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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on the Carole King Aftermath and the World’s Oddest Viewer Questions

Wake up, time to die! After a night of dreamless mostly sleep, I am prepared to say good-bye to an Idol. I am ready. PLAY HAS BEEN PRESSED! The judges enter. J.Lo is taking no chances after last night, wearing a dress that looks impossible to walk in, much less one that can lead to being exposed by two goofballs who like to surprise people on rolling office chairs. Steven Tyler is wearing a costume that would be labeled “1960s Dude” at the Halloween superstore. Wearing the same clothes in your sixties that you wore as a teenager: It’s not just embarrassing for women! There’s always been one, but tonight there is a preponderance of mature ladies holding "STEVEN, WALK THIS WAY" signs. This makes me indescribably sad, thinking of how excited they are, and imagining how turned off Steven is by these women who are his own age if not younger, but have committed the crime of not being 19 years old. I am basing this on nothing more than the general idea we all have of Steven Tyler and his frequent leeriness with the young contestants on this show. But ’tis enough, ’twill serve.

Changing things up, Ryan does a little topical humor to introduce a video package: “We’d like to pay tribute to the biggest event in pop culture this week — Charlie Sheen is performing his stage show down the street.” He lets ’em laugh, and oh, they do laugh at this joke that’s a month past its prime and makes light of an insane drug addict who is ruining the lives of his children. Then Ry comes clean: He means the royal wedding! I know the royal wedding is a silly storybook thing and all, but is it really pop culture? I think it’s just someone else’s culture, right? Having something to do with a centuries-old monarchy? Skip it. The package sees the kids going to the British Consulate for “Brit Week,” which, as far as I know, was just made up an hour before the cameras got to the consulate. It’s a great photo op for the kids; pictures of them even ended up on tonight’s episode of American Idol! We do get a glimpse of Lord Frederick Windsor, who looks like a terrifying thug from a Guy Ritchie movie. Fred Willard also and inexplicably appears.

Back in the studio, the top six sing a Carole King medley. Uh-oh. These are always death. Haley kicks it off, and it’s wobbly. The key is too low, as is the Idol tradition. James and Scotty join in the struggle. Jacob lends his discomfort to the proceedings. This is not going well. Then Lauren takes a line, and she’s actually doing well with it. She must have been lucky enough to be in the medley “sweet spot,” when the key has come up a little and the song has changed. Well, we don’t get to spend much time in this little oasis of non-awkwardness, because the song moves on and now we’re visiting with Scotty, at the edge of the stage and singing solo in the midst of a girl gaggle. Then everyone else sits on some steps to sing “It’s Too Late, Baby” (by all accounts, a song too taxing to stand and sing). Scotty extricates himself from his voting base to join the gang and help them limp across the finish line.

Ford Music Video! Ford Music Video! This time out, the kids cover Madness’s “Our House,” a song that has been crying out for a truncated cover with six people singing in listless unison. The concept is very Harold and the Purple Crayon: The kids draw a house for themselves. After they have doodled all the furniture, a fireplace, the doors, and such, the kids escape from this cartoon nightmare structure in some Ford cars. This is a particularly good feature of the new Ford line. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it!

Idol season-nine runner-up Crystal Bowersox is here! I have just learned of this human being and her fanciful, Tolkien-meets-Dickensian name; why have you all been hiding her from me? Miss Bowersox sings a country-tinged number called “Ridin’ With the Radio,” and she is backed up by what might be an animatronic hillbilly band from a theme park or family pizza parlor. After her song, Ryan doesn’t chat with her. Why? Because she’s only a runner-up? Runners-up don’t get to plug their tour dates! Put. That Coca-Cola. Down.

Back from the break, Casey is literally biting his nails. He seems really casual about it, too. It doesn’t seem like nervous behavior so much as gross behavior. Ryan tells us that AT&T asked Idol fans to submit well wishes and questions for our finalists. I have got to switch to Verizon. Behind Ryan is a huge screen that displays all the well wishes. One caught my eye because it was astounding in its self-absorption:

Idol me.jpg

Another because it involved a very specific type of dream:

Idol dreams.jpg

As we try to read those, Ryan asks the questions. Someone wants to know with whom Casey would duet, with all of music history from which to select a partner! Casey chooses the great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. Three people in the audience clap. Two of those people are Casey’s parents. The third may have been Oscar Peterson, although he passed away a few years ago, so I bet: Probably not. Scotty is asked if he ever had a job, and Scotty reveals that he has! He worked in a grocery store and can remember the code for Granny Smith apples. Nobody cheered, but I think they wanted to. Someone else wanted to know if James played in a band before American Idol. James replies, “I always have some sort of project going on, whether it’s my main focus or a side project.” Here are some things that are neither main nor side projects for James: babies, baby food, and diapers. Haley is asked whom her all-time favorite past Idol contestant is. Why does she get the crummiest question? At first it seems like she’s not actually all that familiar with the show, but then she reels off a few names and is clearly knowledgeable about their style, so nice work, Haley. After she finishes, Ryan jokes, “No Taylor Hicks?” Everyone has a good laugh at the mention of the name of this previous Idol winner who is clearly despised by all!

ENOUGH JIBBER-JABBER! DIM THE LIGHTS! Haley and only Haley is called center stage. Oh, one at a time, now? I see. Killing time. Say no more. Ryan directs our attention to the screen, and Jimmy Iovine judges her from the safety of a prerecorded video. He says Haley’s problem is she doesn’t know who she is as an artist. Haley pretty much says, Okay, again with this. Just tell me, then. Randy mouths that he knows who Haley is. Before Randy can reveal Haley’s true identity, Ryan declares that Haley is safe. That was a close one!

Scotty is next. Why, why are we going through this charade? He’s never been in the bottom three, right? Ever? If he has, leave it in the comments, then everyone but me will know for sure. Video Jimmy says, “Scotty has a subtlety that is magnificent.” Oh, it is magnificently subtle, all right. Because I cannot detect it. But Video Jimmy warns that subtlety could put Scotty in jeopardy! The next image we see is a clip of Scotty’s performance from the night before, where he stares directly into the camera and smiles wistfully at the unseen army of preteen girls who would murder at his command. Too subtle? Ryan makes Scotty sit down and wait to hear his fate later. (He will be safe.)

Ryan then makes a big show of deciding whom to call over next, like he’s some billionaire super-villain and the Idols merely his human playthings. Lauren is summoned. Video Jimmy notes that Lauren dwells on the negative feedback. Lauren agrees with this and beats herself up a little for dwelling on the negative stuff. This displeases Ryan, who makes her sit back down. He calls Casey over. Video Jimmy says Casey growls too much, “and has to realize the family dog does not vote on this show.” Har har! That’s as funny as the Sunday comics! Ryan asks, “In all seriousness, what is the growling about?” Hey, since when does Ryan give a shit? Casey has ceased to amuse Ryan! Away with this bearded buffoon! Slaves, bring me commercials!

After the break, Baron Seacrest calls over James. Video Jimmy says if James chooses the right songs, he can win this thing. What are the right songs for James? Or the wrong ones, for that matter? James just takes every song, no matter what it is, and puts it through the Jamesinator. Which means yelling. James pleases Ryan, who pronounces him safe. Ryan adjusts his diamond eye patch, then calls for Jacob. VidJim critiques Jacob’s The Music Man outfit from last night, comparing it to something you’d see on Dancing With the Stars and cautions Jacob that America votes for the whole package. Christ. Look, I know this show is a cash cow. I know they have to fill time. But please, please, for the next few months until the show winds down in the fall, could they please all stop pretending they know anything about how people are going to vote? On video or IRL, Jimmy Iovine has no more expertise in this area than I do. It’s so tiresome now. At this point, I’d gladly pass the time with another Ford Music Video. The kids haven’t gone into space yet! Have they? I just got sad realizing they probably have done a space one already. Anyway, Lauren is safe.

Back from the break, Bruno Mars is here to sing “The Lazy Song,” the first Top 40 single to name-check the Snuggie. Bruno’s band is in a sort of living-room kind of arrangement, with the horn players sitting on a couch. Another guest on the couch is a live dog, who must be loving life right now! Bruno sings about how he is going to have some awesome sex, only he doesn’t sing the word “sex.” He just shrugs and smiles, then goes on with the rest of the song. Look, we know you meant “sex” when you sang you were going to have some awesome something. It had to rhyme with “P90X.” Are we supposed to think kids will fill in “Tex-Mex” in their heads? Also, you couldn’t fit more faddish things in one song? Couldn’t come up with a rhyme for “Antoine Dodson”?

Back from the beak, Jacob, Casey, and Scotty await their fates. Jacob is safe. That means good-bye Casey. Okay. Let’s just get it over with.

RESULTS: Yes. It’s Casey. After Casey’s Banishment package, Ryan says, “This is what talent looks like!” Casey takes us out with “I Put a Spell On You.” He has a ton of fun with it, kissing a bunch of girls in the audience, hugging the judges — he even hugs Jacob’s grandma. He runs back up onstage and keeps it so light and fun that all the crying Idols have to laugh. Well, I say good luck, Casey. He seems like a genuine, talented kid who has a nice personality and a playful sense of humor, and he clearly cares more about showmanship and the joy of performance than he does about adulation or making people think he’s already famous somehow. I know he will be fine, but I will miss his presence on this show. As Casey wraps up the song, he sings the last line, “because you’re mine,” right into Haley’s eyes. It’s hard to tell from her reaction if they’re actually a couple or not, but I kind of hope they are. Maybe true love is the only cure for Casey’s disgusting stomach issues. Somewhere, Oscar Peterson is growing an orange beard.

See you next week!

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