By now, it should be obvious what kinds of things capture "American Idol" lead judge Simon Cowell's attention: very attractive, slightly dippy young women, scrawny teenage boys with slightly raspy voices and emotional backstories, and oh, yeah, people who sing songs he wrote.
The latter category took center stage on Wednesday night's final season-nine audition-round show, as repeat auditioner Jessica Furney traded in her Janis Joplin repertoire from season eight for a little ditty called "Footprints in the Sand," which just happens to be a Simon Cowell joint.
"Ah, that's a Simon co-write," songwriter and fellow judge Kara DioGuardi said when the song choice was announced.
The singer's Denver audition found Furney a bit skinnier and more made-up than last time, and her song choice was clearly a smart one. "I'm not doing it just to suck up," Furney promised of the tune Cowell is credited with co-writing for his protégé, "X-Factor" winner Leona Lewis.
Guest judge Victoria Beckham seemed surprised that Cowell had songwriting chops. "You wrote this song, you co-wrote it?" she asked incredulously.
"Anyway, it's a beautiful song, so good luck," Cowell responded with false modesty and a slight blush, adding "beautiful song" after the golden-ticket-winning audition was over.
"Footprints in the Sand" was inspired by the Christian allegorical poem of the same name that describes a dream in which the subject is depicted walking along the beach with God. They leave two sets of footprints that merge into one during the most trying times.
Cowell co-wrote the song with Richard Page (former lead singer of Mr. Mister) and the team of Per Magnusson and David Kreuger (Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys). It was released as a charity single in 2008 by Lewis. While Magnusson and Kreuger wrote the gospel-tinged tune, Cowell got a songwriting credit for suggesting they adapt the poem, according to a London Times account of its origin.
The schmaltzy orchestral ballad benefited the Sport Relief charity event, which combines the worlds of sports and entertainment every two years to raise money for poor and at-risk people in England and around the world.
Among the lyrics are the lines: "You walked with me, footprints in the sand/ And helped me understand where I'm going/ You walked with me when I was all alone/ With so much I know along the way/ Then I heard you say ... I promise you, I'm always there/ When your heart is filled with sorrow and despair/ I'll carry you when you need a friend/ You'll find my footprints in the sand."
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