Let’s begin our recap of American Idol’s eighth-season Top 3 performance night with a quiz:
Which of the following unexpected events and scenes did NOT play out during tonight’s Idol telecast?
A. A fearsome howler monkey wrestled the mic away from a backup singer and offered aggressive, unwanted support to Adam Lambert as he performed Aerosmith’s ”Cryin’.”
B. Kris Allen swiped some nailpolish off the top of Adam’s dresser.
C. Simon upgraded from bargain-store undershirt to an elegant, tailored suit.
D. Randy was the least annoying member of the judges’ panel.
E. Ryan’s play-by-play included the exclamation: ”Paula’s just punched Simon in the left breast.”
I know, I know…even if you missed tonight’s episode, the correct answer (C) was too easy. (Simon never wears a suit until the season finale! Duh.) But the thing that impresses me about my favorite show on television is that with only three contestants and three episodes remaining before the lights go out at the Nokia, it manages to avoid settling into a predictable groove. I mean, just after I reach a point where I feel safe promising on an Idolatry episode that I’ll dye my hair (gulp) to Iraheta Red if Adam doesn’t take home the season 8 crown, along come those nagging winds of uncertainty. Was there a slight yet certain disturbance in Glambert’s swagger? Was Danny’s voice beginning to show the strain of 10 weeks of getting run through the unforgiving Idol machinery? And did Kris manage to have a moment despite/because of his decision to cover a song by Kanye West?
But wait. Before we start debating the performances on the ”most physically aggressive episode of Idol ever,” and before we begin our impassioned calls for a Kris-Adam or Adam-Danny or Danny-Kris finale, let’s all agree on two things, shall we? First off, the first Allison-free week of the season 8 finals was a little less fun, a little less fearless, and a lot less fuchsia. And secondly, Idol’s producers have officially lost sight of the fact that it’s the vocal performances of a merry band of superstar wannabes, and not the self-impressed blatherings of a panel of has-beens and never-wases, that keep their show’s engine purring.
Think I’m being overly harsh? Let’s flash back to Top 3 night on Season 7, when we got a whopping nine performances. We had David Cook tackling ”The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” ”Dare You to Move,” and ”I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” David Archuleta attempting ”And So It Goes,” ”With You,” and ”Longer,” and Syesha Mercado pulling out ”If I Ain’t Got You,” ”Fever,” and that song by the animated penguins. Granted, the ”Producers’ Choice” round of 2008 did not yield stellar results — Armageddon love theme + Dan Fogelberg schlock + Happy Feet album cut = a sudden and terrifying urge to grab the remote and find out about this thing called NCIS) — but did Idol’s producers really think it was cool to leave us with only six performances and a few seconds’ worth of hometown visit footage on which to choose our finale participants? Especially on a night where if Kara’s combined critiques had been tossed in the dumpster, Adam, Kris, and Danny would’ve almost had time to respectively perform ”Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” ”Alice’s Restaurant,” and ”American Pie” in their entirety.
Heck, even if the producers were acting from a non-boneheaded place as they prepped this milestone 300th episode, even if they decided to cut back on the performances to preserve the remaining finalists’ overworked voices for that last final onslaught of recordings and rehearsals and public appearances, something doesn’t compute. Cutting back the singing from a Top 3 show would be like filming the 300th episode of CSI: Miami and taking away David Caruso’s sunglasses! (Dial 1-800-RAY-BANNED!)
NEXT: A heartfelt “Heartless”