Why Is 'American Idol' Rewarding Joke Contestants Like Bikini Girl?

Somehow, Katrina Darrell and Nick 'Norman Gentle' Mitchell make it through first round of Hollywood Week.

Winning "American Idol" feels great. But as any contestant will tell you, being on "Idol," especially during the soul-crushing Hollywood Week, does not.

For the most part in the past, "Idol" hopefuls who make it to Hollywood are serious singers who really think they have a shot at winning, with the costume-wearing, prop-toting jokers mostly weeded out during the audition weeks or not given screen time on the big stage in Los Angeles.

But a pair of singers — swimsuit model Katrina "Bikini Girl" Darrell and stand-up comedian Nick "Norman Gentle" Mitchell — who made it through the first round of Hollywood Week on Tuesday night's show called into question whether that maxim is still true and whether prime-time minutes are being squandered on joke acts who have no intention of really winning the competition at the expense of more focused singers.

"As an 'Idol' fan, I was more angry about those two fools hogging more screen time, when contestants I actually cared about were cut," said resident MTV News "Idol" expert Jim Cantiello. "Hollywood Week is supposed to be 'Idol' fans' gift, after a month of shticky auditions. We watch the audition episodes for the comedy. We watch Hollywood Week for the nail-biting, hair-pulling drama. It's disappointing that producers got it wrong this year."

A spokesperson for "Idol" could not be reached for comment at press time.

Darrell has been controversial since the moment she stepped in to audition in Phoenix. Female judges Paula Abdul and Kara DioGuardi were not impressed with her bikini-and-heels getup, with DioGuardi actually singing down Darrell and calling her a bi---. The male judges, however, fawned over the model and seemingly put her through on looks alone.

Darrell was back in Hollywood, still kissing Ryan Seacrest on the mouth more than the show's host seemed comfortable with, but wearing a short dress and, again, not impressing the female judges. The tension in the room was palpable, as both Abdul and DioGuardi said they initially liked Darrell's take on Faith Hill's "Breathe," but that, in the end, it just wasn't good enough.

After calling DioGuardi "rude" and claiming the new judge was "insecure" in a taped segment before taking the stage, the best Darrell, 20, could get from the professional songwriter was the snide quip "You're a beautiful girl." But, DioGuardi added, "When you started the song, you were better than the last audition. ... You had me there for a moment thinking maybe I was wrong. But actually, I think I was right."

Simon Cowell, normally the stern, all-business judge, was mocked by his female cohorts (who advised the acerbic judge and pal Randy Jackson to bring their stripper poles to the Kodak Theatre for the next round) and made farting noises with his mouth during Abdul's comments. Both men, seemingly crazy for Darrell for more than her just-OK singing, enthusiastically waved her through. It was one of the first instances when Cowell — who is often seen looking away from contestants so as to focus on their vocals only — has so blatantly appeared to judge with his eyes more than his ears.

When Darrell complained that her singing would have been better with musical accompaniment — which no one gets in the Hollywood rounds — Cowell agreed and smirked, "Absolutely right. ... I don't think you've had particularly fair criticism from these girls. I think there is obviously a problem here."

"The show this year is going for entertainment value over actual sing, which is fine with me, because that's what I like to watch," said Dave Della Terza, creator of the "Idol"-baiting site Vote for the Worst, which leaked what it purported was the top 36 last week. "I always said this is a reality show and not a singing competition. With Bikini Girl, maybe the producers think that's good drama, and they want her to stick around so the judges can fight it out. They know she's not going to be the next Idol and she's not going to make it past Hollywood if they're really looking for the next person who will be a star, because she's annoying."

And while 43 hopefuls saw their dreams blown up Tuesday night, doughy funnyman Mitchell, 27, who promised to leave the comedy shtick behind, again brought his second-rate Jack Black thunder to the stage. Wearing his signature shiny shirt, shorts and red bandana, Mitchell, who appears to possess a decent voice, hammed it up again with a warbling, frantic performance of the "Dreamgirls" showstopper "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" that Jackson dubbed "hilarious" and "banoodles."

Using a prop pitch pipe, throwing in shout-outs to the balcony and Seacrest, and clearly not trying very hard, Mitchell still got mostly positive remarks, with Jackson saying, "You can actually sing," and a seemingly perplexed Cowell admitting, "I genuinely don't know what to make of you, because without the glasses and silly headband, you're just a boring person. When you put the stupid outfit on, you become a joke. It's just ridiculous."

"It's weird that the judges put these 'characters' through to round two, particularly Simon, who is usually the one who keeps the show on task," Cantiello said. "He's notoriously anti-shtick. But at the very least, he acknowledged that Norman was a joke. It's inexcusable, however, that Simon and Randy acted like Bikini Girl was a good singer when really all they were rewarding was her physical appearance. Her audition was flat and nasal. I pity the singers who are going to get paired with these goofballs in the group numbers, but I hope that the judges have the good sense to give their partners a pass if the group numbers end up to be disasters because of clowns."

Della Terza had a much less harsh assessment: "I liked the episode, because it seemed like they were putting through tons of people Vote for the Worst can support."

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