Simon’s suicidal despair and Paula’s driven to drink in Season 6



scott gries/getty images file photo


American Idol hopefuls wait in line for open auditions in New York City.


Before the season even began, word was out that the Seattle auditions for American Idol were something of a low point, moving judge Simon Cowell to something like suicidal despair. This rumour was quickly swamped by Paula Abdul’s apparently dipsomaniac antics last week, and from what was in evidence in the first 15 minutes — not to mention Tuesday night’s show in Minne­apolis — it’s not hard to see why the poor woman’s been driven to drink.

The marvel of the gruelling mass audition episodes of Idol is the spectacle of self-delusion on display; not only the shower stall divas and mirror karaoke stars and their enabling friends and family, but their enraged effrontery when they’re told the awful truth. Simon Cowell usually bears the brunt of the outrage, proof that truth is the gift no one wants to receive.

If this season is notable for anything so far, it’s the lingering, morbid gaze it bestows on the disasters. The next time you read someone complaining about TV’s short attention span, nervous, caffeinated pace and jagged editing, try to recall these mortifying interludes, which have more in common with the British version of The Office than an episode of 24.

It takes a half hour before the judges are shown letting a contestant through; at nearly an hour, the judges see a brother and sister and let them both through. You can almost hear the producers squeal with relief. It’s one of those moments that reminds me why I love our southern neighbour — only in America can the son of an Indian classical musician end up sounding like Stevie Wonder.

It all gets mean, though, during a segment devoted to two of the geekiest hopefuls that plays like an extended wedgie. Simon actually tells the short one that he looks like a lemur. “He told me that I looked like a monkey,” he complains to Ryan Seacrest. Well, no —lemurs are primates, not monkeys, but the point stands.

By the end, the only people having fun are the show’s editors, who create one merciless montage after another of the rejects, wringing scant joy from the single song for which posterity will bookmark the Pussycat Dolls.