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In Los Angeles, ‘Idol’ focus on the rejects

Of the 40 singers who made it to Hollywood, only three made the broadcast. Instead, viewers were treated to yet another round of bad singers and incredibly strange people. By Craig Berman
/ Source: contributor

In the annals of mean things the “American Idol” judges have done over the years, two incidents from this year’s Los Angeles auditions are sure to make the highlights. Simon, Randy, Paula and guest judge Olivia Newton-John first made a decision that earned the wrath of frustrated parents everywhere, and then the judges tried to break up a happy couple for no good reason. It’s like they’re aggressively trying to be the anti-role models.

Los Angeles is filled with young people dreaming of a career in show business, in the process crushing mom and dad’s dreams of a child with a college education, a steady paycheck and something resembling a future. Alaina Alexander was one of those hopefuls, but said she had come to the conclusion at age 24 that being a struggling performer in Los Angeles is not very much fun. She planned to quit and go back to school.

Then “Idol” came around, and she decided to give the dream one more shot.  She made the most of the last chance, and got Simon’s vote right away, but Randy hesitated because of the pitch problems and Paula was noncommittal. Alexander reacted simply: “I’m close to quitting, so it’s up to you guys to let me know what my destiny is.”

Millions of parents were hoping that the answer from the Table of Truth would be something like, “Your destiny should be to go to school, get that law degree, earn a six-figure income and maybe call your mother every now and then.” Instead, the judges told her to forget about that whole education thing and gave her a ticket to Hollywood.

Sad news for those who pitch education over entertainment, but Alexander definitely earned it with one of the best auditions of the day. The same could not be said of Cavett Carr and Darold Gray.

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Carr and Gray were lovebirds from Compton, all smiles and kisses for the cameras before seeing the judges. Then Carr tried to overcome some sketchy singing by flirting with Simon. Of course, the flirting was unsuccessful, because Simon is not Paula.

Gray came in next, and the judges all tattled that his girlfriend had been hitting on one of the judges. This again shows that while Simon, Randy and Paula are all fun to watch on TV, there’s no way anyone should want to hang out with them at parties unless they want their every drunken move to be relayed gleefully to their significant other later.

At any rate, the attempt at “Temptation Island, Idol Style” failed. Gray flashed his grill and said, “Look at my teeth … what is out there to be jealous of?” The judges had no answer for that, so they let Gray struggle through his vocals and sent him back to have a make-out session with his contrite soul mate.

If someone gets a golden ticket, and nobody hears them…Forty people from Los Angeles made it through to the Hollywood round, indicating that either the talent is much better out West or the producers lost their airline sponsorship and are trying to cut costs. Randy said before the second day of auditions that he wouldn’t be surprised if the winner came from Los Angeles, and Simon speculated that they could get a whole lot of finalists.

However, viewers will have to take their word for it. Only three of the successes (a whopping 7.5 percent) got their auditions heard on national television.

Alexander got the most time among those moving onward, but Brandon Rogers looked to be the stronger contender. Rogers has experience singing back-up to Anastacia and Christina Aguilera, and was rated the best of the bunch by all four of the judges. For good measure, Simon added “you have a likeability about you, which is something you and I share.”

Brian Miller’s experience mainly comes from “American Idol” — he made it to Hollywood last year, although Simon said he couldn’t remember him. He voted not to send Miller back, but the other three disagreed and the 19-year-old got a second chance.

And that was it. The other 37 to make it forward might have been fantastic, or they might have just had better luck flirting with the judges. We’ll never know.

Desperate for face time
Everyone in Los Angeles dreams of hitting it big in show business, with the faith required to live in a city with tons of traffic and dozens of parking spaces. People work for years just to get a role as an extra in a “House” episode, so it’s no great shock that a host of them were willing to do whatever it took to add “American Idol: Season 6” to their resumes.

Martik Manoukian was one of those people, and he made the most of his opportunity. He got significant airtime by silently walking in to see the judges, taking off his sunglasses and his shirt, and imitating a panther both vocally and physically. While the imitation impressed, the singing wasn’t good and Manoukian was rejected.

At least he got some time to preen before the cameras. Grace Pugat just got a few seconds to display her cowboy hat and inflatable bull in the audition room, and Suphat Peou’s banana costume earned him just about 30 seconds.

Phuong Pham seemed like one of those cases as well; the editing portrayed her as a Taylor Hicks wannabe whose mother had told her that the judges would probably make their decision on looks and she wasn’t pretty enough to be picked. That kind of statement, in addition to being a prime cause of self-esteem issues among young women, usually means the contestant will either pass through to Hollywood or fail in spectacular fashion.

Surprisingly, neither was true in Pham’s case. She didn’t make it through, but left quietly. Ryan even seemed sorry to see her go, saying “I enjoyed spending time with you” with nary a trace of his usual smarminess.

Marianna Riccio was a disappointment. With a mother who sang with Dean Martin, Riccio seemed like the type of contestant who usually does well — people with parents in the industry almost always get the benefit of the doubt. But apparently just being a “Gold Digger” — the name Martin gave to his backup singers — doesn’t carry the same stature as a lead vocalist does. Even bringing her mother into the room didn’t help her case, though the judges all agreed that the mom was kind of hot.

Saving the worst for lastOf course, it is a law that the last singer of the day must be terrible, and Eric Mueller did not disappoint. The 23-year-old did get a bonus, however, when Simon raced out to try and find him again after reading that Mueller’s brutal audition may have been the result of him trying to learn to sing by watching Randy and Paula’s “Sing like the Stars” DVD.

But the most memorable reject was the oldest.

Sherman Pore looked every one of his 64 years, and “Idol” has an age limit of 28. So when he made it through to the judges, it was obvious he must have a good story. And he did — he started a petition to get on the show to help cheer up his love as she was dying of cancer. Unfortunately, she died two days before the auditions took place.

The judges couldn’t very well refuse him after hearing that, so Pore got to audition. He didn’t make it, of course, but Simon shook his hand and said, “You’re a class act, Sherman. Thank you very much.”

Pore said afterwards that he was a winner just for getting on. And he was right. Getting a compliment from the crankiest judge is almost as much of an accomplishment as being one of the 37 good enough to get sent to the next round but not good enough to be seen on TV.

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