American Idol Day 2: January 16, 2008

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Auditions: Dallas

We rejoin American Idol at the scene of its prior triumph, the Lone Star State. Six seasons ago, Idol’s one bona fide success, Kelly Clarkson, rose from the anonymous ranks through the Dallas auditions to a win spot in America’s heart and on her radio. With 13,000 people gathered to test their merit, Dallas was rife with lessons for the aspiring Idol-ologist.

Class is in session!

Lightning never strikes twice: No less aware of Clarkson’s Texan pedigree are many of the Dallas auditioners, and American Idol’s producers treated us to a montage of “Since U Been Gone”s that tested even that most unassailable single. Brave Clarkson wannabes included a young man who did a leaping split, a girl in sad-mime whiteface and a young woman dressed as a witch, complete with green skin.

…except when it does: More successful than Clarkson’s imitators was 24-year-old Nina Shaw, from Kelly’s hometown of Burleson, Texas. Nina’s rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Run to You” was too old-fashioned for cutting-edge Simon, but Randy declared that retro’s in, and Nina squeaked on to Hollywood after Paula gave in, too.

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Be your own woman: 18-year-old Kady Molloy is a talented vocal impressionist who treated the judges to spot-on mimicry of Britney Spears and Carrie Underwood. But on Idol, integrity comes first, and Kady was reprimanded for not showing the “real” Kady. When she did, Simon declared her voice the best he’d heard this year, and she was sent to Hollywood with instructions to prepare songs that feature the real her.

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…but only if you are a woman: Drag queens fared poorly at the Dallas auditions, though the best set of legs we’ve seen yet this season were the mini-skirted gams of a young man who brought in a picture of himself in male attire to illustrate his versatility. His “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” didn’t make it past the judges, who know that singing talent is rare in Hollywood, but transvestites are a dime a dozen. A much poorer drag specimen, wearing a dowdy housedress and five o’clock shadow, was also sent packing, and in the corridor after audition, pulled off his wig in defeat.

Tell your story: Texas came prepared with all manners of touching narratives, from the reformed meth addict Jessica Brown, now a stay-at-home mom, and the recovering accident victim Kayla Hatfield, to the just-plain-weird Brandon Greene, who came toting a bag of seven years worth of fingernails. Jessica’s torchy “I’ll Stand by You,” Kayla’s carburetor-growl on “Piece of My Heart,” and Brandon’s shuffly, aw-shucks take on Hall & Oates’s “Rich Girl” earned each a golden ticket on to Hollywood.

…but make sure it’s a good one: 19-year-old Bruce Dickson, a handsome young man with startlingly white teeth and impressive biceps, failed to wow with his blue-eyed soul version of “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone” and his hook: that he is saving his first kiss for his wedding night. Pious young Bruce wears a key on a chain around his neck, and waits only to give the complementary heart pendant to the woman he marries–though, in the meantime, in a remarkably creepy turn of events, his father wears it around his neck. “Any advice?” he asked hopefully on the way out. “Kiss some girls,” said Randy.

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Breathe, focus: Nerves got the better of several Dallas competitors, who showed just how unnerving American hopefuls can be. Douglas Davidson, 28, a heavier Dwight Schrutte from The Office, insisted on a vocal warm-up in front of the judges, then launched into a croaky “Livin’ on a Prayer” that eventually left him gasping for breath. Clearly out of his depth, poor Douglas began sweating profusely, made second and third attempts over the protests of the judges, and was eventually escorted out by security. Similarly undone by nervousness was slow-talker Tammy Tuzinski, who promised Celine Dion’s “Power of Love” and then launched into Celine’s “If You Ask Me To” instead. When the judges pointed out this discrepancy, Tammy looked stricken and could barely get out a word, which, as it turns out, was just as well–“You’re a nice girl, but it was awful,” said Randy.

…but not too much: Intense focus can work against you, though, as rocker Kyle Reinneck discovered. Glamorous in a heavy dose of guyliner (and some unacknowledged bronzer and foundation), Kyle’s version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Never Again” was marred by his crazed stare; all three judges professed to being frightened of him, an impression not helped by his homemade posterboard of kindergarten students who support his candidacy.

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There are good surprises: Several Idol hopefuls succeeded in spite of the judges’ initial reactions. Nerdy Kyle Ensley, an Oklahoman gubernatorial hopeful, gave a “very academic” (said Randy) take on Queen’s “Someone to Love,” but Simon declared he wasn’t as bad as expected, and he was sent along to Hollywood. Likewise, beautiful “Zpia” Easley, a professional backup singer, gave a frontwoman-worthy performance and was universally approved–“most backing singers come in here like whipped donkeys,” said Simon, by way of contrast.

…and then there are just surprises: The last contestant of the evening was 44-year-old Renaldo Lapuz, in an outfit that looked like a cross between a giant chicken suit and a rearview mirror. Renaldo’s song, an original number entitled “We’re Brothers Forever,” was not good enough for a spot in Hollywood but did inspire Randy, Ryan and Paula to join him for an impromptu dance performance. Paula in particular couldn’t figure out the rhythm to Renaldo’s admittedly arrhythmic song, and resorted to flailing her arms above her head and bowing. But Renaldo’s great love was clearly Simon, whose name was inexplicably written on his cowboy hat, and Paula goaded grumpy Cowell into hugging his would-be protege. “Simon, you are a great person,” says an over-the-moon Renaldo. “You are my glory.”

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Glorious! Class dismissed. See you next week in San Diego!

–Matthew Schneier

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