When American Idol judge Randy Jackson agreed to MC the fifth annual Songs of Hope benefit gala honoring outstanding achievements in songwriting, he wasn’t expecting to present the prestigious Martin Bandier Vanguard award to a former Idol auditioner who never made it past the first round. But that’s exactly what transpired when Colbie Caillat accepted the prize Thursday night at the Esquire House high atop the Hollywood Hills. After Jackson complimented Caillat on writing the No. 1 hit “Bubbly,” the 23-year-old Malibu native reminded him that she tried out for American Idol with that very same song — and was rejected. “No, you did not!,” Jackson yelped. “I didn’t refuse her, I think it was Simon Cowell.” In an attempt to save face with a crowd of music business heavyweights (among them: Dave Stewart, Hans Zimmer and Will.I.Am), Jackson stuck with the kudos: “I’m telling you something, this ‘Bubbly’ song is huge, because we just finished auditions for season 8 and we’ve been hearing a lot of ‘Bubbly.’ Look, they’re no Colbies, but what are you gonna do?”

So how does the new crop of Idol hopefuls look? Speaking to earlier in the evening, Jackson acknowledged that this year’s auditions started off shaky. “But by the time we hit the third city, it was off and running,” he said. “Season 8 is gonna be unbelievable. America’s got a lot of talent.” And with yesterday’s announcement that the show will start airing a week earlier than in past seasons, will it also end sooner? Don’t bet on it. “They’ll probably add more weeks,” joked Jackson.

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