's the 16-year-old, the one who was about 11 when this show first aired, who embodies the cultural impact of this show better than anyone I've seen. "Fuck them," he screams as he returns to his waiting family and Seacrest. Then he bursts into furious sobs. "They hate me...16-years-old...I want to start out famous." Then, a woman I assume is his mother says, "You'll be famous. You're going to be famous. You are." She may or may not be aware that she's helping to aggravate a condition that's seriously infects the population of the United States. I like to call it the "I deserve it all right now, so just give it to me, on national TV if possible" syndrome. It afflicts more people under 30 than anyone else, but it's spreading quickly into the older generations too. I blame Puck from Real World Season 3 for all of it.

Thursday's episode

The auditions have moved on to Seattle. Seattle is like England minus the awesome accents, tweed production or bragging rights to having invented Joy Division. Mostly it just has rain, and stinky hippies who weren't stinky or hippie enough to cut it in Berkeley, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; or Olympia, Wash. The camera cuts to the crowd of hopefuls huddled under umbrellas. A damp, shrieky African-American woman announces, "I LOVE SEATTLE'S RAIN. IT ROCKS!" But I have no doubt that she's lying. Every black female friend I've ever known in my life, without exception, has been the mortal enemy of rain because it fucked up her hair.

According to Seacrest's voiceover, the judges hate Seattle because it's providing them with fewer viable contenders than they've ever encountered in a major American city, and all they've found is a lot of loonies who can't sing. This means two things: 1. The producers and story editors love it here; 2. Because the Pacific Northwest is the national capital of suicide, we can expect to finally hear about an Idol -related self-delivery sooner rather than later. So far there have been none besides the fake William Hung heroin overdose story that has been going around. I know this because I Googled "American Idol" and "suicide" together and spent, like, 30 minutes hunting.

Seacrest announces that about 9,000 people have come out to audition. I make my partner do the math because I'm sort of numbers dyslexic: it comes out to 2,250 Hacky Sacks. The camera pans the crowd. There's a woman holding a homemade sign that reads "Dream Chaser." If anything can make me depressed about this show, it's that.

Here's who stays:

1. A cute, baby-faced guy with a giant afro who talks about how he wants to win on this show, so he doesn't have to "bust [his] butt" to get famous. Hey, man, I have Kelly Clarkson on the phone. Yeah, she's laughing out loud right now, but hang on because she really wants to talk to you about something, I don't know what.

2. The spiky-haired human beatbox boy. The gays will love this one.

3. The Indian brother and sister.

4. The tall guy from Venezuela.

5. The chick who's almost 7 feet tall.

6. The girl with the curly hair who sang the Celine Dion song and made my partner's ears bleed when she hit the high notes.

I suppose I could have given you all their names; but really, until they get chopped down to a manageable number I don't see the point. If you're watching, you remember these people as the air pockets of sanity in the sinking, capsized boat of auditory canal scraping provided by...

1. The nearly toothless red-haired bearded guy who said, "Not many redheads on TV in this day and age. I look like Carrot Top, but everyone says I'm way cooler than him." Sadly for Carrot Top, this guy is way cooler.

2. Disturbing bug-eyed guy that Simon calls a monkey.

3. Seemingly developmentally disabled, red-haired, obese boy.

4. A Taylor Hicks-like hairstylist freak who tries to pomade Simon and gets rousted by the bouncers who stand alongside the judges off-camera. This makes me happy because earlier in the episode I wondered aloud to my partner, "When will they show someone getting violent or trying to touch the judges?" So I got my wish.

5. The second Uncle Sam/Apollo Creed-dressed person in two nights. Maybe it's going to be a bit like the one-door-locked thing.

6. The guy who sings the Misfits song "Die, Die, My Darling."

7. The weeping mom who values the opinion of her tone-deaf 6-year-old over that of her husband. Her husband was right.

8. The frightening serial-killer-stare guy

9. The Grey Gardens-y mom-daughter team who also happened to write a novella about Simon Cowell. Speaking of that, is there American Idol erotic fan fiction out there? If you're reading this and you know of any, please e-mail me at my Web site, listed at the end of this recap. I've got to see it.

10. "The Hotness." She's my favorite person so far. Why is this? Well, for starters, she calls herself "The Hotness." Apparently it was a name she earned in high school from people that I can only assume were mocking her. She's got those fish lips that curl up and cause an under-the-nose shadow that resembles a lady 'stache. Or it might actually be a lady 'stache. She's got her www.gofugyourself.com outfit on, and she sings "Tenderoni." But it's her postsinging commentary, a string of defiant nonsequiturs lobbed at Simon ("[Your] opinion don't mean nuttin'... You don't leave no stone unturned... Whatchoo know 'bout music... Why am I here? Why are you here?... I'm here to sing") that really make my night. Simon responds with, "I don't think you should have come here today." And then she slam-dunks him with the best Idol-sponsored sentence of the week: "Well, that's your matter of opinion." When does Amy Poehler unzip this girl and climb out, hop around on one leg, and yell, "Jealous?"

But really, here's the thing, contestants, if you really want to crack on Simon, you just have to say one of the following:

1. Didn't you create Il Divo?

2. Didn't you used to have sex with Sinitta?

Either one of them. That's all it takes. He won't feel insulted at all. But trust me, they're both solid burns.

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