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“American Idol” – Episode 401/402 – Washington DC Auditions

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Wasn’t it just the other day that we crowned Fantasia Barrino the new American Idol? Can it really be time again already for that guiltiest of guilty pleasures? Well, judging from the all-too-familiar theme music and the resurgence of host Ryan Seacrest on to televisions across America, there’s no question: “American Idol” is back.

The new season should be an interesting one, if only because everyone is expecting the steam to finally run out. While more viewers have tuned in with each subsequent iteration of the show, there’s little question that the format is growing a bit stale. The audience can really only take so much of Simon Cowell berating the horribly deluded souls who show up for the first-round auditions–or can they? Will the producers have the guts to try something new and different this time around, or will it just be more of the same?

With the opening of the fourth season tonight, one change was immediately clear: “AI” has gone high-def. As part of Fox’s major upgrade of its primetime line-up, “American Idol” has become one of the first reality shows to be broadcast in high definition, complete with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound (with which the unchanged theme song sounds quite spiffy). Of course, does this show really need crystal clear picture? If nothing else, you can see what bad skin everybody seems to have, and the widescreen format allows for better framing of the four judges.

Yes, the inimitable trio of Randy, Paula, and Simon will be joined by a rotating panel of guest judges this time around. In past seasons, famous singers and songwriters had appeared in the later rounds of the competition when the them of a particular week pertained directly to their back catalog, resulting in weeks in which only songs by Elton John, Barry Manilow, and Gloria Estefan were sung. Now, guest judges enter into the process much earlier, even getting a vote in the all-important first round.

Mark McGrath of the rock band Sugar Ray held his own surprising well, though he didn’t exactly rock the boat. In fact, he was in the majority for every discussion that was televised, never going against the group to strike out with his own opinion. Nor were his comments particularly insightful or different from anything the veterans had to say. While adding new blood like McGrath is certainly a step in the right direction, one has to hope that future guests will add a little more to the proceedings.

The two hours of auditions from Washington DC broadcast for the fourth season’s premiere could have just as easily been culled from any one of the preceding three. There were good singers, of whom we got to see very few. There were average singers, of whom we saw even less. And there were bad singers–make that very bad singers, for whom “American Idol” has become famous, perhaps even more so than for its far more talented winners.

Through the whole thing, the sense of “been there, done that” was overwhelming. While America has a seemingly unlimited appetite for schadenfreude, a little variety would be nice, at the very least. There’s something inherently satisfying about watching Simon Cowell shatter the dreams of delusional youngsters (and some oldsters, this time around, since the age limit has been raised to 28), but he seems to be running out of new and interesting ways to do so.

What was promising about the debut were the few hopefuls who got more than a cursory few moments in the audition room. The producers seem committed to following the stories of a handful of the contestants a bit more in-depth this season, perhaps spurred on by the immense interest in Fantasia’s status as a single mother last season. To that end, there were two stories worth following tonight.

The first was Regina Brooks, who pawned her wedding ring for $200 in order to be able to come to DC to audition for the show. Her desire was so genuine and heartfelt that you couldn’t help but root for her, especially when the judges called her husband–who didn’t want her to audition–into the room. She’s only an okay singer, though, so one has to wonder not only how she’ll get the money to go to Hollywood for the next round, but also how crushing it will be when she finally gets eliminated.

Rockers have never fared well on American Idol, but that didn’t stop Constantine Maroulis, the lead singer for a heavy metal band, from turning out to audition. The judges put him through, but the real drama came when Ryan Seacrest showed up at his band’s rehearsal to announce that Constantine had made it to the next round of the show. The band was less than thrilled to be losing its front man to a “bubblegum” show.

While Regina and Constantine have interesting backstories, the best singer of the night was unquestionably Anwar Robinson, a junior high music teacher with a fantastic voice. He’s an early favorite to make it to the top 12 this time around.

Fox is definitely set to Idol overload, with another hour of auditions airing tomorrow, eventually gearing up to the show being broadcast in some form or another a total of three nights a week. Can you get too much of a good thing? Stay tuned…

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About Nick Danger

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    ole thing, the sense of “been there, done that” was overwhelming. While America has a seemingly unlimited appetite for schadenfreude…

    Indeed – I am at a loss to explain the specific reasons for this – is it inherent in ‘Americanism’, or a new pathological phenomenon in society? Also, schadenfreude can also be expressed by one group against other groups, e.g. Germany delighting in a soccer victory over Holland – does this explain anti-Americanism.

    American Idol? This is about the show?

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Excellent writing Scott.

    I still love these opening shows. They really pick the worst of the worst. This year I thought they stayed with each singer longer. They didn’t have as many featured and that’s a shame. Other than one or two montages, I don’t think they had more than 15 really.

  • Neal

    I will do everything in my power not to watch AI this year.

  • Hayley

    American Idol’s try-outs are so funny.

  • KAREN

    DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT THE SONG BY MICHAEL JACKSON IS CALLED WHERE IT GOES BRING SALVATION BACK THE 16 YEAR OLD GIRL SANG IT IN THE AUDITIONS FOR AMERICAN IDOL 4

  • http://www.mariettatimes.com Sam Smith

    From February 4, 2005 newspaper:
    “Local Idol Contestant Responds to Past Allegations”

    Pawning her wedding ring to help pay for a trip to an audition for Fox’s popular television show “American Idol” is only part of the story of Regina Brooks, which has some saying she should not be considered for the award.

    The 28-year-old Athens native, with ties to Belpre, is already a sentimental favorite to win the show after her hard-luck story aired during the first week of the talent search.
    Brooks was one of 189 contestants chosen from thousands of hopefuls to move on to the show’s next round in Hollywood, which airs next Tuesday and Wednesday on Fox. In the coming weeks, viewers will have the ability to call in and vote for their favorite singer. Past winners have become instant celebrities and were awarded recording contracts.

    Despite her success so far, Brooks has her critics, too. Some say her troubled past has left the singer unworthy of a shot at the title: “American Idol.”

    Brooks, a former stripper who lost parental rights to two of her children in the wake of child abuse allegations in 1997, said she changed her lifestyle and has grown to become a better person. Brooks denied any child abuse although she was a suspect in the crime, but never charged. She said Fox was made aware of the allegations during a screening process at her audition in Washington, D.C.

    “Before people judge me they should know the whole, entire story,” Brooks said.

    At the time of the allegations, Brooks was living in Parkersburg with then-boyfriend Damon Sargent. In July 1997, Brooks’ 3-week-old daughter was taken to Camden-Clark Memorial Hospital with life-threatening injuries. The child was later transported to a Huntington, W.Va., pediatric unit and doctors suspected the injuries were symptoms of Shaken-Baby Syndrome.

    Protective Service workers interviewed Brooks and Sargent, but according to court records, the investigation was stifled by their lack of cooperation.

    It wasn’t the first time Brooks had not cooperated with Children’s Service workers. Three months earlier, allegations of neglect regarding an older child in the home surfaced. Due to Brooks’ refusal to cooperate the case was closed, according to records.

    Brooks and Sargent offered conflicting statements about the nature of the younger child’s injuries, leaving investigators unable to determine who was responsible. No charges were ever filed.

    The children were placed into the care of John and Nikki Rake, of Marietta. John Rake is the father of the girl that was injured, now a 7-year-old. The older child, who was fathered by Sargent, was adopted by another family.

    Brooks said she left Sargent after the incident because she feared he was responsible. She said the move was good for her because it was the first step in putting a life of drug and alcohol abuse behind her.

    “After I found out that abuse was suspected I was no longer able to live with him,” Brooks said. “I know I didn’t hurt my child … that left him.”

    Brooks said she believes the children were taken from her because of her occupation as a stripper and not because of her abilities as a mother.

    “I believe I was discriminated against because of my profession at that time,” Brooks said. “Because I was a stripper – because of my lifestyle – I was automatically suspect in everyone’s minds.”

    Those beliefs are true to John Rake. He said even though charges were never brought in the case, he believes Brooks is responsible – either because she harmed the child herself or knew who did and failed to report that information to authorities.

    “It is upsetting to me to think that someone who was a part of all of this is being set up to be a role model for our children,” Rake said. “My little girl is still suffering from that attack.”

    Rake said the child must see a specialist several times a year for seizures that are a result of the trauma she suffered as an infant.

    Brooks maintains she was at work when she learned about the injuries.

    West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources documents confirm that Brooks learned of the child’s injuries when she was at work, but that the injuries occurred at an earlier time – when Brooks and Sargent were the only people with the child.

    Brooks questioned the findings, and said if she knew anything about how her infant was injured she would have spoken up.

    “The timeline is simple: I left for work and the baby was fine. When I came back she was not,” Brooks said. “I wish I knew what happened. I wish I could say: ‘He did it. Take him to jail’ … but I don’t know what happened.”

    Brooks said the Fox network is aware of the past allegations and that it should not affect her status on the show. Last year, three of the show’s final 32 contestants were cut because of their troubled pasts.

    Two contestants were disqualified from the show after Fox learned they had been charged with assault stemming from separate incidents. Another contestant was removed for posing topless on a Web site that advertised pictures of underage girls.

    In the show’s first season, third-place finisher Nikki McKibbin was not axed after the show learned she had worked as a stripper. And last year a contestant who was honest about a felony theft conviction on her record was allowed to continue.

    To address the issue of contestants’ pasts coming up, Idol producers have beefed up the initial screening process, Brooks said.

    “I have nothing to hide,” she said. “It has taken everything that has happened to make me who I am today.”

    A spokesman for the network refused to comment on Brooks’ situation.

    Brooks said she believes Rake’s bitterness toward her is what brought the story out.

    “I think they believe that if this story breaks it will crumble me,” Brooks said. “But I never lied – not then and not now. Fox knew about all of this before I ever went to Hollywood.”

    Nikki Rake said she just wants people to know the whole truth before they decide to support Brooks.

    “I pray for Regina and I want her to become a better person because someday her children are going to want to know her,” Nikki Rake said. “She has a beautiful voice, but I don’t want children looking at her as an idol.”

    Brooks said the Rakes have asked her to respect their privacy and leave them alone over the past several years.

    “I nearly bit my tongue off, but I have,” Brooks said. “It has been hard and I just wonder why they want to bring up all of this now?”

    Brooks, who prepares bids for a contracting company, said she misses her children and hopes to someday have a relationship with them. In the meantime, she lives in Virginia Beach, Va., with her husband, Mark Brooks, and their 5-year-old daughter. She just learned this week she is expecting another child. Brooks said she has yet to be able to reclaim her hawked wedding ring.

    “I did fall by the wayside and I’m not ashamed to admit it,” Brooks said. “I have lived life in the worst and hardest forms and have risen above that and today I can stand up and say ‘look at me now.'”

  • http://scottpepper.blogspot.com Scott Pepper

    It’s a moot point now, anyway — Regina was not selected for the next round on tonight’s show. Her rejection did not seem to have anything to do with these allegations though, as I doubt the judges or producers were aware of them when this was filmed.

  • Robin Jones

    I am regina brooks mother-in our youth we make mistakes, there are times we often think we are making the best decision-but it seems to be a disaster, regardless regina is my daughter-I Love her, she is a beautiful young woman-we all have made mistakes-think about the times we often think we are making the right decision, but it blows up in our face.forgive and forget! Thank God I’m not God!! Regina pick your self up and live,and love your life-God Loves You!!I love you!!Robin Jones
    Your Mother!!! God Loves You!!!!!- call me!!!!

  • George Cornell

    I have to slightly disagree with Robin because you are supposed to learn from your mistakes and not keep making the same ones over and over. I met and became involved with Regina in March 2008. The night I met her we sat and talked and laid everything out on the table as to what each other was looking for as far as a relationship goes and we both seemed to be on the same level. We both wanted someone honest, respectful, FAITHFUL, and someone who eventually wanted to marry ahave a family. I really thought that I had found my dream girl when I met Regina. Before too long, Regina became pregnant and said that the baby was mine. I believed her but as time went on, things between us just weren’t what they should,ve been. She became very distant, never included me around her friends, never invited me to her home, and often either cancelled or stood me up when we would make plans.When we did go out anywhere she would often act like I wasn’t even there! As much as it hurt we often would argue over this. The next day she would call me apologizing and telling me how much she loved me. Lies all lies.The last straw was in June of 2008. We had made plans to go out one night and not only did she stand me up that night, but she also she sent me a text message on my cell phone that her and I were over and that she had a boyfriend! A few days later (with the help of a friend) she showed up at a place i was at with some friends and brought the guy she dumped me for! When i tried to talk to her she made a scene in the place and I ended up kicked out. After that, i had tried to call her and talk to her by phone about the baby in which I was told she planned to have an abortion. I was devastated. During this time, she even had the nerve to take out criminal charges against me for harassment! When it came time for court, she never showed and the charges against me were dismissed.two weeks before Christmas in ’08 she called me and apologized for what she had done and put me through and told me that she didn’t have the abortion. Regina still claimed that the baby was mine and asked me for help.I couldn’t be happier and I did help her.We had talked about seeing each other again and raising our daughter TOGETHER. On February 1, 2009 Myla voyd Francine was born. I gave my all to both Regina and Myla. All was fine even though Regina would occasionally slip back into her old ways. What was to come after that, was what I wasn’t prepared for. In June 2009, Regina announced that she had an opportunity to audition on the show America’s Got Talent. I was really proud of her and did everything I could to support her. She said that she needed $3000 to travel to California for the audition and would also be able to take Myla with her! My mom loaned her the money to go and to this day was never paid back as Regina promised she would do! Since she has been in California, I have learned that the audition was a lie and she has not been back home to Virginia since. She also cut me off from all contact with her. How does a person act like this toward someone when that person has been nothing but good to them?

  • George Cornell

    In no way am I trying to talk bad about Regina. My intentions for this post is for other people to see what I have gone through with her. No “NORMAL” person treats people that are good to them the way she does. She either has some kind of mental problem or she is back on drugs. I have already seen firsthand that she has a serious alcohol problem. Its really sad to see such a beautiful and talented woman ruin her life for that kind of lifestyle.I hope that she gets the help she desperately needs before its too late. As much as I should be angry at her for how she treated me and disrespected my mom, I still love her very much. As crazy as it sounds, I can not be angry with a person who needs help.