Frank Micelotta/American Idol/Getty Images(2)
Michael Slezak
April 01, 2009 AT 04:00 PM EDT

There comes a performance episode in every American Idol season when the closing credits roll, and you feel an acrid cocktail of disappointment and regret sloshing around in your stomach, and you think to yourself: ”I could’ve been reading a book/daydreaming about ponies/watching The Mentalist/[insert your oft-neglected activity of choice here].”

Tonight marked that night for Idol‘s eighth season.

Granted, the performances were probably no worse than what we saw during that second (unwelcome) helping of Beatles tunes during Season 7, or on Latin Night in Season 6, or in front of the ghastly backsplash ”Songs of the 21st Century” from Season 5. But coming off the high of last week’s Motown festivities, Idol had a lot farther to fall — and, unfortunately, the telecast slammed against every possible branch on its descent into lead-in provider for this season’s least hotly anticipated program: Osbournes Behaving Badly.

For starters, tonight’s theme wasn’t really a theme at all, seeing how contestants were allowed to choose ”any song they want that’s a popular download on iTunes,” according to Ryan Seacrest. Um, what? I mean, yes, ”Top Downloads” rolls off the tongue a little more easily than ”Popular Songs From This Decade (as Well as Other Decades) — All Under the Umbrella of a Conveniently Tacked-on Corporate Sponsor,” but couldn’t they have just dubbed it ”Contestants’ Choice” or ”Open Mic Night” or something like that? (Then again, what can you expect when the closest thing to a mentor this week was Ryan Seacrest, who did little more than impart knowledge to the contestants about how to click and play an MP3 file, and remind home viewers that American Top 40 is alive and well and living as part of the Witness Protection Program somewhere between Los Angeles and Reno?)

Far more irritating, though, was the fact that Idol‘s judges turned in the crappiest collection of televised critiques since The Peanuts Gang got the wrong idea about a humble little pine tree on A Charlie Brown Christmas. Show of hands: How many of you would love to see Randy ”for me for you” Jackson, Kara ”here’s the thing” DioGuardi, and Simon ”absolute mess” Cowell in the bottom three tomorrow night? (No sense putting Paula ”legato!” Abdul on the chopping block; as author of this here column, I would reserve the right to use my judges’ save on her behalf — if only for her excellent use of the word ”axe” this evening.)

NEXT: Time for Lil to go?

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