Michael Slezak
February 14, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

”American Idol”: The Hollywood massacre

Tonight’s edition of American Idol reminded me of the words of the great philosopher Madonna: ”Shine your light now/This time it’s got to be good/You get it right now/’Cause you’re in Hollywood.” And indeed, Idol‘s all-too-brief first Hollywood-week episode began the phase of contestants’ lives in which stocking up on high-wattage bulbs, metaphorically speaking, is crucial. It’s a place where the dreams are big, and the drama even bigger. Where the judges’ (and the public’s) initial impressions can be solidified by a strong performance or virtually erased with a wonky note or botched lyric. And where tears — lots of ’em — are the order of the day.

As a nod to the fact that most of the show’s aspiring stars would love nothing more than to record a ubiquitous hit single, I’ve decided to lump together Hollywood week’s key players using choice song lyrics that fit their situations. Sure, it’s a crazy idea, but I’ve got to do something to help distract us all from the thrilling fact that season 6’s top 24 will be public knowledge in less than 24 hours. (Seriously, 9 p.m. cannot come fast enough). So if you’ll indulge me, let’s get it started in here….

”Since you been gone, I can breathe for the first time.” — Kelly Clarkson Honestly, I never thought for a single second that Perla Meneses, Sarah Burgess, or Jarrod Fowler was going to be crowned the next American Idol, but lest we all forget, some pretty dreadful vocalists (Mikalah Gordon, Kevin Covais, Camille Velasco) have cracked the top 12 in previous seasons. Therefore, I am thankful to Randy, Simon, and Paula that I will never again (a) experience Perla’s imitation of what Shakira’s singing voice would sound like if a tiny monkey was beating on her chest, (b) endure Sarah’s ripped-from-Dr. Keith Ablow stories about how her parents don’t support her efforts to spin a career from her decidedly middling singing voice, or (c) fear getting slapped with the ”unpatriotic” label for pointing out that Navy dude Jarrod’s vocals are wobblier than a dinghy in a perfect storm.

”Let’s stay together.” — Al Green There’s no need to remind me that the goal of American Idol is to find the nation’s next solo superstar, but the quartet of Chris Sligh, Rudy Cardenas, Thomas Lowe, and Blake ”Human Beatbox” Lewis sounded so delicious working together on ”How Deep Is Your Love” that it’s kind of a shame we’re unlikely to ever hear them team up again. Unless, of course, all four manage to become finalists and end up going on tour together. Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t be much of a shock. Seriously, each one of ’em is that good.

”No! More! Drama!” — Mary J. Blige Contestants like Amanda Coluccio and Matt Sato have the kind of talent that’s essential to any Hollywood-week episode. Unfortunately for them, that talent doesn’t involve actual singing so much as it does creating compelling little story arcs that the show’s producers can use to fill out the hour. From the minute Amanda turned up in a pair of shorts the size of grandpa’s hankie, you knew she was headed back to Jersey. But not before delivering the priceless zinger about the reason she advanced farther than her squabbling partner Baylie Brown: ”You know what? Because God likes good people.” As for Matt and his aggressively managed eyebrows, well, he and his mom will have plenty of time to work on their issues between now and season 7. And they’ll need it, seeing how some 30 million viewers now know the woman doesn’t hug him or tell him she loves him on a regular basis.

”Baby, I’m having déjà vu.” — Beyoncé Nigel Lythgoe & Co. must’ve had their reasons for bringing back Matthew Buckstein, one of season 5’s adorable ”Brokenote Cowboys,” and bossy rock chick Gina Glocksen, but I’ve got my doubts either one of ’em is true Idol material. We have yet to hear a single note from Matthew this season, but if memory serves, he’d better have worked on his voice three times as hard as on his arm muscles to compete with some of this season’s male front-runners. Glocksen, meanwhile, showcased a reasonably strong instrument on ”Be My Baby,” but she’s already been caught on camera playing the ”I didn’t come here to make friends” card. And in reality-show language, that loosely translates to ”I’m the producers’ choice for the role of resident bitch this season.” Oh, and speaking of familiar faces, did anyone else notice Robyn Troup, who won CBS’s ”My Grammy Moment” contest and sang a duet with Justin Timberlake Sunday night, getting her Idol dream shattered after a group audition with Jason ”Sundance” Head?

”You’re a heartbreaker!” — Pat Benatar Speakin’ of the devil…oh, Sundance, how you sadden me! For weeks now, you’ve sat atop EW.com’s American Idol power rankings, and then you go and mess up your Hollywood-week performances like a neophyte in a local karaoke competition. Also, please never again utter lines like ”I’m probably one of the best singers I know.” Simon was right that Paula and Randy were generous to keep you in the competition. He was also right when he said that halfway through ”Ain’t No Sunshine,” you ”looked like you’d been boiled.”

”Where did you go, my lovely?” — No Mercy While I’m stoked that Tami Gosnell, Melinda Doolittle, Sanjaya Malakar, Jimmy McNeal, and Paul Kim are all still alive going into tomorrow’s top 24 announcement, it might’ve been nice to, I dunno, hear each of ’em sing a couple bars tonight? Why so skimpy, Fox? It’s February sweeps!

”It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.” — Green Day Would you think I was a bad person if I told you I was sort of secretly thrilled to see Baylie ”Commercial With a Capital C” Brown and Jory Steinberg get the ax? Of course you wouldn’t! Because we all know one of the best parts of Hollywood week is seeing seemingly predestined finalists snap under mounting pressure. Watching Baylie’s group rendition of ”This Old Heart of Mine,” her smiling mouth wide open, no words coming out, I swear I heard the sound of the clichéd needle clichédly scratching across the clichéd record. How could a kid that poised bomb that disastrously? Jory, meanwhile, proved the old adage that the fastest route to elimination is choosing songs by ”big in Europe” divas like Anastacia, Tina Arena, or Lara Fabian. Not that there’s anything wrong with ’em, mind you.

”If at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” — Aaliyah Dear Porcelana Patino, I know I heard only a small snippet of you singing ”Love No Limit” at the New York auditions, and it’s possible I’m mightily overestimating your talents, but you know what? I’m willing to bet $20 that I’m right, and Paula, Simon, and Randy are wrong. So you let me know when you’ve got a CD coming out, and I’ll be first in line to buy it. Chin up, Slezak.

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Wouldn’t it have been better if we’d gotten a second hour? Where was this season’s contestant who parties all night and suffers the next day? Did you tear up when Sanjaya Malakar embraced his eliminated sister, Shyamali? And was there anyone you think got cut too soon, like maybe Sean Michel, if for no other reason than to see if America would vote for a Fidel Castro look-alike?

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