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`Idol' is actually just crazy like a Fox

February 02, 2007|Richard Rushfield | Times Staff Writer

Any notions that "American Idol" had put the "Is Paula crazy?" debate behind it were shattered with the middle judge's performance this week.

On Tuesday night's audition show, held in Birmingham, Ala., Abdul turned in a classic performance of her personal genre, bobbing, weaving, leaping from her seat, crawling on her knees, hysterically overreacting, making out-of-context funny faces and swaying to a private orchestra performing in her head.

Suspicions of some sort of somersault off some wagon or another were raised only when Abdul was mysteriously absent for the second day of the Birmingham tryouts, having returned to Los Angeles, as host Ryan Seacrest cryptically informed the audience, for "family obligations." (Whatever. Learned Kremlinologists will read much into the outburst of overt dementia and her seeming return to manageably kooky behavior by Wednesday night's show -- the L.A. auditions.)

As this latest episode shows, the genius of Fox's "Idol" has been its ability to milk its own drama. Last season, for example, rather than hide its breaking scandal (again Abdul-centric, re: her relationship with a contestant) under a bushel, the show played it for all it was worth.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 03, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
'American Idol': An article about "American Idol" in Friday's Calendar said that Katharine McPhee, the runner-up last season, is from Studio City. She is from Sherman Oaks.

Are they now reintroducing a tried-and-true storyline by giving another glimpse of crazy Paula? The theory is supported by the outburst hours before the show aired of a universally hyped story that an "Idol" producer had sought out none other than Courtney Love as a replacement for Abdul. Although later denied, the rumor had all the makings of the perfect P.R. stunt.

In any event, at a mere hour each, the week's two audition shows lacked something of the grandeur one expects from an "Idol" prequel episode. Returning to the hometowns of last year's finalists, Taylor Hicks (Birmingham) and Katharine McPhee (L.A.), the episodes also failed to perform at the high end of their range. The freak parade trooped past in decent form, but very, very few rough diamonds appeared. In fact, with only one audition episode left to air, none of the contestants we have seen look likely, by any standard, to make it to the show's final tier.

And further, isn't holding an audition in L.A. at all just an empty charade? After the spectacle of McPhee's contest-losing journey home to Studio City last year, need we pretend that America is in any way prepared to accept a native Angeleno as its champion? Like it or not, L.A., until you raise a native son who can speak convincingly about eating ribs for breakfast and your ZIP Code starts with something other than a "9," that glass ceiling is meant for you.


Show Tracker is a new column that follows television series through their highs and lows.

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