Do you hear the sound of all that hype? Yes, folks, "American Idol" is back on the air.

Whether it seems like it just ended or hasn't been on for eons, the seventh season of "Idol" is both Sanjaya-less and, at this point, scandal-free. And it got off to its usual bang with auditions that ran the gamut in terms of talent and sanity. First stop? Philadelphia.

"Idol" downtime seems to have done our judges some good: Paula was in undeniably better shape than she was at this point last year, Randy was sporting some additional facial hair in the form of a goatee and some sideburns and Simon — well, he was the same as ever, which as far as I'm concerned is only a good thing.

At this point we pretty much know the different audition genres we're going to be shown: the heart-wrenching personal stories where the skills will range from middling to excellent, the genuinely good and the talent-free total nut jobs we can only hope act as insanely as they do in order to maximize their airtime.

And the show wasted no time tugging on our emotional heartstrings by launching immediately into the story of Joey, who not only lost more than 200 pounds but also brought along two of the cutest grandmothers ever to be televised.

But he was just a warm-up for Angela, who said she wanted to be on the show to help her Rett Syndrome-suffering daughter get the best medical help available, and you actually knew she was telling the truth.

Also giving our tear ducts some action was Temptress, a football-playing 16-year-old who wanted to win for her sick mother and whose sobs when she didn't were so sweet that Randy and Paula — who'd had no trouble blatantly cackling through some other auditions — gave her a group hug.

On the genuinely talented side, we had Junot, who elicited an "I'm actually taking you seriously" face out of Simon from his first note; Jose, who may have been singing a Mark Anthony song better than Mark Anthony; and Brooke, a 24-year-old who's never seen an R-rated movie.

But the one whose story got teased the most throughout the broadcast was that of 23-year-old Kristy, a stunning, willowy horse-training cage fighter who was raised in a log cabin and seemed to be perfect.

Simon seemed to be the girl's biggest fan, praising her for being "really sincere" in a way that, roughly translated, seemed to mean "really hot."

Still, let's be honest. What makes the "Idol" auditions go 'round are all of the weirdoes who come out of the woodwork. Like Alaa, a gap-toothed Egyptian who had equal enthusiasm for the Bee Gees and American girls and whose broken English reminded us enough of Borat for it to be good fun.

Or Alexis, who smelled like incense (according to Ryan), looked like Willem Dafoe (according to Simon) and was really bitter about getting rejected, according to several of the obscenity-laced tirades she went on.

Next stop? Texas. And while I'm guessing there's some real talent that will be coming out of the place that gave us Jessica Simpson, I'm going to predict that the unhinged will also be well-represented in the Lone Star state.

Anna David is a freelance writer. Her novel, "Party Girl," is in stores.