The judges get swept up by romance in the Miami auditions, but they'll have to deal with some dubious choices later in Hollywood

By Michael Slezak
Updated January 31, 2008 at 05:00 AM EST
Idol Hugs Ep 6

”American Idol” recap: Love is on the air!

I’ll have what Paula’s having! And for that matter, whatever’s in Simon’s and Randy’s big red Coca-Cola cups, too. As American Idol stopped in Miami tonight — sweet use of the Miami Vice font in the opening sequence, by the by! — the show’s judges turned the audition process into an audacious, flirtatious party. And though I’m not certain that the business of finding the nation’s next great singing sensation was priority No. 1, the assorted high jinks made for a pretty terrific hour of television.

Paula set the tone on day one of the auditions by arriving in a minidress that may have been leopard print but was also 100 percent cougar, and Simon’s amused, slightly lascivious reaction — ”That’s a very short dress, Paula. Very slutty” — was the kind of brash assessment that fans of the British judge have been missing a little bit these last three weeks.

Although we’ve gotten used to the Simon-Paula pas de deux over six seasons of Idol, I can’t say I’d ever have predicted that Randy would also get caught in the show’s web of awkward sexual tension. Then again, I’d never been introduced to the hilarious duo of Corliss Smith and Brittany Wescott, a pair of curvaceous 20-year-olds who’ve perhaps maintained their close friendship by virtue of their very different tastes in men. You see, Brittany likes her conquests skinny and therefore directed her lovely rendition of ”My Guy” toward Simon, who enjoyed himself so much he followed Paula’s lead and clapped along (!) to the beat. Corliss, on the other hand, prefers her men a little meatier and had Randy squirming down to his outrageous red loafers during her performance of ”Take Five.” Suffice it to say that by the time the ladies got their golden tickets, a round of enthusiastic hugs for each of the judges was an inevitability.

Now, one could argue that if you removed the ladies’ sparkling personalities from the equation, only Brittany would’ve scored a golden ticket. Corliss hit the notes of her tricky jazz standard, to be fair, but her interpretation lacked the precise phrasing and emotional wallop delivered two seasons ago by a teenager named Paris Bennett, whose version is on my new list of the 12 best Idol auditions ever. But if you take away the bonus points Corliss gets for her mischievous humor and infectious smile, then you’d also have to rethink all the Hollywood-bound singers who advanced at least partially on their bulging biceps (Drew Poppelreiter), Pantene-ad blond locks (Brooke White), or commitments to sexual abstinence (Amy Flynn).

Of course, even when you factor in looks, personality, and vocal merit, I’m still not sure how Venezuelan-born Ghaleb Emachah got past the judges tonight. For starters, I’d like to see him get strapped to the Moment of Truth lie detector and then try to convince America that he’s only 27 years old. (No, you should not infer that I jabbed a Botox needle into my soul and watched Fox’s abhorrent new reality hour tonight. Only the first six or seven minutes. I know. Gross.) And second, Simon was being far too kind when he said he’d have to be drunk in order to enjoy Ghaleb’s intensely mediocre rendition of Marc Anthony’s ”You Sang to Me.”

Unless, of course, Mr. Cowell was making a veiled dig at Paula’s loopy demeanor throughout Ghaleb’s audition. The way she stumbled around the room humming to herself while trying to decide whether or not to send Ghaleb to Hollywood reminded me of watching my two-year-old nephew discover the joys of helium balloons at a birthday party this past weekend. The way his little eyes glazed over, the way he cooed and gurgled to himself while ignoring the calamity around him, and also the drooling — it was all just a little too similar to Paula’s behavior tonight. Simon had me howling when he held up Paula’s beverage container and yelled, ”I need someone to check this cup,” but I’d say it’s no better than 50-50 that he was actually attempting a punch line.

No worries, though, Hollywood week is fast approaching, and all the hugs and kisses in the world won’t help Ghaleb crack the top 24. Likewise, I’m guessing the bulk of tonight’s successful auditioners will be lucky if they even get a mention during the group-elimination bloodletting that starts in a couple of weeks: I’ve always cringed at the sound of Rihanna’s ”Unfaithful,” but Ilsy Lorena Pinot’s rendition had even less melody, if that’s possible; former boy-bander Robbie Carrico showed about as much charisma as the One Not Named Lachey from 98 Degrees on his version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ”Simple Man”; and Ramiele Malubay’s attempts to hit the big notes on ”(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” made me feel a natural urge to hit the mute button. How totally not patronizing, though, of Paula to utter a big, gooey ”Awwww” as the diminutive singer strode into the audition room. I’m surprised she didn’t give the short lady a cookie and pat her on the head!

NEXT: Actual talent

I have slightly higher hopes for single mother Suzanne Toon, who got a little sharp during her rendition of ”I Can’t Make You Love Me” but imbued the song with enough feeling to make it interesting, as well as Natashia Blach, who maybe shouldn’t smile quite so big when she’s singing but who definitely nailed her rendition of ”At Last.”

The evening’s Most Likely to Succeed trophy, though, should probably go to Syesha Mercado. Personally, I don’t see myself ever hopping on the bandwagon of a singer who knows only three volumes — Bam, Boom, and Bombast — and judging from Simon’s wincing, I think he’d agree. But there’s no denying the girl showcased a huge instrument on Aretha’s ”Think,” and her ”power of positive thinking”/”my dad kicked his drug habit” backstory will probably outweigh her total lack of nuance come voting season.

Oh, and on the subject of nuance (or lack thereof) what to say about precocious former American Juniors contestant Julie Dubela? Since the kid is only 16 (and I’m fighting bronchitis and need to get to bed), I’ll keep it short. For starters, her rendition of ”Me and Bobby McGee” wasn’t terrible by any stretch; it just wasn’t quite as good as Julie thought it was. Second, even if she’d temporarily channeled Janis Joplin and sung the bejesus out of her audition, there’s no way the judges were ever going to let her through. Julie was a sacrificial lamb, fattened on a steady diet of reality TV dreams and parental encouragement, and led to the slaughter by Idol producers who knew they had a live one. And yet, while I didn’t take much joy in Julie’s downfall, I’m not shedding any tears for her, either. After all, she’s got her entire adult life in front of her, with hundreds of opportunities to try, to succeed, to fail. Here’s just hoping they don’t all get played out on our television sets.

What did you think? Did you enjoy the loopy tone of tonight’s episode? Are you celebrating the return of ”Crazy Paula”? And did you see any contestants tonight you think have a shot at the top 24?

Episode Recaps


American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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