American Idol "Best of the Worst" Special: The Good, the Bad, the Uglyby Bruce Barker -- 02/20/2003
When the announcement was made that there would be an American Idol special featuring the best of the worst auditions, there was a lot of discussion as to who would be best suited to write the recap. It fell to me because I can endure. It fell to me because I am brave. It fell to me because of my experience in music. It fell to me because I'm the one that's partially deaf.
Let me say at the outset that the person who decided to present the singers in short, fast-paced, themes instead of an hour of haphazard random performances deserves a big raise. A parade of terrible vocals would have made for exhaustive viewing, but there was some apparent thought that went into some of the grouping and it made for a much more entertaining hour.
The show started off on a very promising uh, note as we are treated to Carrie Hunt performing an impeccable "God Bless America." This is used as a segue to a collection of the worst of the "patriotic" auditions. We see Lamont Flanders wearing what is apparently a plain gray set of sweats except for the fact that it seems that so much static electricity is collected in it that half of his remaining wardrobe has clung to the front of it. From there we skip to Daniel Anderson, one of the more notable bad auditions who forgets and then mangles the words to the national anthem. Even his lame, "Play ball!" at the end of the song is bad enough to cause a mass exodus to Canada. The patriotic theme concludes with a falsetto assault by David Gavin who provides us with yet another of the things American Idol hopefuls should not do: If you have a size 34 waist, do not audition while wearing size 26 briefs.
Randy Jackson opens up the next sequence by introducing Monica Songok, who sings with an off-key quiver to her voice that made me long for a nice Yoko Ono boxed set. From here we quickly jump to Dino Yazzie's performance of "The Greatest Love of All." This audition causes us to realize that the real greatest love of all would come from the woman who can manage to sit through listening to him sing. In one of the more notorious moments from the early auditions, the judges are stunned into silence, which Dino fills by singing even more.
Intermingled in the special are auditions from people who dazzled the judges in the original cattle calls, but somehow lost it when they got to the second round of eliminations. Antorey Scott is one such singer. We are treated to the exciting rendition of the Stevie Wonder classic, "I Wish," that breezed him into round two. So what happened? He showed up for the second audition with a pom-pom hairdo that would have made any self-respecting poodle jump off a roof and a pair of glasses that would have stripped the cool off of dry ice.
The next sequence was a mock commercial for a set of cds entitled "Shmowtown." Numerous Motown classics are butchered in such rapid-fire fashion that the names of the singers can't even be displayed. Most are almost unrecognizable and all can be yours for the unbelievably low price of $247.99 - not including $23 for shipping, of course.
Randy is then shown explaining that the auditions are a long and grueling process for the judges. I started to dismiss this just as quickly as I dismiss professional athletes who get paid millions and cry about how unfair it all is, but then I thought about it for a moment. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it must be like. Long days filled with an endless stream of humanity, each person believing that they have a real shot at stardom. How many renditions of "A Moment Like This" would you be able to tolerate? Just how easy is it to keep an interested expression on your face when a contestant walks in and proudly announces they will be singing the 400th version of "I Will Always Love You" that you've had to listen to today? Some things are simply not worth enduring at any price!
Randy continues on, speaking about the lyrical butchery that often takes place. We see Chris West not only mangling the words to his chosen song, but also shows us that if you are going to stick one finger in your ear and another on your chin, you had best be singing Jim Croce's "Operator" or you are only going to look like a refugee from a 1-800-CALL-ATT commercial. Then we get a reprise of my favorite moment from the cattle-call auditions. Patsy Charles delivers the longest version of "Unchained Melody" in history. The producers of the show give us a montage of the seasons changing, the sun setting, the judges growing beards (all but Paula of course) and a baby dozing in a pram. Simon then informs the girl that she could never make an album because it would only contain one song!
In yet another amusing mock advertisement, Edwin McCain appears singing his much-abused "I'll Be" as he strums his guitar. In this public service announcement, he pleads on behalf of songwriters everywhere that if you are going to audition for American Idol, have the decency to treat the songs with respect. A writer, he explains, displays his innermost soul to the public with each lyric and melody. The ad then cuts to several performers destroying McCain's biggest hit - butchering lyrics, losing the tempo, and singing so badly that one begs for rain to fall angry on a tin roof just so it will drown out the agonizing noise of the singers. We see McCain weeping and know exactly how he feels.
One of the unusual things about this year's crop of singers is the number of twins that showed up. There's Tawnya and Shawndry, a reprise of the Morgan Twins singing "Fallin'," and Paula tells us how surprised the judges were at the sheer number of duets this season. In a moment heavily hyped in the pre-broadcast ads for the special, Crystal and Kristen Shepherd are shown yodeling their hearts out. Sadly, the audition has been so heavily edited that the moment seems even shorter during the show than it did in the advertising. While certainly no threat to Jewel, this was a bit with a lot of potential to be a real high point and I was disappointed to see it brushed aside. In the last moments of this segment, we once again see masters of denial, Brandon and Brian Forrest, argue vehemently with the judges and refuse to accept the reality that they just aren't good enough to make the cut.
After a legitimate commercial break, Ryan re-introduces Mariah Carey wannabe Terra Daddonna, who gives one of the most memorable hideous moments from the auditions. Simon rightly tells her that the only part of her that is remotely like Mariah is her hair and sends her packing.
Which brings us to Edgar. We may want to forget him, but he's earned his place in American Idol history as the consummate con artist. We see him perform in Miami, sounding like a mouse caught in a trap. After getting brutally dissected by the judges, he leaves and tells everyone they'll see him on the show and that they should all remember to vote for him. He then appears at a later audition in Hollywood, lies his head off in front of the cameras, and auditions a second time. For his second performance he risks causing an international incident and almost single handedly destroys the NAFTA treaty by singing in tuneless Spanish.
We now see a teaser of a huge argument between Paula and Simon. In this segment Simon fires off my personal favorite put-down of a performer:
"Ring up the war department and offer your services. You've just discovered a new form of torture!"
The singer that sparks the major battle between the judges is Lisa Leushner. Her talent is undeniable, but like a number of this year's hopefuls, she is packing a bit more junk in the trunk than the average pop star. Simon trashes her for being overweight and Paula blows her cool. Now one might think Simon's constant carping about obesity would set Randy off before it would offend Paula, but Randy is far more of an industry insider and is familiar with the rules of the music scene (indeed, last year he got into an argument with at least one contestant for saying he was overweight). Paula is more of a victim of the rules. The size of Paula Abdul's thighs was a source of much noise at her label when she began making videos - so much so that one of her videos was shot in a widescreen format and then shown in "full screen" mode. For those unfamiliar with the process, the end result is that everything on the screen is stretched and give an almost funhouse mirror skinniness. This was all done in an attempt to make her appear less "thick" in the video. Paula immediately lashes out at what she sees as Simon's perpetuation of "eating disorder" stereotypes. In fairness to Simon, he didn't start the trend, he merely gauged it and demanded that his artists adhere to the slim standards. This however, takes nothing away from the truth in Paula's comments and if American Idol really wants to embrace the changing tides of music this is a topic badly in need of further discussion.
The next compilation of auditions is what can only be called the "excuse" sessions. Once again, no names are provided, just a rapid fire series of singers explaining the various maladies that prevented them from giving a good performance. One young lady ticks off everything from laryngitis to pneumonia in a vain attempt to get the judges to reconsider. Sadly, all this particular Typhoid Mary succeeds in doing is making the judges wonder if plague is about to make a comeback and if they should check to be sure medical insurance is included in their contracts. One brave soul even says that her performance was hindered by her recent hemorrhoid surgery! One can only wonder what orifice she was "singing" out of during her audition, for we are blissfully spared any of that footage!
In another clip of a singer who wowed the judges in the first audition, we experience the real treat of once again hearing Aliceyn Cooney performing "Angel." Simon talks about her wonderful voice and then we see a clip of her performing in the second round. She still sounds pretty good! In a curious moment Simon talks about how some very good singers just fall through the cracks and expresses regret that Aliceyn didn't make the cut. It made me wonder if there may be plans afoot to bring her back in the wild card competition in a couple of weeks. Stranger things have been known to happen - especially this year with the exit of Frenchie.
We're getting close to the end of the special now and we see Adam Plotch give a hysterical performance of "Baby Got Back," suffer through Antoine Flowe talking his way through his song, and Victoria Mayers, who has a voice so shrill that she is now employed as a content provider for a dog whistle company. With building momentum to the finale, generic and rapid-fire bad performances from Kelli Gracey, Jessie Duchene, and Michael Druck are inflicted upon us.
It is now time for Bad Fashion Show Theater. Green hair, zoot suits, tie-dyed Stetson hats with matching shirts, and all manner of frightening outfits parade by, leading up to the now famous seamless pants of Nathaniel Golden, who performs "My Girl" as if he's never heard the song before. This segment left me disappointed because I wanted to see the singer with the electric Christmas light pants perform. During the actual auditions we were only given the briefest of glimpses and I wanted more. If any of the production team reads this - it would be a great treat for it to be included on the season 2 DVD!
Finally we come to the moment we've all been waiting to dread. It's the final performance. The man dubbed, "the worst singer in the world" by Simon. Keith once again performs "Like a Virgin" and cements his legacy for all time. It's like watching a train wreck and it's impossible to tear the eyes or ears away. The special concludes with a nice montage of some of the more gifted and outrageous dance moments of the contestants to "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." In a rather nice bit of sound work, the song concludes by coming back again to Keith "singing" his version of the tune.
With eardrums bleeding and eyes bloodshot with shock I turned away from the television set feeling curiously entertained by the nice job that was done in compiling the various clips. Then I remembered that the premiere of ABC's new reality show, I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here! was about to start. Hopefully RealityNewsOnline will be providing recaps (but of course: here it is!) and I hope even more that my byline won't be at the top of them. Watching and writing about Keith is one thing, but Melissa Rivers? Hey, even I have my limits!
Mr. Barker is co-owner of Movie Boss (www.movieboss.com), a free online movie game, and author of "Zippers," a humor column that looks at mistakes in movies. He can be reached at BBarker@movieboss.com.
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