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In the world's ultimate talent search - where the eyes of a nation are upon the best undiscovered singers in the country, where the audience has the power to make or break you, and where a million-dollar recording contract is on the line, there is only one rule: If you can sing it, bring it.

Recaps by Gordon Pepper and Chico Alexander, GSNN

Host: Ryan Seacrest
Judges: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
Creator: Simon Fuller (based upon "Pop Idol")
EP: Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller
Packager: 19 Entertainment, FremantleMedia North America
Airs: Tuesdays at 8:00pm ET and Wednesdays at 8:30p ET on FOX

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Web design by Jason Elliott. Logo by Chico Alexander. 

January 19 - Auditions: New York

The spoken rap lyric in the Ruben Studdard song, "Play Our Song", sums it up quite nicely:

"Idol, the highest title."

And through the next three days, we'll meet thousands of people searching for that high title occupied by Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, and (to a lesser extent) Clay Aiken. Back to bring'em up is host and walking advertisement for Clairol, Ryan Seacrest.

And back to tear them to bits are cheerleader Paula Abdul (who's looking for confidence and uniqueness), truthteller and sometimes ass Simon Cowell (who believes that the first two winners - and the judges - have raised the bar this year), and dawg Randy Jackson (who's looking for someone who has their own style and doesn't sound like anyone else).

Next five months, eighty thousand will be whittled to one. That said, for the first time in seven months: "It's time for AMERICAN IDOL!"

(C-Note: as a freelance digital artist, I like the updated opening sequence.)

First stop's New York. And first audition has no shirt. From there we go to Atlanta, where we found both of last year's stars. Then Houston, LA, My three-hours-from-hometown San Francisco, and Hawaii. Why would anyone want to go all this way for a once-in-a-lifetime shot at super stardom? Well considering that Ruben, Clay, and Kelly all entered the charts at number one and together they sold over 9,000,000 CDs (I myself have two of them), it seems kinda obvious.

But back to the NYC. We're at Grand Central Station for the first phase of the preliminaries. First up, a real fantasy for Randy and Simon... a woman in uniform. Representing the 82nd Airborne is the worst shooter/cook in the Army (Simon: "Confession: hopes aren't high at the moment"). But when it comes to "Dancin' in the Streets"... Martha Krabill can shoot a tune with the cuteness of the best of them... Unfortunately, she shoots it to wound, hitting several flat notes. All three judges honorably discharge her, saying that she belongs on television, just not this show. And now, she's groveling. Yes, just go with your dignity now.

And the Army sends in another one: SSG Paul An, US Army, and his five-year monologue. At ease, soldier. He busts a rhyme... but someone forgot to tell him that it was a singing competition. In English. Another honorable discharge.

We put the spotlight on three European defects in the next segment. First up is Roland Maxharj, from Kosovo by way to Hartford, CT. He sings "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me." And right now I wish the sun would go down on him already. Very very weak performance. But hey, at least everyone's laughing.

Simon: "I even think you would do badly in Kosovo Idol. That was absolutely horrific. Thank God you don't have to sing to get immigration status."

Well, it was either singing or acting. Try acting, Roland.

Next is Bulgarian by way of Maspeth, NY, Karmen Varjabedian, who, in a contest of 90 in Cyprus, placed seventh. He... Sorry, she (voice is really deep here) sings "Strong Enough." Strong enough to try out for bass in the Achordants (my old a cappella outfit), but not for AI3.

Randy: "Has anyone ever said to you that you sound like a man?"

Third is Leah Vladowski, a Bulgarian by way of Seattle, who is the best of the three Europeans in this tryout with her rendition of "I Believe in You and Me". The judges believe in her, as she gets the first ticket to Hollywood. Particularly taken aback is Randy, who doesn't believe that "that gospel voice is coming from Bulgaria"

Meanwhile, separated brothers Jesus and Noel Roman reunite after six years for their audition of "In the Still of the Night" and "If I Ever Fall In Love". Jesus is dead on good. Noel is dead on even better. And both are on their way to Hollywood, their first adventure together in a long time. Awwwwwnext.

If you didn't get enough of the twin thing last year, we have MORE TWINS! Okay, so we only see one pair of twins. But why this pair? Why not, I don't know, people that are good? The Rosado twins yell out "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". High enough is right. Harmony is WAY off. Everyone's just doing their own thing. Must resist urge to kill. It was just wrong on so many levels.

Randy: "You need a lobotomy to work on those vocals."
Paula: "That was so wrong."
Simon: "It was painful."

Simon admits that he gets more and more frustrated as the shows progress. Next up is Rasheedah McDaniel, who sings "You're the One That I Want". Very flat, intonation and emotion-wise. Simon agrees with me, and he's willing to put money where his tongue is. Seriously. She's made a bet with Simon that he'll pay her off if she doesn't clear half a crowd at a bar. Ryan and Rasheedah head to the nearest bar and, to MY surprise, does WORSE than her audition, clearing house in record time. No money. No Hollywood. No nothing. And no audience, either.

Okay, Gordon. Let's get outta here. Oh wait. We still have half an hour left.

On the other side of the break, too much preparation + not enough voice = Jordan Ellis performing "Build Me Up Buttercup" after a lengthy (but ineffective) warmup.

"Unchained Melody" is the song of choice for Michael Keown, who has sung for the Pope and President Clinton before. And rightly so, this guy is one of the best they've heard. Very nice depth, good range. I like the velvet tone.

Paula: What can you say, it's a very smooth voice.
Simon: One of the best versions I've heard.

Michael gets his golden ticket. Meanwhile we get "Scat Girl" Jacqueline Roman. She scats through "Route 66" before finally remembering the lyrics to it. Maybe she should've prepared for the words first and THEN the scats. She sounds better scatting than she does singing, and trust me... it isn't saying much. Very very VERY flat. Oh God, she just screamed.

Simon: "What was that?"

And what's this? The next Clay Aiken? Well, he's a camp counselor who likes kids. Not to mention that he has "skinny geek white boy" written all over him (no offense to the skinny geeky white boys in the house). But the one thing that Clay has that Colin Leahy doesn't is ... a voice, as he proves in a lackluster performance of "One Step Closer" by the American Juniors.

Paula: That whole song was just one note.

And would you believe that even THAT note was off? If it's one thing that Simon hates is gimmicks. So it stands to reason that John Stevens IV's Dean Martin impersonation doesn't go over, but when he starts actually singing "The Way You Look Tonight", he gets some raves... and a golden ticket.

Now it's time for the requisite dance montage! Next up, Scooter Girl, Baton Girl, Kid Rageous, Tyrus "Star Boy" Bush, and the worst pun in AI history. Stop me if you've heard this one.

"You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little hoarse" (holds up little horse)

But back to Scooter Girl aka Nicole Tieri, who was in the hospital for anorexia. She overcame that to become one of those "overachieving children." But does she really flip for American Idol? Scooter Girl sings a song she wrote called, appropriately enough, "Scooter Girl". Good voice. Nice range. She tries again with "Power of Love", without the scooter. And Scooter Girl just make it, scooter or no scooter, as she proves herself a powerful force.

Randy: You really belong on Broadway.
Paula: Pretty spectacular. I say yes.

It all comes down to Simon, who likes her sense of humor in a humorless world. "You should never lose what is you which is your originality." This girl could win. She trades in her scooter in for a golden ticket to Hollywood. But at least Ryan can get around the Big Apple... for a while, at least. Can we give this thing away? Yes, we can. Even with the basket and everything. She joins 29 people on the bus to Tinseltown. And I join everyone on the bus to the other auditions, namely Atlanta. Which reminds me. We have to pick up Gordon at Grand Central. I'll be back on Wednesday. So, if you'll excuse me, I've got an engagement to catch.

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