I've got to hand it to "Idol." On its second night — that is, the prime time for a freak brigade of maximum proportions — the show played it pretty tame.
Sure, the Texas auditions showcased some of the less-than-vocally blessed, but the spotlight was more on the subtly irregular, rather than the downright demented.
There was a roller coaster enthusiast, a hippie brother and sister who performed an Italian opera duet, a guy who brought along seven years' worth of fingernails he'd peeled off and a girl so mellow she appeared to be comatose even when she was singing and talking.
Things started to veer into more bizarre territory when we got to a children's counselor outfitted in "guyliner," a fake tan and a shirt signed by said children and a 28-year-old male Christina Aguilera disciple who continued to breathily whisper-sing for so long after he'd been begged to stop that he eventually had to be escorted out of the room.
But these guys were relatively normal compared to "Idol" contestants of years past. And they were also sweethearts who felt no need to rant against Simon when they were sent packing.
It was actually something of a Simon love fest on the show's second night, as several candidates (including an impassioned singer-songwriter whose love for Simon caused him to choke up) raved about the guy. And I have to say that the cantankerous Brit more than rose to the occasion, dropping some of his best one-liners in recent memory.
Whether he was praising a former backup singer for not seeming like a "whipped donkey," informing a wackily cheerful car crash survivor that he wanted to be her "for an hour, maybe two" or telling a man he sounded like he was 7 years old when he sang, Simon's quips were so consistently appropriate that it almost seemed like no other words at those moments would suffice.
Unfortunately, however, two other judges in the form of Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul were also there with vocal cords fully intact, which meant that we got to hear plenty more. And the better Simon was, the clearer it was how much these two paled in comparison.
It wasn't just that Randy was back to relying on the word "pitchy" (although he actually only used it one-and-a-half times) or that Paula couldn't form her own opinion if her life depended on it. They just can’t keep up.
When Simon was sighing that "love is deaf" after a husband said he thought his tone-deaf wife sounded great, we had Randy trying to correct him by saying, "No, they say love is blind."
And then we had Paula opining to a singer who said he wanted to be president, "If we had a president that smiled like you," and then simply stopping the sentence. To which I say: We're in season seven. Shouldn't Paula know by now that she's not equipped to finish plenty of simple sentences, let alone ones that veer in any way toward the political?
I'm not saying those two are without their merits. But if they want to keep going to the next round, I say they need to stop trying to keep up and just accept the fact that "Idol," especially during the auditions, is all about Simon.
When it's not about the thoroughly peculiar, that is.
Anna David is a freelance writer. Her novel, "Party Girl," is in stores.