“There is only one resemblance you have to Mariah Carey and that is your hair. You have one of the worst voices I’ve ever heard truthfully. It is absolutely terrible you can’t sing.”
“If I were you, I’d phone up the War Department and volunteer your services because you just invented a new form of torture.”
“Are you taking singing lessons? Who is your teacher? Do you have a lawyer? Get a lawyer and sue her.”
Sigh. Anyone who watched “American Idol” in its early glory days will recall the explosive reactions when Simon Cowell would throw verbal napalm on delusional so-called singers who thought they were the second coming of Whitney Houston or Marvin Gaye. Randy Jackson would say “dawg” a lot and Paula Adbul would mumble some random words that added up to a “no.” But Cowell scathingly came through loud and clear.
A truly terrible singer could go on to become a household name . Remember William Hung and his dreadful version of Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs.” He became a mascot of sorts, coming back on the show for the finales, even.
But when Cowell left “Idol” after the 2010 season, he was replaced by Steven Tyler – who basically sang his hit Aerosmith song, “Dream On,” with any auditioner who was up to the task but rarely said a negative word that I can recall. Of the show’s final lineup of judges before it left Fox, only Harry Connick Jr. gave truly harsh assessments of talent, but instead of laughs, they often drew boos from the crowd.
It used to be it was those auditioned who cried on “American Idol” when the judges gave them the bad news that they couldn’t actually even nudge a right note. Now, it is the judges who weep over the heart-tugging back stories of the potential contestants, or fawn too hard over untested talents while petting their heads. They seem too eager show that, despite their own fame, they are just folk who eat In-and-Out burgers.
Yes, the world is a divisive place right now and it might be comforting to watch a reality singing show that rewards someone auditioning with a bag of potato chips before they even perform. Or tells them right after they finish their last note that they are already top-10 material. Or reward their waiting relatives with a hug from the one and only Lionel Richie.
But if I want to be warm and cozy, I could just buy a Snuggie from Amazon Prime (which somehow got a shout-out last week in a song lyric).
I can’t deny I was moved by the 19-year-old South Carolina factory worker known as “Kai the singer,” who has been in and out of homeless shelters throughout her life. But she muffed her first song before being allowed to settle down and sang a pleasant rendition of “My Girl,” changing it to an ode to “my music.” I could not tell if she had chops or not, but it seemed that the fact that judge Katy Perry, a daughter of preachers, connected to her because her church congregation also gifted her with her first guitar. That tie was seemingly as important as her ability to carry a tune.
As for Myra Tran, 19, a petite Vietnamese belter, it takes some chutzpah to do “One Night Only,” what with its association with Jennifer Hudson and “Dreamgirls.” She did herself proud, that is true. But why, after only hearing her sing once, would Lionel feel compelled to inflate her confidence by saying, “You’re up there with the Kelly Clarksons of the world?” It is too soon, Mr. Richie. Too darn soon.
And on the second round of auditions last week, when they finally handed out several gentle “no’s,” these cuddly judges apparently already dubbed the final tryout on Wednesday’s show, Alejandro Aranda, 24, “a religious experience” and a “genius.” Basicially, he is already a front-runner. How do we know? Because his performance was declared “the greatest ‘American Idol’ audition ever” just in the promos.
But how exactly is this preparing anyone for the cold, often cruel world of show business? Everyone shouldn’t be handed a verbal trophy before we the people actually get to decide whether we would download one of their songs or pay to see them in concert. I remember last year how many of the contestants who faced a live TV audience for the first time were ill-prepared for what it takes to engage a crowd when you aren’t really famous yet. Deer in headlights came to mind.
Yes, I miss Cowell’s brutally honest remarks, a talent that he has put aside when being a judge on other talent shows. Some attribute it to his finally becoming a father for the first time in 2014.
It used to be “Idol” reveled in the godawful as much as it did in the God-blessed when it came to performers. Yes, we got to hear a guy from Buffalo – my hometown – who calls his musical genre “Mystic Death Trap Metal” and whose vocals sound as if Satan had bad indigestion. But these days, there are simply quick cuts of a parade of baddies gently getting the heave-ho. We hardly hear them warble at all.
Human back stories were always part of “Idol.” But, sometimes old-fashioned honesty is the best policy. Watch the video above and immerse yourself in nearly 10 minutes of classic Cowell critiques. And then take the poll below and tell us if you like nice “Idol” or nasty “Idol” more.