I'm always happy to have a chance to weigh in on Idol, and I know it's not Claire's fault that this is the particular night she hands the reins over to me. But God Almighty, is this ever the ass end of the Hollywood Fortnight. After eliminating far too few people in the classic three rooms in, one room out finale (three? really?), the judges are having everybody come over to their -- ahem -- mansion for the really-truly-we-mean-it-this-time final elimination. "The moment of truth hour," as Randy puts it. So much creepier than a room in a conference center! Those red velvet thrones put an aspiring singer in mind of an interview with French aristocrats. For two solid hours. All I ask, Idol, is that you reward our patience by kicking Von, Tatiana, Nick/Norman (sorry, Claire), and Nathaniel to the Sunset Strip curb.
Let's break it down. Some singers -- like Anoop! Woo! Go Anoop! -- get to go up by themselves and get the good word. Others walk up the staircase and across the parquet alone to get the boot. Then some unlucky few go up together and have a sing-off. Head to head belting for the prize of the top 36! What every American teen dreams off: a 50% chance of being cut in the next couple of weeks!
The judges disappoint me early. Von, oh Von. How I despise you and your tin ear and your horrible, horrible over-singing and your incredibly fake drama. From the first moment you slaughtered the tender "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," I've been feeding on my private disgust for you. Yet you get one more chance for some reason.
DIY horror auteur Cody and geeky Alex have the first sing-off. If I'd been in that room, no contest -- Alex blew the kid out of the water. You've got to ask yourself if you're the judges: Who actually has a chance to win this competition? Alex is a long-shot, but with the right Clay Aiken makeover, he's got the chops. Cody is a weakling that, if he weren't cut before the final 16, would hang on and on and on from a sympathy vote, Sanjaya-like. If I were in charge of Idol (and please consider putting me in charge, Fox), my aim would be: don't let any weaklings get through to play on America's pity and contrariness week after torturous week. That's why I worry about visually-impaired Scott. He's not horrible, like some of the past awww-why-not finalists have been. But if he gets to the final 16, how the hell are we gonna get him voted off?
Fall Out Man Adam was a favorite of mine early on, but I wasn't a fan of his risky "Believe" performance. He's still got something to show, so I'm looking forward to his top 16 performances. Joanna forgot the lyrics every freakin' time she sang during the Hollywood round, and I can't figure out what's so special about her that makes her worthy of going forward.
I always struggle with the female contestants. So few of them have anything distinctive about them. Sure, Taylor and Arianna and Casey and Megan and Stevie can sing. But who at this point can tell one from the other? Now Jasmine and Mishovanna and Lil Rounds are at least distinctive. Country-tinged Kendall gets through, and we are reminded why we should care about Alexis (she has a cute kid). But at this stage, there's always more to hang your hat on with the male singers -- fewer are boring and same-y, even if more of them tend to be marginal, talent-wise. Did anybody doubt that Danny would be in? His friend Jamar was always an iffier proposition, and sure enough, for maximum brother vs. brother drama, the show separates them. One wore blue and one wore grey ... Maybe because of Jamar's exit, other-black-guy Stephen gets a break after a disastrous solo performance and makes it through.
Married contestant Jenn -- was I not paying attention, or did they not show much of her and her husband before? -- and Team Compromise member Kristen have the second sing-off. And as much as Kristen's little naive Manic Pixie Dream Girl act rubs me the wrong way, she clearly won that round on singing. Simon makes his most blatant pitch for beauty over talent when he asks, "Do you want to put the attractive blond girl through, or the other one?" "The one who can sing," replies Paula. "So not the attractive blond one, then," Simon retorts, and then tells the two contestants that he disagrees with the decision to reward, um, singing over, um, blondness.
Next sing-off: Also-mom Frankie completely blows it, and rocker Jesse, who belts out a tuneless number in signature uninhibited style and gets cut down by Simon. So far the judges are three-for-three, no thanks to Simon. Jackie and Nathaniel comprise our final head-to-headband matchup, and while Kara thinks that Jackie shouldn't be forced into the sing-off, Simon can barely stand to look at Nathaniel. And in a working-class dad cage match, Matt stays true to his bar-singer rep and Michael spins a smooth ballad. Both get put through, which they might have known in advance if they had been counting the yesses. (Michael's so much better, though, right?)
So what happens to our most divisive contestants? Nick (as Nick) gets in. Well, I can live with that -- he's tolerable and occasionally clever. Tatiana gets a ring from Paula and unfortunately, it's not a consolation prize -- she's in. You don't know how much it pains me to type those words. (Wait, if you've heard a Tatiana screech, you do know.) And Nathaniel flounces and weeps his way into another week of semi-fame. I am oh-for-four on the hate tip.
- How many family members for each contestant does Idol fly out and put up? Surely they don't leave those emotional reunions outside the judges' room up to the resources of the individuals themselves/
- I keep waiting for Kara to assume her designated as the judge who understands contemporary styles and hits, but she's not doing anything but helping Paula pick fights so far.
- Because of the different set-up, the contestants seemed confused about which way to turn as they approached the judges' room, and had to be coaxed in to take their place. Then they usually needed an off-screen P.A. to point the way upon leaving. Shades of "the other door, sweetheart."
- If no B-roll from your past auditions is shown as you walk to the judge's room, you didn't make it, dawg. Good lookin' out.