March 4, 2004
By Steve Knopper
Simon Cowell was his usual self after Spc. Martha Krabill, a nineteen-year-old in a U.S. Army uniform and a red Sand Airborne Division beret, finished singing "Dancing in the Street." "A bit of advice, Martha," the British judge told Krabill, before 29 million viewers who caught the Season Three American Idol premiere in late January: "I wouldn't sing to the person who packs your parachute."
In fact, the Port Townsend, Washington, talent-show veteran has sung in the Sand Airborne Division's All American Band since 2001. Her lieutenant colonel, an Idol fan, had granted her leave for the audition.
"The commander of the battalion said he'd give me ten days: 'Get up to New York, do what you have to do,'" recalls Krabill by phone from Fort Bragg, North Carolina. "Usually, a commanding officer would not talk to someone of my rank."
To Cowell, however, Krabill was just another first-round Idol loser. "You're awful at everything you do," he told her.
Humiliation, of course, is a big part of the fan of American Idol. We get to laugh as Cowell and fellow judges Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul dress down the mediocre singers and exhibitionists as they endlessly butcher "A Whole New World." ROLLING STONE tracked down five of this season's first-round losers - clowns and golden voices alike - to talk to them about their Idol experience. Krabill sounds the most cheerful note. "I'm the loser!" she says, laughing. "I didn't even think I would make it that far. There had been 11,000 contestants in New York, and only 100 go in front of Simon. I was freaking out completely."
Despite her dismissal, Krabill says the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive: Hundreds of fans on the show's online message boards have demanded her reinstatement. One record producer contacted Krabill's parents, although no opportunities have yet developed. She also ran into her lieutenant colonel after the Idol audition - in Iraq, where Krabill and the Airborne band entertained the troops for two weeks before Christmas. At that point the show hadn't yet aired, but Krabill told him what happened. "He thought it was awesome," she says.
Ewing, New Jersey
Student at Mercer County Community College
Brush with American Idol Bush lost the judges when he cradled a small gold star while singing Eric Clapton's "Change the World." Bush dubbed it "showmanship." Simon Cowell's response: "So is pulling a rabbit out of a hat."
Dream A gospel veteran, Bush hopes to launch a career singing R&B.
Reaction "Last year it was all about me trying to make it, but this year it was about exposure," says Bush, who was also cut from Idol last season. "People have seen it, and they're like, 'You're the guy from American Idol. I've been looking for a guy to do a track with.' The radio stations have been calling."
Student at Louisiana State University
Brush with American Idol The "glasses girl" dramatically pulled off her specs in the middle of "I'm So Excited." Paula Abdul, the nice judge, was moved to observe, "It was so lackluster!" Cowell offered to apologize if Mayeux and host Ryan Seacrest could find ten bystanders at a nearby mall who liked her performance. No such luck.
Dream To be a political lobbyist or a campaign manager.
Reaction "A lot of my friends from high school are kind of freaked out - obviously I got insulted and rejected on national television. But I'm kind of laid-back about it. I was one of the few people who didn't cry. I just walked out of there and said, 'I'm going to the mall!'"
Single mother; student at Ventura College
Brush with American Idol After Crook's sexy, bare-shouldered version of "Fever,"judge Randy Jackson declared that she should never sing again. Post-audition Idol cameras caught Crook sobbing with her mother and infant son Jeffrey as she swore and mumbled "insulting" and "stupid."
Dream To work in the entertainment industry, singing or doing makeup.
Reaction "It wasn't like, 'Oh, no, I've lost my big shot at stardom.' Because, honestly, I've gotten more attention - calls from people I don't even know -saying, 'I'm sorry I'm imposing, but we loved you.' I'm going tomorrow to a Santa Barbara radio station to sing for them."
Student at Stephen F. Austin State University
Brush with American Idol After Rainwater's nerdy but heartfelt performance of Tom Jones' "She's a Lady," Cowell upbraided him with "Houston, we have a problem." Asked Rainwater, "Is there anything I can improve upon?" "Yes," Cowell said. "Don't sing again."
Dream "I want to be on TV," says the community-theater veteran.
Reaction "When it came on TV, I was in a night class. My phone started vibrating the entire two hours, so I was like, 'Something happened.' I was shocked. I got stopped about twenty times the next day by random people. ... It felt a little better when people said, 'Hey, you weren't that bad.'"
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