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Philly fails to wow 'Idol' judges

Here’s what you might not see when Fox’s “American Idol” returns in January: “Idol” wannabes, their numbers pinned to their chests, being wanded by security people in the lobby of the Hyatt Philadelphia before stepping onto the escalator that could take them to the stars.

It could be a bumpy ride.

Fifteen or so contestants into the call-back auditions from last weekend’s massive cattle call at the Wachovia Center, judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul weren’t yet wowed by the results of “Idol’s” first-ever Philly auditions.

“A lot of the auditions are …the equivalent of eating water for lunch – it doesn’t leave you with anything,” Simon told reporters Saturday afternoon, reaching into his bag of similes for one that’s not likely to strike a chord in a city known for fattier fare.

They’d just seen one young woman who’d at least mildly impressed them – perhaps one of the two who, mindful of Fox’s many rules, had refused to give up name, rank or serial number as they left the hotel a few minutes earlier, trailed by an “Idol” camera crew.

Another hopeful contestant had looked a bit grim as he left the building, clad in a blue blazer and jeans and accompanied by his mother. An “Idol” crew member appeared to be trying to get him to say something about his experience – maybe something that would eventually require the show’s logo to be superimposed over his mouth? – but the rejected singer seemed to have himself under control.

“It just wasn’t the time, I guess,” said his mother, who would say only that they were from New York. To make it to the callbacks out of the thousands who auditioned, “that’s a blessing,” she said.

Upstairs at the Hyatt, Simon wasn’t feeling so blessed.

“I can’t say I sit here having a great time,” the British record producer said of the audition process.

His favorite part?

“When it ends.”

Nevertheless, all three of the judges looked reasonably fresh on what’s essentially their first real day of work for Season 7, Philadelphia being the first city to hold the callback auditions that require the real judges’ presence.

There was plenty of the now-familiar banter between the judges and “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest, who’ll also be hosting the Emmys later this month.

“He’s a seasoned pro. He’s going to do fine,” declared Paula the Peacemaker, adding, “as long as he puts Simon in a seat where he can’t see him.”

“American Idol’s” once again nominated for an Emmy, having repeatedly lost to CBS’ “The Amazing Race.”

“ The Amazing Race,’ what a great show,” said Simon, with just a soupcon of sarcasm.

As for Ryan’s role on “Idol,” Simon likened him to “one of the blondes over there in the corner” of the audition room. “You notice it, but it’s not really necessary.”

But enough about them – what about us?

Asked why it had taken so long to bring TV’s top-rated show to a city as known for music as Philly is, Simon chose to display his dazzling grasp of geography.

“We try to go round the country,” he said. “We’ve been close before, haven’t we – New York, Boston…D.C. So we’ll see if it was right to come here…Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m not sure yet.”

By the end of the two days, he estimated, they’d have seen 100 to 150.

In some cases, that may be seen but not heard, as Simon, at least, was vowing not to let contestants who show up in elaborate costumes even sing.

“Would you consider a large white bird a costume?” inquired Ryan, signaling possible trouble ahead.

There seemed to be mixed opinions about the number of auditioners who were hitting multiple cities, a trend that, according to Randy, was fueled by the knowledge that current “Idol” Jordin Sparks didn’t make it through her first audition.

“It’s inevitable that someone slips through a crack,” acknowledged Paula.

“If you’re great, just like Jordin did, you’ll get through,” said Randy.

None of that mattered to the tourists waiting downstairs in the lobby who, as the afternoon wore on, got to see one auditioner descend the escalator playing her guitar and another depart in triumph, fists in the air, ecstatic family members in tow.

“We just came in to go to the Camden aquarium,” said Reenie Stirling, of Malvern, as she and her family waited for their hotel room to be ready, enjoying the spectacle.

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