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

Ryan Seacrest
Judges: Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, Kara DioGuardi, Randy Jackson
Creator: Simon Fuller (based upon "Pop Idol")
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: Phoenix
January 13

Every mid-January, you grow to expect a few things... The cold snap of a bitter winter... A disgruntled college football fan debating the benefits of a playoff system over the B(C)S... Your W-2s... My birthday... And a Georgian of short stature appearing on your TV set and saying four magic words that galvanize a nation...


But the one thing you can't expect is the one thing that ironically you come to expect from 10 years of reality TV... That just when you think you know the game... you don't. This season of AI promises to turn what you know about the 800-pound gorilla of a series on its head as we introduce changes that will keep the players on their toes.

The first, you'll see tonight... a new judge. Let's meet her, shall we?

David Archuleta, Kelly Clarkson, Jessica Simpson, Celine Dion, P!nk, Jewel, Carrie Underwood, Enrique Iglesias, that chick from "Doctor Who"... they've all sung songs written by Kara DioGuardi, a professional singer & songwriter who was a judge on "The One" three years ago. She joins the panel of superstar producer Randy Jackson, Grammy-winning singer/choreographer Paula Abdul, and A&R exec extraordinaire and America's harshest critic Simon Cowell.

She takes her seat as we take the first audition city...


... well, technically Glendale. The home of Idol #6, Jordin Sparks. 106 degrees. 10,000 people. Unprecedented nerves outside.

Contestant #1 looks nothing like a Vietnamese kid... Tuan Nguyen (20, cashier from Spring Valley, CA). He incorporates JROTC training into his dancing. How about his singing? This is after all a singing competition. And he has big hair. He sings "The Way You Make Me" by Michael Jackson. Rather horridly. The dancing's no better. And of course, he's surprised when the judges take a pass. Tuan Nguyen becomes Tuan Lose.

Next up, the queen of rock, maybe.. Emily Wynne-Hughes' (21, singer from LA) mom was a singer, and she watcher her grow up on stage. Mom says she's always been a singer. This is the only thing she's got going for her. Oh, and she's a singer in a rock band. "Barracuda" by Heart is the song, and she sounds like a rock singer alright. Will she have the chops to make it... back to Hollywood? Simon likes her. Paula says top 5. Kara says she's serious. Meanwhile, the band not only doesn't know, but are heading for a European tour. Maybe they'll hang around once they learn that... She's THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.

The question now... how will the band take it?

Randy Madden (27, sales rep from Moorpark, CA) is a rock star living in a box. His singing comes from within. He's not in a band. He had no formal training.. He's just going to try it. And he's looking for someone to tell him he's great. He's "Living on a Prayer" from Bon Jovi. It was a bit wimpy, so sayeth Simon. Randy tries a little more chutzpah... nope. You had your chance and not only did you blow it, you make yourself look like a drama queen. And while Kara is acting like a judge, we have our first Simon/Paula judge fight of the season. Sorry, dude. Next time, try a cover band.

And cue the waterworks.

Next is JB Ahfua (16, student from Taylorsville, UT) with Ruben's "Flying Without Wings". Simon wants him to loosen up a bit. But it's a good vote. THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.

Meanwhile, Michael Gurr (17, student from Mesa) is deathly afraid of his audition... And he's going in not feeling so good. He doesn't sound that good either with "Starts with Goodbye" by Carrie Underwood. He reminds me of the Spleen from "Mystery Men". He tries again with one of Kara's songs... it isn't any better. And so out of the shark tank he goes... and then to the floor. Will he make it? Probably.

Will Kunick (17 from Jersey) murders "Mad World".

DJ Bradley (22 from Seattle) breaks "It's All Coming Back to Me Now".

Shawn Vasquez (20 from Oakland, CA) shows no love to "I'll Never Love This Way Again".

Aundre "X-Ray" Caraway (20, "performer") hopes his own song "Cactus Baby" and sound will seal the deal. My guess... no. Not only does he sound "special"... He looks it. The judges say no... X-Ray wants to dance... He's begging now... Let's go... Yeah, cue security.

Meanwhile, Arianna Afsar (16, student from San Diego) wants to sing to pay it forward. She founded "Adopt-a-Grandfriend" four years ago to service the elders amongst us. She puts on "Put Your Records On" by Corinne Bailey Rae. Impressive range. Simon's smiling. Paula calls her stunning. Kara thinks she's cute as a button. Randy likes it. Arianna's THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD. And that's how day 1 ends. She joins nine people on their way to the Hollywood Round.

Day 2 begins with Elijah Scarlett (22, cashier). He's 6'9... with a hell of a bass. This is his real voice. He sings "My First, My Last, My Everything" by Barry White. He's got the range of Barry White, but not the tone. Simon thought it came from a horror movie. Wait... there's an idea... VOICE OVERS! And his first turns out to be his last.

Lea Marie Golde (16; student from LA) says she had to audition when she turned 16. She's a cross between Hilary Duff and Madonna. "A little bit daring, but not too much." She's written over 100 original songs, and she says that she's Kara's biggest fan.... girl. She sings "Everytime We Touch" by Cascada. Very NASALLY. Paula loves her enthusiasm... but she has to work on her voice. Simon thought it was annoying. Kara thought it sounded like a high-school musical. She should stick to writing.  Lea Marie swears they're on the fence. Trust me. They're not. "That was uncomfortable."

You think THAT's uncomfortable. Meet Stevie Wright (16, student from Phelan, CA). She was named after Stevie Nicks. She just wants to be bubbly. She won't sing "Bubbly." She'll sing "At Last" by Etta. The song is a bit big for her... but once she comes into it, she really comes into it. Kara says there's something there. Simon and Paula say she's brilliant. Stevie thinks she's competitive... and she's going to need to be, because she's THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD!

Michael Sarver (27; roughneck from Jasper, TX) is in the fifth-most-dangerous job in the world... He works on an oil-rig. He's been banged up pretty much. His work takes him from his family a lot. He sees the job is a mean to an end. He thinks this is his future. He'll try to tempt fate with "Thank You" by Boyz II Men. Randy thought he was good with his eyes closed. Kara calls him a "sweet roughneck". Paula's surprised. Simon says he has likability. That's going to help him THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD. Roughneck strikes gold.

... the next montage... lead.

Now it's time for... tacos. Linguine. Fettuccine. Martini. BIKINI. Katrina Darrell (20; model from Chino Hills, CA) got tanned and wore her best two-piece to sing "Vision of Love" for the judges. Which is really a shame, because she sounds rather good. She also looks like a 10. The only thing is... she can't perform for jack. It's just B-grade Mariah Carey. Ish. Randy and Simon... say yes. Of course. Kara... says she doesn't have the chops. And she demonstrates "chops". "Your demonstration wasn't any better." WRONG ANSWER.  Still, she's THROUGH? TO HOLLYWOOD? OF AMERICAN IDOL? REALLY?

Though Paula and Kara say she's terrible. Here we see twist #2. All ties go to the head judge.... Simon.

Next is Eric "Sexual Chocolate" Thomas (17, unemployed), with the tattoo to that effect. He sings "Ribbon in the Sky"...  and it's a bitter chocolate. At least he has a BRAND NEW CAR! For what it's worth.

Brianna Quijada (22; college student from Tempe) has been keeping sprits high all day. Will she keep it up in "Let's Hear It for the Boy" by Deniece Williams? Simon says she's got a good personality. Paula wants to hear another song, "Killing Me Softly with His Song"... and no. "No" means "Stop singing". The judges like her personality... but not her voice. Randy and Kara say no. Paula... and Simon say yes. She's THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD. Killing them softly... More like murdering them quickly.

Families are a big part of the audition process. They cheer you on, they cheer you up, but when you're on your own... like Deanna Brown (25; bartender from Louisville, KY), who enlists random people to be her family. She says she's ready. She sings "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding. She sounds good and commands the voice, but is she as memorable and infectious as the judges say? We'll see. She's THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.

On the other hand, Cody Shelton (17; student from Detroit) has brought an entourage. He likes making horror films on the side. We'll see if his version of James Morrison's "Wonderful World" is scary... or scary good. It's passable. It's no James Morrison, but it's different. Kara says the voice and the look don't add up, but the final cut has Cody... THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD.

Simon has entertained himself with one line of questioning... What countries would you be popular in? That said, the following places are NOT countries... Europe... Asia... New York... Paris... London.. and New Turkey. Alex Wagner-Trugman (19; college student from Studio City, CA) would be popular in Canada, right? He's missing a Spanish test for this. If he doesn't get to Hollywood, he might not even graduate. Oh, and he sings in his closet... which has mold... from which he got sick. Will "Baby Come to Me" by James Ingram make us sick? Another white guy with soul. Randy thinks the tone was weird, but he sang in pitch. Simon... says it didn't work. Randy says yes. Simon says no, saying he can't do well. Kara says... yes. Paula says yes... THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD. Meanwhile, it's off to learn the words to "God Save the Queen". Maybe.

Butchered Medley #1: "Wanted Dead or Alive" by Bon Jovi. Featuring people that already made it. Come on, you're not even trying anymore. What's up with that mess?

We have a great story to close the show with. Meet Scott MacIntyre (23; pianist from Scottsdale). Born almost completely blind, he can only see "through a straw". That has led him to explore sound, namely classical piano. He says he hasn't let his visual impairment hold him back. He hopes his story through music can be shared. And he graduated high school at 14; college at 19.  His audition... "And So It Goes" by Billy Joel. Simon calls him cool. Paula thinks he's talented. Kara says he's courageous. It's unanimous... he's THROUGH TO HOLLYWOOD. He's going to be one to watch.

And so, American Idol 8 begins. In total, we have 27 from Phoenix. And more where that came from. Here's a summary of what to look forward to in C&G's Datebook...

- Now through January 29: the parade of the good, the bad, and the just plain weird continue, though Fox suits promise more of the good and less of the weird. We'll see what happens.
- February 3-11: The Hollywood Round. It invokes fear. It demands respect. It gives us the top 36.
- February 17: The top 36 begin their run to Idol Glory. With each week, three people out of 12 (one male, one female, and a third top 3 vote-getter) are automatic finalists. The runners-up move to...
- March 5: The return of the Wild Card round, where the judges will complete the top 12 with three wild card singers.
- March 10: It's showtime! One by one, the top 12 get picked off until...
- May 20: After four months of singing, critiquing, voting, texting, and chaos-theory grousing... the next American Idol is named.

Think about that as we leave you with these words from my partner in the booth this season, Gordon Pepper...

"How to get on American Idol:
- Sing a song halfway well.
- Wear limited clothing.
- Have boobs."

Something to think about as we head to KCMO next time.