American Idol Day 3: January 22, 2008

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We rejoin American Idol at its first-ever San Diego auditions, where 12,000 hopefuls lined the sunny streets to warble their mostly off-key way to fame. The San Diego auditions highlighted the capriciousness of Idol–what works for some is poison for others. Let?s take a look:

Hubris: First auditioner Tatiana Ostopowych, a needle-nosed blonde from Venice, CA, bounded in to perform a jazzy ?Someone to Watch Over Me,? her eyes rolling back in her head with emotion. She?s clearly enamored of her own voice, which led Simon to tell her that she?s not as good as she thinks she is. Feisty Tatiana begged for the chance to prove him wrong, and, miraculously, it was granted. She?s off to Hollywood.

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On the other hand, hubris: But Valerie Reyes, a bouncy 20-year-old from Riverside, CA, had no such luck. Goaded before her audition into mocking awful auditions when watching Idol on television, it would have taken a pretty dense viewer not to see that the gods’ revenge would be swift and brutal. Valerie?s screeching, all-over-the-map Mariah Carey cover elicited shock and awe from the judges. ?Oh my God,? was all Simon could open with, prompting Valerie to say, trustingly, ?I hope that?s good!? Simon: ?No, it?s not actually.? Punished for her hubris, she was sent packing.

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Bring a friend: Charming Perrie Cataldo, a 27-year-old single father, gave a long segment to introduce his adorable 4-year-old son Elian, who has a matching ponytail and a propensity towards adorable proclamations and falling peacefully asleep. Promising to do it all for his baby, Cataldo wooed the judges with a lusty ?I?ll Make Love to You? by Boyz II Men and was sent on to Hollywood.

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On the other hand, don?t bring a friend: Of course, sometimes two are twice as bad as one. Nurse Monique Gibson and ?medical professional? (male nurse?) Christopher Baker believe they?re both going on to the big time. But after each launched into several awful attempts at molesting Whitney Houston songs (Monique tried a laughable ?I Believe in Miracles?; Christopher came up with two different versions–in two different keys–of ?Greatest Love of All?), the judges returned both to the wards. On the way out, the pair displayed to Ryan their truer gift: freestyling expletive-laced retorts to the unappreciative judges.

Keep trying: Lovely tattooed Irishwoman Carly Smithson, now a resident of San Diego, was actually sent to Hollywood for Idol?s fifth season after auditioning in Las Vegas. But when a visa failed to materialize in time, she was disqualified, and has apparently spent the years since agonizing. She returned to give a thoroughly decent ?I?m Every Woman? (a strange song choice and, noted Simon, not nearly as good as two years ago), but was sent on to the next round all the same.

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On the other hand, stop trying: Sweet-looking mama?s boy Blake Boshnack, who has auditioned for Idol 11 times in 6 seasons (most memorably dressed as the Statue of Liberty and belting out ?New York, New York? in the Chicago auditions for Season 5), was back again with his stage mother to try for lucky number 12. This time he was free of gimmicks, but also lamentably without a very good voice. Rejected once again, he vowed to come back for a thirteenth attempt–an inauspicious number, but hope springs eternal.

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Express yourself: Samantha Musa professed that she finds Simon ?really, really hot,? as does her sister, who begged to be let into the audition room with her. Simon, charmed by the sororital display of affection, let the sister judge the competition from his lap. Samantha?s thoroughly excellent take on Aretha?s ?Until You Come Back to Me? easily guaranteed her a spot in Hollywood, and one imagines that the sisters? confused adoration for Mr. Cowell could not have hurt their cause. The audition ended in a group hug, with bonus points going to Simon for gratuitously mispronouncing Barack Obama?s surname (he?s on a short list of people the sisters want to meet, beginning with Simon and ending with Oprah).

On the other hand, don?t express yourself: Idol loves to offer up a piteous case, and San Diego obliged with 28-year-old Alberto Hurtado. A portly man with flowing locks, obscenely long fingernails, and a trembling, Stuart Smalley-ish commitment to himself and his spirit, Alberto performed an original composition Simon termed ?the most depressing song I?ve ever heard in my life.? (The song includes the repeated refrain ?it?s a tragedy, it?s a tragedy?; despite Alberto?s promise of a happy ending, it ends on the same low note.) Alberto was sent home, but not before giving Paula a Japanese fan on which he etched her name. Simon, who mortified Alberto by interrupting his song every two seconds, called out after him: ?Where?s mine??

Then again, sometimes if it worked once, it’ll keep on working forever:
Bring your blue-eyed soul: Beefy Australian hunk Michael Johns showed that the simplest answer is often the correct one. Sing the soulful R&B tunes that Idol loves even moderately well, and, if you?re at all telegenic, you?re golden. Johns put his own spin on Otis Redding’s ?I?ve Been Loving You Too Long? and was easily passed on to Hollywood.

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Yeah, just bring your blue-eyed soul: David Archuleta arrived with a sad tale about vocal paralysis–he can neither the condition’s inception nor his recovery from it–but what could have been one of Idol?s trademark ?backstory? candidates turned out to be merely a bright-eyed kid who can do a pretty decent John Mayer impression. Even Randy singing along to his ?Waiting on the World to Change? couldn’t bring the 16-year-old down. He?s on to Hollywood.

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San Diego saw its share of miserable candidates and confused stabs at greatness (why, for example, would you dress in Mexican costume and sombrero and accompany yourself with an interpretively-dancing mime?) but some real talent was found among the mix. Stay tuned for South Carolina, where historically poor performances in Idol auditions are sure to make for a dramatic episode tonight.

–Matthew Schneier