Oh, say can I sing? 


With "American Idol" chiming in its second season of humility glory, and its main squeeze, Simon Cowell, overdosing every interview show on the docket -- being mean on cue (but not cute on me) -- it would only seem appropriate that I should find myself in line with a legion of head shots and the people that go with them. It should be known, I am of the "Fame/Flashdance" generation. Y'know, the ones where dreams came true if you cut your hair and your clothes accordingly. I don't even watch "American Idol." I am "American Idol," baby.

But, alas, it is not the fresh tryouts to "American Idol (the Wrath of Cowell)" to which I am bearing witness with shameless ideas of "Solid Gold" routines. No, this is far more challenging. The pundits in my midst -- my competition -- are shaking in their Danskins for the opportunity to stand on the pitchers mound and belt the national anthem during the Orlando Rays season (plus the Atlanta Braves Spring Training). Should I grab crotch like Roseanne did or rather collagen-lip-synch in the manner of Cher?

Oh, the possibilities.

"We've got the next group of people in a suite," offers my pretty-girl escort, prior to an overstatement of "You know, the next ones."

Next thing I know, I'm with the "next ones," who are playing wallflowers around the perimeter of the suite. I've apparently advanced in line and contemplate simply offering the nervous assemblage the comforting phrase of "Go the hell home. You're gonna lose." Instead, I keep my professional manner and decide it would only be harmful to strain my golden voice.

Within minutes, I'm pulled even further ahead to The Room Where It All Happens. Not surprisingly, the setup is of the "Idol" ilk, with a panel of judges -- three men, one woman (we'll call her Paula) -- sorting through head shots and cringing with delight when the singer's "rockets' red glare" takes its inevitable bend flatward.

"So what qualifies you guys as judges?" I quiz, jovially. Silence ... then belly-fulls of ironic laughter.

"Which one of you is Simon?" I take the joke too far. "How is your last day here?" one of the judges takes it even further.

Stephanie, 11, enters the room with her best Jon Benet denim outfit and sway. Some nervous joking about the microphone follows, and she looks to not care about anything. And then we're off.

"Oh, say can you SEE ... " Not bad. A little Debbie Boone. But also a little too little to know who Debbie Boone is.

"By the dawn's early light. What so proudly we hailed ... " Things drip into imminent Aguilera tendencies by mid-song, and I'm clearly the better choice.

Then I'm given the chance to show my chops. I say something really gay, probably involving the term "girl," as it's not supposed to be used. The "last day" judge does a gay finger-snap in my direction.

"But I CAN sing!" I limp into the corner. Except I can't.

Most of the other patriots present can, though -- remarkably better, in fact, than the lackadaisies populating the "Idol" show. Methinks I smell a scam. Me also thinks I've heard this song far too many times after the four auditions I endure. I take the opportunity to crawl back into the lineup area, where I felt more comfortable in my potential.

"So, uh, who's next?" I shake it off.

Surprise! It's a boy! From the care taken in Shaun's photo, and the fact that he has a smiling girl-fan carrying it for him, leads me to believe he may be something of a sister to me.

"Do you have a routine planned?" I wink. "Um ... " he ums. "Have you sung professionally before?" I press.

"I have a co-ed singing group," he matter-of-facts. "And I auditioned for "American Idol 2.""

Bingo! He said "co-ed."

"Did ya make it?"

By now the crowd is assembling around him in a jealous "tell me more" Grease chorus.

"Um, no. I didn't make it. I made it to the last 100," he makes it. "A lot of people don't know that there are different cuts. I was there with like 4,000 other people. I got there on Saturday and had to audition on Monday, and I made it to the last 100. Then I made it on to the next cut on, like, Wednesday. They said, 'You have a great voice, and you're a good talent, but you're just not what we're looking for."

Which leads the masses to a grand realization that the whole thing is rigged, and it inspires a strange camaraderie of which I painfully become a part.

"I auditioned. If you watch the show, with the black girl that butchered Vanessa Williams' 'Save the Best for Last.' She was in line with me the whole time. But I had no idea! When I watched it on TV, I was like ... "

Here, Shaun makes a face that might say, 'Girl,' as it's not supposed to be said, and deserve three gay finger-snaps. I love him.

"It's television," he goes on. "Whether it's true or not that they already have the top 10 picked, I don't know."

"What do you make of Kelly Clarkson then?" I pinch myself. To which Shaun can only provide a distant cool face of "I hate her."

"I heard she lost her voice," chimes in some ringlets-with-braces accident. "My teacher told me."

How is your last day here?


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