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'Tampa Bay Idol' a make-or-break chance

American Idol wannabes do not make their beds. Nor do they know how to operate a video camera or hang a picture on a bedroom wall. (Seriously, gang. It's called a level. $8.96 at Home Depot.) They do, however, have clean bathrooms, nice teeth and an abundance of potted ferns.

How do I know all of this? Because I have just experienced a great sociological enlightening, one that has led me to both wisdom and a giant bottle of Advil.

For the second year, I was a guest judge for "Tampa Bay Idol," WTVT-13's Idol-regulated search for Florida's best amateur crooners. This entailed holing up in a Fox boardroom, watching (but never laughing at, no, never, never) close to 100 homemade video auditions, then picking the 10 best to compete in a sing-off Wednesday at Westfield Brandon.

The winner will jump the line and get an automatic tryout in front of American Idol officials in Jacksonville on Aug. 13. If they get through that process, they're going to Hollywood. Last year's "Tampa Bay Idol" champ was 25-year-old dental hygienist Emily Poe. She auditioned in Miami but failed to make the show.

The best part of "Tampa Bay Idol" is not scoping out hidden talent (and there was gobs of it), but spotting trends. For instance, if Tampa Bay sends a winner into Idol's Top 24, there's a good chance she will sing like Carrie Underwood, look like an MTV reality starlet and have no idea how to make her bed.

Really, people, I'm tired of gawking at your rumpled sheets.

"I want to tell these people, if you're taping (your audition) in your bedroom, make the bed!" said singer-songwriter Belinda Womack, a fellow judge. The other purveyors of talent, Fox's Charley Belcher and country star Chad Brock, concurred, and that's putting it nicely.

Humble rocker David Cook won last season's show — and he and the rest of the Idol crew will play the St. Pete Times Forum on Aug. 21. But the local videos were dominated by young white women, many of whom will have great futures in Abercrombie & Fitch ads. Not a lot of men, not a lot of minorities.

Is pop culture so dominated by the female cast of The Hills, by Britneys and Lindsays, that the rest of us have given up on fame? Hmmm . . .

Per usual, there were more than a few unique auditions, people who felt their talent transcends normal social order. One guy warbled while cooking (well, burning) and having someone on his Bluetooth. A dentist performed in front of a wall of yellowed teeth moldings. A young girl sang in a car in her garage. Another performed seated at her work desk, with her face barely peeking over the camera line.

My favorite was the person who forgot to rewind the VHS tape. So we were treated to the auditioner's favorite exercise video, which consisted of a hot woman grinding in front of a battleship.

The audition music was surprisingly diverse — Gershwin, Barbra Streisand, the Allman Brothers — although I'll be fine if I never hear Chain of Fools or My Girl again. And let's go easy on At Last, too.

All in all, this year's crop of singers was better than last year's. We still heard too many Mariah-esque vocal runs, but there was also more soul, more genuine emotion on display. And as for deliberately bad people, we didn't have a single one.

As a result, Wednesday's live sing-off, which I'll also be judging, should be a good one. I think three of the contestants have a real shot at making the show.

Oh, and after the competition, if any of the contestants need help buying a level, I can do that, too. 'Cause, kids, Grandma's picture is seriously crooked.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.

If you go

Tampa Bay Idol

The finalists compete at noon Wednesday at Westfield Brandon, just outside the entrance to Dick's Sporting Goods. Free admission.

'Tampa Bay Idol' a make-or-break chance 08/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2008 3:49pm]

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