'American Idol' finals start Tuesday

Sunday, March 14, 2004

LOS ANGELES -- So far, breathtakingly untalented William Hung is the big hit of this season's "American Idol."

The situation should change Tuesday as the 12 freshly minted finalists take the stage for a two-hour show and the chance to really let TV viewers see what they've got.

It's about time, say some discontented observers and tough-love judge Simon Cowell, who's dripping more acid than usual in the third season of the Fox talent extravaganza.

"You'd probably agree that the heats have been fairly lackluster," Cowell said. Even standout finalist La Toya London, 24, of Hawthorne, Calif., earns his gimlet eye.

"That was a good performance, but there's another part of me that thinks we thought she was great because everyone else is so terrible," he said.

But the TV audience is unfazed. Ratings are up 31 percent in total viewers and 26 percent among the advertiser-favored group of adults 18 to 49, happily reports co-executive producer Ken Warwick.

He and the finalists insist viewers know what's good.

"Honestly, I think the competition this year is more tough because everybody is so diverse in this top 12," said Jasmine Trias, 17, of Hawaii.

"I think everybody is so, so talented," said exuberant Jennifer Hudson, 22, of Chicago. "I don't think America's seen our best yet. Look out for group three!"

"Idol" is mostly following its own. After the two-hour show at 7 p.m. Tuesday, the group of 12 finalists will be pared down in weekly sing-offs.

Guest judges will be on hand, with Elton John, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino and Donna Summer among the prospects. The series culminates with a May 25 and 26 finale.

The top comic relief this time around was Hung, an earnest, tone-deaf engineering student who gained instant fame and an unlikely record deal by mangling Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" in the open audition.

As America embraces Hung, Cowell grows uneasy.

"When you celebrate awfulness it puts you in a slightly uncomfortable position," said the British record executive.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: