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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 Chico Alexander, Jason Block, Don Harpwood & Gordon Pepper, GSNN

Ryan Seacrest
Judges: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson
Creator: Simon Fuller (based upon "Pop Idol")
Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller
Packager: 19 TV, FremantleMedia North America
Origin: CBS Television City, Los Angeles, CA
Airs: Tuesdays at 8pm ET and Wednesdays at 9p ET on Fox


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Auditions: Philadelphia
January 15

For the millions of fans who put Jordin Sparks on the radio last year, they’re the four words that you’ve been waiting seven long months to hear. THIS... is “American Idol!”


We start, as always, with the biggest round of auditions ever devised for television. From all the bodies, only one will win a recording contract worth a million dollars and the chance to become a superstar.


And the search begins, quite appropriately enough, in the birthplace of the cheesesteak. Welcome to Philadelphia, home of the first American museum, library, daily paper, and of America itself. Will we find the next Will Smith? The next Boyz II Men? The next Az Yet? Or are things just going to get a little... “Rocky”?


PHILADELPHIA, PA – Wachovia Center


Of course you know these three, producer extraordinaire and former bassist for Journey Randy “the Dawgfather” Jackson, Grammy-award winning singer/dancer/choreographer Paula Abdul, and international media mogul (he paid me to say that... no he didn’t) Simon Cowell.


Season 7 begins with Joey Catalano (19; Mays Landing, NJ), who lost about an entire person before doing this (204 lbs). He’s still the same inside. There’s something in him that’s on fire. His piece for the judges is Maroon5’s “Sunday Morning”. Randy thought it was pleasant. Simon thought his voice was great, but is he the American Idol? THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD, 3-0. Good start, there.


A patriotic crowd has shown up, and Alaa “Yuka” Youakeem (25; Jersey City, NJ) is about as American as it gets... for a guy from Egypt. He loves the Bee Gees. He also loves American girls, and wants to save himself for someone he can love from head to nipple. His words. And apparently he has a sexy face. Does he have a sexy voice? He tries out “How Deep Is Your Love”. And everything Joey was before... this guy isn’t. Paula is impressed by the way he learned the song. She appreciates the work. But this isn’t the competition for him... because... well, no one actually fields that one.


Melanie Nyema (26; Los Angeles, CA) shared a stage with Taylor Hicks (singing backup).  She sings Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”. And we have our first strong female presence. Paula likes everything about her. Simon is neither here or there. Randy likes it, so she’s THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD, 2-1.


James Lewis (22) is hoping to keep things going in the right direction. He has a history of doing that as a tour guide. He likens himself to Eddie Vedder, and says his specialty is anything low. “Go Down Moses” is about as low as it gets, both tonally and morally. Judges can’t stop laughing. That’s definitely not a good sign. Appropriately enough, he sings “I’ll Fly Away”. Please do.


Lunch time, and as we see the famous crack in the Liberty Bell, we hear another crack, the voices of Nick Stano (22; Massillon, OH), Sybill White (16), Zhengzhong Yu (20; Guilderland, NY), and Junot Joyner (25; Bowie, MD), but in the latter case, it’s actually a decent crack in the armor of suck that seems to be outfitting the city of brotherly love. Simon says it’s good. Good enough to go THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.


Following him to the Wood are Jose Candelaria (23; Bayonne, NJ) with “Regresa a Mi (Unbreak My Heart)” by Il Divo and Jonathan Baines (17; Smyrna, DE) with “A Little More You” by Little Big Town.


Golden tickets are flying out of here. Will Temptress Browne (16) take one? She’s a middle linebacker. Seriously. She’s doing this for her mother, because she’s very sick and it’s hard for her to breathe. (C-Note: Already, I’m rooting for her, personally). She sings “I’m Not Going Anywhere” by Jennifer Hudson. Personally, give her a few years for her voice to mature. Simon: “You are a sweetheart and I like you... You’re not a great singer.” It’s a three-way no. But she does get a group hug out of it. So it’s not a total loss.


Mark Hayes (18; Folsom, NJ) can do a cricket noise as a heckle. After hearing his rendition of “White Christmas,” ... well, it’s called karma, dude.


Next is Udgeet “Udi” Sampat (28, Horsham), who incorporates music into his job as an auto financier as a means of motivation. He dresses up like MC Hammer. Already, hopes are not high. He tries out “My Way” by Frank... Stick to your day job. Simon: “Did you honestly think you had any chance of getting through and winning?” He did. “Well, you’re nuts.”


“I Love Rock’n’Roll” fake-audition montage.


Real auditions continue with Alexis Cohen (23, Allentown), who loves to sparkle. She likes her look. She thinks “Allentown” was written by Bon Jovi (lucky this isn’t Jeopardy!). She lives in a one-room apartment with her mom, where she studies to be a vet and is an artist. “Always have true faith, and always be victorious” is her mantra. “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane is her audition. I think she overcooked it myself to the point of the pitch bending. Simon thought it was possessed. He suggests being a vet or, as Randy would put it, the leader of a 60s cover band. 0-for-3 on their judgment. And she takes it with all the maturity warranted for the situation. “Simon didn’t like me, but he’s a big fat bad-word. Very-very-bad-word.” She then goes on to call him a (^_^) and moon the camera while Simon compares her to Willem Dafoe. She says she’ll leave here with her dignity. Right before she gives the camera the finger, so... yeah, so much for that. Good luck with your “actressing.”


Hour 2 begins with more golden tickets... and more cute kids and moms. Angela Martin (26; Chicago, IL) is both. Her daughter has Retts Syndrome, like cerebral palsy. This was a development after two years of age. She wouldn’t be where she is without her family and friends. This is for them more than anyone. Fame has nothing to do with this. She has her own band (she plays bar mitzvahs). She sings “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” by Stevie. Reminds me of Fantasia. That’s a good thing, by the way. Simon thought it was a good audition, but filled with bad wedding-band habits. She’s also very infectious. Angela... three yeses... THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.


And down goes Seacrest.


The next day in the Illadelph begins with the crowd joining in one of the man GSNN mantras: spreading the love. We’re off to the races with Alyse Wojciechowski (20; Havertown), who dances like the drunk girl at a party and sings like Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and Regina Spektor... allegedly. She sings Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good”. It’s a little bipolar. Simon thought it was identical to a nightmare he had a week before doing this. Nightmare continues with Teresa Anello (22; Sewell, NJ) and Brandi Park (25; Chandler, AZ).


Meanwhile, Milo Turk (39; Absecon, NJ), despite being overage, balding, and not even stickered, is trying to get into the toughest room with a song called “No Sex Allowed”. I’ll leave it to you to determine all the things that are wrong with that last statement.


Next is Kristy Lee Cook (23; Selma, OR), who lives in a log cabin, loves camping, rides and trains horses, and looks freaking hot. She had to sell her horse to get to Philadelphia. Oh yeah, and she trains for cage fighting. She sings “Amazing Grace”. Apparently she doesn’t need to throw a punch to knock out the judges. Simon is reminded of the 60s in a good way. Paula loves her control. Three votes say yes, and Kristy Lee is THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.


“Family Guy: Blue Harvest” is out on DVD. That’s relevant, because Ben Harr goes into the judges room dressed as Princess Leia from “Episode 6”. He says that his chest hair is distracting, and decides to take a minute to do something about it. Meanwhile, we get the frightening likes of Pedro Rivera (19), Shekhina Bathyehuda (29), and others who are free to use their free speech to freely express the phrase “(^_^) American Idol”.


Next up, Paul Marturano (32; New Hope, PA). The only thing you need to know is that he wrote a song about stalking Paula Abdul, breaking into her house, and putting on her underwear.


You know something, an hour into this, and for what we’ve heard about instruments, I haven’t seen any.


From one stalker to another. Time to meet Beth Stalker (28; Grand Blanc, MI). She’s a stay-at-home mother/club singer who cut a record when she was 4 as “Little Liz”. She sings “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”. Now she’s no Ella, but she does take me back to that. But she’d have a problem standing out. Paula’s the decider... 2-1... and she’s THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.


Ben Harr is back in the same get up... but with less hair. He took it all off for American Idol, and he tries out with “Don’t’cha” by PCD. He’s one bar in before we give him the hook. Hey, say no to crack, man. “All because that fat lump wants to be on TV.”


For Chris Watson (20; Dover, DE), it’s more than just TV. He wants to be a legend 30 to 40 years on. He likes a little bit of everything. He sings “Follow Me” by Uncle Kracker. Simon thought it was pretty good, and that he both looks and sounds like a star. Randy says he can afford to take a few chances. Paula feels good about him, so hey, he’s THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.


Auditions went downhill from there.


We’re down to two girls, Christina Tolisano (24; Enfield, CT), a Star Wars fangirl who wants to be a corrections officer. “If you don’t know this hairstyle (C-Note: the... uh... thing... from, uh... that one guy who was wearing the jazz a few minutes ago... did we mention that “Blue Harvest” was on DVD?), then you’ve been living on the other side of some M-class planet on Star Trek somewhere. She sings the Roger Daltrey version of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”. Seems like she’s trying to do a lot with not much. Randy: “That was a strange audition,” in both the audition and the costume. She thinks they need a goofball. They do, not going to get it here, though. “Give my love to the Wookiee.”


Love, your Leia bun fell out again.


On the other hand, we have Brooke White (24; Van Nuys, CA). She could be the goofball we’re looking for.  She’s a nanny. A singing nanny. Something interesting about her: she’s never seen an R-rated movie, drank or smoked. Her OR her husband. She sings “Like a Star” by Corrine Bailey Rae. Very wonderfully. I think we’ve found the Philadelphia goofball. Randy and Simon think that she’s genuine. Simon hopes to drag her kicking and screaming into the dark side. (Brooke: “I dare you.”). It ends with Brooke being put THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD along with 28 others.


And Christina Tolisano has one more bunch of sour-grapes for whoever will bother to listen.


And so our coverage of AI7 begins. Here’s an easy-to-follow preview.


January 15 – The auditions begin... Dude, you just read it
February 12 – We separate the good and the great, and the final 24 to the rest of the great in the dreaded Hollywood Round
February 19 – The Semis begin with the final 24
March 6 – The final 12 is revealed, and so is a little wrinkle in our annual Fantasy Idol competition. We'll let you know what it is when we get there.
March 11 - The road to the Kodak begins with the final 12.

May 21 - After five months of watching, three months of voting, and 1 hour and 55 minutes of filler, the next American Idol is crowned.


We’ll leave Philadelphia and look to the home of the very first American Idol Dallas tomorrow with these words of wisdom. Star Trek... Star Wars... a Time Lord cares not about these things.