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Faux fights and other ‘American Idol’ clichés

After seven seasons, just how shocked could Paula Abdul possibly be by Simon Cowell’s acerbic assessments?
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Intentionally awful auditions

Image: William Hung
BURBANK, CA - APRIL 8: \"American Idol\" reject William Hung appears on \"The Tonight Show with Jay Leno\" at the NBC Studios on April 8, 2004 in Burbank, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** William HungKevin Winter / Getty Images North America

Talent competitions and bad auditions go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately, on “American Idol,” bad just isn’t bad enough anymore. Sure, “Idol” viewers have seen loads of would-be singers overestimate their talent and warble their way through “Unchained Melody,” but the camera loves someone who’s willing to take awful to the next level. Enter the intentionally bad hams of show. They know they can’t carry a tune, but that’s not going to stop them from a shot at gruesome televised glory. And why should it? Season three’s William Hung translated his ear-splitting “She Bangs” audition into a three-record deal.

Faux fights

Image: Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell
AMERICAN IDOL: L-R: Judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell on AMERICAN IDOL airing Wednesday, Jan 23 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX

You’d think, with all those desperate hopefuls competing head-to-head for a chance to be the lone “Idol,” frequent fights would breakout amongst the pop star wannabes. But no, the judges, along with helpful host Ryan Seacrest, take care of all the on-air fracas. To make matters worse, the fights rarely ring true. After seven seasons, just how shocked could Paula Abdul possibly be by Simon Cowell’s acerbic assessments? She knows he’s going to dash someone’s dreams in the most offensive way possible, yet she still lashes out like she’s never heard the man before. Then there’s Simon and his favorite sparring partner, Ryan. There’s hardly a topic those two can’t tackle without turning it into a duel of thinly veiled and presumably rehearsed gay-panic jibes.

The glory note gone wrong

Image: Clay Aiken
Former \"American Idol\" runnerup Clay Aiken performs on ABC's \"Good Morning America\" summer concert series in New York's Bryant Park, Friday, July 29, 2005. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)Jeff Christensen / AP

Some songs have a moment where the vocals swell and express all the built up emotion in one powerful, climactic note. That’s the glory note. It has its place and works beautifully in a tearjerker standard, like “Over the Rainbow.” But glory notes are practically de rigueur on “AI” now. Any old pop song or country ditty is ripe for the glory treatment. It’s sort of showy shorthand for “not only can I hold a note, I can hold it longer and louder than any songwriter ever intended. Behold my greatness.” Clay Aiken squeezed the glory note for all it was worth in the second season of competition. Since then, it seems everyone wants to match his mastery of the unnecessary.

Sob story as strategy

Image: America Idol

During the audition process, singing talent just isn’t enough to get one noticed, at least where the lens is concerned. The best airtime goes to the contestants with the best back-stories. The sadder it sells, the better. Sickly loved ones, personal ailments, a death in the family — anything that really tugs on the old heartstrings will do. Those tales of woe might even be worth a trip to Hollywood. But warning to the wannabes: they rarely take you beyond that. Teary-eyed teen Josiah “living in my car” Leming learned that lesson last year. His story got plenty of mileage in the early days, but he was out before the song-centric final 24 hit the stage.

‘I’m sorry to say… You made it!’

Image: Hollywood hopeful on \"American Idol\"
AMERICAN IDOL: Omaha Audition: Chris Bernheisel 25, Fremont, NE, gives gifts to Simon and Randy on AMERICAN IDOL airing Tuesday, Jan. 29 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX

How do you tell a group of stressed out singers their big break is finally on the way? By tricking them into thinking that they’ve lost their only shot at it, of course. There’s the “We’ve got some bad news for you… You’re going to Hollywood!” approach, or the equally annoying, “You’re not going to like this, but… Congratulations!” spiel. Heck, Randy Jackson and the gang have honed their “Hate to break it to you… You’re on to the next round!” lines to a frustratingly predictable and unwelcome art form. It never gets old… to them!