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Midwest proves to be Midworst on ‘Idol’

Two Hours in Minneapolis. It sounds like a horror movie, and indeed the Minnesota auditions weren’t a picnic for the judges. By Craig Berman
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Two Hours in Minneapolis.

It sounds like a horror movie, and indeed the Minnesota auditions weren’t a picnic for the judges. At one point, Randy called it “Minne-hopeless,” while Simon berated one reject by saying, “You have just summed up Minneapolis for me … useless in everything.”

But the real victims weren’t the traditional trio of Simon, Randy and Paula (augmented by Jewel as a guest judge). Nor were they the doomed contestants, who generally got off relatively easily.

This time, it was the audience who got the short end of the stick.

“Idol” enters its sixth season with a lot of momentum; it’s the bully on the block that other networks are scared to program against. Maybe the producers got together and decided that they missed the challenge of going against tough competition and thought they should level the playing field, or maybe the lawyers in Washington called and said that Fox risked antitrust violations for dominating Tuesday nights.

Either way, this wasn’t exactly an explosive start to the year. The top contestants weren’t that great, and the bad ones weren’t amusing enough to be worth the energy it takes to mock them.

Extended miseryThis being the audition round, the focus was on the delusional wannabes whose lack of sufficient talent was obvious to everyone but themselves. Instead of using the two hours to highlight more people, however, “Idol” instead just let them drone on and on to chew up time.

The extra minute or two of Jessica Rhode sobbing after hearing the bad news from the judges wasn’t really necessary. Nor were the multiple chances given to Jesse Holloway.

Trisha Giese did a great imitation of the Cowardly Lion from “Wizard of Oz,” one viewers heard about a dozen times before the night was through. It didn’t help. Tashawn Moore is hardly the first contestant to forget the words, but she may be the first who got five minutes of airtime to fumble through Prince’s “Kiss.”

Dayna Dooley’s boss flew her to Minneapolis for a second chance at auditions, and all it did was to get Jewel to protest when the male judges offered unsavory reasons for why a boss would choose to fly out his secretary. Considering the boss also took along his wife and the girl’s sister, and was going to a wedding, odds are good that Simon and Randy have just seen one too many late-night movies at the hotel.

Brenna Kyner claimed to have every episode of “American Idol” on tape, and a tattoo of a heart drawn for her by season five contestant Ace Young. But it only took a few seconds of Queen’s “Under Pressure” to realize that all those hours of TV-watching didn’t teach her what it takes to win.

On the other hand, Troy Benham claimed he’d never seen the show before, nor did he know who the judges were. That seems hard to believe, but at least he exhibited less ego than some of his rivals. “I didn’t say I was great, I didn’t say I was the best, and I never said I would be the next ‘American Idol,’” he said. He got axed both for not being good enough and not recognizing the importance of sticking to the clichéd script.

Calm day in the Midwest
Despite the long day of overmatched auditioners, there were comparatively few meltdowns. In fact, one of Simon’s favorite phrases seemed to be “I think people will like you.” Considering he normally doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks of anything, maybe he was a little happier than normal after getting some good deals at the Mall of America.

Randy did take some cheap shots at voice coach Stephen Horst when he blew his audition, saying “I wouldn’t take vocal lessons from you. I wouldn't tell anyone to take vocal lessons from you, coming in singing like that.” Even Simon said he wasn’t planning to get that personal.

Jason Anderson sang, juggled and danced for the judges, and did none of them well. He seemed calm when the judges rejected him, then dropped f-bombs like they were going out of style as soon as he was out of the room, before breaking down in tears. Anderson is a good example of why 16 is often way too young for people to be trying out for the show.

I love a man in uniformThe judges may have their nasty streaks, but they’re still suckers for soldiers in uniform. That seems more than fair — anyone willing to face hostile forces one day and Simon’s barbs the next deserves every chance at success.

Jarrod Fowler came to Minneapolis the winner of the “Reagan Idol” award, given for winning an “Idol”-like competition on the USS Reagan. His version of Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road” made him sound like he was more scared by the judges than anything he’s seen in the Navy, but he got the nod anyway.

And his story paled in comparison to Rachel Jenkins. Not only is she an army reservist, but her husband is a sergeant currently serving in Baghdad. She had all the intangibles going for her, and her voice was good enough to tip the balance.

But contestants didn’t need to be soldiers to have the backstories that help nudge hopefuls to Hollywood. Sixteen year-old Denise Jackson said she was a crack baby “born with a gift, a wonderful gift — I can sing.” The judges agreed, and she made it through.

And of course, it never hurts to be a good-looking woman. Perla Meneses was born in Colombia, and sounded like that during parts of Blondie’s “Call Me.” But when the judges asked her to do a little Shakira, she rose to the occasion and advanced. The fact that Simon did a double-take as she walked in was probably a good sign.

Those were four of the 17 who made it to Hollywood.  The attitude of the judges and the lack of obvious star power make it seem like it will be a long time before the show returns to Minneapolis. The frequent dissing of the city by the judges and Ryan Seacrest means that odds are small they’ll be asked back anyway.

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