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How to succeed on ‘Idol’ without really trying

Ryan Seacrest offered six steps to consider, some more obvious than others. The trick is, most of the advice was tongue-in-cheek. Follow it and a contestant might get on TV — but probably not a ticket to Hollywood. By Craig Berman
/ Source: contributor

If viewers are to take “American Idol” at its word, Wednesday’s episode was a public service announcement of sorts. The point of the extra-special bonus episode was not only to highlight more of the best and worst auditioners, but also to show how to succeed on Idol without really trying.

The show offered six steps to consider, some more obvious than others. The trick is, most of the advice was tongue-in-cheek. Follow it and a contestant might get on TV — but probably not a ticket to Hollywood.

For example, the first step — or “The Look.” As Ryan explained in his voice-over, “In a sea of 100,000, it us very easy to get lost. A snappy little outfit might be just what you need to stand out.”

Of course, standing out might get a contestant on the show to be mocked, but costumed people tend not to have a high success rate of actually advancing. Christa Fazzino showed up in a funky outfit that extolled her individuality, but uniqueness in fashion sense isn’t what the judges are interested in. She got her few minutes of airtime — but she ultimately also got the boot.

As a counterpoint to that, the show brought out Tami Gosnell, a Colorado native who didn’t show up in costume, didn’t have a particularly fantastic personality, and didn’t look like a candidate for the cover of teen magazines even after a makeover. One mitigating factor was in her favor: She could sing. Her rendition of “Whipping Post” proved that, as Ryan conceded, “mad skills” outweigh the need to play dress-up.

The next lesson was to “Seek Inspiration,” with some predictable clips of Taylor Hicks wannabes. But the world doesn’t need more than one prematurely gray harmonica-playing pop singer, and therefore none of the imitators did very well.

On the other hand, Paul Kim, a California pool boy, said he was inspired by William Hung, which sounds like a trainwreck waiting to happen. Instead, it was all good. The inspiration came from wanting to show that an Asian could succeed on the show as something other than a good-natured joke, and he accomplished that with a strong performance that wowed the judges and got him a unanimous pass into the next round.

Familiar facesOne angle that has been given a bit more airtime than previous seasons is that of repeat performers. It seems like every city had an auditioner or two who made it to Hollywood in previous seasons before getting cut, hoping for another chance.

Gina Glocksen illustrated lesson three, “Never Give Up.” Glocksen sang well enough at the auditions last year to reach the second round before ultimately flaming out in Hollywood. She gets a chance to do better this time around, showing that the judges saw her slip-ups in Hollywood as something other than talent-related.

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It’s also a good idea to ascribe to “Idol” tip No. 4, “Audition on Your Own.” There’s generally a reason why producers send contestants before the judges in pairs or trios, and it’s almost always bad.

The example shown Wednesday didn’t look promising — three roller-skating waitresses looking to move from serving burgers and fries to guest-hosting “The View” within a 12-month period, the way Kellie Pickler did last season. Instead, two of the three got golden tickets, and Ebony Jointer was actually one of the better female vocalists profiled this season. So apparently it’s OK to audition in groups if skates are involved.

Of course, dancing had to be a part of the clip show, which led to “Lesson 5: Shake Your Moneymaker?”

The answer to that question is nearly always “No.” Alexander Nazario epitomized the problem — he had the moves of Paula Abdul, and the vocal stylings of Paula Poundstone. If he was on “So You Think You Can Dance,” he might have stood a small chance of advancing. Sadly, even Paula wasn’t swayed enough by Nazario’s gyrations to give him another chance.

The final lesson dealt with a growing problem on the show: “Clarity, Clarity.” This one should probably have gone without saying. Note to contestants: If the judges can’t understand a word of the song being sung, the odds of making it any farther are slim. Instead, the idea is to be like Lakisha Jones, who belted Aretha in a powerful yet easy to understand manner, and was rewarded with effusive praise and a trip to the next round.

That concluded stage one of the “Idol” season, which saw 172 contestants make it to the second round and approximately 99,828 fail miserably in their attempts. Next up: Hollywood, where the judges really get mean.

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