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Paula gets weird on ‘American Idol’

The most notable thing about the show was how bizarre Paula Abdul was, even by her own standards. Though she was only there one day, she did her part to make it an unforgettable trip.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Eleven seconds.

That’s how long it took for Ryan Seacrest to make the first “Sweet Home Alabama” reference on “American Idol” on Tuesday.

Birmingham, where they love the governor, is home to former “Idol” winners Taylor Hicks and Ruben Studdard, and runner-up Bo Bice. It had earned the visit from the “Idol” crew, even if the price was a Skynyrd joke before the first shot of the city skyline.

Apart from that predictability, the most notable thing about the show was how bizarre Paula Abdul was, even by her own standards. Though she was only there one day, she did her part to make it an unforgettable trip.

What's up with Paula?Paula began the show by getting out of her seat and walking away in horror as Erica Skye attempted to sing “Unchained Melody.” In fairness, the judges have to listen to an awful lot of bad versions of that song during the audition season. Because the Internet says that’s Simon’s favorite song, a bunch of hopefuls with average voices twist themselves into contortions trying to get the vocals out in the mistaken belief that the attempt will cause the British Grinch’s heart to grow three sizes that day. 

Unfortunately for Skye, this was not that day. She wasn’t very good, and compounded the sin by trying to sing several more songs and refusing to yield the stage. That insistence on singing a second or third song is becoming a disturbing trend — with all the millions “Idol” makes, they need really to invest in a gong. But it certainly wasn’t worth Paula’s lurching off as though Skye needed an exorcism or something.

Then came Paula’s treatment of Katie Bernard. The 19-year-old with a speaking voice like a toddler but a surprisingly strong vocal range had the support of Randy and the disapproval of Simon. That left things up to America’s favorite cheerleader

Instead of making the decision on normal reasons, like the quality of singing or overall score on the pop star looks/sob-story meter, Bernard had to bring in her husband to convince Paula to send her to Hollywood. Paula insisted she should “enjoy marriage,” presumably by standing by her man and not becoming some pop-singing floozy like … well, never mind. But then the 1950s called and told Paula to give them their morals back, and Paula relented and gave Bernard the thumbs-up.

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She followed that by being a rare dissenting voice on the wrong end of a 2 to 1 decision to send Bernard Williams II to Hollywood, and chided him with a “humble pie!” when he started to razz on Simon for saying he didn’t think the next Idol would come from the city. Later, she put her hands up to her face like they were paws and panted like a dog after Simon forgot his role on the show and actually complimented her assessment of another hopeful.

After having so much fun on the first day, Paula missed day two for “family obligations.” Conspiracy theorists, have fun with that one.

‘I really want to make David Hasselhoff cry’Paula’s theatrics aside, Birmingham proved to be a match for any city in providing the good, the bad and the just plain bizarre.

Tatianna McConnico is the most polished 17-year-old to audition since Paris Bennett, who made it all the way to fifth place last season. She’ll face the same hurdles Bennett did, in that it’s hard for someone that young not look like a little kid in a competition like this one, no matter how they sound. But she definitely showed she was one to watch down the road.

If there’s any justice, Chris Sligh should at least come out of this show with a career in the entertainment industry. OK, he looked nothing like a pop star, what with the Jack Osbourne glasses and the perm. But not only was he a surprisingly good singer, he provided the best answer in the show’s history to the time-honored why-do-you-want-to-be-an-American-Idol question: “I really want to make David Hasselhoff cry.”

Not only was it funny, it was a shout-out to the show, since Hasselhoff was reduced to tears by Taylor Hicks’ performance in the finale last season. That reference alone should hopefully get Sligh all the way to the final 12, regardless of how he sounds in Hollywood.

This year’s Kellie Pickler?Jamie Lynn Ward definitely belongs on some sort of television show. A 17-year-old from Reidsville, North Carolina, she dreams of being this year’s Kellie Pickler, complete with the straight-out-of-the Lifetime-Channel back story. She lives with her grandmother and takes care of her father — who’s paralyzed because he caught his wife cheating on him, shot her and then himself.

Ward says that if she wins, she’ll buy her grandmother a one-story house so it’ll be easier for her dad to get around. That would make her a candidate for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” though the nature of the shooting may not quite offer the feel-good scenario that the producers of that show usually have in mind. But it was that back story that got her to Hollywood, since her voice is a lot rawer than even Pickler’s was at this stage of the completion.

The ordinary bad didn’t get a lot of airtime. Nichole Getzman’s mother had allegedly told her she had no talent, but that didn’t stop the teenager from sobbing in mom’s arms after a rare positive “come back and try again later” rejection from the judges. Most rejected contestants apparently thanked the judges for their comments anyway, judging from the Southern-people-sure-are-polite montage.

Victoria Watson seemed like a genuinely nice person, and she had a genuinely nice voice, even if it didn’t really sound like a pop singer’s. But she was on the air because of her six feet of hair. She’s never had it cut in her 18 years. Simon and Randy made her sing in front of her mother, with similarly long hair, and then Simon rejected her and made her cry. That won’t make Rosie O’Donnell very happy.

Brandy Patterson was the city’s designated meltdown, letting the judges have it after their dismissal of her performance. She does get credit, however, for inventing a brand-new excuse; she blamed the wooden floor for her struggles, but then sounded equally bad on carpet.

But the most memorable of the hopeless was Margaret Fowler. She claimed to be 26, then admitted to 33, then said she was 50. Maybe she was really 135. Who knows? Dressed in bright yellow and sounding like nothing resembling a legitimate hopeful, she looked like she could be Martin Lawrence or Eddie Murphy playing a character.

In all, 20 people made it out of Birmingham. Each is hoping the skies will be as blue in Hollywood as they were for the city’s previous “Idol” success stories.

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