''American Idol'': Breaking all the rules
There are four standard scripts for American Idol's female auditions (non-joke variety), and they can be pretty much summed up like this:
1. Hot looks, hot voice: ''You're going to Hollywood, baby!''
2. Borderline looks, hot voice: ''Congratulations, we're putting you through to the next round.'' (Be thankful.)
3. Hot looks, borderline voice: ''I dunno, I mean, that was kinda all over the place, but, hmmm...there's something I like about you. You deserve a second chance. You're going to Hollywood, baby!''
4. Borderline looks, borderline voice: Sorry, hon, not even Paula's on your side.
If you don't fall under one of those headings, it's a pretty good bet the show's producers are tossing you into the dignity dumpster reserved for the homely, the obese, the deranged, and the deluded none of whom can sing, none of whom are traditional beauties, and all of whom can be ridiculed for a few minutes of highly rated entertainment (guilt apparently not included).
Imagine my surprise tonight, then, when right from the opening audition of the Birmingham, Ala., episode, the joke was on a pretty, blond, 19-year-old ''biological science'' major with a tiny waist, an ample bosom, and a wonky singing voice. Pity poor Erica Skye because Simon, Randy, and Paula did not. Girlfriend was playing the skimpy-top card and raised the stakes with come-hither grins and an eager-to-please demeanor, but after launching into a shaky, breaky rendition of Simon's favorite song, ''Unchained Melody,'' not even the flirty Brit had the urge to indulge; instead he described Erica's performance as ''never-ending torture.'' By the time she embarked on an unsolicited second number, even Saint Paula lost her patience, retreating stage left and looking desperately for something maybe some earplugs, maybe a security guard, or quite possibly a Taser.
Any which way, Erica's crash-burn set the tone for an unusual evening of Idol. There was Paula labeling handsome Bernard Williams II as ''completely off-key'' on his rendition of ''Rock With You,'' while Simon and Randy played good cops and gave him a not-quite-deserved golden ticket. Later in the show, Paula again took the lead on a critique, telling wide-eyed Jamie Lynn Ward who wins this season's Kellie Pickler Trophy for most alarming audition-round sob story that her voice went nasal when she went in for the heavy lifting on Christina Aguilera's ''Reflection.'' (That said, the kid did have a pretty tone, though it'd be a shocker if she made it past Hollywood.) And later, Nichole Gatzman, a comely teen whose rendition of Bonnie Raitt's ''Something to Talk About'' showcased a voice at least as good as Ward's, got an unceremonious heave-ho from Randy and Simon because...well, just because.
Meanwhile, Chris Sligh, the love child of Jack Osbourne and Sideshow Bob, got Randy howling with his joke about wanting to move David Hasselhoff to tears, then elicited what may have been Simon's most genuine smile of the season following an affecting take on Seal's ''Kiss From a Rose.'' Not only that, the kid's exit-interview comment that Paula ''crumbled in my chubby little hands'' was a refreshing break from the bland therapy-speak most Idol contestants spout into the microphones when they're not singing. Even if he wasn't blessed with that killer voice, Chris' personality makes him a reasonable top 12 bet.
I'm not convinced we saw any other potential finalists tonight. Tatiana McConnico made my day by choosing Aretha's awesomely awesome ''I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You),'' but despite a powerhouse voice, she sounded a little too rushed, and acted a little too naive to handle the massive wave of pressure headed her way. Katie Bernard's version of ''A House Is Not a Home,'' meanwhile, was perfectly acceptable, and I wouldn't have even had trouble with her high-pitched speaking voice if she'd used it for good, not evil. In other words, it's cute when my four-year-old niece squeals and dances when she's on a sugar rush, but such behavior elicits far less charitable feelings coming from a married woman of 19.
And speaking of charity, when it comes to tonight's self-aware train wrecks (''look how crazy I can act'' bird lady Margaret Fowler and ''look how sassy I can act'' Brandy Patterson, who committed heinous crimes against ''Like a Virgin''), I'm following that homespun rule about not saying anything at all if you don't have anything nice to say. Well, actually, that's sort of a fib. It's not really about kindness; it's just that I set my kitchen timer when I started writing this column, and (hooray!) the ladies' respective 15 minutes are already up.
What do you think? Were you particularly impressed by any of the contestants who were shown getting golden tickets tonight? Were you impressed with Paula's performance? And, like me, are you ready to toss the audition shows in the box to the left and let the real competition start in Hollywood?