I’ve been stalling, PopWatchers. This is not a blog post I want to write. You already know the results, of course: On tonight’s episode of
America’s Embarrassing Lapses In Judgment American Idol, Carly Smithson was sent packing, despite a rendition of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that Jesus himself would have been hard-pressed to top. And if you’ve followed my occasional recaps of the in-person Idol experience, you know that Carly was head-and-tattooed-shoulders my favorite contestant this year, if not ever. So it was not a good day for me. And what I’d really like to do is slap down 5000 or so words explaining what I perceive as a buttery national malaise involving fear of anything passionate or unique and expanding on my now-confirmed suspicion that the reason the music business is dying has less to do with the Internet and more to do with a lack of intellectual curiosity combined with an generational sound palate deadened by an endless stream of mediocrity masquerading as the “next big thing.” But instead, I think I’ll just write up the notes I took from my seat in Section D of CBS Television City tonight, watch The Daily Show, and go to bed. After all, tomorrow I head to Coachella, and there will be real music there.
Read on as I defy current political trends to become both bitter and elitist, after the jump.
Much to what I’d assume was his dismay, Corey did not get to kick things off this afternoon, and was in fact rather upstaged by a very important fire drill. Literally. “Shhhh,” said Debbie, quieting the crowd, if not the brain-numbing dance music. “You guys, we’re going to do a pyro test.” [Silence] “It’s fire.” [Ohhh!] “We just want you guys down here in the mosh to be aware of it.” And so the shinyhairs were pushed back about two feet (all that product! my goodness, stand back!), a large man counted down from five, and four massive flames torched the stage. “DEE-TROIT BAS-KET-BALL!” I chanted, to no response. Meanwhile, some of the “moshers” had spied LaKisha Jones lurking rear stage right, and others spotted young Abigail Breslin taking her seat behind the judging table; loud noises ensued. Then the staff began taking all the posters away from the folks in the pit, carefully constructed fluorescent orange placards reading things like “You Must Love Brooke” unceremoniously carted off by burly men in black. I can only assume this had something to do with the pyro, but it would turn out to be a doubly good plan: Seems my Idol buddy and fellow Carly fanatic Richard Rushfield (of the L.A. Times) was not prepared to see the Irish lass go, threatening to, and I quote, “burn this place to the ground” if she was voted off. Secure in my belief that Syesha’s Idol journey was coming to an end instead, I laughed at him. Richard, I should not have laughed at you. But we’ll get to that.
Corey eventually started his thang, which tonight included a man taking the stage despite the fact that Corey called for ladies, then performing a more-than-passable booty dance. (Yes, even America’s men wish to be hoochies these days, it seems.) Most of Corey’s shtick I’m able to tune out – though I’m still trying to parse his sentence structure; is it “Aw yeah, Hollywood! Make some noise” or “Aw yeah! Hollywood, make some noise”? – and at some point during the endless warm-up, Rushfield and I became momentarily, giddily obsessed with the idea that maybe tonight’s show was only a half-hour long. With three minutes to go, the Idols came out, Debbie silenced the crowd, and when Ryan said “THIS,” only Randy Jackson was seated at the judging table. The other two finally meandered in mid-credits, as Ryan and Debbie made a mad dash to start the show in the house.
For the group number – a far more tolerable rendition of “All I Ask Of You” than I expected to hear, though I find it a bit disconcerting that this year’s final three dudes are all able to sing comfortably in the same key as the women – a conductor was standing on the right side of the judging platform, half in darkness, nobly keeping tempo for the Idols. And since clearly the conductor was doing nothing at all important, Simon tried to grab his arms. Then Simon, Ryan, Paula, and Randy all started “conducting” like a bunch of hyperactive children. The conductor seemed to shake all this off with good humor, so Simon went back to clutching at the man’s hands again. This infuriated me. Do we have such little respect for music and so much faith in the brainless karaoke stylings of our “artists” that we are willing to sabotage the person tasked with keeping things in order by not only creating a visual distraction but physically molesting him as he does his job? (Did I mention I’m crabby?) God bless Debbie, though. “Simon was a bad boy,” she chastised once we went to commercial. “He was conducting the children. Confusing them.” “Make some noise for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber!” Corey responded.
Eventually it’s time to get down to business, and Ryan brings Cook and Archie out on stage to tell them they’re both safe and give Simon a chance to retract the out-of-lockstep statement he’d made yesterday regarding Archie’s performance being “weak” and “not memorable.” After a funny comment from Cook and a quick glimpse into the complex mind of Archuleta (“I was glad with what I did…”), the apostrophe-free Davids shuffled off to the couch. When they took another commercial break, Rushfield and I realized we were not, in fact, getting a half-hour show. Meanwhile, Corey was in the house left bleachers, asking the approximately 2,385th pre-teen girl if she was married and/or wanted $100.
After two more pyro tests, it was time for Leona Lewis, whose performance I’d like to gloss over for two reasons: One, I had not previously heard “Bleeding Love,” pretty much on purpose, and now that I’ve heard it twice in one night, I still could not hum you a single bar of the verse or hook. (In my opinion, the past five years of female pop vocalists can now officially be summed up as “Crazy In Love” > “S.O.S.” > “Umbrella” > “Gimme More” > “Bleeding Love”.) Two, I find it difficult to get truly excited about an “artist” who Simon has “discovered” on another reality competition and who seems little more than yet another generically pretty face with a generically pretty voice whose big hit single is a completely forgettable piece of marzipan written by Jesse McCartney that requires a double shot of pyrotechnics in order to make the chorus “soar.” And I invite you to scream at me for this next statement, but I can’t stop myself: Ms. Lewis also totally has cankles. A quick Google search tells me she’s already been told to lose weight if she wants to make it in America, which is total B.S. – she is by no means overweight. But she has been cursed with that particular anatomical affliction where there is no demarcation point between her calves and her ankles. For some reason, this makes me like her just a little bit more.
Syesha and Brooke are hauled out next to deliver Shocker #1: Brooke ain’t going home. Even though Syesha, like, got to, like, play someone, like, different for a change, she’s sent to the space stools; meanwhile, Brooke heads to the couch where she proceeds to completely break down. First her head is in her hands. Then she puts her head between her knees while D.Cook rubs her back. I take a second to check in on Syesha, who has wandered offstage, and suddenly Rushfield is nudging me to look at the couch again, where Brooke is full-on lying down. I am not sure that America’s decision to keep Ms. White around is doing much for that poor girl’s psychological condition. She’s been in a steady decline for weeks, and tonight she practically went fetal in public. But god bless that “mosh pit”! Soon, the screaming girls have Brooke up and laughing. And as Corey enters my section to hand out swag – OMG, he’s in my ROW! eek! – Syesha is being totally ignored. She emerges from the wings, clutching a Kleenex and looking visibly distraught, then starts swiveling around on her stool to collect herself while facing the back of the stage, hyperventilating with her hand on her chest, and clutching the other stool for balance. At one point, she goes to blow her nose, and a woman behind me gasps, “She’s gonna be sick!” She was not. But she was a little melodramatic. Broadway, baby. Broadway.
Shocker #2: Despite Rushfield’s insistence that the camera positions were set up for Jason Castro to be in the bottom two, Carly gets called to her doom. And then they make her and Syesha sing, which I found incredibly awkward, especially given that those two had most taken advantage of last night’s Encores-style orchestra setup for their blockbuster performances, and now they were stuck in street clothes on an empty stage, forced to carry things off using nothing but their voices and their charisma. Both women, happily, succeeded. Need proof? Go back and watch Leona Lewis’s eyes while she sang, and then watch Carly’s, and tell me: Who’s less dead inside? And seriously, I’m hard on Syesha, but I think Lord ALW encouraging her “animated” behavior might have changed that girl’s life just a bit – even though I was totally distracted from her number because I was trying to figure out what the hell Ryan and Carly were yapping about off to the side. I understand this interaction was caught on camera, and in Carly’s defense, Ryan was one-hundred percent engaged with whatever she was saying, and responded in kind. But honestly, I think Carly had pretty much stopped giving a s— what you people think of her by then anyway, so whatever.
We’ve now reached Shocker #3, or “the point in the evening where I became irrational,” and I don’t want to drag this out. All I remember of elimination was sitting there, fingers crossed as tight as they’d go while Rushfield gripped the back of my hoodie with all his strength. Carly’s name was called, the verdict was delivered, I screamed “NO!!!!” and people stared at me again which made me think I said “NO!!!!” pretty loud, and then the best vocalist of the season was alone on the darkened stage, watching herself be celebrated home. Eventually, Ryan walked over and put his arm around her. I don’t think she cried. I didn’t wait to see if she would. The minute we were clear, I stood up, pulled out my earplugs, gathered my things, and walked towards the door. Turning around, I saw Rushfield standing slumped on the stairs in a daze, as audience members filed out around him. “Richard!” I called. “Let it go! Walk away!” He mumbled something, gesturing that he planned to stay. And that’s where I left him, PopWatchers: staring at the stage, a shell of a man who hopefully did not have any matches in his pocket.
I’ll be back on Idol duty in mid-May, when we’ll finally answer that age-old question: What becomes of the broken-hearted? Methinks they throw the shards of their shattered dreams behind David Cook, but only time will tell. It is now midnight, and all I currently want is for this crap day to be over. Talk about whatever you want in the comments. Be sure not to ruffle any feathers or show your tats or come off like you care too much. People don’t like that. And remember, kids: No matter how talented you may be, life will eventually come down to a popularity contest. (Although sometimes even the popular kids have cankles, if that’s any comfort.)