New York Simon Cowell couldn't believe his ears.
You'd think he'd be used to it by now. But the acerbic "American Idol" judge was railing again about the tone-deaf auditioners he, along with Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, is forced to endure.
"People turn up who can't sing a note in tune," Cowell huffed on an episode last week, "and yet they believe they are the Second Coming."
The Third Coming is more like it. Contenders on this third edition of Fox's talent tourney come believing they are the next American Idol.
More audition clips from around the country will air on "American Idol" at 7 p.m. CST today and Wednesday, leading up to the Going-to-Hollywood eliminations Feb. 3 and 4 which, in turn, will trim the field to 32 performers.
"American Idol" drew 29 million viewers for its third-season kickoff -- thus far the best start for any 2003-04 series.
No wonder. Unlike nearly anything else on the air, "American Idol" gets to have it both ways. "American Idol" glories in both success and failure, in both the best and the worst available -- which means the viewer gets to, also. To paraphrase Mae West, when "American Idol" is good, it's entertaining, but when it's bad, it's better.
Just ask Cowell, who seems to enjoy nothing more than dashing a bad singer's dreams.
Consider Jacqueline Roman of Brooklyn, who, in a masquerade of scat-singing, screeched through "Route 66."
While Abdul and Jackson snickered like schoolchildren, Cowell flashed his wicked, lipless grin. "And that," he sneered, "is what you think we are looking for?"
"I tried my best," she replied.
And what about Andrew Chester of Hudson, Fla.? Stumbling through "Sweet Home, Alabama," he couldn't even remember the lyrics.
"You have wasted my time," Cowell informed him. "You have wasted your own time. You have wasted everybody's time."
Chester was heartbroken.
"This is everybody's dream -- 'American Idol' -- to sing in front of America," he told the camera as he choked up. "I'm a good person, I know I'm talented. They just don't see it."