Unerringly, the first episodes of any given American Idol season are less about sifting out those few contestant gems than highlighting the assorted talentless eccentrics. Watching these unbalanced, deluded, or just plain tone-deaf folks interact with judges Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and the incomparable and often hilariously cruel Simon Cowell is the necessary first act, a clever, manipulative dance that ranges from infuriating to spit-up-your-Yoplait hilarious.
Unfortunately, this has given a lot of pranksters and comedians ideas, and the Philadelphia freakshow premiere became an exercise in telling the real nuts from the fake. What’s new is that it seems Idol producers were largely outwitted by a cast of street-theater types who hatched purposely bizarre auditions and bypassed network screeners. All, of course, to our general amusement.
Among those who at least seemed genuine, was Philly tour guide James Lewis, who claimed to sound like either Paul Robeson or Eddie Vedder, which marked the first time in recorded history that those two have been mentioned in the same sentence. Lewis actually sounded like Chewbacca. Worse, the wookie-like tone set a peculiar pitch for the evening, as apparently authentic contestant Christina Tolisano came dressed like a punk Princess Leia. Returning from the refrigerator, we caught her tearfully ranting about “normalcy” and “Hollywood” and some other unintelligible gibberish—it all seemed real enough.
Others, minor Web sleuthing would reveal, weren’t too well disguised.