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American Idol Recap: Mediocrity Minus Two

Last night’s episode of American Idol was a palate-cleansing experience, with two performers (one inept, one adequate) falling prey to Idol voters’ indifference. After an acceptable, but debatable save last week used on Michael Lynche, it was a relief to see two singers ejected who clearly weren’t going to make the top five anyway.

The overall enjoyable episode (thanks, Adam Lambert!) got off to a rough start. The opening medley of Elvis songs was sub-par Broadway schmaltz, the likes of which would make even Auntie Mame roll her eyes. The following Ford music video seemed to imply that driving a Ford Fiesta would make more trees grow, which seems wrong, but James Inhofe tells me there’s some good science to support that theory.

Whether for the sake of brevity or pity, Ryan Seacrest wasted no time telling Andrew Garcia that he was off the show. No surprise there: Andrew’s been struggling since he entered the top 24. In spite of some enjoyable acoustic reinterpretations of pop songs, most of his performances fell somewhere between “meh” and “how in the world did they lose the mullet kid for this?” (Keep reading for an update on Alex Lambert and his hair).

Andrew’s swan song was a James Morrison single he covered forever ago, and with that our long national nightmare came to an inauspicious end. Actually, perhaps "nightmare" is too strong. More like pesky, boring recurring dream that had one good part.

After the commercial break, Seacrest prepped us for next week’s "Idol Gives Back" with a video of Kara and Elliot Yamin (third place finisher in season five and one of the show’s more successful vets) taking a trip to Africa to demonstrate where exactly the money you might donate next week will go. Naturally, a video of rich white people descending upon Africa, dancing with children and kissing babies, is bound to make some scoff, but it’s always good for 20–30 million American viewers to see this stuff. Even if only two people feel moved enough to donate, then some children get mosquito nets and don’t die of malaria. Dance on, rich white people.

Indie cutie Brooke White (who finished fifth place in season seven) returned to the Idol stage to duet with aspiring musician, underwear model, and Miley Cyrus ex-bf Justin Gaston on the Elvis tune “If I Can Dream.” Musically, the two didn’t gel — her clear, cutting voice forced him to sing in a register too low for him to pull off. But when they got to the impassioned shouting at the end, he seemed much more at ease.

Shockingly, the awkward banter that followed did nothing to hype the fact that Justin Gaston is part of a Simon Fuller–created web series called If I Can Dream, something so "post-reality TV" that it barely qualifies as a program. Gaston and five other beautiful young people — including Alex Lambert, who left this season of Idol far too early and has since trimmed back his mullet — now live in a house rigged with 60 cameras. Literally this moment, right now, you — yes, you! — can go to the site and watch everything that’s going on in the house. Great, huh?

Aside from the indignity of a song Elvis recorded in tribute to the slain Martin Luther King Jr., now being used as the title for a show about hot people trying to get famous and the normalization of voyeurism, the idea of If I Can Dream is actually fairly compelling. Instead of someone editing clips together to form a narrative, you watch real people at your own discretion. For instance, Alex Lambert flopped around on his bed and ate dinner while his former Idol cohorts waited with bated breath to find out which other singers would be leaving. Why would you want to watch this? Maybe you don’t, but isn’t it reassuring to always be reminded that somewhere in the world, any time of day, someone is trading their privacy for a shot at fame?

Speaking of people who are actually talented, Adam Lambert returned after his mentoring stint to perform his single “Whataya Want From Me,” the Pink-penned tune from his debut album and his first Billboard Top Twenty hit. Lambert’s performance (watch it below) started with a slow vocal build up, eerie lasers and green fog circling him like a funnel up to the heavens. The whole thing was campy, melodramatic, and sounded like it was the theme song to a forgotten eighties action-adventure flick, but it works because Lambert truly knows how to inhabit a performance. His glittery suit and absurd pompadour looked exactly like Vegas-era Elvis, which makes one think that Adam Lambert isn’t so much Gay Elvis as Elvis Presley was Gay Elvis all along.

The episode wrapped with a bottom-three fake-out. Although the last two people standing were Katie and Big Mike, we learned after Ryan ejected Katie that Mike hadn’t even been near the bottom three. Gotcha! Undoubtedly the save drama will keep Mike around a bit longer (watch out, Aaron and Tim). Katie Stevens held back her tears long enough to deliver “Let It Be” but submitted to the sobbing when they played her “Idol journey” video montage. Well, it was bound to happen: She has a fine voice but no sense of who she is as an artist, and that tends to make for rather uninspiring performances. Maybe once she enters her 20s things will be different.

But just when you think things are going well (only seven contestants left!), Seacrest pulls the rug out from under your feet: Next week is inspirational-music themed, yecch. At least the guest mentor is Alicia Keys — so don’t lose hope just yet.

Other Recaps:
Entertainment Weekly's Michael Slezak couldn't believe the show's producers "had Elliott Yamin in the audience but wasted the chance to let us hear him sing."
The AV Club's Claire Zulkey noted that "Siobhan is still an awful lip-syncher, I think because her mouth is too expressive," but "Lee seemed most embarrassed" during the Elvis medley.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX