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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on Carole King Night and the Mysterious Presence of Penny Marshall

I am still suffering from jet lag and have slept horribly for the last week. I haven’t slept through the night in days, waking up every hour on the hour and having the most insane dreams I’ve ever had. Lifetime. The only one from last night that I can remember was like a movie that I was just waiting to be in. Like, I knew I was going to show up eventually, because the other characters were making references to my character, but my brain just had to watch this movie for a while. The cast included Nicole Kidman and Jimmi Simpson. Nicole was taking out the trash, not realizing there was a chopped-up dead body in it. Jimmi played her ex-husband, and you were supposed to think he did it, but really, it would end up looking more like I did it, and then later it would turn out that someone else really did it. I awoke before making my entrance onscreen. My point is, I am not physically and emotionally ready to watch this episode of American Idol.

Tonight, it’s the music of Carole King, whom Ryan describes as “arguably, one of the most successful and most revered female songwriters in pop music history.” Which part of that description might people be arguing? The “successful” part? That actually seems pretty easy to prove, at least financially. Is it maybe the “revered” part? Come on. Is anyone really going to counter, “Naaaaah, she’s not revered. She’s no Diane Warren. What’s that? It sounded like you said something; what was it? Oh, nothing? Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

This week’s music-industry insider called up for the jury duty that is sitting next to Jimmy Iovine is legendary hit-maker Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds. Babyface looks good! I haven’t seen him in a while; he could be referred to at most as Adolescentface!

Our first performer tonight is Jacob. In rehearsal, Jimmy and Babyface go through Jacob’s performance line by line as he tackles “Oh No Not My Baby.” They are really, really riding him. Jimmy explains that the judges want Jacob to oversing. Are you kidding me? “Jimmy, Jimmy! Paul F. Tompkins, from Vulture. As to what the judges want, does that matter at all anymore? And I have a follow-up: Was Jacob not going to oversing?” Jacob performs in a plaid blazer, blue vest, yellow shirt, and purple striped bow tie. I can’t make fun of his outfit too much, as it’s not too far afield of something I might actually wear myself. Although I do try to keep my wardrobe just this side of Nicely-Nicely Johnson. As for the song, Jacob absolutely goes for it. He oversings, of course, and looks like he’s having fun. It’s a spirited rendition to be sure, replete with some seventies-style scatting toward the end. I realize it would delight me if Jacob suddenly segued into Al Jarreau’s “Theme From Moonlighting.” I have gotten just enough sleep to know this will not actually happen … right?

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo noticed Jacob had some moments where it wasn’t perfect, but Jacob killed it. Randy declares that Jacob can sing!
ME: Jacob has gotten less and less interesting to me since way back on episode ten, when he went to town on “God Bless the Child.” Maybe the judges and I want the same thing from Jacob, and it all comes down to the boring song choices that he has either made or had forced upon him or both. Either way, it — ugh. I don’t want to actually get invested, here. I’ve said too much. Let us never speak of this.

Lauren will sing “Where You Lead.” In rehearsal, Jimmy and Babyface try to get her to hit some high notes in the song. Lauren allows that the judges have requested this as well, but she’s scared of not hitting those notes. Babyface calmly asks her, “Have you ever gone for it and not hit it?” Lauren replies, “No.” Babyface serenely responds: “Duh.” Babyface is fantastic. He is contestant-whispering and it is amazing to see. He accomplishes everything with confident, direct communication, instead of making corny jokes and rambling on for minutes at a time like certain Will.s I could i.am. Babyface is like an old-school Anne Rice vampire, except he doesn’t want these kids under his thrall for an eternity of moping; he just wants them to sing to the best of their ability! Lauren seems to have relaxed when Jimmy Iovine suddenly says. “Let me introduce you to a friend of mine,” and Miley Cyrus walks out! What! What is going on?! Lauren is flabbergasted, and as weird as it is that someone is actually young enough to look up to Miley Cyrus, what’s weirder still is whatever game of palace intrigue Jimmy Iovine is playing. Wasn’t he trashing Miley Cyrus a week or so ago? Now they’re chatting like chums? Miley teases that Jimmy deserved all the nasty comments Jimmy received from her fans recently, and Jimmy agrees that he did indeed deserve those nasty comments! What? This sniveling worm — he’s no Machiavellian mastermind! But wait, he invited her on the show … how many steps ahead is Iovine? Lauren sings the song, it’s boring, she brings some dude out of the audience to sit on the edge of the stage, and then walks away from him. Eventually, she remembers he’s there, just before the song boringly ends.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo has tears in her eyes, she’s so proud of Lauren right now! Randy thought the song was safe but loved that Lauren made it something more for herself. He advises Lauren to continue to go hard for it!
ME: Great advice, Rand!

Because fewer contestants means more time to waste, Haley and Casey are going to duet on “I Feel the Earth Move,” a song I’d totally be cool with never hearing again. This rendition is not changing anything for me. I really like these kids, and they seem to be having such a good time with this song and with each other, but I have still retained enough of my own identity that I can express my own emotions and say I’m not enjoying this number. This show will not beat me. It will NOT. After the performance, Steven Tyler asks Casey, “How much are you in love with Haley? It showed, man.” Casey and Haley kind of laugh it off, because this is inappropriate behavior from an elderly person, and what else can one do? We’re not an “ice-floe” culture, you know?

Sorry to keep you waiting so long, tween girls. Here’s Scotty. We waste a few seconds on revisiting the fake drama from last week, when Scotty was told he needed to show everyone something different. So this week, since Carole King has forgotten to write a top-ten country song from the nineties, Scotty is mixing it up! He’ll sing “You’ve Got a Friend.” Jimmy encourages Scotty to change up his typical singing style (again, why?), but Scotty doesn’t seem to be able to break his deeply ingrained habit of low-singing. Well, Babyface just isn’t having it. He makes a lot of good, solid eye contact with Scotty when he tells him he is doing the bullshit he always does. By the end of rehearsal, everyone is excited that Scotty is going to do something new! Then Scotty performs, and he does the same thing he’s always done! Now, I am not with these kids for as many hours as people like Iovine and the judges or even Babyface are, but it is obvious we have seen all we are going to see from them. Not just Scotty — all of them. This thing has been going on since February. So Scotty sings this “different” song exactly the way you’d expect. He is incapable of surprising anyone. Maybe if he’d started the song from underneath a trap door … first you’d hear his voice — oh, where’s it coming from? — then SPROING! Up through the floor, in a full suit of armor, and he hits the stage with a terrific clattering of metal and oddly held microphones. Surprise!

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo thinks Scotty told the story of the song beautifully. Randy didn’t know Scotty had that range and was happy to see “that other cheek.” What? I think Randy has misused this before, hasn’t he? He has. In episode ten.
ME: I bet Randy didn’t know Scotty had that range because he doesn’t, in fact, have it. Behind Randy, I think I can make out Penny Marshall in the crowd. She’s wearing sunglasses — is Penny Marshall known for wearing sunglasses all the time? Well, I’m not going to waste my precious time researching Penny Marshall’s potential eye problems. In the absence of a dog in a harness, I’m going to assume she just likes to get super high at televised singing competitions.

As the Coca-Cola logo looks on, Ryan asks James what he thought of Scotty’s performance. James replies that Scotty is an inspiration to all of the contestants, what with his continually challenging himself week after week. Okay, this is just gross. Now the show is making not just the judges but the other contestants push Scotty? This is becoming a cult. James is gonna sing “Tonight You’re Mine” "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" just straight-up. No pyrotechnics, no marching bands. Okay, well, it’s a talent competition, not a logistics tournament, so that’s not that daring a move. In rehearsal, I notice for the first time that Jimmy Iovine has been dressed exactly like Fonzie this whole time. Is this a veiled allusion to Penny Marshall’s Milwaukee-set sitcom roots? Will Babyface later be attired as the Big Ragu? Is Al Molinaro dead? Seriously, is he? If you’re done googling “Penny Marshall glaucoma,” see if Al’s wiki has been updated recently. James starts his performance, singing sweetly, and all I can think about is when the high-pitched scream will occur. I know that it’s going to be in there. Especially because it doesn’t belong. Come on, come on … Yes! He does it on the bridge. I knew it. He also throws in, at the end, “You better love me tomorrow.” Who’s he talking to? His hungry, diaperless baby? I guess he means tomorrow is when he’ll have food and diaper money, so quit withholding love, baby!

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo thought it was magical from the beginning, and James will be the star of the night! Randy says that James “turned the other cheek” and showed that he is a great singer, and that James might just win the whole thing. Ryan commands James to go give Randy a hug. James does. Perhaps Ryan feels sorry for Randy because Randy doesn’t understand one of the oldest, most well-known expressions in the history of communication.
ME: James sang just fine. Okay? What will make this stop?

Back from the break, we are allegedly treated to Scotty and Lauren singing a country version of “On the Roof.” This is their third dull outing together. Casey and Haley at least had one sort of fun number before things went south with them tonight. I guess this is where I feel a huge disconnect with my countrymen, because I don’t find it interesting to watch children — who are not blood relatives — sing. It reminds me of local television.

I didn’t catch the name of the song Casey is going to sing, because the dumb WHOOSH of the AI graphic drowned out his audio. The song is revealed a second later to be “Hi De Ho,” which I’m assuming jazzbo Casey chose on title alone. He says it was made popular by Blood Sweat and Tears. Has anyone ever heard this song? Was it on the third Big Chill soundtrack, the one where they ran out of good sixties songs and were left with “Hi De Ho,” “Purple People Eater,” “Happy Birthday,” and the National Anthem? Casey performs wearing a little jazz hat, which he thankfully rips off and throws away early on. Boy oh boy. This is some pretty tedious Jake-and-Elwood “blues,” made all the more awkward by Casey’s youth. Which is also, oddly, the mitigating factor — you would have to be young for this sort of behavior to be understandable.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo says she’d like to see Casey loosen up a little more in his body. Randy loves that Casey is always bringing something different and that Casey brought Randy back to New Orleans, his “home state.”
ME: It’s hard to stay mad at Casey. He clearly loves this stuff, and you can never really begrudge someone being into something you’re not into, if it gives them joy and isn’t hurting anyone. Casey consistently comes off to me as one of the more honest performers on the show, in that he gets joy out of performance itself and not just applause. And as much as I might not always like the end result, he really is trying stuff. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

I went and got a beer for the home stretch. You may wonder how I’ve written about this show for the last 100 months without being blind drunk. It’s called professionalism, ladies and gents. And it ends tonight.

Commercials! Wendy’s is launching some fraudulent campaign where they have some sad liars saying Wendy’s fries are better than McDonald’s fries. I pity you delusional fools.

Back from the break, Ryan finally acknowledges Penny Marshall, running up to her and saying, “I recognize you.” But he never actually mentions her name! Now I will never be sure if it actually is Penny Marshall, or just some other woman in her mid-sixties wearing Ike Turner sunglasses. And is Lorraine Bracco sitting next to her? Whatever is keeping Dan Hedaya? I don’t actually know for a fact if Dan Hedaya hangs put with Penny Marshall and Lorraine Bracco, but you have to admit that after seeing this, if you heard that Laverne, Dr. Melfi and Nick Tortelli were all friends, you wouldn’t be surprised.

Penny Marshall.jpg

Before Haley sings “Beautiful,” Babyface calmly talks about what makes a true artist. He is so measured and quiet and reasonable. I want Babyface to come watch me live my life for five minutes and gently tell me what I’m doing wrong. When the song starts, I am a little disappointed that it’s got such a huge arrangement with horns and backup singers and stuff; the rehearsal made it seem like such a melancholy, soft little number. That said, Haley does a good job with this song I’d only ever experienced through her other version of it, ten seconds before now.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo emphatically states that Haley has one of the best voices in the competition. Randy gets booed for saying he didn’t like the beginning and earns no goodwill back by saying he liked the end. But does he respond to these vicious taunts? No. Randy turns the other cheek. And that’s how you use that, Randy.
ME: I am 100 percent on board with Haley now. She seems really intelligent and passionate when she talks abut the music, and down-to-earth and easygoing when she performs. I hope she gets something out of all of this because she seems all right. I hate this show for letting any of these kids grow on me, but I love myself for being so enlightened and evolved.

Well, I’d like to say that the show is over, but it inexplicably isn’t. Jacob and James are gonna get together and do what will most assuredly be an uncomfortable version of “I’m Into Something Good.” The fellows talk about how great they are going to be at singing this song they are about to sing, announcing they “are gonna take it to church!” James requests an “Amen,” but Jacob instead offers a “Hallelujer.” Madea shout-out! The performance begins. The guys both wear painter’s pants, with James donning a Patrick McGoohan Prisoner blazer and Jacob sporting a coat from, I think, the Larry Tate collection. Filled with forced glee, the boys run to the judges’ dais to pull Jennifer’s chair out and spin her around, causing her momentary panic when she realizes how short her skirt is and the angle at which the camera is situated. She crosses her legs lightning fast, because she is a lady, goddamn you. The song meanders on, there are some perfunctory harmonies, and then it’s over. And that’s our grand finale. There aren’t enough beers in the fridge of my world to make what I just saw okay.

Tomorrow night, who will be in the bottom three? Only the most hated, despised people in all of television. [Enter Lenny and Squiggy.] “Hello!”

Good-bye.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX