Annie Barrett
March 02, 2012 AT 11:49 PM EST

Dungeoness crab Jimmy Iovine brought a much-needed reality check to last night’s American Idol with his frank and succinct few-second reviews of season 11’s Top 24 contestants. He should probably just step in and have a seat as a fourth judge!

Anyway, one comment he made about 15-year-old Eben Franckewitz stood out to me. Eben, you’ll remember, is the floppy-haired cherub who tried to set fire to a beloved Adele song on Tuesday’s Top 13 Guys performance night, but then it rained. Giant drops of reality poured down from the top of the Idoldome in thunderous spurts of “oh no you didn’t!” Oh, it was awful.

“Really talented kid, but not ready for prime time, not yet,” said Jimmy. “Song was way too mature for him. They’ve got to change the rules so he can come back.”

I see where he’s coming from, mostly because Eben is so young. I wouldn’t mind seeing where he’s landed (and whether his voice finally cracked) in a few years. Last year, I found myself wishing the “Top 24 and you’re done” rule could be overthrown for rocker girl Lauren Turner, who could have used a year to figure out how to translate her talent into something more easily digestible by Idol fans. Give ’em some more time to really study the game, you know? And when some of my favorite voices totally bomb up there — this season’s Baylie Brown or Haley Johnsen, for example — I’m always disappointed there’s no chance for a do-over. In Baylie’s case, she might have been done anyway because she auditioned in season 6. But with Haley, I’d love to have seen her try something softer with an indie twang to really give herself a shot. Maybe with another year, she could have figured out that taking on Annie Lennox’s best-known vocal might not have been the brightest idea.

But there are no do-overs on liiiiiiiiiiive TV. Thousands of people would kill for that one chance for even a few seconds of screentime, so producers do need to draw the line somewhere. Once you’re live, you’re dead. I guess. Good policy?

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Sometimes — rarely, but it happens, especially when tears and/or slight-to-middling levels of delusion are involved — I even find myself wishing no one could EVER come back. The judges throw out those “Maybe next year!”s at these kids way too liberally. They always strike me as empty promises — easy, throwaway chances for the judges to appear benevolent as they readjust themselves on the gilded saddles of their high horses. (Steven Tyler’s steed has feathers instead of hair.) Just once I’d like Ryan Seacrest to ask a bewildered talented person who was just told no, “Will you come back next year?” and for that person to stare straight ahead and announce “No. That process sucked; I’ve just aged five years from sitting here all day, and if your royal highness will please excuse me I’m about to go have a mental breakdown in a Port-a-Podi.”

So, sorry Eben. No future for you. But I am glad that this season, early standouts like Lauren Gray (whose edited segments almost pegged her as the next Carrie Underwood), David Leathers, and even mysterious hot tub enthusiast Johnny Keyser were cut from the 2012 game before their ultimate Idol lifeline could be severed completely. Will they be back?

What do you think — should the Idol fortress shift its “point of no return” from Top 24 to Top 13?

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Read more:

Thursday’s recap: The Top 10 and the Wild Cards

Wednesday’s ‘Idol’ recap: 12 Girls Just Want to Have Won

Tuesday’s ‘Idol’ recap: 13 Men and a Confused Baby’s Nipple

‘American Idol’: Enough with the Adele songs!

Watch Hollie Cavanagh’s season 10 audition — VIDEO

Deandre Brackensick, Jessica Sanchez early frontrunners for hairography, cuteness

Jermaine Jones returns to ‘Idol’ for an ‘incredible second chance’

‘Idol’: Get to know the Top 24 — PHOTO GALLERY

Ask Annie anything about ‘Idol’ (or whatever) in the video player below. To see her answers to previous questions, click on the text links below the picture.

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