Reality Check: Arbitrary Judging on ‘American Idol’

There has been a lot of talk about how harsh the “American Idol” judges have been this year.

To which I ask: How would you act if a guy warning you about how emotional his performance was going to be suddenly launched into a zealous, unhinged dance accompanied by some kind of spoken-word poetry?

I think what’s more noteworthy than the judges’ cruelty to contestants is their complete and thorough arbitrariness.

The first guy they showed auditioning in Memphis, for example, was roughly 50 times better than the wacky Shakira wannabe they OK'd last week.

Yet once Simon called Frank’s performance over-the-top, the guy couldn’t catch a break.

While Simon did have a point about the guy — he was accompanied to the audition by the entire cheerleading team he coached and what appeared to be a marching band, so “over-the-top” was certainly a relevant adjective for him — since when is getting too into a performance worse than not being able to sing?

Wandera, a girl with hair that can only be described as a red mullet-flip style, was met with equal indifference from our triumvirate.

While she didn’t take the news as well as Frank — she swore at the cameraman to get out of her face with more vehemence than someone being arrested on “Cops,” while Frank seemed to break into cheer — I say the talented girl had every right to be annoyed.

The panel did make some good calls, like putting through a very depressed guy who had a self-described Usama bin Laden beard and said he thinks all people are “poor inside,” but who really knew how to do a Johnny Cash song justice.

They also smartly vetted a heavy-set son of a famous musician and background singer with a confidence problem.

But I couldn’t help but feel that the deciding factor in a lot of these cases was what voices were flitting through Paula’s brain at the given moment, how much Randy felt like saying, “Thanks for looking out” again and whether or not Simon had some sort of a personal problem with the delivery.

Of course, the audition shows gloss over the majority of the talented people they OK to go to the next round in favor of showcasing the wack jobs, and Memphis did not disappoint in the insanity area.

There was another heavy guy who was preternaturally obsessed with Paula — until he got rejected and seemed to deliver a sort of break-up speech to her — a skinny black guy who inexplicably believed he sounded just like Elvis and a series of people who insisted on singing even after being begged to stop.

Then again, next to Paula — grooving along to thoroughly tuneless renditions of utterly unrecognizable songs and appearing to hurt herself while clapping her hands — most of them seemed right in sync.

Anna David is a freelance writer. Her first novel, "Party Girl," is coming out in June 2007 from HarperCollins.