One of the best things about Wednesday night's "American Idol" auditions in Charleston, S.C., was imagining myself on a warm beach instead of the damp, dank surroundings in Sac.
But the show proved something else: Gather together more than 10,000 people, and most of them can't sing a lick.
The scenery was pretty, but the crooning was anything but. The first three "acts" were, as judge Simon Cowell might say, "torturous." And there seemed to be a particular need to butcher Season 4 winner Carrie Underwood's songs. "Before He Cheats" took a vocal beating.
In all, only 23 yellow tickets to Hollywood were handed out. So, if you didn't set your DVR or you want to relive the evening, here's my recap:
* Most creative coif: Raysharde Henderson, 27, of Atlanta arrived with a perfect Afro, dubbing himself the next "black Clay Aiken." His version of "I Can't Make You Love Me" was, er, quite theatrical. Simon even quipped, "I wouldn't have been surprised if you had thrown a magic trick in the middle of that." Raysharde might have elicited the seaon's first "cruise ship cabaret" reference.
* Duo dos and dont's: Charleston saw its share of duets, including brother/sister Jefferey and Michelle Lampkin. He definitely had the "ow" factor, sporting a tie around his head. They sang "I'm Your Angel," and there was some discrepancy among the judges as to whether to let both through. (Michelle's voice was not as strong as her brother's.) But, Simon insisted they couldn't split the pair. On the flip side, Randy Stark, 27, of Abilene, Texas, and Crystal Ortiz, 26, of Raleigh, N.C., (boyfriend/girlfriend) only had love going for them. Their duet hurt everyone's ears, but I was impressed that Randy's expertise is in giving audition advice on an "Idol" message board.
* No means "No": Great montage of contestants getting the boot. Some seemed resigned to the rejection; others, like Aretha Codner, 22, of Buffalo, N.Y. (pictured), refused to accept their lack of talent. Aretha, named after "Aretha," sported a horrifying pale blue cocktail dress with an oversized silver belt. "I'm as good as Fantasia (Barrino) or any of the other 'Idols,' " she said, promptly murdering a Whitney Houston song. "But I have a beautiful voice," she whined. "I stop crowds." Judge Paula Abdul, never one to be too mean, told Aretha she "loved your confidence."
* A love/hate thing: I wished Air Force pilot Lindsey Goodman, 28, of Charleston could sing as well as she flies C-17s. She was genuinely nice. However, I completely agreed with Simon that Amy (Catherine) Flynn, 16, of Knoxville, Tenn., who made it through, will annoy the snot out of everyone. The captain of her high school dance team, Amy also preaches abstinence to other students. She even gave Simon a lecture on pre-marital sex! HAHHH! I personally didn't think her rendition of "Reflections" was anything to gloat about.
* Most likely to serve rather than sing: That would be DeAnna Prevatte, 26, of Albemarle, N.C., hometown of that Southern darling, Kellie Pickler from Season 5. Like Kellie (who worked at a Sonics), DeAnna waits tables at a restaurant where the patrons are aggressively hungry on Sundays. "It's all you can eat, and they (customers) run us to death. It's not a buffet," DeAnna complained. "Then they just leave you a dollar." DeAnna took out her frustration on a song called "Fancy," losing her dress straps and dropping to her knees at one point. Unlike Kellie, though, it was a "No" for DeAnna.
Of course, it wouldn't be "Idol" auditions without a schmaltzy ending story. And that would be Oliver Highman, 27, of Cornelius, N.C., who missed the first day of the auditions because his very pregnant wife, Allison, went into labor and delivered their daughter, Emma Grace. Not missing a beat, the new parents showed up on Day 2, newborn in tow. Oliver, who looked more like he should be selling insurance than singing, pulled a falsetto on the judges and was dubbed "corny and old-fashioned." But the baby was really, really cute.
We're heading down the audition stretch. On Tuesday (at 8 p.m. on Channel 40), the gang hits the heartland with a stop in Omaha, Neb. I'm not sure when it happens, but host Ryan Seacrest will become Judge Ryan, replacing Paula for part of the gig.