''American Idol''

'American' Cheese

Is the show in a sophomore slump? Media-conscious singers, overly predictable judges, and a tired host all add up to a disappointing debut, says Bruce Fretts

American Idol | QUITE AN EARFUL ''Idol'' hopefuls attempt to harmonize
QUITE AN EARFUL ''Idol'' hopefuls attempt to harmonize

Is the show in a sophomore slump?

It was almost enough to make you miss Brian Dunkleman. Like Simon Cowell, I was ''just bored'' by the season premiere of Fox's ''American Idol.'' Maybe the show came back too soon. Maybe it's better suited to summer viewers' extra-low expectations. Or maybe it's suffering from the dreaded reality-show sophomore slump.

You know what I'm talking about: The second season of any reality series is never as good as the first, because the participants know what they're getting themselves into. They self-consciously replicate behavior they've previously seen on the show. It happened on ''The Real World.'' It happened on ''Survivor.'' And it's happening on ''The Osbournes.''

Thus, on ''American Idol'' hordes of talent-free singers showed up to audition for the judges, aware that their unlistenable performances would almost guarantee them airtime. Wasn't the ratio of awful to halfway-decent singers more equal before? Sure, a few of the losers were genuinely delusional -- Nathaniel Golden Jr. (he of the ripped-up-the-side jeans and thong) and Edgar Nova (the Enrique Iglesias manque who had to be escorted out by security) spring to mind. But you've gotta figure the guy who wore the wizard get-up and the woman who had to plug in her outfit knew they weren't going to make it to the second round and just wanted to grab a little quick TV exposure.

The judges went through the motions as well. Simon seems to have run out of nasty quips; most of his comments were variations on ''You're the worst singer ever.'' Randy Jackson annoyingly kept addressing everyone as ''dude'' or ''dawg,'' and Paula Abdul blandly continued to look on the bright side (''I've never seen so much commitment,'' she backhandedly complimented Edgar).

Meanwhile, solo host Ryan Seacrest failed pathetically in his attempts at humor (his funniest line, a reference to ''my good friend Will Smith,'' may not have been intended as a joke). And ''special correspondent'' Kristen Holt, who'll go to her grave reminding us she was the one who fell under the table, proved about as useful as virtually invisible ''Joe Millionaire'' host Alex McLeod.

Among the contenders, only a few stood out: the identical twins whom Simon cruelly threatened to separate; the bridge-and-tunnel girls with a mutual boyfriend; Tirrell Anthony, the image-challenged crooner (elbow patches?) who bragged that "Mr. Luther Vandross himself said I had a special voice"; and the plus-sized belter Frenchie Davis. That said, I'll probably keep watching the show and end up getting hooked on it, just like I did last summer.

What did you think of ''American Idol''?

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Originally posted Jan 22, 2003
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