Pop Culture

Seattle’s bad singers rain down on ‘Idol’

The pre-show buzz was that this season’s “Idol” auditions in Seattle were the worst in the six-year history of the show. The acerbic Simon Cowell made that very clear when he told the local press just that after the first day of tryouts, and the national media got the same message after Day Two.

Anyone who still doubted got the authoritative word from host Ryan Seacrest, who brought the audience back from a commercial break by saying “Welcome back to the talent vacuum that is Seattle.” (Considering that Seacrest spent Wednesday’s show bashing Minneapolis, it will be interesting to see how the ratings for his syndicated radio show do in those cities next week.)

There’s musical talent in Seattle. But perhaps the show’s producers should have kept in mind that the band most associated with the city is Nirvana. And many of the auditioners seemed to epitomize the lines from “Smells Like Teen Spirit”: “I’m worst at what I do best / And for this gift I feel blessed.” The singers who were good sounded better than the ones who made it through on Tuesday’s show … but the ones who were bad, were horrid, and they blessed the judges with some cringe-worthy performances.

Pop goes the contestantsSeattle’s music is most famous for its grunge, hardcore, alternative and metal bands. It’s not really known as a center of pop music, and this “Idol” episode won’t change that impression. But most of those who tried out would be out of place in any type of musical activity, even karaoke.

Kenneth Briggs and Jonathan Jayne became friends while waiting in line, and got to tell about their new status as BFFs to the cameras. The former was short, thin, and described by Simon as looking like “one of those creatures who live in the jungle with those massive eyes”; the latter was much larger and looked like he could eat his buddy for breakfast. Shockingly enough, neither made it. But expect to see both again at the season finale so Ryan can breathlessly tell us if they stayed in touch.

Hairstylist Eric Chapman was this year’s “guy-hoping-to-get-on-by-looking-like-last-year’s-winner.” He almost got a rude exit, as the bouncers raced in once the rejected Chapman walked over to the judges’ station and made like he was going to fix Paula’s hairdo. In his defense, it’s about time someone did.  

Nicholas Zitzmann said that his co-workers in Utah encouraged him to try out. Either they don’t like him very much, they’re compulsive practical jokers, or there isn’t a lot of musical talent in the Salt Lake City software industry. Simon called his attempt at “Unchained Melody” “almost non-human,” and that was a fair indication of its quality.

Jennifer “The Hotness” Chapton got bonus points for the nickname, but lost them all when Paula had to remind her to spit out her chewing gun before she began. If nothing else, she served as an example to young girls everywhere that their seventh-grade science teachers are right when they say that nobody takes gum-chewers seriously.

Last, and possibly least, was Steve Thoen. He tried to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and failed so miserably that Simon said, “It was like a 1-year old was singing that song.”

At least some were realistic about their performances. Melissa Stavros admitted that she “sang like a goat.” David Mills got slammed by Simon, then told the cameras that “it’s been a major wake-up call for me.”

‘I don’t have to bust my butt’Even most of the people who made it through in Seattle didn’t have the look of the traditional “Idol” success stories, though they did sound a lot better than the crew that made it from Minneapolis.

This was the third time Thomas Daniels had tried out for the show. He said his attitude is that making it to the finals would be good because “this way I don’t have to bust my butt — just hop on the elevator and say, ‘Hey America, vote for me!’” That sound viewers heard afterward was a million struggling musicians throwing their instruments at the TV screen in disgust.

Then again, wanting to be famous without having to work very hard is truly the American dream for most viewers. Daniels became the first Seattle contestant to advance, though he may be shocked and saddened at how hard he’ll have to work if he actually hopes to win.

Blake Lewis showed up with spiked hair and a professed talent for beatboxing, normally a recipe for a beat-down from the judges. But after he demonstrated that skill, he sang an over-the-top version of Seal’s “Crazy” that showed the judges enough to earn him a golden ticket.

A sister-brother combo whose father was a classically trained musician in India both made it through. Shyamali Malakar went first and sang a nice “Summertime,” but the judges liked her little brother Sanjaya better. That should make for some interesting household dynamics as they prepare for Hollywood.

Anna Kearns was the tallest of the auditioners — at 6-foot-7 in heels, she made the already diminutive Ryan Seacrest look like Mini-Me. She sang Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” a choice that’s usually fatal because it encourages people to yell. Indeed, Kearns was loud enough to shatter windows across the city, but made it through anyway. Perhaps the fact that she was almost inducted into the Air Force before being diagnosed with a weak heart got her the courtesy military trip to Hollywood.

Then there was Jordin Sparks. She doesn’t need this competition to avoid the breadlines — her father is former New York Giants cornerback Phillipi Sparks. While Simon was only moderately impressed, Randy and Paula gushed over her, making her the latest “best 16-year-old contestant ever!” Of course, that designation didn’t keep Lisa Tucker around for very long last year.

The biggest disagreement came when Rudy Cardenas finished. Simon brushed him off with a quick no, and Paula reacted in her usual calm way: “Are you kidding?!! One million percent yes!!!!!” That left it up to Randy, and since Cardenas paid homage to the judge’s Journey roots by singing “Open Arms,” the outcome was preordained.

That may be the last time “American Idol,” Seattle and “Open Arms” may be heard in the same breath for quite some time. The judges don’t look either to return, and after all the name-calling, the city probably isn’t eager to bring Simon and company back for another bashing session anyway.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington, D.C.

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