Over the span of nine seasons, "American Idol" has become a full-on cultural phenomenon and gifted the world with such music stars as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Adam Lambert. But we all know there's a flip side to that coin: "Idol's" so-bad-they're-hard-to-watch auditions, which fans gawk at, and sometimes immortalize, year after year. Some of these aspiring contestants fit into the "shameless attention-seekers" category, while others are simply misguided -- and then there are the just plain freaky ones. In honor of the season 10 premiere of "American Idol" tonight (Jan. 19), here are Billboard.com's picks for the top 10 "American Idol" trainwreck auditions, from "Bikini Girl" to William Hung.
9. Ryan "Screamo" Hart
"Smashed into Pieces" - Season 5
By the standards of hardcore, Ryan Hart's Season 5 audition wasn't half bad. The problem? He was trying out for "American Idol," a show that touts Mariah-like melismas over screamo screeches. Hart sang Silverstein's "Smashed Into Pieces" -- both the screamed and clean vocals -- to ill effect for the judges, who couldn't understand why Hart had even decided to show up. Following his rejection, Randy did his own, chillingly accurate impression of Hart's screams. Hart probably isn't too hung up over his "Idol" audition infamy, though. He now sings in pop-punk band Damnear Divine, which has nearly 40,000 friends on MySpace.
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8. Trista "The Lion" Giese
"If I Were the King of the Forest" - Season 6
Before her audition, season 6's Trista Giese claimed that she could impersonate "the Lion" -- that is, the Cowardly Lion from "The Wizard of Oz." But when Seacrest pressed the 22-year-old to show us her talent, her impression came off more as Chewbacca than the Cowardly Lion. Giese performed the Lion's tune from the film, interjecting the character's peculiar roars at every turn -- and warranting one of the most dumb-founded looks from Simon he's ever possessed. And when Giese tried the oft-used "I'm unique" argument, Cowell just continued to stare.
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7. James "Go Deep" Lewis
"Go Down Moses" - Season 7
Before his audition, Philadelphia's James Lewis compared his voice to a mixture of Paul Robeson and Eddie Vedder. Turns out that if you mix those together, you get this hilariously bad audition from season 7. Lewis seemed quite normal initially, his speaking voice in no way foreshadowing what was to come. But when Lewis launched into the spiritual "Go Down Moses," he had Paula and Randy trying to conceal their laughter in seconds -- while Simon stared on in utter bemusement. After Lewis finished his verse, what followed was possibly one of the greatest awkward silences in the history of "Idol."
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6. Ian "Carrie Under-Where?" Benardo
"Gloria" - Season 6
Anyone watching "Idol" during Season 6 knew this audition was a trainwreck waiting to happen, but as always, we couldn't look away. New York's Ian Benardo, who had previously appeared on "So You Think You Can Dance," decided to try out for "Idol," demanding camera attention almost immediately. However, when his performance of "Gloria" left much to be desired, Benardo went on a rampage -- "Who are you?!" Benardo asked again and again of Simon -- eventually being escorted out of the room by security. The world hasn't heard the last of Ian Benardo, either. The singer is currently embroiled in a
5. Renaldo "Simon-Lover" Lapuz
"We're Brothers Forever" - Season 7
In waltzed Renaldo Lapuz, extravagant in dress and with broken English, during season 7's Dallas auditions -- the rest, they say, is history. Lapuz, who four years prior had immigrated to the United States from the Philippines, was far over the "Idol" age cutoff of 28. And yet the man found his way to the audition and won over not only the judges' hearts, but those of viewers across the country. His original song, "We're Brothers Forever," while simplistic in its composition, was catchy enough to stay in one's head for days. And the best part? Not only was his song unifying, but Lapuz wasn't that bad a singer!
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4. Steven "Red" Thoen
"Bohemian Rhapsody" - Season 6
Steven "Red" Thoen claimed "Idol" dominance due to his ability to hit high-pitched notes and his namesake red hair. Instead, he came off as a real-life, red-haired Alan Garner ("The Hangover") and broke into a shaky falsetto for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Upon hearing the judges' critiques, Thoen chalked up his shortcomings to a lack of practice and vocal coaching -- and went on a tirade in which he asked Simon to coach him. "I couldn't," Cowell replied. "It would be like coaching a one-legged man to win the 100 meter sprint." Thoen's response? "Hey, the way I see it, don't -- don't be about it, every -- hey -- don't... don't sing about it, be about it. Alright? Don't sing it, just bring it. Alright?" Yo Steve, you mad?
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3. Katrina "Bikini Girl" Darrell
"Vision of Love" - Season 8
Katrina Darrell may not exactly be a household name in "Idol" lore, but her nickname -- "Bikini Girl" -- sure is. Darrell sauntered into her Arizona audition clad in nothing but a swimsuit, hoping to impress the judges at least on her looks alone -- and judging by Simon's initial bug-eyed reaction, it worked. Bikini Girl broke into a version of Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love" that wasn't half bad, but did not impress Kara one bit. "You don't have the chops to sing that song, sweetie," Kara said, claws extended. Bikini Girl managed to eke out a 15th minute of fame on the season 8 finale, when she came back to reenact her audition and was instead interrupted onstage by DioGuardi, who outsang her by a mile and revealed her own enviable bikini bod at the end. Bikini Girl, you got served.
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2. General Larry "Pants" Platt
"Pants on the Ground" - Season 9
Gen. Larry Platt may not have made it through to the Hollywood round of "Idol," but he came away with a song that charted on the Billboard Hot 100! The 62-year-old Platt's rendition of an original tune, "Pants on the Ground," spread like wildfire following its performance, rocketing the song to No. 46 on the Billboard charts. The tune's message -- berating hip-hop culture for its practice of sagging bottoms -- i.e., "wearing them pants on the ground." Platt was a hit with the judges -- particularly guest Mary J. Blige, who was in hysterics not ten seconds into the number. Preach it, General!
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1. William "She Bangs" Hung
"She Bangs" - Season 3
Some say they remember where they were when Michael Jackson passed away, or when the Red Sox won the World Series. Others may remember the moment they first heard William Hung. The holy grail of bad "Idol" auditions, Hung's Season 3 rendition of "She Bangs" is perhaps the only (relative) "Idol" success story from a contestant who didn't even make it to Hollywood. What added to the hilarity was not only his off-key singing, but his dance moves that inspired thousands. "You know, I have no professional training of singing and dancing," said Hung at the end of his performance. Shocker! And yet the now-28-year-old released three albums on Koch Records. How many "Idol" fans can say the same? Hmmm?
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