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'Idol' infamy

After auditioning twice, and staging a memorable rant, a Philadelphia student has some sharp opinions about the judges and the way the show egged her on.

Alexis Cohen had one of the most infamous auditions in American Idol history.  (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)
Alexis Cohen had one of the most infamous auditions in American Idol history. (Michael S. Wirtz / Staff Photographer)Read more

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression. They probably didn't catch Alexis Cohen on American Idol.

The Philadelphia college student tried out for the Fox singing competition in consecutive years, adopting such contrasting looks and behavior that she made Jekyll and Hyde look like peas in a pod.

Cohen, 24, never made it past the audition round, but she still got more camera time than some Idol finalists. The show even taped her at the one-bedroom apartment in Allentown that she shared with her mother.

Her tryout in Philadelphia last season made her an Idol legend. Angrily flashing the camera both of her middle fingers and ranting about judge Simon Cowell, she came across like a punk buzz-saw in sparkly face paint.

Cowell termed her appearance "all a bit possessed" and said her looks resembled actor Willem Dafoe.

There hasn't been a performance on Idol as feisty or indelible since. Although the show has been focusing more on personalities than on singing so far this season, no one has jumped through the camera even remotely like Cohen.

Bikini Girl (Katrina Darrell)? Despite her curves, curiously one-dimensional. Tatiana Del Toro, she of the grating laugh? Her operatic self-involvement is a turn-off. And Norman Gentle (Nick Mitchell)? His comedic alter ego grows thinner each week. Wait until he drops the act and tries to actually sing.

No question, Idol seems blander in its eighth season. That may explain why ratings are down by more than 10 percent, despite a spike last week. Even our sputtering firebrand, Cohen, came back with less flamboyance. Purposely so.

This year, she auditioned at the Meadowlands in New Jersey (though Idol referred to it as New York City) in a pretty frock with her hair brushed down and loose. All sweetness and light, she acted generally like Eliza Doolittle at high tea.

So which is the real Alexis Cohen - Riot Grrrl or Little Miss Muffet?

According to the budding actress, neither (although her gentle demeanor this time is a lot closer to the truth). The whole Idol performance, she explains, is, if not staged, at least instigated.

The first time, she got dismissed after singing the Jefferson Airplane classic "Somebody to Love." She emerged from the room disappointed and a little angry and was immediately ambushed by an Idol crew.

"When I walked out, I said, 'Why do I feel like giving the camera the finger?' That was real," she says. "The camera crew said, 'Go ahead. Flip us off. We love fingers. Come on, you know you wanna.' "

The rest of the tirade, she says, "was improvisational acting. I figured they wanted a reaction. And it wasn't going to be tears."

She had tried out as a tribute to her recently deceased father, George, who had first exposed her to the show.

"My father would have me religiously watch American Idol, which I hated," she says. "Hated every moment of it."

Cohen was born in Brooklyn and moved with her family to the Poconos near Dingmans Ferry for high school. She's now living in Germantown while attending Montgomery County Community College and trying to get her acting career on track.

"I'd love to, if possible, if given the chance, if given the pipe dream," she says, "I'd love to get into acting."

She returned for another round of Idol this year to rectify her image.

"I didn't want people to see me as a psycho," she says. "Basically I just sort of wanted people to know who I was."

Once again, the producers tried to portray her as a flake, dragging her around the waiting area and asking her to interact with other candidates.

"They would point to someone. I would walk over and introduce myself. 'How are you?' " she recalls. "They made it look like I was wandering around.

"Wherever I went, the camera was there. They filmed me even walking to the bathroom."

As soon as she walked into the room to sing, after being made to wait by the door for a nerve-rattling hour and a half, the judges started toying with her.

"They said, 'Oh, it looks like you're acting this year. We want you the way you were,' " Cohen recalls. "I said, 'Do you think I give the finger at my acting auditions?' "

After two exposures, she's formed some strong opinions of the judges.

"Randy [Jackson] is the strongest and smartest," she says. "Simon is intellectual but his intellectual abilities have gone to his head. Paula [Abdul] is a nice lady. She's not quite as smart. [New judge] Kara [DioGuardi] is the dumbest. She looks at me and goes, 'Now you can finally get a date.' "

This time she sang Madonna's "Like a Prayer." Each year the vocals were fairly impressive. But Cohen knew her image didn't fit the über-commercial Idol formula.

"I have problems with pop music and rock," she says. "Nothing against the people who do it, but I find the music uneducated. Looking at me, [the judges] knew I couldn't sell."

Despite her rejections, would Cohen return for the trifecta next year?

"Yeah. Why not?" she asks. "It costs money and I'm a struggling college student. But if I have the means I would do it again."

Alert the Idol camera crews.