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Audition drama draws viewers to 'American Idol'

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

HOLLYWOOD -- Fox executives wanted the third edition of "American Idol" to be an engine that drives its prime-time schedule. The first two episodes of its third season did that and more, drawing almost 30 million viewers Monday and Tuesday last week. It was the highest-rated series debut this season.

In last week's audition episodes, viewers saw judge Simon Cowell assaulted by an angry "Idol" hopeful wielding a glass of water, watched as Cowell and judge Randy Jackson walked out on a terrible singer, and saw wannabes fret over the absence of judge Paula Abdul, who came down with the flu.

Kevin Winter, Fox
"American Idol" judges Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul had to listen to a lot of bad singers during auditions for the third season. But, Cowell said, "I wouldn't watch the show unless there were loads of bad people, because that's what I like watching."

Click photo for larger image.

What can viewers expect to see in the coming weeks? More hottie contestants and fewer trolls, as Cowell might say. He was no fan of the recent "World Idol" competition ("I hated it," he said. "I didn't see the point. They've all won. You're making 10 winners losers.") or its winner, Kurt "The Hobbit" Nilsen of Norway.

"He was really, really ugly," Cowell said at a Fox press conference earlier this month. "It just so happens that the people with the talent and the personality are ugly at the moment, and I don't know what's going on. It would be nice to have some cuter people."

"Welcome to the next season," Abdul quipped.

About 80,000 people auditioned for this edition of "Idol," but few are worthy, according to the judges. This year's most massacred tune: "A Whole New World" from the Disney movie "Aladdin."

"A million people could apply for this show and you're still only going to find two good people, and that is the horrible statistic," Cowell said. "Of course, every one of the 80,000 think they're fantastic."

Even Cowell admits that adds to the show's appeal.

"I wouldn't watch the show unless there were loads of bad people, because that's what I like watching," he said. "The good thing about 'American Idol' -- watching it and being involved in it -- is that it has a sense of humor. One of the things that's missing in the music industry at the moment is that people are taking themselves so seriously. It's not fun anymore."

The judges also sniffed at the vocal theatrics of so many aspiring "Idols," especially the trilling female contestants.

"I hope it goes away," Cowell said, adding that he prefers simple, good singers.

"It's like a breath of fresh air when someone comes in and just sings pure melody," Abdul added.

"It's just about the sound of the voice," Jackson said. "The kids just don't know that. They're more impressed and trying to impress people with the vocal gymnastics."

That said, this year's batch may turn up the next Kelly Clarkson rather than another Clay Aiken or Ruben Studdard.


"American Idol"

When: 8 tonight and tomorrow on Fox
Starring: Paula Abdul, Simon Colwell, Randy Jackson


"This time I think the girls were better than the boys," Jackson said of this year's prospective contestants. "I think it's a girl's year, that's what I really feel."

Cowell and Abdul agreed, but ultimately the audience may be swayed by emotion over talent.

"This is not a perfect science because if we were choosing the winners, the public wouldn't like the show," Cowell said. "If you let the public make the choice, weird things happen. There's nothing you can do about it. ... I honestly think Clay Aiken has changed this competition forever. It's becoming incredibly personality-led now, inevitably."

And if a leading contestant's personality takes precedence over his or her voice, it may also triumph over appearance.

So who does Cowell consider attractive in pop music today?

"Well, Britney is cute, isn't she? Beyonce is good-looking. Jennifer Lopez is good-looking. Madonna used to be good-looking. She was in her day. She's a housewife [now]. She is."

TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at or 412-263-2582.

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