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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins Makes It to the Final Round Alive!

This is like Christmas Eve, in a way! I’m excited that this is the second-to-last night I will be watching this show. I am excited that tomorrow night will be the last night. I am not excited about actually watching the show either night. I guess it’s like if you referred to the night before you had kidney stones removed as “Kidney Stone Eve.”

The show begins with clips of Idols past Carrie Underwood and David Cook as children. Oh, come on. Are we reeeeeally gonna see clips of all the Idols as kids? Well, no, as it happens. Just those two. But now I'm curious: Is there no footage of any other Idols as kids? Were Carrie and David the only non-ugly children who went on to become American Idol winners? I want to see Kris Allen’s hump! Soon there are clips of Lauren and Scotty as children. Even younger children, that is. In Scotty’s home video, we see the little boy Scotty declaim, “The next American Idol winner … !” The footage then cuts off, as presumably the producers didn’t want to sway the voting or risk a mistrial.

As the camera sweeps over the exultant multitudes gathered in the Nokia Theater, it lingers on season seven Idol runner-up David Archuleta. Seeing him, I instantly flash on the YouTube video of the little girls crying their eyes out and screaming at the world’s injustice when Archuleta lost to David Cook. And I am struck: Did I not react similarly when Haley was eliminated last week? Did I not cry out in shock, and disbelief, and sorrow? If you prick me, do I not bleed? I am shaken from my reverie by the signs behind Daveulata’s head:

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There is no way these signs are not sarcastic. Look how hastily made they are. Look at what they say. No one believes that. No one’s motivation was this. These signs amuse me because I know they are fake. Good work, sarcastic teenage girls. Please never turn your sarcasm on me.

The judges enter. Randy is dressed like one of the Borrowers. Steven Tyler is dressed like a depressing hotel bar. There are no words missing in the previous sentence. J.Lo is dressed like a hot Medieval Times waitress. Ryan is wearing a tuxedo, because this is supposed to seem important. I give him credit for wearing an actual bow tie, and not the “formal necktie” that cheaters and slobs wear.

Ryan brings out the kids. Despite everyone else’s fancy finery, Scotty is playing it safe by wearing a generic “country” T-shirt with a “Western” image on it. It very much looks like something you’d get at a truck stop, which I’m sure is not accidental. It absolutely works for his genre. Ryan tells us that there was some drama with Lauren’s voice. At rehearsal that day, she’d blown a vocal chord! Just the one! Then I start wondering how many vocal chords we have (two? Two thousand?) for a fair bit. It’s fun to think about science. Then a doctor comes out (wearing his black formal scrubs, he’s a gentleman) and tells us all Lauren’s going to be okay. This is disappointing news. HEAR ME OUT. I am not going to say that I wish for this young girl’s voice to fail her. I am going to say that if this young girl’s voice should fail her, it would mean something interesting would happen on this hour of television. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I have been and always shall be your friend.

Scotty won the coin toss that I just learned is part of this process, and being a good little gentleman, he defers to Lauren in the matter of who performs when. Lauren would prefer to go second. Oo, strategy! Maybe!

For the first round, the kids will sing their favorite songs from the season. Scotty opens it up with “Gone” and has been granted the use of the Game of Thrones Fiddler. I have to say, I’m glad Scotty chose this number. I don’t remember him singing it before, but it’s way more dynamic now than his performance of it two weeks ago or four months ago or on The Merv Griffin Show or I don’t know where I am anymore and why is this happening. My point is, it’s an up-tempo song with some energy to it. Scotty is really selling it, stalking all over the stage, at one point leading a mini-parade of the GoT Fiddler and Idol’s own in-house Guitar Strangler (I have a suggestion for this guy, and it’s his to take or leave: get a shirt that reads, “This fascist kills machines.” Where my folk fans at?).

JUDGES: We are just moving on, it seems! Nothing from the judges! I guess they have said all they have to say. Good. Keep quiet. You’ve done enough by doing so little.
ME: I can still talk, though. And yawn. I am already so bored and I am only eight minutes into this show. All I can think is, That was probably the song I am going to end up enjoying the most, and I didn’t really enjoy it, and there’s 52 more minutes of modern country to go.

Lauren’s favorite song from this season is “Flat on the Floor.” She sings it and sasses it and does what she does. I am slightly grateful that it’s not a ballad. So far I’ve enjoyed a two-song ballad reprieve.

ME: Honestly, there isn’t anything to say. Since they’re singing songs they’ve done before, they’re that much more comfortable with them. I don’t like either Scotty’s or Lauren’s performance styles and I don’t enjoy the one genre of music in which they both perform. So. Hello!

For the next round, the idols of the Idols will decide what songs are sung. Oh, well, pardon me, Your Majesties. I’m sorry no one was singing what you wanted to hear before. Let's start the season over with you calling the shots, whoevers you are. It turns out one of the whoevers is George Strait, who is Scotty’s idol. Out of all the songs in the world and from all the long rich history of music, George picks one of his own songs for Scotty to sing. I once heard that Prince only listens to his own music. Perhaps George Strait is the Prince of modern country music, and I just never knew it or didn’t care and still don’t. The George Strait song George Strait would most like to hear is called “Check Yes or No.” It makes a certain sort of sense that Scotty is singing this song about passing notes in school, but why was a grown man ever singing it? Come on, George Strait, live in the here and now! You deserve to be happy! Surely something nice has happened in your life since grammar school! Didn’t you get a new hat? The GoT Fiddler has now played on three songs.

Lauren’s idol is Carrie Underwood. Carrie Underwood, who won American Idol six years ago. It’d be poetic if Lauren started singing a song called “That Dang Ouroboros,” but instead she sings “Maybe It Was Memphis” by Pam Tillis. This is obviously a big hit and a legendary country song and all that, but to me it’s an all-day car trip and there’s a whole long stretch where all you can get on the radio is modern country or religious call-in shows. Hey, pull over here, I’m in a televised singing contest and I need to buy a shirt.

Once the kids are done singing, I expect George Strait and Carrie Underwood to come out and do something. Say hello, at least. But they don’t. We don’t even see any photos of them or anything. Where are they? They just pick these songs from an undisclosed location? Are they watching from their secret modern country lair, under a volcano? Of course, a country volcano. Come on. It’s implied.

Oh, I was wrong. The judges do get to talk. Why now? Four sings in? Fine. Let the babies have their bottles.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo thought the performances were amazing and crazy, not as dynamic, strong, and clear and beautiful, in that order. Randy commends America on its choices for the final two. Randy awards round one to Scotty, round two to Lauren. Most important, they’re both IN IT TO WIN IT! STILL, I GUESS! I SHOULD THINK SO, AT THIS LATE DATE!

Guys, guys, guys! Put down your poison and kick off your Nikes! We finally get to hear the song we all helped write for Taio Blake and our collective overlord, Coca-Cola! Ryan introduces what will surely be the song that shall heal our fractured nation, seeing as we all wrote it together. But something’s not quite ready, since in live television, anything can happen, including incompetence. Ryan has to stall for a second, so he asks the studio audience, “How do you feel about the last Oprah, ladies and gentlemen?” The audience cheers, because that’s how mobs answer questions. What a weird thing to ask. It’s not related to the show you are currently hosting, Ryan, which you’d have us believe is the most exciting thing happening in the world right now. That’s how boring this show is tonight, folks. Seacrest can’t even think of something to say about it while he’s hosting it. No matter! Taio Cruz is finally ready to perform “our” song! Well, I am dismayed to see that right off the bat, Taio totally ripped off James’s amazingly original idea from episode 28 to have a marching band drum line! I’m sure now it’s just a matter of time before other singers realize a marching band drum line can be used to great effect in a live performance. You heard it here first! Although I give Taio credit for outfitting his drummers in costumes that put one in mind of knockoff Star Wars toys. In that vein — and waste not, want not — Taio has helped himself to the same cheap lasers Enrique Iglesias used on episode 35. Have the lasers already paid for themselves, I wonder? Or is Nigel Lythgoe going to insist a couple of grips drag them to the after-party, to add some pizzazz to the vodka luge? Back to the performance, such as it is. Just when I’m wondering if Taio is both lip-synching and Auto-Tuned, his vocal drops out completely. This show is, truly, held together with store-brand tape. All in all, the almost season-long tease of this Coca-Cola jingle results in the tiniest payoff imaginable. And they didn’t use any of my lyrics about high fructose corn syrup and cocaine.

Back from the break, Jimmy Iovine is still hanging around. My God, is he waiting for a ride? Can someone float him some cab fare? He is clearly not taking any hints! Jimmy tells us about the singles the kids will sing — the original songs, written just for them, that will be the first singles of their new recording careers. So now we will get the most accurate idea of what they will be like as solo artists. I am willing to wager that we already know, because all of the songs they have sung for the past 200 weeks have sounded exactly alike. Perhaps I also have supernatural gifts? Reply hazy, try again!! Jimmy says Scotty’s single is called “I Love You This Big.” What? No. That can’t be the title. I forbid it. Jimmy acts like this is real! He says, with a straight face, “If he brings that Scotty croon tonight? There’s no reason that confetti doesn’t fall on him.” Yeah, no, okay, I get that, but what’s the real name of the song? My question goes unanswered. Scotty, dressed up in a nice suit, sings in front of footage of himself and his American Idol journey, including when he had to audition for his fellow contestants on the group night episode. Don’t remember that? Just started reading the recaps in the last couple weeks? Go back and read my recaps from the beginning, you lazy son of a bitch. I haven’t been writing these things for my health. I’ve been writing them to be read. And for the $20 a word I get paid. So Scotty sings what everyone seems to want me to believe is called “I Love You This Big” (they even slipped it into every chorus!), and it’s a profoundly boring song. Really not interesting in any way. Although at one point, Scotty spreads his arms out wide, as if to say, “I love you THIS MUCH.” The GoT fiddler has played on every song so far, I believe. He is really earning his gold dragons and silver stags tonight!*

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo thinks he did an amazing job. Randy’s not sure if it’s the perfect song for him, but it’s great for his range.
ME: Jesus wept. What a boring song. That title is the absolute worst. And the judges’ critiques of Scotty had an almost imperceptible tinge of embarrassment to them; they seemed to be subconsciously communicating that they knew the song wasn’t Scotty’s fault, really, but he did sing it. A real “ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it” vibe. Or like Scotty said something horrifically insensitive about another group of people, but he’s a really nice guy who was raised in a cult. It’s not entirely his fault, but he maybe should know better by now, right?

Jimmy Iovine isn’t going anywhere, so you can fake yawn all you like. He chats about Lauren’s single, “Like My Mother Does,” and recites that hoary old show-business maxim, “Let’s face it: Moms are the bedrock of American society, and they’re all gonna be moved by this song like crazy.” Well, clichés are clichés for a reason, because everyone in the audience is moved by this song. Lauren’s own mom holds her hand up in the air, swaying to the music, testifying. Although this song is dull as dirt, it’s a thousand times better than Scotty’s song. As she sings, Lauren moves to walk down into the audience, and Ryan, like an animated Disney footman, holds her hand so she doesn’t fall and break her remaining 10 to 80 (?) vocal chords. Lauren hugs her mom and keeps on singing about how great moms are. GET IT AMERICA? As we get a bird's-eye view of the stage, the camera shakes crazily and I think Hooray, earthquake! Turns out, no. Just the usual shoddy production. There’s still nothing going on on American Idol.

JUDGES: Steven likes it! J.Lo says Lauren may have just won this tight race. Randy says, “Finally at the end, the Lauren we loved in Nashville showed up!” Steven and J.Lo remain in their seats as Randy gives Lauren one of his patented Randing ovations.
ME: Now Lauren might win this thing. I know I’ve been saying all along Scotty is going to win it, but now I’m not so sure. I’ll tell you what will take the sting out of being so wrong: not being invested in this in the slightest.

Ryan’s gotta know from the judges who won this final round. Randy says Lauren. J.Lo agrees. Steven says Lauren wins it hands down. Scotty seems to be whispering to Lauren that she’s going to win. She shakes her head “no,” but it just seems like politeness.

Hey, it’s over and there’s still five minutes left. Are they gonna … talk? Does Ryan wanna shoot the shit about Steve Carell leaving The Office? Does Taio Blake have any songs about Slice? Oh, this extra time was planned — Season seven Idol Winner David Cook stops by to sing a cover of Simple Minds’ “Don’t You Forget About Me.” This is the song they've been playing when an Idol gets kicked off, and it’s time to forget about them! I didn’t realize it was him this whole time! Behind David, video of a parade of rejects plays. In the audience, David Archuleta grinds his teeth. A group of now-teenaged girls have moved on.

As the credits roll, I see that disclaimer that runs after every game show: “Portions of this program not affecting the outcome have been edited.” Well, those editors showed superhuman restraint. Personally, I think they could have Freddy Kruegered this thing down to fifteen minutes and no one would have complained.

Tomorrow night: I am almost free.

*I had to do some research on this and I asked an expert.

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

Photo: Fox