Idol Chatter

Seattle — what happened? I remember there was once a day not too terribly long ago when you heard no more about that rainy northwestern metropolis than any other large American city. It was a city with a decent basketball team and the perpetually mediocre Seahawks and Mariners. Maybe you knew that Jimi Hendrix was from there (and if you really knew your history, that Ray Charles had gotten his start up there, too) — otherwise, it had made little impression on the American pop culture psyche. Oh yeah — maybe you serial killer buffs knew it as the home area of both Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer.

Then, one day in about 1989, the people up there decided to revolutionize coffee, computers and rock and roll, and suddenly in the '90s, it was Starbucks-this, Nirvana-that and Microsoft-the-other. It was the age of SoundgardenMudhoneyPearlJam, Frasier and Sleepless in Seattle. America had a new "it city" for hip kids to move to — a rival to New York, LA, Chicago and San Francisco.

But last night's Seattle Idol auditions put far more of the city's dark Ted Bundy side on display. People, there are freaks at every Idol cattle call. I've watched dozens of them on TV and even talked to the people in line at the one here in Houston a few years back. Everywhere, there are people who try to shock, people who are shockingly ugly, and others whose singular lack of talent coupled with consummate delusions of grandeur are breathtaking. But never have I seen such a horror show as the one put on by Seattle.

This was as much a straight-up freak show as the ones I once attended at the Tennessee State Fair, circa 1977. (Come to think of it, those were more like freak shows within freak shows, if you know what I mean.) A gangstariffic, mustached woman with hornet-stung lips who called herself "The Hotness" and couldn't sing a lick opened the show, and it closed with Steven "Big Red" Thoen, whose thousand-yard stare should be reason enough for the police in his hometown to get a warrant to dig up his yard and basement on general principles. Like The Hotness's take on Bobby Brown's "Tender Roni," Big Red's rendition of "Bohemian Rhapsody" was quite extraordinary, in the Abu Ghraib sense of the phrase. Here we are now, entertain us.

In between, there was mad staring Utah software engineer Nicholas Zitzmann — the Caucasian William Hung -- whose flat-lined version of "Unchained Melody" was as pitch-perfect as it was utterly awful in tone. (It sounded more like it was sung by that iMac computer voice than a real person, even if that person was a programmer.) And then there was that creepy Taylor Hicks look-alike and Houston's own transplanted Seattleite Darwin Misha Reedy, the depressed Goth chick to end all depressed Goth chicks. Unless you count her mom. I Googled Ms Reedy, and I found someone by the same name and age in Seattle trying to peddle her eggs on a fertility bulletin board. The ad reads "I have almost completed a college degree in history. I'm very smart and artistic. I am interested in becoming an egg donor for money." The words "buyer beware" come to mind.

So much for the geeks. On to the freaks. These would be Bush Baby and the Fat Kid, two alleged friends who met in line for the audition. While the humor of both of their auditions was undeniable, it was an ugly sort of mirth. Yeah, that kid did look like a bush baby and he sounded like one too, and he danced spastically, and what's not funny about that? Well, he is not a bush baby, for starters, he's a human being with an apparent thyroid problem.

And the Fat Kid — who reminded me of one of the doomed simpletons in The Far Side -- seemed to be genuine short-bus material. Hell, even Simon was falsely polite to him, and I've never seen that before. But millions of Americans hooted at these two, and it makes you feel pretty ugly afterwards. Hell, even the 6'7" woman was played for gawky guffaws, and she made it through to the next round.

And yes, some of the Seattle contestants could actually sing. Sanjaya Malakar, for me the top contestant of the night, delivered the best Stevie Wonder impersonation I have ever heard, and his sister Shyamali was pretty good too. Jordin Sparks, the 16-year-old who sang the Celine Dion ballad, had real talent, even if it is both sadly misdirected and raw. (And she is a bit of ringer — she is the daughter of ex-New York Giant cornerback Phillippi Sparks and already had an extensive Wikipedia entry as of last night detailing a long history of pageants entered and singing contests won.) The Venezuelan who sang Journey, the beatboxer, the Giraffe, and Tommy Daniels the Afro guy were all meh. Nobody there could touch Sarah Krueger, the unofficial Minneapolis champ from the night before, though Daniels, Sparks, and Shyamali could make the final 24. Sparks and Sanjaya Malakar are potential Top 12's, but I don't think either has the edge on Krueger.

We are also betting the contestants get better next week. Every Idol winner has been either from the South proper or a culturally Southern state (Oklahoma), and the South doesn't get much more Southern than Memphis, where Tuesday's auditions were held. — John Nova Lomax

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