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January 30, 2008
Idol Chatter: A lot of corny antics


Omaha was the setting, and corn was the crop of the day during Tuesday night's "American Idol" auditions. The show has never been to Nebraska (that I can remember), and 10,000 hopefuls showed up.

But, guess who was a no-show? Judge Paula Abdul, whose plane was delayed, leaving Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson to "flirt" with each other.

Actually, the flirting was more entertaining than the "singers," who were a mix of part-time farmers and, well, the worst of the Heartland - both vocally and fashion-wise. Where are these people shopping?

Anyway, only 19 golden tickets to Hollywood were passed out, the least of any audition city so far.

If you missed the show, here's my quick recap:

* Most wasted time spent on a human being: Chris Bernheisel, 25, of Fremont, Neb., was waaaay too excited to be there. Dude wore me out opining about how "happiness is going flying everywhere. This is the greatest moment of my life!" He wooed Simon and Randy with gifts, including stuffed animals, some sort of shirt and copius pics of himself with Kelly Clarkson. But his version of her "Since You've Been Gone," featuring a handstand of all things, was horrifying.

Chris bombed but was still rewarded by Simon, who promised him he could work the red carpet at the season finale for the local Fox affiliate. Apparently, bribes do have payoffs.

* Most likely to be an alien: Former pro wrestler Sarah Whitaker, 25, from Iowa, who did the whole Goth thing and almost beat the you-know-what out of Ryan Seacrest before "singing" for the judges. Again, awful. Simon called her warbling the perfect "soundtrack for this town."

* Most times forgetting the lyrics: Was there something in the Midwest waters? Soooo many contestants crashed and burned trying to remember their words. The show even played one of its silly games, "You Forgot the Lyrics," to illustrate the point. Jason Rich, 21, of Stout, Iowa (population 500), was given four chances to croon his country song. He made it through, but Simon berated him, saying, "I'll never give you another shot like that. If this were live, we'd be off the air."

* Most likely to get caught in the middle: Poor, delicate Samantha Sidley (pictured), 22, came all the way from L.A. to get trapped in a judging juggle when Ryan and Paula (who finally arrived) swapped jobs, with Ryan quipping, "How do I pretend to be overpaid for doing no work?" Hah! Actually, Samantha's rendition of Norah Jones' "Don't Know Why" was very good. She twirled a bit much, and her performance was overshadowed by the judges' antics - planned out, I'm sure.

* Most likely to get on the wrong show: One contestant, whose name I can't recall 'cos I was probably numb by then, descended the escalator after making it through, only to proclaim that "I'll prove to Simon I'm 'America's Next Top Model.' " Uh, that's with Tyra Banks, honey.

* Most schmaltz. Period: Of course, what would the auditions be without a heartfelt audition coupled with a family squabble. That would be Angelica Puente, 17, from Kenosha, Wis., who doesn't live with her parents because she has "issues" with them (read: her father is too strict). She went after Celine Dion, got chastised for listening to too many "records," but made it through because it wouldn't be "Idol' without a phone call to the father to tell him his daughter, who doesn't live with him, is going to Hollywood.

* Most worthy of the gold: There were several rocker contestants who wanted to follow in the footsteps of Chris Daughtry, probably one of the show's most successful non-winners. The best? Definitely David Cox, 24, of Tulsa, who watched and re-watched Chris' audition from Season 5. His "Livin' on a Prayer" earned an odd remark from Simon - "It was a little bit worthy" - but this guy actually has major potential.

The last auditioner, Leo Marlowe, 23, of Charlotte, Iowa (only 200 people live there), scored major kudos, including a "touchdown" from Paula. I can see him and David definitely making it to the Top 24.

* Least worthy of gold: Yikes, that would be Johnny Escamilla, 18, of Scottsbluff, Neb., whose gold lame jacket was a fashion disaster. Couple that with a ridiculous rendition of "Shout," and you've got "one of the weirdest guys you could ever meet," according to Simon. One thing in Johnny's favor? He cured Paula's bout of hiccups.

Tonight's show (at 8 on Channel 40) comes to us from Miami. Let's hope there are no contestants wearing bathrobes and using a feather duster as a microphone. (Yes, it happened in Omaha.)

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