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American Idol Recap: Paul F. Tompkins on Enrique, Jordin, and Another Tear-Stained Elimination

The show opens with … clips from last night. I’m willing to say right here and now that this serves no one. Who is just tuning into American Idol? And did these clips help? “Okay, I think I got it. I saw six seconds of four strangers performing songs. That’s all I need to be 100 percent emotionally invested in whatever decisions are made this evening. Thank God for those clips.”

Scotty and James kick off tonight’s performances with a country song called “Start a Band.” The song suggests this might be a fun activity, for which you will most likely be thanked. James dabbles in a little bit of a faux-cowboy accent, which he drops almost right away, but the damage to my psyche has already been done. As the boys country their way through the crowd and toward the stage, a bunch of little kids rush the judges’ dais. This is so America, right? Y’know, country and kids and what-have-you? In the crowd, I spot the off-duty bouncer from last night, standing to Steven's right. His glare communicates that he is prepared to finish anything these children care to start.

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Finally onstage, Scotty and James strap on their guitars, and James just has to throw some rock in there by … kicking over his guitar stand. It is not an especially “hail Satan” thing to do. It seems more like he just got grounded. Anyway, the song is innocuously dull and eventually ends.

Back from the break, Ryan, flanked by Scotty and James, reminds us about the upcoming Idol auditions! They’re coming up this summer, and Ryan warns us “not to miss the chance of a lifetime, right boys?” James and Scotty seem out of it and barely get it together to agree with Ryan. Or … do they not agree with Ryan? Are they trying to tell us we should miss this chance? Ah, my “human zoo” theory is still alive! James’s eye is watering because when he was performing that country song I can’t be bothered to identify by looking at a paragraph I just typed, he went in for a kiss with some woman and got her nose in his eye. He calls her Heidi? Who is Heidi? James’s wife? Should I know this? Is this presumptuousness on the part of James or mental fatigue on the part of me? Ryan introduces the next song by intoning, “Time for the ladies, now, with the very sassy ‘Gunpowder & Lead.’ Here are Haley and Lauren!” I figure out this is the title, but for a moment I am under the impression that Haley and Lauren have been given nicknames that reflect their individual performance styles. Yeah, it’s just another country song I’ve never heard in my life, but which the audience of America’s Country Music Idol and Western surely knows by heart. Both girls are going for it and it’s a much more interesting song than the last country duet we heard on this edition of Minnie Pearl Done Presents John Deere’s ‘Merican Idol, Y’all.

Hey! We’re back! With a new integrated sponsor! Windows 7 has generously lent their technology to the Idols so they can video chat with their families back home. I guess they couldn’t before (human zoo)? Lauren’s brother has a Justin Bieber haircut and two Paris Hilton dogs, which turn out to be Lauren’s. I'm willing to believe him. Scotty talks to his sister, who seems happy to see him. She must not watch the show. Ka. Pow. I am an Emmy-nominated comedy writer. James talks to his wife and baby back on the mainland, far from the nightmarish hellscape that is this singing competition. James’s baby is profoundly cute: Hunger suits him! Haley talks to her par— wait a minute! Why are they talking to their families on computers when their families are in the audience every single week? I guess it’s so all the contestants, all in their twenties or teens, can act like they have never seen the wonders of video chatting before. Good demo, Windows 7! Hey, does your OS include any other cool tech stuff, like desktop patterns?

Back in the studio, Ryan says of the contestants, “All four will get to go home and see their families, but only three will do it in style.”

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I guess the fourth one has to go home hanging off the side of a train, like in India. With a dramatic flourish, Ryan reveals the Golden Stools reserved for the top three. Look at that production value. This show makes a billion dollars a second. The first lucky contestant to find out if the spray paint is dry on these plastic Ikea rejects is Lauren. She is elated. I notice Lauren does not cry for happiness. She only cries for rejection. This means something. But what? Please discuss in the comments. When you have the answer, share it with each other.

Then we get to watch the top four watch Lady Gaga on DVD. For real. The producers are at least polite enough to make the DVD image full screen. Oh, don’t knock yourselves out or anything. Lady Gaga sings the song Haley sang last week that was such a horrible disaster because it was unreleased and no one had heard it already (the hallmark of good music). The song remains unreleased, so it is probably a mistake for Lady Gaga to sing it now. I keep waiting for Randy to show up on the DVD, waving frantically at the band to throw down their tools. Lady Gaga is dressed in some rubber underwear and accompanies herself on piano, getting up on the bench and wiggling around, like a Spearmint Rhino version of Jerry Lee Lewis. Their DVD viewing party over, Scotty calls Lady Gaga “a unique performer.” What a diplomatic, “real-America-I’m-like-you!” evasion. Scotty, did seeing that unique performance make your insides feel like you were on the swinging pirate ship at Six Flags? Yeah. You know it did.

Hey! Guess who’s in the studio, and not on DVD! Enrique Iglesias! He’s back! Where was he? Around here somewhere, I bet! And Enrique is doing every vocal trick that isn’t actual singing he can think of! ‘Riqe Rex Harrisons his way through his song “Dirty Dancer” with the help of some low-rent-looking lasers and Usher on a screen. Will Usher pull a Kanye and bust out of his video Phantom Zone? Before I can answer my own question, my wife, taking in the stage, asks, “Is this song set in 1994?” This song sounds terrible. There is an Auto-Tune section that sounds like “The Monster Mash.” Hey, you know who really can’t sing well at all? Enrique Iglesias. Even Auto-Tune isn’t helping. Maybe that’s how The Terminator will eventually come true; Auto-Tune is the first machine to achieve self-awareness by rejecting Enrique Iglesias. As the song builds to an anti-climax (Usher definitely would have been here by now if he were coming), ten or twelve large, sad balloons fall from the ceiling. Good call, Ush.

Back from the break, some fun almost happens when Ryan jumps into the air to swat at one of Enrique’s leftover disappointalloons, and he lands on some people in the audience. Something very nearly happened there for a second! Before I can mourn the death of this stillborn moment, it’s time for a Ford Music Video! I thought they forgot or something! Don’t do that to me, Ford Music Video makers! My hands stop shaking as the story unfolds: The kids have magic pens? Or something? And they draw shapes in the air to the tune of Owl City’s “Fireflies.” Hmmm. I see. I think I offered a perfectly good “Ford Focus in space” pitch a couple weeks ago, but instead we get this sorry salute to MS Paint. I never thought I’d say this, but … I’m disappointed, Ford Music Video makers.

Shake it off. Season six Idol winner Jordin Sparks is here to sing “I Am Woman” (not that one, people as old as me). Jordin gets her own video introductory package! Only Lady Gaga has received this honor! In your collective face, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, Crystal Bowersox, and Sherman Crow! Jordin’s “I Am Woman” includes the line, “It ain’t easy walkin’ in stilettos but somebody’s gotta do it.” In your face, Helen Reddy! So, a few decades later, we’ve gone from “I am strong, I am invincible, hear me roar,” to “Look, if we don’t bear the yoke of gender oppression and objectification, who will?” Lyrics like that make me think the lyricist must have had a severe time constraint and had to just go, “first thought best thought” and get it over with. Between Jordin’s hair being in her face for much of the song and her difficulties removing her shiny, shorty trench coat, this is the most awkward alumni performance this season by a mile. And it’s kind of short on actual singing! All in all, really mediocre. It’s not exactly something you’d see at a high school, but a college? Sure. Oh, and during the song she makes a beeline for Steven Tyler and kisses him on the cheek. His vampiric thrall is intact.

Back from the break, as Ryan intros Steven’s world-premiere video (before you ask, of course I’m wearing my tux), Steven sexily mouths “hello” to each of his daughters by name. How late in a child’s life can you call Child Services? Is it too late when the children own their own homes? Ryan says the name of this thing is “Feels So Good Brought to You by Ford.” That’s how he says it, with no audible comma to keep the Ford part out of the title. I’m assuming I should consider that its official name. The video is a random collection of images, with a loose circus-and-Ford-logo theme. It’s a mess. When it ends, Steven jumps to his feet triumphantly and basks in the applause of an audience so grateful that that is over. In a bold reminder that there is still a singing competition going on, Ryan reveals that Haley is safe. J.Lo is clearly very happy. I am happy for J.Lo. I am always happy for J.Lo. Even when we quarrel, I cannot help but smile! James looks wrecked.

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His face says that if he wasn’t sure before, he is sure now that he is done. Scotty’s face says, “Everything is proceeding according to plan.”

Back from the break, James and Scotty have their arms around each other. James is in tears. He clearly knows. We all know! And it doesn’t take long to have it confirmed.

RESULTS: So long, James. As Ryan says some words over the grave of James’s dreams, James searches for his nose-wielding wife in the crowd and silently reassures her, “It’s okay.” If I were his wife, I imagine I’d be thinking, Oh yeah, it better be. J.Lo is absolutely devastated. I hate to see her cry. Over this dude who will be absolutely fine. Look, for months now they have been talking about this kid like he’s already got a recording contract, all these industry people want to work with him, so on and so forth, so how sad are we supposed to be? As Ryan said last night before imploring people to vote, “This was the week Daughtry was voted off.” I don’t know how many psychologists they have on staff at Idol, but I have a feeling they are making this stuff happen exactly the way they want it to happen. Anyway, the usual. Ryan chats with cryin’ James, who declaims, “I did so much stuff that’s never been done on this show before.” I guess Jacob ushered in a new tradition in which the booted contestant takes a moment to shamelessly brag before turning in his or her Television City parking I.D. James closes it out with “Maybe I’m Amazed,” and his emotions get the better of him. So much so, a woman in the audience is hilariously denied a high five.

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Once James finally finishes, Ryan gestures to James and says, “The reason why we do this show.”

Establishing motive is one of the most important steps in securing a conviction.

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