Cowell's signature phrase, "I don't mean to be rude, but …", was usually inevitably followed by an unsparingly blunt appraisal of the contestant's talents, personality, or physical appearance.
Over the past eight seasons viewers have gotten to know what works, and what doesn't, when it comes to “American Idol” wannabes. As those lucky golden ticket holders head to Hollywood, there are a few things they might want to keep in mind.
Getting a ticket doesn’t mean you won’t get cut right out of the gate. As we’ve seen from the atrocious auditions, often the judges let people move on even if they don’t deserve it based on their vocal talents.
Or, as Katy Perry chided fellow judge Kara DioGuardi when Kara gave a thumbs-up to orphan Chris Golightly largely based on his sad tale of life in foster homes: “This isn’t a Lifetime movie.” Well Katy girl, sometimes it is.
Here's a quick list of dos and don'ts for wannabe Idols.
A kooky Sanjaya or an enigmatic Nick Mitchell/Norman Gentle is going to last longer than a great singer with no charisma. Why do you think General Larry “Pants on the Ground” Platt got his Hollywood shot? Purists may complain, but “American Idol” has never just been about finding talented singers. If it was about listening to good singers, a variety show could bump off this Fox powerhouse show No, viewers want to have some non-vocal entertainment as well. At least until the final six or so.
Don’t start as a favorite
Remember Tamyra Gray? Of course not. She was judge Simon Cowell’s early favorite in season one, but was knocked out in the finals. Her debut album sold less than 130,000 copies. And who would have thought Lil Rounds would burn out before the competition was half done? But as with every rule there’s an exception — and her name is Carrie Underwood.
Sing what you know
Carrie Underwood knew country, and despite the fact that Simon just doesn’t get the genre, he was bright enough to realize she was going to be one of the most commercially successful artists turned out by “Idol.” Underwood never once landed in the bottom three and producers have since said she was the frontrunner throughout the competition. Those awards and record sales don’t lie. She’s the most successful artist ever to come through the “Idol” factory.
Don’t talk to reporters
Poor Michael Lynche of Florida made it to the top 25 only to reportedly have his dreams dashed by the flapping lips of his dad. After signing a confidentiality agreement, he apparently told his dad who reportedly told a St. Petersburg TV columnist, who in turn told everyone else who reads his column. According to People, Lynche was cut immediately.
Don’t wear pink cowboy hats or slinky bikinis
You might get a ticket to Hollywood, or just an invitation to find the door, but it’s risky testing gimmicks on the judges. But if you slap a tube top on with a scrap of material for a skirt and topped off with a pink cowboy hat, you’d better have the pipes to back it up. In 2009, Lea Marie Golde fancied herself a cross between Hilary Duff and Madonna, with her own little touch of buckle-bunny fashion sense. At least bikini girl Katrina Darrell got her shot in Hollywood before an early dismissal.
Do work the crowd
Cowell didn’t want eventual 2006 winner Taylor Hicks moving past the audition round, saying he would never make it to the finals. He was out-voted, and the likable Hicks proved he had plenty of mojo going with his fans. His Soul Patrol fan base popped him over the top with viewers to take the crown in season five. But did he deserve it? Chris Daughtry was the better singer, and he’s proved it with a viable career. But Hicks had everyone going that year, even People magazine, which dubbed him the Hottest Bachelor of 2006. Really? I think George Clooney and a few other guys might have been free that year, too.
Don’t sing ‘Unchained Melody’
Cowell has a lot of favorite songs, but this one might well be on the top of the heap. So if you are going to impress the only judge who really counts, you’d better have those vocal chords tuned and ready. Instead, viewers have seen this song mangled to the point where a restraining order should probably be issued.
Do choose the right song
Contestants always seem to choose the wrong song at one time or another. What was Jason Castro in 2008 thinking when he went for “Memory” from “Cats,” which is traditionally a diva power ballad? Castro admitted he didn’t know much about Broadway, or that the song was actually sung by a cat. Isn’t there a Google app on your iPhone, buddy?
Don’t try to be Adam Lambert or William Hung
This season, everyone at the cross-country tryouts attempted to emulate the flamboyant Adam Lambert, who is probably the most original “Idol” contestant to date. And there’s always a few trying to be sweet William Hung, the contestant from season three who won the hearts of the audience after his audition singing an off-key version of “She Bangs.” Why? Because he was genuine. And no one cares about a poser.
Susan C. Young is a writer in Northern California.