Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dos and Don'ts for 'Idol' Hopefuls

A handy checklist for what to do (and what not to do) if you want a shot at winning the show By Larry Carroll Special to MSN Entertainment Every new year brings with it hope. The hope of world peace, of good health for friends and family and, naturally, renewed hope for thousands that they'll make it through the nationwide auditions to become the next "American Idol." This year's process has already begun, and Season 7 launched Jan. 15. But, if you're among the few and the chosen, are you really ready for prime time? Based on the fact that the same judges, and the same die-hard millions who've powered "Idol" in the past, will be returning once again, the time has come to start looking for patterns. Gallery: See photos of "Idol" hopefuls So sit back, rest those vocal cords with some herbal tea, and read on. Because if you're going to become Season 7's big winner, you'll definitely want to hit these notes. Don't Dance Every season, a few early wannabes attempt to augment their performance with dancing. Most are dismissed immediately, and for good reason: If you feel the need to dance, then you must know you can't sing. America learned that the hard way with Britney Spears, so why should they have to do it all over again with you? Occasionally, once a contestant like Taylor Hicks has established the power of his pipes, he'll dance and get away with it. Other times, a Joshua Gracin or Jon Peter Lewis kicks up his heels and quickly gets the boot. Either way, it's just not a safe bet, folks. If you want to dance, go on that Marie Osmond show. Dog Is Your Co-Pilot America loves an underdog. So, if you're ugly, overweight, got picked on as a kid, or simply suffer from the occasional zit, play up your perceived handicap. As your singing skills get asserted, you can evolve into a more photogenic version of yourself (Hi, Clay Aiken. Hi, Elliott Yamin!), and the fans will rally behind you. Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself Embrace the point above, but just beware that if your underdog gets too big for its collar, the voters won't hesitate to send you to the doghouse. Everybody loved Chris Daughtry -- until he started getting cocky. And don't snap back at the judges, a la Justin Guarini, Julia DeMato or Brenna Gethers -- it'll just make you look like the over-egoed second act in a bad musical biopic. Believe it or not, the audience really does like Simon, Paula, and Randy, and have come to regard them like family -- so, if you get too big for your britches, you'll be booted out like a drunken uncle at Christmas. The South Shall Rise Again If you're from the South, get thyself to an "AI" audition, post-haste. Don't laugh: It worked for winners Kelly Clarkson (Texas), Ruben Studdard (Alabama), Fantasia Barrino (North Carolina), Carrie Underwood (near the Oklahoma and Arkansas border), and Hicks (Alabama), as well as runners-up like Clay Aiken (North Carolina), Diana DeGarmo (Georgia) and Bo Bice (Alabama). There seems to be several reasons why people from Los Angeles and New York never win: they're too polished, they lack Southern charm, maybe they just don't appeal to the Wal-Mart crowd. Regardless of whether any are true, the trend is clear: Start talking like Andy Griffith, or just stay home. Pick Popular Songs Just because you're from the South, doesn't mean you should perform country music -- and, no matter where you're from, don't dare sing a showtune. Showtunes sank the likes of Lisa Tucker and Mikalah Gordon. And Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington's love of country didn't put them over the top, either. The judges seem to fall for rock music more increasingly with each passing year -- hence Daughtry, Bice and Gina Glocksen -- so, when it comes to the all-important job of picking your songs, skip Streisand and instead go for some Steve Miller. Don't Be a Freak Every season, America has an ill-advised one-night stand with Sanjaya and his mohawk, William Hung and his bangs, or Blake Lewis and his beatbox. If your plan is to rely on a fad, you're just trading 15 minutes of fame for a lifetime of mockery. If you really feel the need to go down that road, do like so many before you and simply make a sex tape with Paris Hilton. Don't Be a Skank While we're on that topic, short skirts, hot bodies and flirting with the bosses will only get you so far on "American Idol" (unlike in the real world, where it gets you a corner office and an expense account ). Over the years, we've watched Haley Scarnato ineffectively show her skin, and let's not even get started on Jessica Sierra. Frenchie Davis' dirty pictures got her the boot, and Antonella Barba similarly blew her chances. When Corey Clark (allegedly) took flirting to the next level with Paula, it still didn't take him to the top. Learn from the past: Sleeping with Paula didn't do wonders for Emilio Estevez's career, and it won't help yours, either. Don't Ring in the New Year Like it or not, America is more likely to fall in love with you when you're single and ready to swing. Performers like Scarnato started the process with a significant other, then shed the baggage as time went on. If you happen to be wearing an engagement ring, it might be a good idea to hide that rock, and hope it puts you on a roll. Gain a Few Pounds Typically, traditionally good-looking people are lucky if they make it beyond the top 12. Underwood is the only "AI" winner who could possibly make it as a model, and both she and Clarkson were still burdened by a lot of baby fat when they took home the title. Once again, it proves that people like the underdog, and our supersized nation wants to see its own reflection in an Idol. So, don't look as though you could make it without the world's most famous reality show, or you just might have to. If You Haven't Got the Talent, Stay Home The bottom line is, the cream rises to the top, and this show carries on for so many weeks, in front of so many millions, that it always screens out the weaker members of the herd. So either bring your A-game, or sit home on the couch with a lap full of nachos, and join the rest of us in a state that's truly American: idle.