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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 21 - Auditions: Houston

After stops at New York, where we picked up Scooter Girl, and Atlanta, where the curse of Keith was acted upon full force, we head to Texas, home of oversized toast, our current President, and a singer by the name of Kelly Clarkson that you kids might be familiar with.

But all is not popstars and toast today, for as soon as we roll into town, so does a Texas-sized thunderstorm. Can't be a good sign.

Another bad sign, #12025. That belongs to Markeis McCray, who is doing (get this) absolutely nothing. He says he has a 1-in-4 shot and that he wants to take his Idol prize somewhere else to see what he can do with it. Randy, Paula, and Simon kindly invite him to take his ass somewhere else without one note.

Lucas Dixon has more notes on him in the guise of "How Sweet It Is". Sweet as it is, he's amazingly flat and twangy. Too flat and twangy. And yes, the scare on Simon's face is justified.

Simon: "Tell him the problem, Randy, from a record company perspective."
Randy: "The problem from just the musical perspective is you can't sing!"

If you've seen promos, no doubt your familiar with Fookling Lee, who skipped high school, went to Harvard graduate school, had a singing pedigree, and was trained in three instruments as a child. Wait, you haven't? Well, you remember that glittery chick in the blue shirt that Simon said "was like listening to another language?" Yeah, that's her! And understandably so. You know it's bad when you have to listen to the end of the song to figure out what song she was singing (in this case it was "I Can't Stand the Rain"). Well, at least she has that Harvard education to fall back on.

Moral of the story: Stay your ass in school.

Simon: "Allegedly the song was 'I Can't Stand the Rain', and on cue, it poured with rain. I turned to Randy and said 'No one was going to be as bad as this girl.' Wrong."

Cue the bad from Keneshia Harold, Candace Sibley, Latrice Godley, and Carlos Pacheco.

Outside, it's still raining. Harder than before, I might say. Could it have something to do with Sarah Santiago's performance of "That's the Way It Is?" It might. She can't hit it on proper pitch, half step down, OR full step down. The depth really does not shine here. She insists it's nerves. I say, it's a frickin' maelstrom, and the judges tend to agree with me.

Randy: "It's making me scared. It's thundering and lightning outside."

Wow. The worse she gets, the worse the weather gets. Freaky.

Bad rain reference #3: Stephen Rainwater, who sings "She's a Lady". He's half a step off and the dancing isn't helping either.

Simon: "..."
Randy: "..."
Chico: "Can't you say anything besides dot dot dot?"
Randy: "What's going on, Houston? Houston, are you there?"
Simon: "No, Houston, we have a problem."

And the problem doesn't go away on its own, as Mallory Mayeux relies too much on her butt and less on her actual intonation on "I'm So Excited." I'm so scared.

Simon: "That was 1.5 out of ten. If I were to say it was mediocre, it would be the biggest compliment you've ever been paid."
Paula: "Mallory, that was... terrible."

Mallory begs to differ, and Simon takes her up, challenging her to go to the nearest mall and round up 10 people who think otherwise. She can't even scrounge up one. And oh my god, she's scaring the little children! "Guys at parties like it," Mallory defends. Guys at parties are also drunk.

Meanwhile, it's still raining down water and poor talent. Houston, we have a SERIOUS problem. But every cloud has a Silva lining. Enter Sarah Silva. She actually hits a lot of the notes in "At Last." When she doesn't elide. Don't get me wrong, I have absolute respect for the power of the trill (as I have used it once or twice before in performing), but there's a time and a place, and Sarah was clearly overdoing it.

Simon: "It was just over the top."
Paula: "I think you're very talented."
Randy: "I'm cool. I'm good. I liked it."

Two out of three ain't bad. But she needs to check the frills at the door if she's going to Hollywood. Can Kiira Bivens follow suit? She sings Christina Aguilera's "I Turn To You"... with Christina's voice. Ah, again with the trills. She has one of the better voices in Houston, but she's simply singing the song. She's not telling the story. And by that, it just proves Jim Rome right when he says that this is little more than just glorified karaoke.

Randy: "I liked the voice, but I hate the yodel."
Simon: "She yodeled!"
Paula: "You know what bugs me about you. You're just ... affected. (C-Note: Hard to define, but easy to explain. See "Performing As")"
Simon: "That's exactly the word I was looking for!"

An act-versus-talent turf war brews between Randy and Paula, while Simon steps out for a cigarette. Paula steps out for a refresher, while Randy is left to put her through to Hollywood. Oh dear. I'd just say that she better find her own niche beforehand.

The next day, and Paula is MIA with the flu. Awwwww... Time for some harsh truth at last. None of this sugary-sweet bull. The bastard twins Randy and Simon let Lesley Thomas have it between the eyes. "It's a horrible singing city! I gotta call Beyonce and see what the problem is." You see, Beyonce's from Houston, and we're in Houston, and... yeah.

"For once, I envied Paula Abdul. Why? Because she wasn't there," Simon quips. "Once again, contestants proved that they can't take criticism. Case in point: Lonnie Hightower." Actually, he's not really that bad, but he showboats. No room for that here. But perfect for Broadway.

Next up: "It's Ryan Seacrest." "It's George!" That's George Huff, and I've got four words for him: "What Not to Wear." He belts out "You Are So Beautiful," which sounds like my dad's old R&B records. Mainly Donny Hathaway, I think. But this guy can hit.

Randy: "He might be one of these people who can grow in this competition."

But Simon and Randy are willing to hear more of him, as he gets a golden ticket. "Be young." A few more golden tickets later, we get Christopher Huang, who thinks that America needs a Hong Kong superstar. His "I Can't Help Falling in Love" is on key, but the complete and utter lack of tone more than cancels that out. On the other hand, the incredibly hot Cassie LeBeau only needs one astonishingly powerful bar of "Stormy Weather" (bad rain reference #4) to make it to the next round.

Could we be in the middle of a turnaround? Roman Gutierrez hopes so. "I Can Love You Like That" is his song, and all-over-the-place is his tone and pitch.

Simon: "You can't sing."
Roman: "How do you know that?"
Simon: "Because these (points to ears) work."

Another nerve rack? Hardly. Roman insists on singing again. Which he does. Only problem? Simon and Randy had already left the room.

And so we've come to this... the final showdown in Houston. The last guy? Jonathan Rey. He butchers Shakira's "You're the One I Need", and it's safe to say that the thirteen people who did get callbacks are all that Houston had to offer. Randy is prepping for his trip to LA, while Simon says Jonathan's terrible. Simon prepares to leave the room, while Jonathan prepares a little rainstorm of his own; thanks to Simon's drinking glass (bad rain reference #5), which, contrary to the corporate labeling, had water. Jonathan quickly sings for local authorities. Simon decided not to press charges. Final tally: 13 people going to Hollywood, five bad rain references, one ass-shakingly bad Pointer sister, and one soaked judge.

"What an ending. Goodbye Houston."

And hello LA, next time.

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