New York and Memphis delivered the good, the bad and ... the mentally unstable? Fox is sending out an eerie message in these "Idol" tryout shows: Getting on TV is as easy as staging a breakdown during or after an audition.

New York and Memphis delivered the good, the bad and … the mentally unstable? Fox is sending out an eerie message in these “Idol” tryout shows: Getting on TV is as easy as staging a breakdown during or after an audition. The first week of 120 minute segs was an OK re-introduction, but the showcase for Jersey girls and the occasional New Yorker bordered on painful. The one constant we’re seeing is crying, cursing, bragging and begging after the singer receives a “no”; using one, the relentless Ashanti Johnson pleading as light piano played behind her, worked as comic relief, but, truthfully, it’s time to start showing some real talent.

Simultaneously, the sob stories are becoming rote and tired. While Johnson’s speech would be perfect for “Dreamgirls II,” it’s about time Fox started to put the emphasis on who indeed might be the next Idol. So far, we have received short shrift in that department –35 from the New York tryout, where 16,000 auditioned, are on their way to Hollywood and maybe five of them have been given appropriate airtime.

But of all the singers moving to the second round whose auditions were televised, regardless of the city, they all appear to be genre singers who may well slip up when pushed out of their comfort zone.

In Memphis, they found a winner in a burly guy with atrocious facial hair, Sundance, the son of ’60s rock ‘n’ soul singer Roy Head. Dad delivered the greatest “hey hey hey” in the history of recorded rock ‘n’ roll on “Treat Her Right”; son did a strong rendition of “Stormy Monday,” twisting it toward Bobby Blue Bland and away from the initial version by its writer, T-Bone Walker. He suddenly looks like a front-runner.

Smartly, the “Idol” judges found some rather soulful singers in the city that gave us Elvis, W.C. Handy and Stax Records. New York was more of a mixed bag, from an opera singer to a charming guy who couldn’t remember the words to “Build Me Up, Buttercup” during last season’s group singing round.

Highlights from New York included possibly psycho Sarah from Ohio, cute as a button but in desperate need of her father’s approval; a Jersey duo that was oh-so Romy and Michelle, except that they could sing; a confident and good-looking 16-year-old who got Paula Abdul to snap out of a haze and start making bedroom eyes; and Chris Richardson, who may be the first idol to ever acknowledge that he was performing one artist’s interpretation of another songwriter’s work. He attempted to sing the Donny Hathaway version of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” went a little too fast and still made it to Hollywood.

We got to laugh at Tamika Sims’ incoherent mumbling and an awful Frank Sinatra imitator who refused to pronounce the letter “k” and sang “New Yor, New Yor.” But the folks with oddball logic — believing that they sound like Elvis or that they’re a superstar and their therapists (yes, plural) will back that up or that the next “American idol” shouldn’t really have to sing — are getting tiresome. In too many cases, it looks like a put-on.

ALUMNI NEWS: Kelly Clarkson has inked a deal with NASCAR that will find her participating in television spots, charitable events and NASCAR’s awards dinner in New York City in December. Clarkson will film a 30-second spot featuring a song from her upcoming third album that will air during the Daytona 500 telecast on Feb. 18. Clarkson will headline the Nextel “Tribute To America” concert prior to the race. … Bucky Covington’s first single, “A Different World,” debuted at No. 57 on the country singles chart. … TV Guide Channel has green-lit a second season of “Idol Tonight” on Wednesdays beginning in March with Justin Guarini co-hosting with Kimberly Caldwell and Rosanana Tavarez.

American Idol 6: Week Two

Fox, Tue., Jan. 23, Wed., Jan. 24, 8 p.m.

Production

Taped in Memphis, Tenn., and New York by 19 Prods. Executive producers, Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller; director, Warwick.

Crew

Running time: 3 HOURS.
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