Behold, the children of ''American Idol.'' Following the success of Fox's not-so-original amateur hour, a spate of imitators has spread like a bad case of monkeypox. This summer, you can barely channel surf without running aground upon celebri-wannabes subjecting themselves to the scrutiny of showbiz has-beens and hangers-on.
The only authorized successor to ''Idol,'' Fox's American Juniors, just goes to show that there's a fine line between a spin-off and a rip-off. No longer in his post-Dunkleman honeymoon, emcee Ryan Seacrest has returned to his old annoying self (''I SO want to have kids after seeing this!'') as he introduces cloying clips of the tots competing for five spots in a pop band. True, some of the kids do say the darndest things (one tyke shared this tidbit about Britney Spears: ''People say in my school that she's gay''), and a few of the moppets, like 13-year-old Omaha belter Chantel Kohl, are legitimately gifted. But for the most part we've endured endless montages of youngsters -- whose parents have apparently schooled them in the Mariah Carey Academy of Overemoting -- warbling ''Over the Rainbow'' and ''Hopelessly Devoted to You.''
If only that were the extent of the bad parenting on display. Tragically, the stage mothers and fathers, who figure so prominently in the show's promos, only disprove Leo Tolstoy's famous assertion that every unhappy family is different. These postmillennial Mama Roses are all alike: failed performers with badly frosted hair who live vicariously through their offspring, mouthing the lyrics as they sing. It would be sorta funny, if the poor kids didn't have to go home with these people. Even less amusing is Fox's fixation on showing rejected contestants weeping on national TV. Is Rupert Murdoch picking up these trauma victims' inevitable therapy bills?