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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on Las Vegas Making J.Lo and Beatles Fans Cry

All right, we are heading to VEGAS! Yeah! Why? Why are we going to Las Vegas? I thought the goal was Hollywood, where we just were? In any event, the news of this field trip to Sin City thrills these teenagers. They will be so close to alcohol and gambling!

It turns out we are going to Vegas because of the obvious Beatles tie-in, of course. The contestants are informed that they’ll be singing the songs of The Beatles. The kids profess to be ignorant of the Beatles’ music, yet they also confess that they are intimidated at the prospect of singing Beatles songs. So, you want to be a professional singer, you’ve always heard The Beatles are gigantic legends in the field you’d like to pursue, but you didn’t really feel the need to ever check them out. Okay, good call being intimidated.

There is a special guest … adviser? critiquer? frightener? on the show tonight: Jimmy Iovine, legendary producer who seems like the type who will mention that fact if someone else doesn't do so within 30 seconds of meeting him. Jimmy and his retinue of stone-faced pretend-hard dudes are on hand to periodically tell everyone that they stink. That’s it, that’s the only reason he’s here. Jimmy has news for all the contestants: If it sounds like you’re singing at a wedding, a bar mitzvah, on a cruise ship, in a karaoke bar, he doesn’t want it. Okay, now let’s hear some slick arrangements of Beatles songs in Las Vegas!

J.Lo looks amazing, as usual. I don’t know what Randy and Steven Tyler look like. They are just blurry smudges on the periphery of J.Lo.

The contestants are put into little groups and perform, group by group, among the dormant roller skating ramps on the huge Cirque de Soleil stage, for an audience of themselves and the three judges. The arrangements are bland and the performances are largely without incident. Not much worthy of comment from a musical perspective, but I do enjoy Karen Rodriguez being referred to as “MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez.”

One moment that I really enjoyed that sums everything up perfectly: In a flashback, we see Legendary Jimmy Iovine tell Jacob Lusk not to “over-sing.” Legendary Jimmy clearly did not see Jacob’s performance of “God Over-Bless the Child” last week. When it comes time to perform “The Long and Winding Road,” Jacob restrains his over-voice as much as he possibly can. When the song is done, Randy, in direct defiance of Jimmy Iovine, tells Jacob to always over-sing! What insane advice! “Dog, I’m talkin’ The Beatles, the National Anthem, ‘Happy Birthday,’ the alphabet, your goal should always be to make that song unrecognizable.”

Since we’re in Las Vegas, we are treated to a little package on Ashley Sullivan’s quickie wedding to her supportive boyfriend. She is very excited to be “getting married in the same place Britney Spears got married, and she’s my hero, so it couldn’t be cooler.” This makes me sad prima facie; then I remember which Britney Spears wedding she’s talking about, and the sadness increases exponentially. It was the Britney Spears wedding where she married that guy Jason Alexander for about 48 hours. Ashley is really playing it up for the camera, making faces and cracking wise, and I feel strangely betrayed. I felt sorry for this girl, but now she seems like just another fame-hound. Then I feel even sorrier for her. And myself. Her wedding bit ends with a shot of her new husband, the camera lingering on him for an eternity, while he pleads with his eyes for America to stop looking at him forever.

After a disastrous performance of "If I Fell" by Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery and Denise Jackson, Jimmy Iovine proclaims to his henchmen that the singers should choose a different song. So Lauren, Scotty, and Denise go for no one’s favorite Beatles song, "Hello, Goodbye," and the performance is as much of a who-cares mess as the original song. Scotty’s hand gestures are as unpredictable as they are not-helping. It almost seems like he’s going for a hip-hop thing, as if anything outside of the realm of "Baby Lock Them Doors" country is "colored music."

Chris Medina and Casey Abrams sing “Hard Day's Night” while wearing fedoras, and it’s a little too Blues Brothers. Actually, a little too Blues Brothers 2000. At the end of the song Chris playfully declares, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." I can’t believe we’re 48 minutes into the show and we’re hearing that for the first time. I’ll just assume it’s being said every 30 seconds and it’s being edited out.

Aaron Sanders and Jordan Dorsey team up with “presumed deli-frequenter” (you know what I mean) Robbie Rosen to sing “Got to Get You Into My Life” in front of a shiny black cross framed with Vegas-y lights — what are they going for here, exactly, with this set design? Is Christ the one who into my life must be gotten? Is this directed at Robbie? There’s no reason I’m singling him out.

In a blast of “these people also performed but weren’t interesting” clips, we get a glimpse of last week’s closing-moments Count Poutula, who is identified as Alex Ryan. Did we ever see him sing, even? During auditions, maybe? He’s like one of those people who takes a cab to the last leg of a marathon and pretends they’ve been there the whole time.

The performances are finally over and it’s time for some cuts. A handful of people are sent packing, including — surprise! — Ashley Sullivan. There is no breakdown, and she takes it just fine. Sorry, everybody! The tearful collapse we were all promised shall not come to pass. Hey, that’s how the exploitative cookie crumbles; sometimes these nutcases will let you down with a moment of clarity.

We’re back in Hollywood (WHY DID WE GO TO VEGAS) after what seemed like an hour. Now the remaining contestants will be asked to "sing for their lives" as they are winnowed down to a still-too-many 24. As we see the judges, I think, J. Lo looks like a movie star. Then I remember that I don’t actually know her and she is, technically, a movie star.

The contestants are to perform in an airplane hangar for some reason, and Ryan Seacrest’s voice-over makes it seem like this is the height of taste and sophistication. Really, it’s a garage for cars with wings. Everyone knows this. The secret is out about airplane hangars.

After performing, the contestants will have to walk the absurd length of the hangar in order to receive their judgment from the Randy-J.Lo-Tyler tribunal. One by one, they are told their fate. Of the contestants who make it through, almost all are treated to classic fake-outs where the judges make them think they haven’t gotten through. These fake-outs (“fakes-out,” perhaps?) become increasingly artless, culminating in Steven Tyler saying to Haley, “We’re afraid to say … that you’re a yes.” Hey, you know, you don’t have to do a fake-out every time. If you don’t have a good one, fine. As the jazzbos say, "When in doubt, lay out."

One of the contestants who showed promise but didn’t make it this time is Hollie Cavanagh, who is told to come back in a couple years. Good advice. Good advice that should have been given to, oh, say, a dozen other people that are still in this contest. Another hopeful getting the boot is Alex Ryan, the Immortal Crabapple. So long, guy. I wonder what you sounded like.

Finally, Chris Medina sings his heart out in front of a tasteful biplane, but he doesn’t make it through. He is encouraged to continue on his musical path.

In a moment that has been teased all night, J.Lo breaks down. She feels terrible having to send a guy like Chris — who has a girlfriend in a wheelchair, mind you — out of the competition. J.Lo is crying, crying, crying.

They milk this moment like crazy, intercutting between Chris walking to a van, J.Lo being reassured, Chris getting in a van, J.Lo inconsolable, Chris philosophically leaning out of the van window, J.Lo crying some more … then we … FADE TO BLACK.

"TO BE CONTINUED."

I guess the crying is to be continued. So we’ll pick up there tomorrow. With the crying. Until then, watch ... J. Lo crying.

Photo: Fox