1. Wednesday, Sep 4th 2002

    Posted by @IDOL_Insider

    What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been Dear Readers, Well-wishers, Harm-wishers and various Hangers-on:

    When I sat down to write this final recap, I had two goals in mind: To provide no less than three laughs for the entire column, and to use the most banal, trite headline in the history of the universe. One goal down, one to go.

    Before we get started, I know many of you were looking forward to reading this recap last week. Mainly because I sorta promised that would happen. Well, instead I decided to go on vacation. If there's anybody that deserves a relaxing break, it's a guy who works two days a week making fun of people. Since that person is me, off I went. The good news is, I took a camera with me and snapped a few photos of my trip to Amish country. Also, I played some golf. None of this information is particularly funny or interesting, but there it is all the same.

    Scholars and historians argue over the exact genesis of the cultural phenomenon known as AMERICAN IDOL. Some say it was the success of Pop Idol over in the UK. Some say it was the failure of Pop Stars 2 right here in the States. And some say it was the day Elvis died. I tend to think it's a combination of all three. Of course, I also tend to be wrong about most things, so really, who the hell knows how this thing got started. I just know that it's over, and my job is to sum up the whole potato. So let's have at it! If you haven't seen all of these episodes, you probably won't know what I'm talking about and the column won't be that interesting. Although, really, even if you watched each episode four times, this column won't be all that interesting, so proceed at your own risk.

    Back in April, star-struck rugrats began amassing in Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago and New York. You know, listing has always been one of my strong suits. I think I handled that well. What wasn't handled so well were some of the early auditions. Trotting themselves in front of Randy, Paula and Simon were some people that couldn't sing, some that didn't have the right look, some that couldn't sing and didn't have the right look and one that was Levi Blue of Seattle. Good ol' Levi couldn't sing, had a look that could only be described as the Levi Blue, and was about as masculine as a eunuch. Surprisingly, Levi didn't move on to Los Angeles. However, wait a few more months, and you can probably catch him touring the Pacific Northwest with a local company's production of Stomp. As an Assistant Propmaster.

    Another really terrific person that got fifteen seconds of fame was Stephanie Sugarman, the self-proclaimed "Cheese Gal" of California. Or maybe she said "Cheese Queen". Whatever the actual title was, Stephanie sold fromage, and it's a good thing she has a job already, because "Singer" won't be added to her resume anytime soon. She did provide us with a few laughs when she barged back into the audition room just to make sure she didn't get the invite to Hollywood. She didn't. Upon receiving this surprising news, she barked, "Oh, hell no!" and proceeded to inform us that she's the total package and the next Tina Marie. Or the next Stephanie Sugarman. My first reaction was, please let this be the last Stephanie Sugarman as well.

    But the most memorable of the "No, thanks" group came from the NYC. Representin' Strong Island, y'all! Or maybe he was from Yonkers. I dunno. Anyways, I could only be referring to one man, one visor, one dance. The Derek! Derek Stilling stormed into the New York auditions, sniffling the whole way. It was a beautiful Manhattan day, so I can only assume he caught the flu earlier in the week. Derek invented his own song, his own dance and his own tattoo and set the world on fire!

    If Derek had any competition in New York, it was Rose. Rose screeched the wrong notes, then scolded the judges for their critique, deftly pointing out that she "wasn't trying to sing the right notes". Clever approach. Wrong, but clever. Rose ended up with Derek, out on the street, warbling to passersby who started passing by a lot quicker once the singing started. But don't feel bad for Rose. If you have to feel bad for anybody, feel bad for Rose's future husband. The poor schlub, I'm assuming a municipal employee, will one day be trapped in a small, three-bedroom with two kids and Rose screeching at them to "get your asses off the couch and clean up this kitchen!" If you're looking for a dictionary definition of "bored housewife who's bitter that her life never went anywhere", sneak a peek at Rose. Or, reread that last sentence since I just did such a brilliant job of explaining it.

    Thousands upon thousands of people wholly ill-fitted to the task tried their hardest and failed their worst. Take away the 24-year old age limit, and who knows how many people would've fallen flat on their mugs. And why? For what purpose, I beseech? Simply to become rich? And famous? Is it really that worth it? Well, yes. Everybody wants to be rich and famous, including you, me and that weird guy down the street. His chances are looking pretty good right now. Yours and mine, not so much. Well, yours are okay.

    Anyway, back to our original storyline. Our judges heroically pared their list from around 10,000 to around 120 or so. I know, because I took a very exact head count. Which I promptly forgot to write down, which I why had to estimate. Shame on me, I guess, and not for the first time.

    The second cutdown process had a few lovely moments as well. Like Jacquetta Williams who, in Chicago, bashfully admitted she's "a big girl" after a great audition. Not expecting to move on, Jacquetta was shocked, "Oh my God!" I believe are the exact words, when she found out Simon and the gang were putting her through to level two. And on the plane trip from Chi-town to LA LA land (boy, was that hip or what?), she apparently continuously thought about how great she was, because she blossomed into a full-fledged diva by the time her plane touched down.

    After he second performance, when Simon dared to say she didn't have the right look for the AMERICAN IDOL, Jacquetta's morph from shy wallflower to megastar was complete. She fought back with the judges, telling them...well, I don't remember exactly what she said. But it wasn't very nice. You know, that last time I saw a single compliment change somebody so quickly, it was when I nearly beat a person to death after they said my second recap was "only okay." Which reminds me, I hope those charges are dropped soon, because I'd like to return to California sometime soon.

    Pasadena also featured the beautiful moment of Randy arguing with a contestant over who's fatter. That's a pretty close call, but I can tell you this chap definitely had the worse hair. And sunglasses. And face. And clothes. Other than that, he's a regular matinee idol. The kid went off on a touchy-feely rant about people's goals and feelings and dreams and bodies and whatever. Take it back to Sally Jessy, sport. This show is for the tough. Like me! Aarrrgh!

    So, as we saw, 120 became 60 became 45 became 30. The final 30! Or, the final 31, as we would soon find out. Bum-bah! Drama! More on that later, since I like to delay drama for meaningless tangents. Our final 30 freshly-scrubbed faces were lined up and broken into three groups of 10. At this point, and office pool broke out and everybody jumped in, figuring they could pinpoint the eventual AMERICAN IDOL. For the record, let me just say that at this point, my picks for the final five were Adriel, Brad Estrin, RJ, Mark Scott and Justin. Needless to say, I slightly overestimated the teenage girl factor over the talent factor.

    But hey, one of these 30 kids would become America's biggest superstar. At this point, all we knew is that Justin had big hair, Ryan was hot, Brad Estrin was short and Natalie Burge was chatty. Eventually, we would learn that Alexandra and Tenia were dangerous and most others were immediately forgettable.

    So the first important night came. The first group of 10 would be performing. Nobody knew what to do, nobody knew how to react to the judges, and to this day nobody knows what shafafa sauce is. Including Ryan Starr. Culinary question marks notwithstanding, the first group of 10 saw Tamyra, Ryan and Jim move on to the final 10. Yes, Jim. No, I know. I said Jim. Yes, that Jim. Jim Verraros. A couple months later, and it's still hard to believe. That left Natalie, Chris Aaron, Adriel and Kelli Glover left to languish on reruns, if they ever have any. Kelli was none too happy about that fact, brusquely brushing aside any consolation. I have a feeling she thought she was destined for stardom. Instead, she was destined for a sales associate position at Banana Republic. I know a 20% discount is no recording contract, but at least it's something.

    The second group of ten came the following week, sensibly enough, and by now the kids had learned from the first batch. The shining moment from this group, still to this date, was Jamar's rendition of "Careless Whispers." It caught the nation by surprise and we all bonded over our laughter. "Careless Whispers? Really?" "Really!" Another terrific moment was Alexandra Bachelier telling the judges she may not be right for them, but she'll be the right person for somebody some day. If that somebody is a producer of softcore movies on Cinemax, she hit the nail square on the noggin.

    On the second important Wednesday of the show, Kelly and Justin moved on, to nobody's surprise, and A.J. joined them. Two shockers in a row. With these three advancing, Angela, Alexis, Gil and others were left wondering what could've been. And, of course, what could've been is nothing. They weren't that good. Although Alexis was pleasant to look at. I'm going to celebrate her 18th birthday harder than she does.

    Now the time came for the third group of ten. Four spots in the finals remained, including the one designated for the judges' Wild Card pick. By this point, the tension between judges, hosts, contestants, valets and caterers was roiling. The show was growing into a surprise phenomenon, and with more people paying attention each week, more eyes and ears were focused on that nasty Simon. Oh, Mr. Cowell! Why do you say such things?

    Of course, the high/low point of this group was the almost judge rumble. Randy and Paula didn't take too kindly to Simon calling Jim and A.J. losers, although I can't imagine why they would have a problem with that. Paula pretended to coddle Simon, but Randy wanted to coddle him with punches. Cooler heads eventually prepared, but Simon did take the time to point out that Ryan and Brian don't know anything about music and should stop saying everybody was so great.

    Everybody was rattled, including Kristin Holt, who had to follow RJ. Tough opener. Kristin promptly flunked out and went back to beauty queen school. But before she left, she surmised that Simon must've missed the bucket at the door because "that's where we leave our attitude." I still maintain this is the most bizarre line of whole affair. Paula's really made a run at the title over the past few weeks, but I say that one is still the champ.

    After the dust finally settled, Christina, Nikki and EJay were moving on. That's right, EJay. EJay wasn't even on the show until this episode, as it was revealed that Delano was slightly over the age limit. By five years. Ooh. Just missed. So EJay flies into town, sings and move onto the final ten. Whirlwind journey!

    At this point, we had nine, but we needed ten, so the Wild Card show was on deck. Kelli Glover, Chris Aaron, Alexis, Angela Peel and RJ were all invited back by special request of the Judges Panel. Meaning the other sixteen kids from the competition had crossed the realm into "forgotten." Think I'm lying? All right. Tell me what Tanesha looks like.

    The judges obviously felt bad enough to bring RJ back for one more chance, and beyond that, they felt bad enough to personally escort him into the finals. At this point, we had done it! We whittled thirty to ten. Now, we had to whittle ten to one. The one! The AMERICAN IDOL! Oh my God! Whooooooo!

    The first week, we were going to cut two. Each following week, one would go home. At this point, there were only two questions. Would Tamyra win? Or would Justin? Three questions, if you count "Is Ryan Starr wearing anything?" Fortunately, the answer usually was, "Sort of, but not much."

    Like I said, the first week was going to feature two cuts, and the first one was EJay. Talking about going low-high-low. This kid had no time to rest. Between shopping for floppy hats and singing at Six Flags, the poor kid must be exhausted. But who would go second? Jim would. The long nightmare finally came to an end.

    Now that the fat had been trimmed, it was time to get down to business. Eight singers remained, all talented in their own way. Nikki's way being in your face and dangerous, Ryan's way being they're in your face and RJ's way being okay.

    The next week's chop took out A.J. Looks like he helped build that house for nothing. Although A.J. continually dazzled with an array of white rapper outfits that Eminem wasn't using, it just wasn't enough to counteract his featherweight falsetto. A.J. went back to Tacoma and an army of siblings, but he least he can always say he was on TV once.

    Another week came, and Ryan Starr was teetering on the brink of disaster. Disaster in this case meaning she would be kicked off a popular television show. Her house wasn't threatened by flood waters or anything. Anyway, the previous week, Ryan screeched through a rendition of "You Really Got Me." And it almost got her booted from the show. How would she bounce back this week? Well, with a terrible performance of "Last Dance." Ryan had clearly mentally checked out of the competition awhile ago, and was now eager to sit back in a rocking chair and let sleazy Hollywood types approach with offers of money in exchange for brief, partial nudity.

    But that wasn't all that week. The Justin Express was nearly derailed as well. On Tuesday, after receiving some critiques from Simon, Justin asked the audience what they thought, and he said, "that's the opinion that matters." By Wednesday, his handlers had debriefed him and on the next show he fell all over himself trying to apologize. It was just barely enough, as he was in the bottom two on Wednesday. Fortunately, for Justin at least, anti-Ryan sentiment was running high, and she got the booteroo.

    The fifth week of the finals saw the conspiracy birds flock together stronger than ever. After a pretty good performance on Tuesday, Christina was MIA on Wednesday. And, in what some people say was a coincidence while others said it was the biggest hoax since the Julia Roberts/Lyle Lovett "wedding," Christina was ejected from the show.

    We were now down to five, and at this point the question wasn't, "Who will win?" Rather, it was, "What's Nikki still doing here?" That question, and Nikki, would survive another week as it was RJ being politely asked to leave. Although he was asked rather nicely, that didn't prevent him from crying. Lotta tears on this show. Lotta tears. Not from me, though. I've stayed strong! Strong like bull!

    So seriously, what's Nikki still doing here? The question on everybody's mind. That and deficit spending. But don't worry. There's no way Nikki will move on past Tamyra, right? Well, if you're still reading to this point, you've obviously watched the show and know exactly what happened. And if you are still reading to this point, I'm shocked. Even I gave up about a page and a half ago.

    The problem for Tamyra was, during her first performance Tuesday, she focused more on getting the crowd up and dancing than actually singing. Just about every other kid on the show was allowed one slip up, and in many cases two, before they got el booto. Not Tamyra. I don't know if she set the bar too high for herself or what, but she was one goof and out. I'm glad I didn't have to adhere to that strict standard. I haven't done anything right to this point.

    Shockingly, Nikki joined Kelly and Justin in the final three. She couldn't really last another week, could she? No, of course not. Nikki finally ran out of votes and took it like a man. A particularly tough man at that. Although, when Simon said, in so many words, "Yeah, Nikki, you were fine, whatever, but Kelly, you were unbelievable," in his farewell speech to Nikki, I think Nikki started flipping open her butterfly knife. She's like the female Eminem! Don't play with her, Moby! You'll lose!

    So, after 3 months, 14 weeks, 98 days, 1 very special final battle between Kelly and Justin, and a recent binge of mathematics, we were ready to crown a winner. And remember, in today's sensitive society, there are no losers, so whoever comes in second is really super too!

    A celebrity-specked crowd flocked to the Kodak Theatre, filling it to the gilded gills. Tension was in the air. The final ten had been reunited for one last performance - at least until the AMERICAN IDOL Tour starts - and the big announcement was coming. Either Kelly or Justin was going to win and receive a prestigious recording contract. Of course, whoever came in second would get a prestigious recording contract as well, but not for a few more months. So there was at least a little incentive to win. Such drama! How we would fill two hours was a big question going into the final show. Well, we'd show an hour of taped material first. It's always nice to see the bad auditions from April again, so there was nothing wrong. But then the final ten hit the stage, and brilliance and mediocrity competed for attention. You know who's brilliant and who's mediocre, so I'll save us some time and just move along. That's right, I've finally decided to save time at the end of this neverending article. Just in case you didn't know though, Jim Verraros is not brilliant. Unless you're mean "at being accidentally hilarious."

    So the almost eight were cleared out of the spotlight, and we were treated to one last duet from Kelly and Justin. Expect to see this again toward the end of AMERICAN IDOL 2. Or from somewhere in Rockefeller Center around Christmas. So touching! I think they're actually in love!

    And then the time finally came for the big announcement. Finally. And the winner was...Kelly Clarkson! Which, of course, you already knew, so I don't know why I even pretended that was a dramatic moment. Maybe because I'm a hack.

    Congrats, Kelly. My hat's off to you. I'm glad you won, particularly because you love me so much.

    So, eventually, and after many, many words, most of which were completely unnecessary, the show has been completely recapped. I'm glad I could be of service. And, dear reader, allow me to thank you for loving the Jaded Journalist so. I know that statement seems rather sincere for a sarcastic jerkoff like me, but sometimes I like to surprise.

    You know, the second biggest question after "Who will win?" has been "What will the Jaded Journalist do next?" Obviously the second one is more important, and the first one has already been answered, so I'll handle the second one. Well, the answer is, "Nothing different." I'll be staying put right here on the idolonfox Web site and churning new and even more hilarious articles in the upcoming weeks. I'm travelling to Las Vegas with the kids, and I'm sure they'll be sending me on plenty of other wacky adventures. Like a trip to 7-11 for more beef jerky.

    So keep watching this space. I'll be adding a new article every once in a while, and when AMERICAN IDOL 2 kicks off, the recap fun will start all over again. Until I can think of a better close, later!