Bad attitudes! Bum notes! Squabbling! And that just describes the scene at the judges' table as the Audition Express arrives in Los Angeles
American Idol | Tasha Layton uses her big voice to minister to hurting ears; Kara has a big problem with Katy Perry; A.J. Mendoza tries to fill some…

It’s time for an American Idol pop quiz. Grab your No. 2 pencils and get ready to answer the following ”True or False” questions:

A) There is a federal law against people with spouses and/or children signing major-label record deals.

B) People employed by churches are essentially turning their backs on God by auditioning for Idol.

C) Professional women working side-by-side must either behave like giggling Harajuku-obsessed besties or bitter, sniping rivals.

D) ”Girl Power” is defined by slobbering and blind agreement among humans who do not possess a Y chromosome.

E) Idoloonies would not be interested in seeing a season 9 audition segment starring season 6 ”Crying Girl” Ashley Ferl.

Okay, pencils down. That was easy, right? If you answered ”False” to all of the above — and I believe in my heart that you did — you’ve scored a perfect 100 on your exam. If, however, you happen to be an alien visiting Earth for the first time tonight (and, naturally, had your spacecraft’s entertainment system tuned in to Fox), you’re probably crying bitter tears over all the red ink on your paper. But that’s not really your fault, E.T.: Verbal nonsense and sociological idiocy were the overarching themes of tonight’s let-down of an audition show, with the nation’s ongoing search for its next musical superstar getting shunted to the footnotes.

So cue the sad trombone, and let’s talk about some of the more maddening/ridiculous goings-on from the season 9 Los Angeles tryouts.

Shall we start with that sour-patch kid in the ”hip” black hoodie with ”amusing” devil horns? To be fair, I don’t think there was a person on the planet (with the possible exception of Cecile Frot-Coutaz) who anticipated that Avril Lavigne would provide witty and/or insightful commentary during her trial run in the Paula Abdul Commemorative Swivel-Chair. But low expectations aside, I’m still having difficulty grasping how and why Avril implied that bearded ”worship pastor” Jim Ranger shouldn’t get a Golden Ticket because he was (gasp!) married, and (oh-em-gee!) said marriage had produced three (how do we say this politely?) child-type creatures! Okay, so that’s not exactly how Avril put it, but her weirdly dismissive questions about Jim’s brood, and her condescending newsflash that ”to be a pop-star you have to travel” seriously rubbed me the wrong way.

Now, look, I would’ve had no problem whatsoever had Avril voted ”no” to a Golden Ticket and explained that she didn’t think Jim’s singing or songwriting skills were on par with what it takes to be a viable pop star. In fact, I half-wanted to score her five cool points — which, given the aforementioned hoodie would’ve left her at -20, but I digress… — just for voting ”No” immediately after Simon said ”Yes.” Because, really, it was nice to see someone (anyone!) finally break the unwritten rule that you can only disagree with Simon’s audition-round opinions in those instances when he’s dissing a singer you like, but that you should automatically join in a rousing chorus of ”yeses” if he deems someone Golden Ticket-worthy. (Question for all you ”history” buffs: Have Simon’s fellow panelists ever ganged up against him and stopped a contestant he enjoyed from going to Hollywood?)

NEXT: Tasha Layton and Andrew Garcia make their marks

But let’s get back to the audition at hand. While Jim indeed had adorable children and a better-than-average voice, I’d be lying if I didn’t point out that he lacked the innate charisma you need to activate the speed-dialing masses. And while I admired the pluck it took to make his first impression with an original song called ”Drive,” it unfortunately reminded me of ”Life Is a Highway,” with a chorus that was 67 percent less catchy. Then again, it’s hard not to root for the guy a little given the way the show portrayed his family and his career as if they were inconvenient obstacles to fame and fortune. Did anyone else see God (a known fan of the reality-show genre) giving the side-eye when Kara declared: ”I don’t really know how you really can do everything at once if you were to go through this. How can you really be dedicated to your church?”

Um, y’know, I’m going to force myself not to spend another paragraph ranting against She Who Must Not Be Allowed to Write Another Idol Victory Anthem. The good news is that tonight’s non-starter of a show at least presented two viable top 12 contenders in the form of Tasha Layton and Andrew Garcia.

Not only was Tasha’s choice of Joss Stone’s non-hit ”Baby Baby Baby” brave and unexpected, but she delivered it impeccably, even giving the audition a little rhythm with some enthusiastic finger-snaps. I had to agree with Simon that if Tasha does indeed make the season 9 finals, that an ”Oh Happy Day” medley is pretty much a guarantee. (Anyone else catch that the cranky British judge came thisclose to singing a few bars of the gospel classic?)

And I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrew provides Tasha with some stiff competition in the weeks ahead. The bespectacled young father — whose orange and blue plaid shirt looked like it might’ve come from the Kris Allen Collection — injected Maroon 5’s ”Sunday Morning” with a soulfulness that exceeded Adam Levine’s original, and exuded the kind of nice-guy vibes that had Simon delivering almost Paula-esque lines like ”I can tell you like music.” What’s more, Andrew was aided by ”weeping parent” footage — a time-honored get-out-the-vote technique that’s been employed liberally throughout the show’s history. Granted, I didn’t quite get the same feeling of warm-fuzzies from those blurred out shots of mom and dad back in their gang-member days, but spun into a classic ”up by the bootstraps” tale, this uncomfortable bit of family history shouldn’t harm Andrew’s Idol cause.

L.A.’s two remaining success stories — Mary Powers and Chris Golightly — gave the kind of solid-but-unspectacular auditions that could get them as far as a dreary Hollywood Week holding room, but probably not much further. I didn’t really take umbrage with Mary’s Hot Topic-approved outfit — although the single sock-glove thingy looked like it might’ve fallen off an extra from Beverly Hills: 90210 — but it’s going to be tough for her to get past the first impression of Simon declaring ”everything about you is clichéd,” not matter how technically solid she was on Pat Benatar’s ”Love Is a Battlefield.” (Good thing Avril didn’t automatically disqualify Mary for having an adorable eight-year-old daughter!)

NEXT: The big catfight

Chris, meanwhile, had the unfortunate distinction of watching his quite nice rendition of ”Stand by Me” get overshadowed by a nasty-edged verbal bout between Kara and the evening’s second guest judge, Katy Perry. Let’s roll tape:

Kara: ”We may look back on this audition and go ‘Wow.’ Because you’re the kind of kid who has just enough talent, and just enough of a story and pain and stuff that you’ve gone through in your life to really connect with it. And I think you’re only gonna get better.”

Katy: ”This is not a Lifetime movie, sweetheart.”

I know Kara’s taken quite a beating in my recaps over the past year, but I’ve got to call it a TKO for Ms. Perry, with several key asterisks.

* In this instance, I actually think Kara’s inability to articulate her thoughts (or her inability to think about what she’s saying before she opens her pie-hole) made her critique of Chris sound more idiotic than she intended. I’m actually in agreement with Kara — if she meant that Chris’ difficult life experiences could help him bring to his performances a kind of intangible depth and soul that’s often lacking in the pre-programmed fame-bots that sometimes make their way to Idol. Of course, if she just meant ”good backstory = votes,” then she deserved all the bitchery Katy had to offer.

**As much as I’d like to get through a column this season without a full-paragraph tirade against Kara — hey, a boy can dream — my inner feminist is seething with rage over her repeated insistence that female guest judges should align themselves with her in an effort to counterbalance ”the boys” on the panel. Um, because why? Does Kara, an accomplished songwriter-producer-businesswoman truly believe that ”girl power” is nothing more than the continuation of grade-school recess gender lines? Does she not believe that there’s nothing more damaging to the ongoing quest for gender equality than for a woman — even if her job is as ultimately as ”silly” as judging American Idol auditions — to cast aside her individuality, her own moral/artistic/intellectual compass, under the ”boys suck” banner?

*** Maybe because my mother would (rightfully) send my 37-year-old behind to the naughty step if she discovered I’d been impolite as a guest in someone else’s home, but I flinched a little when Katy scoffed at Kara to not ever ”put someone through just because you feel bad [for them].” But then I remembered Katy was actually (brace for incoming Randy idiocy) two-hundred-bazillion percent right, and I didn’t have any trouble the next time Katy launched a mean-girl barb at her table-mate. My personal favorite? A bewildered Katy asking ”Is she talking to a puppy?” when Kara did that bizarre scrunch-mouth speak while talking to Jason Greene.

****Can we maybe permanently retire the word ”catty”/”catfight” from all future episodes of Idol featuring a disagreement between women? (This rule can be voided only if said women rumble Dynasty-style in a public fountain.)

NEXT: Time for the ”funny” auditions

I’d also like to propose an actual law that Idol not be allowed to make Adam Lambert share the stage with any of the so-called ”lookalikes” featured on tonight’s show. (My hawk-eyed colleague Kate Ward observed one of ’em was Project Runway‘s Daniel Franco!) Which isn’t to say I didn’t get a laugh from A.J. Mendoza’s audition, which began with his tale of ”shopping” a ”demo” to Adam (my best-guess translation: during an autograph signing on the Idol summer tour, A.J. forced a homemade CD into Adam’s hand) and ended with a rendition of Living Color’s ”Cult of Personallll-ittt-ttaaayyy-uhhh” that was so overwrought, even Von Smith would declare it 1-800-too-much.

Aside from hapless A.J., though, who remained committed to his ”I’m a really good singer” mantra as he exited stage daft, the other ”funny” L.A. auditions all seemed to focus way too much camera time on folks who were trying way too hard to be wacky enough for television. I have to give Jason Greene a little credit for referencing the salmon-colored sling that was hanging on for dear life to Katy’s heaving bazooms, but why devote more than three minutes to a guy trying to wring a laugh out of an ”I Touch Myself” joke that probably wasn’t funny back in 1991 when (hello!) we didn’t get to see why/how the aforementioned Crying Girl was reduced to tears after her own audition attempt. Did she sing ”You Really Got Me”? Did someone show her the Nielsen SoundScan data for Sanjaya Malakar’s Dancing to the Music in My Head EP? Or is it possible little Ashley is just proving she hasn’t lost the ability to cry on command? If it’s the latter option, here’s a couple bits of advice for the waterworks-spewing teen: If you ever need tear-duct stimulation, think back to tonight’s Idol episode, and the disappointment will take you to the land of 10,000 tears. Oh, and also, get a new shtick!

What did you think of tonight’s Los Angeles auditions? How did the Katy-vs.-Kara footage make you feel? Were you as underwhelemed as I was by Avril? And do you think any of the Golden Ticket getters from tonight has a chance at the season 9 crown? Holla back in the comments below, but first, watch our latest edition of Idolatry embedded below. Part 1 finds Jessica Shaw and myself discussing Friday the 13th death scenes and their pertinence to Idol, Part 2 focuses on some of our favorite Hell Week hopefuls, and part three is all about Shania’s dominance over Kara and Randy. Enjoy!

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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