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Feb 25, 2010

Celeb 'Idol' fan: The Runaways' Cherie Currie

Cherie Currie knows about being a young star. At age 16, she fronted The Runaways, the seminal '70s all-girl rock group that also launched the careers of Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Currie chronicles her chaotic time with The Runaways in her new book, Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway (out March 16), which is the inspiration for the forthcoming film The Runaways, which stars Kristen Stewart as Jett and Dakota Fanning as Currie.

So Currie identifies deeply with the young, aspiring singers that pursue their dreams on American Idol, a show she has watched for years (she counts Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry among her all-time favorite contestants).

"American Idol is awesome because they take you from no-name to a star almost instantly," Currie says. "I felt so good for these people, because I know that's the way I felt as a kid when we stepped on the stage and things really started going well."

Currie, who now creates and sells chainsaw carvings in California, got her first good look at this season Wednesday, and she reserved her harshest criticism not for the singers, but for the judges.

"I'm not digging the panel," she says.

"It appears to me that Randy and Simon are a bit tired, and I don't think Ellen was the best choice, or Kara." She says she never really considered herself a fan of Paula Abdul's, but she misses the lightheartedness she brought to the show. "It just seems like a slam-fest to me, right now.

"Instead of seeing what I see in these performers – the star in them – it just seems like they're making one bad note into an issue. To me, they're missing the point of what's happening. Trust me, if I was on that panel, it'd be a little bit of a different show."

Currie took particular issue Wednesday night with the judges' treatment of Aaron Kelly -- at 16, he's the same age Cherie was when The Runaways were hitting their peak -- and Tyler Grady.

"It's easy to say, 'You need more self-confidence, but we don't like the style of clothes you're wearing,'" she says. "The kid that's doing the Jim Morrison thing, that's what makes him feel comfortable. But they just stripped that away from him. Now's he's got to go to the mall! And that's exactly the wrong thing to do."

Currie believes that kind of advice would have been devastating to her in her early days, when she idolized and mimicked David Bowie.

"I needed David Bowie when I started in The Runaways," she says. "That was my jump-off point. If I could embody him, then I could find my way. But if you had taken David Bowie away from me in the very beginning of The Runaways, I never would have found myself. It would have crushed me. But through that, channeling whatever that was, really turned me into quite a good performer.

"He got me through those first few months out on the road. I was too young to know who I was, like a few of these guys. Really too young."

Currie's take on Wednesday's performances by the male contestants follows.

Todrick Hall: He's fantastic, he's got striking good looks. He's got a gorgeous smile. Unfortunately, he fell apart on the chorus, but I really loved his attitude.

Aaron Kelly: Being 16 years old, he's like the boy next door. Picking that Rascal Flatts song was not the best move, but the kid's got so much promise. Simon was talking about his confidence, and doing this at 16 takes a lot of guts. This guy is just a star in the making.

Jermaine Sellers: I loved his attitude, and he had the talent to back it up. He's probably not going to win, but he's a classic, soulful singer.

Tim Urban: He's gorgeous. He's adorable. Apologize was just too rough a song for him. He had a rocky start, but they did give him some pretty good advice. If he broke out of his shell, I think he would be surprisingly good.

Joe Muñoz: What an amazing voice. He could give Enrique Iglesias a run for his money. He's got great pitch. But it's tough to find that line between relaxed and the goodness -- the greatness -- that they expect. He was trying to be relaxed up there, then he lost his edge, and they jumped on him for that."

Tyler Grady: "This whole Jim Morrison only goes so far, but he's got potential."

Lee DeWyze: "He is like Nickelback and Bruce Springsteen, but his vocals got really shaky. I was glad that Simon jumped in and turned around the negative that Randy, Kara and Ellen were throwing at the guy and gave him a positive vote."

John Park: "Yikes. He was way too low. The chorus was better, but he just didn't kill me. It was the totally wrong song."

Michael Lynche: "He has a really sexy tone to his voice. When he's seasoned, maybe down the line if he sticks around -- because they work these kids' butts off – he's going to be great."

Alex Lambert: "Adorable, gifted. He's got a good head on his shoulders. He's got the most original voice, so far. You don't expect that voice to come out of that baby face. But his performance was very uncomfortable, that was obvious. I hope that he gets a little more comfortable in his own skin."

Casey James: Forget about it: He's got the star good looks, the voice, the whole package. But what I'd love to see is this guy actually unleash. You can tell he's holding back; he's trying to be humble. I just hope he unleashes and becomes a monster. I would love to see that."

Andrew Garcia: "Nice guy, good voice -- hit record voice, that's for sure."

Currie's book, Neon Angel, chronicles her time with The Runaways and her battle with a subsequent drug addiction. Between the drugs and a narrow escape from a suspected serial killer, those times nearly proved to be fatal. "I had to live with that when we were writing the book," she says. "It's really, really hard to be living in the past like that. But I really had to.

"It was pretty incredible how vividly the memories came back and understanding them from an adult point of view … I couldn't explain the feeling."

Currie's very impressed with the way the movie adapted her story. "Dakota's incredible, Kristen's incredible," she says. "Michael Shannon – off the map. Even Tatum O'Neal, with her small part that she has as my mom, just shines. The acting is just great. The music, of course, I'm very partial to."

And how does Currie think The Runaways might have fared in an Idol-like situation back in the '70s? "Probably Simon would have loved us."