Ready, set, fail at 'Idol' audition

The Baltimore Sun

Here is the question you have to ask yourself when tuning in to the season debut of American Idol tonight: Is there something wrong with me?

Do I enjoy seeing pain in others?

If there were butterflies around this time of year, am I the sort of person who would tear their wings off for kicks?

Then why do I want to watch people who can't sing humiliate themselves on national TV and get thoroughly dissed by judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul before slinking off the stage with their hearts broken and egos shattered?

The question has to be asked because this is how a new season of Idol starts, with the infamous auditions filled mostly with painfully bad acts by, ahem, singers who fall in one of two categories: Either they have no idea how terrible they are or they secretly know how terrible they are but act as if they're clueless.

Sure, the auditions also unearth a few promising acts who will hone their talent as the weeks go by and eventually achieve the peculiar fame - but not always fortune - that comes with being an Idol champion or runner-up.

But for the most part, what we'll see in the next four weeks will be a lot of bad acts that would get booed at 1 in the morning by a crowd of drunks at your corner bar's karaoke night.

A shrink would have a field day dissecting why viewers tune in to these auditions.

Surely, it says something about our souls and our psyche that we enjoy seeing people fail.

And after they fail on Idol, we enjoy seeing their effort savaged by the sneering panel of judges, led by the contemptuous dark angel himself, Simon Cowell.

Look at the contestants when Cowell begins his post-performance vivisection.

All the hope drains from their little faces. The light in their eyes goes out. Their cheeks burn with embarrassment. They're stunned by the savagery of his critique.

In medieval times, the king would have entertainers who displeased him whipped.

Now we put them on TV and watch them die - and then we mock them.

It's much crueler this way.

And better for the ratings.

On the other hand, some Idol viewers tend to dismiss the auditions and only start really paying attention to the show later in the season, when the talent and creativity of the remaining singers really begin to shine.

I know, I know ... what's wrong with these viewers?

Don't they know how to have any fun ?

Of course, the poster boy for horribly embarrassing performances in the early weeks of Idol remains the great William Hung, who was so bad - and so seemingly unaware of his lack of talent - that he set a new standard for the exploitation of the clueless.

An engineering student at the University of California, Berkeley, Hung delivered a stunningly inept performance of the Ricky Martin song "She Bangs" in 2004, with spasmodic accompanying moves that called to mind a man stepping on hot tar with his bare feet.

It earned the requisite cruel laughter from the judges and scathing derision from Cowell. ("You can't sing, you can't dance, so what do you want me to say?")

But in this case, Hung was so bad - and so clueless - that he became a cult hero of sorts.

He appeared on TV talk shows, made another appearance on a special edition of Idol, cut an album, was seen in commercials, had a documentary made about his life and even appeared on TV sitcoms and in movies.

In other words, he made bad singing - and cluelessness - work for him.

Will a similar scenario happen again as Idol begins its seventh season ?

Will another earnest young performer with zero talent throw himself on the sacrificial altar to be gored by Cowell for our entertainment pleasure?

We can only hope.

After all, these are hard times for network TV.

There's a writers' strike going on, or haven't you heard?

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