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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on the Second Elimination

Another night of judgment. A brief montage reminds us of who’s being judged, what the stakes are, how much we care, where our hearts lie and what our place in the world is. We are not nothing. We do exist. We are children of the universe. Forgive my Desideratizing. As the contestants tell us what they wanted to do before pursuing a career in singing, Scotty reveals he wanted to be an astronaut but didn’t have the brains to become one. I am telling you: What he says and the way he says it, even his posture … he is becoming an exact doppelgänger of George W. Bush. It’s getting eerie. By the end of this season, he will at least own a baseball team.

The live show begins and the judges are shoved out onto the stage. Steven Tyler is just flat-out wearing women’s clothing now. It’s not “androgynous rocker” stuff. He is wearing women’s clothing. Does he think we don’t know? Like, it’s his little secret? Those squares will never know I got this sparkly sweater-coat at Chico’s!

The kids are introduced and they have a song battle! It’s boys against girls with “Born to Be Wild” versus “Born This Way!” Yes! I love when the theme is just a word and not a richer concept! This number is a mess from a technical standpoint, with a few microphones not being turned on as people start singing. Hey, singing show: next time, have a list of the singers — lists help. Put little pictures of the people on the list if you can’t keep the names straight. “First he sings, then he does. Then her.” It’s easy.

Well, we need a breather from that threat of professional broadcasting. So let’s take a break, then come back and relax with some vertical integration.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT THIS SEGMENT: Ford, American Idol
The kids have been ordered to make another “music” video. This time, everyone pretends to be in various kinds of movies. Then they pretend they’re watching those movies at a drive-in (in Ford cars). Then we all pretend that drive-ins still exist. As he did last week, Casey was able to escape this task as well, thanks to his Judas of a digestive system. After the video, Ryan tells us we all have a chance to win “a VIP trip to a Ford music video.” Seriously, as a “P,” how “VI” can I expect to be treated at this Ford music video? “You are granted unfettered access to that card table: Help yourself to as much string cheese AS YOU WANT!” Ryan then tells the studio audience to look under their seats; everyone gets an American Idol tenth-anniversary CD. I wonder what percentage of the cheering audience is thinking, “Yeah, a free jewel case!”

Then we are treated to one of those “be funny, non-comedy people!” montages, during which Pia gets bleeped when she mentions that her dog is a shih tzu. Perhaps Fox was worried about complaints from stupid people about the first syllable of the name of that breed of dog. I would say that if people are stupid enough to be offended by the pronunciation of “shih tzu,” they are too stupid to deserve entertainment. Then maybe this show could be made better, thus alienating the stupid people, who can return to being entertained by setting stuff on fire. After that scandalous clip package, Ryan says it’s time for the tough part and asks for the lights to be dimmed. Instead, Celtic music plays and all the lights go green! Ryan calls for this to stop and explains that the lighting director is Irish and a drunk (it’s St. Patrick’s Day). Ryan repeats his request for the lights to be dimmed. This joke is so very wispy and slight, and the judges seem so genuinely confused by the music and lights, I actually rewind a few times to make sure it was truly intentional. I am 99 percent convinced it was a gag and the drinking comment was the punch line. Time will tell.

Ryan then summons Jacob, Casey, and Lauren to center stage. A recitation of the previous night’s critique of Jacob inspires Ryan to ask Randy what the deal is with pitch and how can you be on it? Randy pretty much says you have to be good at singing. J.Lo is very quick to point out that sometimes as a performer, you can’t hear yourself over the music. Like, say, at the Grammys? Ryan pronounces Jacob, Casey, and Lauren safe, then calls over Haley and Paul. Ryan brings up the judges’ concerns that Haley is all over the place with her song choices, and Haley defends herself by saying she wants to sing all kinds of songs. Randy nods thoughtfully as if it never occurred to him that this could be a possibility, as if he thought she didn’t know that there were different genres of music and he wasn’t quite sure how to break it to her that there were. Anyway, Paul is safe and Haley is in the bottom three. She is sent to the Purgatory of the Shame Stools to await her ultimate fate.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT THIS SEGMENT: American Idol
season-nine Winner Lee DeWyze is here to make me look his name up and get annoyed at how his name is spelled. Also, Ryan has been teasing Lee’s appearance all evening, and every time he mentioned that Lee DeWyze would be performing, I thought he was saying “Lita Wise.” A farcical misunderstanding worthy of a Frasier! Lee gives some godfatherly advice to the Idol hopefuls, telling them they’ll be fine no matter what happens. Although he won, so what does he know? Let me hear what Sanjaya has to say! Will you yield, sir!

Back from the break, Ryan orders Scotty, Pia, and James to face their fates. In a moment of levity, Scotty teases us with just a few seconds of his signature song (just the lights-lowering part). Scotty, Pia, and James are all in the clear, and before they sit down, it is again mentioned that Steven has promised to sing with James if he makes it to the finale. James, that is. Steven will definitely be there, and I am keenly aware that I am powerless to prevent this from happening. Next! Stefano and Naima are up. Naima, unsurprisingly, is in the bottom three. Stefano is safe. Thia and MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez are called to have their sins read to them. Thia assures the judges she’ll show them she’s more than just a ballad singer if they only give her another chance. Well, Thia, your unseemly wheedling was wholly unnecessary, because MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez is sent back to her old stompin’ grounds, The Stools of Shame.

PRODUCT PLACEMENT THIS SEGMENT: The Black Eyed Peas/possible Logan’s Run musical?
The Black Eyed Peas make some lady violin players walk around and play the violin at the same time, no chairs. I feel my calling out the laziness of the entire string community has resulted in this. The BEPs have rewritten their fast song yet again, only this time Mr. Roboto is name-checked. Will.I.Am is sticking with that molded plastic Max Headroom fade he wore at the Super Bowl. Fergie Fergies. To distance themselves from the truth of a recent SNL sketch about the other two people in the band, the Black Other One is allowed to sing a little. But since this is Idol, HIS OWN SONG IS TOO LOW FOR HIM TO SING PROPERLY. Even with Auto-Tune. The song ends, the BEPs go back to their hyperbaric chambers, and after a break, it’s time for results.

RESULTS: Ryan assembles the bottom three. Naima is safe. She is allowed back to the padded glory of The Couch of Continuing Contestants. Haley is safe, so it’s the end of the line, maybe, for MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez. We cut to the audience when this news is broken, and some middle-aged white couple is identified as “Karen’s friends.” Maybe they’re her MySpace friends? MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez sings Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” for her very life! With some Spanish thrown in! We see the judges “discussing” her while she sings. Come on, judges, that’s unnecessary. You’ve already discussed all of these people several times; you know their strengths and weaknesses by now. This is the song that’s supposed to maybe turn you around, and you talk through it? And you still chat after the song, while Ryan stalls for you. It would have been nice if this sweet young lady were allowed to perform uninterrupted one last time rather than you cramming in an extra dose of your fakey drama. Come on, be a sport. The show’s almost over.

IS THE JUDGES’ SAVE IMPLEMENTED? No. And Randy states that it is not unanimous.

So long, MySpace’s Karen Rodriguez. As you walk away from American Idol, back out into the world, you’ll see there was one person who always kept an eye on you … way back there, where you came from. He’s been watching you this whole time, looking over his left shoulder, smiling warmly, attired, as always, in his signature white T-shirt. Go to Tom, honey. Go to Tom.

Oh, and I guess that thing with the drunk lighting director was a joke. But, I mean, wow.
Next week: More cuts! Good!

You can listen to Paul F. Tompkins's podcast here, or subscribe on iTunes. He is also on Twitter as @PFTompkins.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX