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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on Movie-Night Fallout

Okay, last one from the Underside of the World. I would like to thank you all for staying with me while I’ve been so far from home. Your loyalty to my recaps has been the most inspiring thing for me during my stay in another country, and I’ll tell you why: I have fucked-up priorities. And now, on with the show! I am pressing PLAY! Big money no Will.I.Ammies, big money no Will.I.Ammies, big money no Will.I.Ammies …

You have got to be kidding me. The show opens with another country duet — another one — between Scotty and Lauren. Why? Why? We’ve seen this already. Like, two weeks ago. Oh, sorry, this is different — Scotty and Lauren get up and walk around a little bit this time, affording us a chance to see the backs of the judges’ heads as they carry on a casual conversation. Another element that distinguishes this performance from their last outing together is that this song is even more bland and forgettable. There are so many good country songs, not to mention incredible country duets; it is unconscionable that they have chosen so many dull ones. How about that tune that Jack White and Loretta Lynn did a few years ago? I’d welcome Scotty and Lauren’s attempt at that if only to add a dash of energy to it all. Or if you won’t make Scotty or Lauren stretch, how about make some of the other contestants sing country? What about James and Jacob doing “Jackson?” I don’t care who sings what.

Irradiate some popcorn, it’s time for this week’s Ford Music Video! I hope these come standard in the new Ford Focus. Like, you can watch them on the nav screen instead of the GPS. But only if you are parked and the emergency brake is on! Safety first, Ford Music Video fans! Well, FMVFs, this week’s story is: Zombies. We see some behind-the-scenes footage of the kids getting made up as the undead, and everyone’s having fun (present company excepted). Haley says, “I’m changing the way, y’know, zombies look, so I feel sexy.” I am really hoping that she’s just deadpan joking, but I am a little afraid that she is not. I don’t know what to believe about anything anymore. Scotty plays a zombie as well; you’d think a plain ol’ grandma-lovin’ country boy might protest, “Zombies are agin God,” but he doesn’t. Maybe the dinosaurs that people rode in Bible days ate all the zombies of ancient Israel. Anyway, the acting in this video is pretty poor, even more so when you consider they’re playing dead people who can barely walk. Even so, with all that said, this would have been a better show opening than the Scotty-Lauren duet.

Next, Casey and Haley duet it up, with a jazzy number called “Moaning.” They actually make a good team! Except on the harmonies, which are just off enough to be disharmonious. But when they switch off, it’s playful and the fun borders on contagious. However, I have been inoculated with cynicism shots. Actually, Casey and Haley play really well together, and Haley seems the most comfortable she ever has to date during this performance. Sad news: Not only is there more scat singing from Casey, this time Haley does some too. This trend is alarming. It is spreading like the cancer of contemporary country! Casey and Haley get a standing O from the judges, which is a little bit much, but Casey and Haley truly made a much more dynamic team than Scotty and Lauren. I wish the judges actually said this. I wish they called Lauren and Scotty out to shame them. This show needs more shaming! Jimmy Iovine can’t do it all by himself!

Well, at least Ryan calls Lauren and Scotty out, to stand with Casey and Haley. The lights are dimmed. I discover that the song Lauren sang the night before was called “The Climb.” Huh. As of this sentence, I have already forgotten that. Scotty is safe, country safe. Lauren is also safe. Casey is safe. Haley is sent to growl on a stool.

Back from the break, we are given some insight into the presence of Rob Reiner in last night’s audience. Ryan throws to a clip package, explaining that earlier Rob was here to teach the kids something about … something. No further information is provided. Roll the package. Okay, I think I get it; this week’s theme was movies, so I guess it makes a little bit of sense that no it doesn’t. Why Rob Reiner, of all people? Surely there are silver-screen luminaries who are just as irrelevant to American Idol as Rob Reiner is but are more relevant to current cinema than Rob Reiner. The former Meathead and current meathead does some unintentionally unfunny “material” about movie music, like writing lyrics to the theme from Chariots of Fire. One gets the distinct impression that this “bit” is as old as the theme from Chariots of Fire itself (release date: 1981). Glad to see this is still Rob Reiner’s party piece. He also manages to take a shot at Jack Black’s singing ability. Jack Black is actually a very good singer. I know this despite not being in the movie business, but from being aware of movies. Rob, did you see Jack Black sing “Let’s Get It On” in High Fidelity? Check out that movie some time, it was very well regarded. Do you get to go to the movies much? The segment flounders about for a while before wrapping up as awkwardly as it began. Thanks for nothing, Rob. Maybe Elvira should have stopped by instead, to teach the kids about being a … what, a ghoul or something? I’ve never been sure what Elvira is supposed to be. I’m not into Goth, sorry. Maybe Elvira will talk to the kids for Robert Smith week (which would be great and will never happen).

Season-one Idol winner Kelly Clarkson returns to her televised alma mater to sing the country song “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with country-song singer Jason Aldean. Jason is wearing one of those cowboy hats that’s so curved and molded it looks like it’s carved from a block of solid oak. Jason and Kelly start the song and country country country country country country country country it’s over. Hey, any chance they could squeeze in a little more country before this episode is done? Does Roy Clark need help writing a jingle for Coca-Cola? Or should I say “wrattin’ a jangle fer Co’Cola?” I shouldn’t! Forget that I already did!

Back from the break (I will totally see Cowboys & Aliens), we are “treated” to Jacob, James, Paul, and Stefano singing a medley of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson” (movies, The Graduate, etc.). This is one of those things Idol really does well: forced medleys with no regard for mood. The boys do not sound so good together. Although you could argue that they are singing it about as well as Simon & Garfunkel would these days. Paul is especially slight on this one. What is Paul’s range, exactly? It seems like his sweet spot is very rarely found from song to song. Maybe it’s different when he sings his own stuff. Perhaps his originals are Gregorian chants with an alt-country flavor, like sacred music performed by Uncle Tupelo.

Before you can say, “At least they only sang half of each song,” the lights are dimmed where the boys stand! James is safe. Is his baby safe? Ryan cannot (will not?) say. Stefano is in the bottom three, again. His old stompin’ grounds! Jacob’s humble-pie eating seems to have satisfied America, and he is safe. Paul joins Haley and Stefano in Stoolgatory.

Chaka Khan and Anita Baker are in the audience. How come we are not treated to them doing something, instead of being subjected to Rob Reiner’s lazy attempts at humor? I’m sure Anita and Chaka would have been funnier within the same framework. At the very least, an Anita-Chaka duet could have replaced one of the two country duets. Then Rhianna performs a non-country number. With this performance, Rhianna also points out the wild disparity between actual professional performing and what happens every week on this show. Hmmm. Am I being hard on a bunch of kids who entered a contest? If so, I am the only one. Rhianna takes issue with Ryan knowing the inside scoop on her tour before her fans do. I hope this is not an Iovine vs. Cyrus–style feud. Wait a minute, of course I hope it is! Why isn’t this show about musical feuds? No one steal my musical-feud TV show idea! I am mailing it to myself right now!

Back from the break, it’s time for:

RESULTS: Ryan points out that since the competition got down to the top thirteen, only girls have been sent home; no boys. But! Haley breaks that streak! She is couch’d. Now it’s down to Stefano or Paul. Stefano or Paul, Stefano or Paul? Who? WHO? WHOM, EVEN? Paul, that’s whom. Paul’s departure garners a standing ovation from the judges. Sure. Remember that time he sang that song okay? I don’t remember which song. Or even if he sang it okay. I hope one of you can remember, and if you can’t, you will be kind enough to undergo hypnotherapy to see if it ever really happened or if I am imagining the very idea of it. At J.Lo’s request, Paul closes the show out with “Maggie May.” Paul remains upbeat throughout the performance, dancing and clapping and high-fiving his now-former colleagues. When he finishes, everyone rushes over and hugs him. The end.

Paul is now free to pursue a career in smiling.

See you next week, from home.

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