Whether because so few of our residents profess to own a television set or so many of our well-pitched homegrown larynxes manage to attract fans the world over without the help of reality programming, Portland is usually spared the American Idol invasion. That changes this Saturday, however, as the Rose Garden fills with hopeful stars ready and eager to embarrass themselves before the nation's living rooms for a chance at the record-store dollar bins (the Garden is also set to host the American Idol Live tour the following weekend, wherein last year's top 11 warble their fave covers). In commemoration, WW looks back at the past decade of withering jibes, heartfelt treacle and mad grasps at that keening high note of sudden celebrity.
Five finalists who broke the Idol mold.
Frenchie Davis (Season 2)
Equally resembling the early '90s Wesley Snipes and early-'90s Aretha Franklin, Frenchie Davis would have won against long odds to emerge as the first entrant cast off the mountaintop for adult website pics, but, neither convicted for assault nor admitting an affair with Paula Abdul, 'twas far from the most embarrassing controversy that second season. Davis was recently eliminated as a finalist on The Voice: A next-gen singing contest born to ennoble vocal gifts and dissuade false Idolatry.
Bo Bice (Season 4)
Whether because of age (he benefitted more than anyone from the fourth-season age limit increase from 24 to 28), perspective (boyhood spent 'round London) or name (suggesting nasal congestion when spoken aloud), we always assumed Bo Bice understood the joke. Otherwise, his appearance in a cornflower blue tuxedo crooning the titular anthem to Blades of Glory would be impossibly cruel.
Elliott Yamin (Season 5)
Given the program's target demographics of drama-club alums, monied tweener girls and Southerners evidently delighting in familiarity of accent, there wasn't much rooting interest for indie-pop audiences prior to Elliott Yamin's adorably awkward stint, which proved the power of enlightened tune selections and the unexpectedly belted chorus.
Sanjaya Malakar (Season 6)
Idol's producers were nearly, well, Hung, when that other American idol, Howard Stern, urged his legions to artificially buoy the fortunes of a preening Bengali from Federal Way, Wash., soon beloved as much for his tonsorial perversity as clear vocal limitations. Sanjaya Malakar appears at the Alberta Rose Theatre this Tuesday, and shall doubtlessly leap to discuss the experience.
Adam Lambert (Season 8)
As the first openly gay performer 'midst a pageant that celebrates overly emoted celebration and offers pithy dismissal of amateur show-tune renditions, we shan't count Adam Lambert as an heir to Jackie Robinson. Still, Lambert may have been the last man alive to meaningfully rebel by showing the red states a pinkie painted black.
Kristy Lee Cook: Shooting Star
Oregon's only Idol Finalist shares advice on hunting talent...and deer.
A professional singer from the age of 13, Kristy Lee Cook wasn't exactly a fan of American Idol before being chosen as the seventh season's most memorable contestant—imagine the Carrie Underwood next door with self-deprecating wit and MMA chops (her farewell table dance left Simon Cowell uniquely speechless). "I didn't watch it consistently," she says. "I was too busy riding horses.â
It's actually some miracle she ever had the opportunity to brighten our screens at all. "I'd been home for about a year, resting my vocals due to acid reflux, and I thought this would probably be my last shot at making it," she says now. Alas, once Cook found her way to San Diego for the auditions closest to her Selma, Ore., log cabin, she didn't pass the first round of judging. "So I sold a horse, flew to Philly for the next audition, and ended up finishing seventh for the year!" Cook says her small-town roots didn't hold her back. "It's nice to be from somewhere that a lot of people don't know about and prove them wrong. There is talent in Oregon!"
Would've been easier, of course, had the producers of Idol not waited until the 11th season to anoint the throats of the Rose City, but Cook, now renting an apartment in Nashville, heartily encourages all Oregonians to try their luck. "Sing a song that shows your voice, but don't be overbearing or overpowering. If they don't let you through but say, 'You were good, you have good control, just not what we are looking for,' go to another city and do it again," she says. "If they don't, you're probably not very good."
Cook's own career has seen more ups and downs than most 27-year-old singers. Signed to Arista Nashville at 17 (to no avail) and again following her Idol tenure (2008's Why Wait garnered a top-30 single), she's about to record an album for Broken Bow Records while preparing the second season of her Versus network hunting program, Goin' Country—proof that Idol fame doesn't always travel a predictable route. "We just filmed a hunt on the YO ranch in Mountain Home, Texas, with a stage-four cancer patient named Katherine," Cook says. "We got her a nice axis deer, and she killed it with one heck of a shot!"
SEE THE IDOLS, BE THE IDOL: American Idol auditions are Saturday, July 2, at the Rose Garden. Registration starts Thursday, June 30. More information at americanidol.com. The American Idol Live tour hits the Rose Garden on Saturday, July 9. WW will be following its own Idol hopeful at wweek.com.