It's a new Paula -- she was harsh to someone!
There must be a word for the sick thrill one feels while watching fellow human beings make complete and utter fools of themselves. You know… like when you're watching ''Ricki Lake'' and suddenly -- boom! -- a woman learns that her husband is cheating on her with another man. Or you're sitting on the bus and you spy that girl in the corner attempting to pick her nose without anybody seeing.
Or, as with the latest episode of ''American Idol,'' when you're watching a passel of wannabes attempt to wow Randy, Simon, and Paula on their way to a hopeful spot in the Final 32. For lack of a better term, my good friend Jolie calls this state of wonderment-cum-embarrassment ''the utties,'' as in ''utterly mortifying for this other person and yet I can't turn away.'' Well, you know what, y'all? Last night's episode gave me a MAJOR case of the utties.
Let's start with the fact that this is, by far, the most intense screening process yet to be seen on the three-seasons-old ''Idol.'' It's no longer enough for these kids to show up onstage, screech their hearts out, flirt with Paula (or bag on Simon), and waltz on through to the next round. Oh, no. Now they're being forced to spend time together (in what appears to be the world's most generic Hilton -- no Paris jokes, please) and actually do some homework.
''I need a house and a car!'' said one prospective contestant. ''I wanna get out of the ghetto.'' Well, honey, you'll probably want to come up with a more original line than that if you want to impress a cynic like Simon... and you'd also better work -- literally! Last night, all prospective Idols were given a task, one that required them to take one of 10 song titles and not only write lyrics to complement said title, but also write a freakin' melody to accompany those lyrics.
This isn't rocket science, to be sure, but when you've seen the vacant eyes of an Alan Ritchson (buddy, you've arrived on the wrong show -- go back to planet ''Real World,'' please!) or a Cassie LaBeau (wasn't that just about the sweetest justice when she forgot her words after that sickeningly self-confident remark about watching others forget theirs?), you have to wonder how in the world they could ever pay attention to something other than themselves long enough to devote time to crafting a good melody.
It didn't help that the song titles (''Simon Sez'') invited kissup-style lyrics. When adorable Eric Yoder kicked it off by singing, ''Hey Paula…,'' I knew we were in trouble. But it wasn't so much that the songs were awful -- it's that everybody forgot the freakin' words! Some blamed the lights, some blamed nerves, and Lisa Wilson blamed everything but her late-night romp with Ritchson in the hotel pool.
Nicole Tieri (a.k.a. Scooter Girl!!!!) didn't forget her lyrics, but she did forget to tone down the crazy factor when she performed. I'm still not sure if her version of ''Ten Reasons I Love You'' belongs on a spoken-word album, a Broadway cast album, or hell, a Bjork's Weirdest Hits album. No matter, though: Scooter Girl is going on to the next round and she reasserted her craziness by referring to herself in the third person. That, my friends, is always a good sign.
As for the others? I'm still not sold on Michael Keown, whose cheesy head roll and dorky facial expressions give me, well, the utties. Matthew Rogers' stage presence is highly arrogant, and I'd be more prone to listening to him if he didn't scream his song. I'm high on Marque Lynche, who was introduced on Monday night's episode -- there's something about his demeanor and his natural good looks that scream Top 10. I also liked Fantasia Barrino quite a bit -- as does everybody else informally polled here at the EW offices -- though it remains to be seen if her growing cult following will be able to propel her to future, Frenchie-esque greatness. And, um, excuse me, but where was little person Jasmine Arteaga when I needed her most??! All I caught was a quick glimpse of her hugging Paula when she learned that she, too, was moving on up.
My final paragraphs, however, must be saved for Kira Scott, who inexplicably made it through to yet another round. Looking like a cross between Raven and Kimora Lee Simmons, Scott arrived on stage with a massive chip on her shoulder, immediately doling out insults to Simon. Really, Kira, that schtick is old. She didn't help matters by accusing him of being gay after she sang (again, Kira, old hat), nor did she help herself by admonishing the judges to ''buy the single,'' effectively dissing the entire competition.
Amazingly enough, it was the newly tough Paula who ripped Kira a new one by telling her, straight up (sorry), that her behavior was ''disrespectful'' and ''appalling.'' This was an anti-uttie moment, and reminded me why Paula Abdul posters adorned every inch of my bedroom walls when I was 12. And I took great pleasure in watching Kira being put into her place by a faded pop diva with no discernable vocal skills. Sorry, Paula… I still love you, but it was actually the dancing in your ''Cold Hearted'' video that made me a lifelong fan.