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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins Is Shocked to Feel Bad About an Elimination

Well, since I shared my shameful secret that watching and recapping American Idol was a comfort to my homesick soul here in Australia, things started looking up for me here Down Under. Then people on Twitter and Facebook began telling me that they couldn’t wait for me to see tonight’s episode. People never mean this to be an indication that I will like what I will see. Well, at least I had one nice evening.

After the usual summation montage — seriously, is there anyone who is just joining the show this far in and needs to be caught up? — the top nine launch into a rock-themed group number. It’s a medley of “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” (oh, I get it!), “The Letter,” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” Bases: covered. There is a wonderfully telling moment during the “Letter” section of the medley where Scotty is forced to sing around, say, four words that aren’t about a river or a grandma, and he flat-out can’t do it. He’d be a one-trick pony if a hugely popular genre of music were considered a “trick.” As the song segues into “Sweet Home Alabama,” I wonder, How does principled Jacob, who couldn’t hang with the message of “Let’s Get It On,” feel about this song — Lynyrd Skynyrd’s rebuttal to Neil Young’s charge of racism in the American South, “Southern Man”? Well, Jacob sings it, so I guess he’s cool with it, seeing as no one in the song is blunt about sex. As this musical hodgepodge winds down, it becomes a back-and-forth between the boys and the girls, resulting in this exchange: “Sweet home Alabama, put another dime in the jukebox baby.” Even more senseless than usual. Give yourselves a raise, producers. Not really. Oh, I bet you did.

Then it’s time for another Ford Music Video. Please tell me there will be a Criterion Blu-ray collection of these. And that said collection will be snapped in half on the edge of a desk. Tonight’s installment: Paul & Pia are high-class thieves who scam their way into an office building and steal a thing. I don’t know what the thing is. It’s rectangular and metallic and about the size of a cell phone. It fits in a foam mold inside a metal briefcase. That ring any bells? Any high-class thieves reading this, leave your best guesses in the comments section. I promise this isn’t a trap! Paul and Pia get played by some lower-class thieves played by James, Scotty, and Lauren. Only the joke’s on them! Paul and Pia saw their attempted play coming and leave a sarcastic note in the foam mold! The end? Yes. The end. Jacob, Casey, and Haley round out the cast. Stefano was probably in there somewhere, too. He might as well have been wearing round glasses and a striped sweater.

Back in the studio, it’s time to watch more video. In this package, Russell Brand shows up to help the kids promote Arthur. Also, he pretend-coaches them on how to make people think you might be a rock singer, even though you in no way are. Whenever I see Russell Brand now, all I can think of is a recent tweet by author Sarah Thyre: “Having someone sneak up from behind and snatch off his wig should be Russell Brand's signature comedy bit.” I am sort of embarrassed for Pia when she says, “He definitely helped us.” Pia, you’re too nice. Pia!

Lauren, Casey, and Stefano are first on the scare-dais. Ryan gives Randy a chance to recant his criticism of Stefano. Randy won’t do it! He is stronger than ten Copernicuses Galileos! (PFT UPDATE: A Twitter pal who loves to correct me pointed out that Copernicus never had to recant nothin'. I was thinking of Galileo. But my comedic lizard brain took over and made me write the wrong astronomer name, because it's just a fact that "Copernicuses" is funnier than "Galileos." Especially if you pronounce "Copernicuses" with a long e at the end, like "hypotheses." My comedic lizard brain regrets the error. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Copernicus family.) Lauren is safe. Casey is safe! Stefano is banished to the stools. Get over there, Stoolfano!

Idol season-four sixth-placer Constantine Maroulis drops by to have the spelling of his name looked up by me and to perform a goofy-ass mash-up of “Unchained Melody” and “The Little Drummer Boy.” I think it’s supposed to be “powerful” but seems more “dumb.” It is worth it to see the baby picture of Constantine’s newborn daughter, who is a precious little doll. I love other people's kids! Child-free by choice! Okay, Constantine, enough of you. We urgently need to help Gwen Stefani sell her dumb-looking clothes. I didn’t mention it last night, but Gwen styled the girls for last night’s show and made them wear awful outfits from her vanity clothing line. Now we are treated to the behind-the-scenes video from last night, wherein Gwen gives the girls unfortunate makeovers that the girls are clearly not happy about. I mean, they must have tried to edit it so the girls wouldn’t seem miserable about this, but apparently there was not a single frame where the girls even appeared to be on board. And you can’t blame them. All of the trousers look like diaper-y harem pants. Every time the girls appear in a new outfit, Gwen’s response is “Whooo! That looks good!” Of course it looks good to you; you designed them, and there is a good chance that you are mentally ill.

Paul, Pia, and Scotty are the next trio on the spot. At Ryan’s prompting, Paul talks about how much fun he had singing “Folsom Prison Blues,” which I’m pretty sure is the point of that song, right? Good times? So it’s appropriate to have a big smile on your face while singing, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die”? Scotty is safe. Big surprise. Come on, America. This is doubly embarrassing when viewed from a foreign country. Thank God I’m watching this alone. Paul is safe, and Pia is in the bottom three! I suddenly feel bad for all the times I’ve made fun of Pia! Pia is nice! I never meant her any harm! I don’t want her to be voted off tonight! I am getting too close to these kids and forgetting my mission!!!

Next up: What the FUCK. The kids are forced to go into the TMZ bullpen to be made sport of by Harvey Levin and his ugly army of sarcastic assholes. I have to applaud James as he shuts down one greasy TMZer, who is clearly ill-prepared for the consequences of making his snarky comments to his target’s face. He gets shut down hard and looks embarrassed. That’s right, dude, this is what it’s like when you talk to people instead of about them. Oh, that reminds me: This is as good a time as any to ask all of you to keep these recaps between us, okay? Don’t tell anyone I’m making fun of that I’m making fun of them, got it? Keeping the secret will make it even more fun for us! Just us!

More results. Dim the lights! James, Haley, and Jacob are called forth. James is safe. COUCHED. Haley is safe. COUCHED. Jacob is in the bottom three. STOOOOOOOOOLED! Your gambit failed, Jacob! You are in the bottom three! America will not be shamed by you! You may have missed the message of “Man in the Mirror,” which is personal responsibility, but America did not! Too bad you insisted on singing it, instead of “Let’s Get It On,” which everyone would have loved! I am thrilled. Thank you, America. But seriously, this Scotty business. Enough.

Out of nowhere, Ryan introduces Iggy Pop, who sings “Real Wild Child,” shirtless and all. How do I feel about this? I am genuinely asking. It’s not so much the notion that Iggy is somehow “selling out” by appearing on this show; no doubt there’s some music snob who would argue Iggy sold out when he kicked heroin. It’s just … I guess that ultimately I don’t know who this is for. Is Iggy Pop a figure to be “idolized” by America’s kids? Is there anything about Iggy that the producers wish the contestants to emulate? Besides success? Oh. Right. Money. Well, can’t wait till R. Kelly makes an appearance! Have Phil Spector on as a guest producer, I’m sure he can give advice through a thick pane of glass! I realize these are somewhat unfair comparisons. But only somewhat.

RESULTS: Ryan pulls off an amazing fake-out, telling Jacob, “You will be leaving us … and going to the couches.” I gotta hand it to you, Ry. You got me. I guess I wanted it too bad. Now it’s down to Pia and Stefano. And the one going home is … Pia! NO! The audience erupts in boos! I do, too, kinda! My newfound contempt for Jacob’s arrogance aside, I am saddened by this. This is hardly a front-handed compliment, but Pia was perhaps the least objectionable contestant on this show. Her singing did not move me — none of the contestants’ singing does, to be honest — but I liked her as a person. She seems nice and sweet and she takes the news so well and looks absolutely beautiful and dignified. The judges are angry, as angry as the cover of “Don’t You Forget About Me” that always accompanies the booted contestant’s weeping at the good-bye montage. Montage over, Ryan reminds us of the importance of voting (just for American Idol) and insists that we can’t end the show this way. He asks Pia to sing, and she favors us with “I’ll Stand by You.” Everyone cries. Everyone except Jacob. Jacob does not cry.

I am astonished to be saying that I will genuinely miss Pia in this contest. I may never download a Pia album, I may never buy a ticket to a Pia concert, but I just like Pia on this show. I have grown accustomed to her face. Pia had trouble getting through her song toward the end, and I actually got a little choked up myself. This was not part of the plan when I signed on to do these recaps. So let me take this opportunity to say: Fuck you, America; fuck you, Vulture; and fuck you, nymag.com. Oh, and fuck you, Jacob.

Readers, I am cool with you! But seriously, please don’t tell any of the famous people that I talk shit about them.

PIA!

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