You want drama, people? Then pay no attention to the girl who turns up the volume on her screeches every time she sees a camera. And forget about the guy who’s been cast in the role of ”comic relief” and is threatening to don a bikini if it’ll help keep him on your TV screen for another week. Don’t even sweat the trumped-up drama of the ”judges’ mansion,” with its rococo-on-a-dime design, its gaudy red chairs, and (presumably) a basement dungeon that contains the bound and gagged singing careers of Haley Scarnato, Anwar Robinson, and Lisa Tucker.
There’s drama all right, but for once in this very strange eighth season of American Idol, it’s springing forth from exactly the right place: the ferocious and addictive process of finding America’s next singing sensation. Yes, we’re down to the final 36, and while I have yet to fall truly madly deeply for any one singer — despite the fact that the producers have done everything but tell us that every vote for Lil Rounds will help feed starving orphans at home and abroad — on the plus side, I can’t remember a group of semifinalists this evenly matched in all of Idol history.
The prospect of next week’s semifinal showdown alone has me so excited I can almost overlook the fact that the show’s producers somehow forgot to include footage showing what the heck happened to one of my favorite under-the-radar Hollywood Week contestants. (Omigod, they forgot Kenny…Hoffpauer!)
Seriously, though, let’s consider who’s performing next Tuesday: Danny Gokey, Anoop Desai, Stephen Fowler, Brent Keith, Ricky Braddy, and Michael Sarver on the men’s side; and Casey Carlson, Jackie Tohn, Anne Marie Boskovich, Alexis Grace, Stevie Wright, and Tatiana Del Toro on the women’s side. Remarkably, only three of those folks are assured a place in the top 12. (For the uninitiated, this season’s semifinal format will feature three straight weeks in which a dozen contestants perform, with America voting through one man, one woman, and the next highest vote-getter of either gender, and sending nine others home; after those three weeks, the judges will name three additional ”wild card” contestants to complete the top 12.)
So who’s it gonna be? Danny or Anoop? Anne Marie or Alexis? Stephen or Stevie? Or maybe Ricky, one of the dudes that Paula’s been talking up as a possible superstar during her latest round of media interviews. I mean, even if the transition from the audition process to the voting rounds leads to the derailment a third of those vocalists — remember how Sanjaya Malakar and Mikalah Gordon seemed like legitimate contenders before they came unglued up on the live Idol stage? — next Wednesday’s cuts are still going to sting. So before we examine the other 24 semifinalists (and all the related deliciousness of tonight’s telecast), let’s see if we can sort out the contenders from the pretenders among the first dozen up to bat.