A Good Backstory Helps for ‘Idol’s’ Golden Ticket

Oh, and how about Chenowith replacing Cowell next year!

Handcuffs.  Bank robberies.  Pants on the ground.  No, it’s not the latest installment of “Steven Seagal: Lawman.” It’s the audition phase of “American Idol.”  If the past few shows are any indication, it looks like 2010 may be the “Season of the Story.”

You know what I mean by “stories.” Good stories secure Golden Tickets for the borderline singers and make us root for the underdogs.

I mean, who could forget Kelly Clarkson’s story? Sure, she had an amazing voice and that girl next door quality, but the saga of her failed attempts at a music career didn’t hurt, either. She moved from Texas to L.A. and struggled to pursue her dream only to have her apartment burn down.

Dejected, she went back to waitressing in Texas and had all but given up when a friend encouraged her to audition for “AI.”  

“Breakaway,” indeed.

Think about it. Based on sheer talent, Tamyra Gray should’ve made it to the Top 2 alongside Clarkson in the premiere season. But I think people were a little put off by Tamyra’s confidence and beauty.  I mean, she was Miss Atlanta, for cry Pete! In fact, he less-talented but more rough-around-the-edges Nikki McKibbin ended up placing ahead of her.  (She later appeared on “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” Coincidence?)

Clarkson, on the other hand, had the voice and the story. America wanted to see her succeed because we saw ourselves in her.

The show’s mission, after all, is to find America’s best undiscovered talent. To give a chance to the people who simply believe in themselves and wouldn’t have a chance otherwise. That’s a big reason why we all fell so hard for Oklahoman Carrie Underwood, who had never even been on an airplane before “Idol.” 

How else would a girl like that get a national platform? You don’t get opportunities like that by milking cows on the farm or cruising the strip and hanging out at the Sonic. (I should know.)

As for this season, take the extremely nervous 19-year-old Vanessa Wolfe of Tennessee, who tried out in Atlanta. She was ree-yal country, ya’ll. I mean, like, jumping-off-bridges-for-fun country. But there was a sweet naivete to her and her version of “Wagon Wheel” had a kind of Loretta Lynn vibe to it. She is the kind of diamond in the rough that voters can get behind. I just hope she makes it to makeover time!

“Story Standouts” in Tuesday’s Chicago round included Angela Martin and Paige Dechausse. This will be Martin’s third trip to Hollywood. She was cut during her first time out, which came on the heels of her father’s death. The second time she had to leave to attend court after making it to the Top 50. With a powerful voice and a lot of perseverance, she’s definitely one to watch. 

Oh, did I mention that she has a special needs child? Talk about one to root for.

Competing with Martin for the “Lifetime” movie award is Paige Dechausse, who, as a young teen suffered a severe asthma attack. In a recording studio, no less.  Her parents were told that the chance of survival was slim and if she did make it, she’d probably have brain damage. Mom summoned her headphones and music and =- voila! — she lived. 

Yes, people, it’s true.  Music saved her life. “Top that,” to quote a line from that classic 80s movie, “Teen Witch.”

Well, Matthew Lawrence sees your near-death experience and raises you four years in juvie. No, not Joey’s brother. This Matthew Lawrence is a 25-year-old Floridian who really stood out among the Demi Lovato wannabes at the Orlando audition. And that’s mainly because he robbed a bank with a (snicker) BB gun when he was 15. 

Some voters may be morally opposed to supporting him, but I have to say I like that fact that he’s trying to change his life. And there’s no denying that he has a soulful, moving voice. “Trouble” by Ray LaMontagne was the perfect choice for him. Lord knows he’s had his own troubles.  

These audition rounds have been a musical experience and a learning experience. For instance, did you know that many marriages bearing Autistic children end in divorce? Thanks, contestant Seth Rollins, for that (kind of depressing) nugget! We also learned that not all Jersey Girls are poof-sporting human Cheetos (sisters Bernadette and Amanda Desimone) and that you shouldn’t borrow your dance moves from your “adult entertainer” friends.  

But I think the biggest lesson learned was that Kristin Chenoweth should replace Simon Cowell as judge next year. She actually gets along with Kara and she could act as the “performer” of the panel. I know, I know. She’s a busy gal but during the “off-season” (about eight full months) she could continue to conquer stage and screen. 

Everything she touches turns to gold.  Perhaps she could help “Idol” finally overthrow “The Amazing Race” for the Emmy.