TORONTO -- In an age of political correctness and dutiful politeness, the Idol series reminds us how much fun it can be to be cruel, very cruel. Canadian Idol, luckily for viewers, follows the thinking that poking fun makes better TV than gentle handholding.
In the one-hour premiere last night, hundreds of wannabe Alicia Keyses and Justin Timberlakes from Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg took their chances before a panel of judges: urban music promoter Farley Flex, artist managers Jake Gold and Zack Werner and '90s singer Sass Jordan.
The good news is that the show, the first episode anyway, closely resembled the American version, complete with its brash criticisms and karaoke singalongs -- although the ever-present Tim Horton cups did add a particularly Canuck flair to the cattle call.
The bad news is there seemed to be just as many people in Canada willing to make fools of themselves on national TV in exchange for a recording contract as there are in the United States.
Let's face it: Watching people croon completely off-key while flapping their arms spastically or shimmying like strippers is an undeniable guilty pleasure.
So if you're willing to put up with the occasional hokey tangent, like one about an Alberta cowboy, or cheeseball hosts who try way too hard to be hip, the romp in humiliation provides a highly entertaining hour of TV.
The first episode, taped several months ago, began in Vancouver, where hopefuls waited in the rain for a chance to audition. Next came Calgary, where Vancouver's rain turned to snow. The wannabes tried to keep warm in makeshift tents set up on the street as a storm brought heavy snowfall.
In Winnipeg it was the same story. Hopefuls stood around waiting, waiting, waiting.
The real fun started as the parade of contestants -- many with overflowing cleavage -- took off. Many contestants must have known going into the audition that they'd come out as the class clowns of their cities, so don't feel too bad about laughing at them.
There were the usual high-pitched yelps of joy from those who won gold tickets (meaning they fly to Toronto for the next round) and the stream of tears for those who didn't make the cut. There were even a few sore losers who predictably stomped their feet after being rejected.
"Fun is funny. That wasn't fun," said judge Werner to one zealous contestant who, despite an enthusiastic attempt, failed to nail Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild.
The 18-year-old Winnipeger stormed off and warned the others in the waiting area that "there is a Simon (referring to the U.S. acid-tongued judge). Don't listen to what any of them tell you."
Next week, the judges head east to check out the talent in Montreal, Halifax and St. John's, Nfld.