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American Idol Hits Big Birmingham

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American Idol hit Birmingham, Ala., last night – home of former Idolers Taylor Hicks, Ruben Studdard and Bo Bice. It took Ryan Seacrest less than 15 seconds to get a Lynryd Skynyrd reference (“Sweet Home Alabama”) in there. (But then again, it is Ryan Seacrest, so he was probably thought the scriptwriters were referring to the Reese Witherspoon movie.)

There were a few things apparent from the get-go:

  1. Paula either had a bad night or forgot to take her anti-loopy meds for the first day. Maybe the humidity got to her. Who knows? (Then we find out she's got a "family obligation" so she couldn't judge on day 2.)
  2. They milked the hour for as many commercials as they could get. We counted a commercial after every two auditions at one point.
  3. There are some big people and people with big pipes in Birmingham.
  4. While could use more Southern gentility in other parts of the country (Birmingham-ians seemed gracious in defeat, for the most part), it makes for pretty boring TV.

Day one began with Erica from Auburn University who sang "Unchained Melody," which is one of Simon's favorite songs. It didn't go well, so she started singing one more song, though the judges pleaded with her to stop. But she didn't. The best part, though, was Paula's look of disgust and horror when she continued singing. Paula got up from her chair and walked away, grabbed her head like she was seeing the murder of 1,000 innocents. Quit the histrionics, Paula, she wasn't that bad. Next up was Katie Bernard with her Betty Boop talking voice and a lower-register singing voice. She was annoying, but Paula sent her to Hollywood only because it would bug Simon. That's a sound decision as any, don't ya think, Paula?

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Then in came the big girls Diana Walker -- who sang the high notes in "Saving All My Love for You" like she was laughing (but we certainly weren't). And Margaret Fowler, who was definitely not 26 years old, but was definitely dressed like Big Bird. She sucked too, and finally Simon got her to admit her age: 50. But we're not sure if we believe that.

Blue-eyed bombshell Jamie Lynn Ward, 17, lives with her grandmother and helps take care of her paralyzed father. Yeah, that's the heart-tugging factor the judges and America love. Then they pressed her for more information, and she gives it to them: It seems that daddy tried to commit suicide because he caught her stepmother in the act of cheating on him. So he shot her and then tried to off himself. The judges -- and the audience were left down and dumbstruck. Of course she made it through, but we don't think she was all that good. And can you imagine having your family's dirty laundry aired like that on TV? Daddy might not have been too happy last night.