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American Idol Recap: How Many Wind Chimes Does Stevie Nicks Have?

AMERICAN IDOL: Elise Testone performs in front of the Judges on AMERICAN IDOL airing Wednesday, March 28 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

We are down to nine hopefuls. Do you think we could maybe get down to business and knock this show down to 90 minutes? No. No, we can’t. Two hours tonight. Listen: I am enjoying this show, and I would love significantly less of it.

We begin, as ever, with Importance. Were you aware that our top nine were all once children? With a special dream? Well, it’s true. We are treated once again to Deandre’s Music Man moment, as well as childhood performance footage of Jessica Sanchez that might have been shot on an iPhone 4. “But did you know that your dream ... ” — shots of fallen Idols Erika van Pelt, Jeremy Rosado, and Gentle Repeat Offender Jermaine Jones — “came at a price?”

Yep. Yeah, I think we’re all clear that there will be only one winner here (except for the people who don’t win but still get recording contracts and Academy Awards). And unless the producers come to your house after you’ve been eliminated and remove one item, none of this comes at a price per se; you still leave with everything you came in with.

Ryan descends the Magical Staircase and says: “We’ve got a jam-packed two hours of music tonight,” which I can already tell you is a lie, and then, “I’m sure you’ve locked in your favorites by now, so let’s hear it — who’s your favorite?” Well, Ryan, if we’ve locked in our favorites by now, why bother going any further? Let’s crown a winner, go outside, and enjoy this unseasonably warm spring evening.

Ryan introduces the top nine, bids them a “May the odds be ever in your favor,” and says, “each week this group gets hungrier and hungrier for superstardom,” because someone at Fox thinks allusions to The Hunger Games will reverse the ratings slide. Tommy Hilfiger appears yet again to urge our singers to find their own image, preferably with the help of the new Tommy Hilfiger/American Idol joint venture Authentic Icon. The Authentic Icon brand has a strong through line, which is that each piece is uniquely hideous. Maybe this is the price they were talking about.

Tommy says: “Hopefully their styles will evolve over time, and by the time we get to the finale, the styles will be outrageous.” Because to Tommy Hilfiger, outrageousness is the only acceptable endpoint in the evolution of style; style couldn’t evolve over time and end up being, say, tasteful.

Tonight’s mentor is Stevie Nicks, who has, in the time since we last saw her, become your high school drama teacher. Colton’s up first; he says: “A lot of people say they found music, but music found me.” Is this true? Do a lot of people claim to have discovered music? I’m skeptical of your claim, Colton. And also, if the music that finds you is Lifehouse, you might want to be less passive in this area of your life.

Anyway, the song is one of those rock-Mass altar calls that kind of doesn’t work on me. I find myself being distracted by the swaying arms of the girls in the pit; these kids have obviously been commanded by the warm-up guy to sway their arms, but a song like this doesn’t really warrant that kind of gesture, and whatever these kids might naturally do with their arms would probably be ten times more interesting. But the judges love it, and I wish I could get Colton to a gym for some squats and lunges, because his lower half is distressingly skinny.

Skylar does Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead,” a song about stalking and shooting someone, which seems inadvisable in the time of Trayvon, but whatever. You already know how her performance sounds, so I’ll just point out that the Stage Oval displays a mockup of “The Idol Daily,” whose front-page story is “Gunpowder and Lead,” and the story underneath is “Lorem ipsum dolor etc. etc.”, i.e., the sample text that comes in any graphic-design template. I have said it before, and I will say it many more times: American Idol is inexcusably shoddy in just about every way.

The judges love Skylar. I think she won’t win, but will go on to a respectable career, like her idol Miranda Lambert. Oh, right: The theme tonight is Songs From Their Idols, or: Songs They Already Wanted to Sing and Then They Pretend the Original Singers Are Their Idols.

Tonight’s extra time will be eaten up by the top nine singing in three sets of trios, the first of which is Phillip, Colton, and Elise paying tribute to Stevie Nicks by performing the Dixie Chicks’ version of “Landslide.” It segues into “Edge of Seventeen” and then “Don’t Stop,” and it’s all fine even though there’s no good reason for it to be happening. Phillip continues to look terrified when he doesn’t have a guitar, and his lead on “Don’t Stop” reveals that his range is about four notes wide. But he’s in all black, which at this point seems like a bold choice.

Heejun has some ground to make up from his goofy performance last week, and he’s chosen “A Song for You” to do it. Stevie thinks he’s afraid to be hurt by not winning, so he acts like he doesn’t care, and I’ll be damned if she didn’t just diagnose the last twenty years of comedy and the entire Internet. And I’m going to put myself out there and risk getting hurt: “A Song for You” is a song that regularly makes me cry, and Heejun’s take on it actually gets me a little filled-up. The judges love it, but continue to rake him over the coals for last week and basically command him to keep being serious. That’s a mistake; what they thought was Heejun shitting on Idol might just have been a Korean-American kid’s idea of fun. I mean: Have you watched MNet? Because that shit is bananas to me, but the kids understand. I say let Heejun be Heejun.

And then Jason DeRulo comes out in a Bedazzled neck brace. There’s some kind of contest brewing, in which you can help him write a song for Coca-Cola that will be performed at the finale or something but I’m not listening and neither are you because he is in a Bedazzled neck brace. Pro tip: If Jason DeRulo is injured, you could literally pull anyone off the street and call them Jason DeRulo and nobody would know the difference.

Hollie Cavanagh does “Jesus Take the Wheel,” which makes Stevie Nicks cry and clutch Hollie’s shoulders and stage-whisper about heart. How many wind chimes do you reckon Stevie Nicks owns? Can you even count that high? Hollie does a so-so job, but at least she is finally dressed like a young person. Randy only semi-loves it. Semi-love is tonight’s lowest rating. The crowd boos, but Randy defends himself like this: “This is to help her grow. This is to help her grow!” He’s tried to pitch “Mr. Jackson’s Opus,” can we agree on that? Jennifer love-loves it, and Steven is in the middle. “I’m gonna get between Randy and Jennifer, like I’ve been trying to do this whole time.” Did Steven Tyler just proposition them for a three-way? Can we pause to search the Internet for pictures of Wheaten Terrier puppies as a mental palate cleanser? Great. See you in three minutes.

Okay. Deandre has chosen a song by Eric Benét, because Eric Benét is Deandre’s idol, which is either a lie or everything you need to know about Deandre. It is very falsetto-heavy, by which I mean instantly deeply boring. The judges give it a standing ovation, which is either a put-on or everything you need to know about the judges on American Idol.

Jessica Sanchez is going to do “Sweet Dreams” by Beyoncé, and just as I’m writing “Thank God she’s doing something upbeat,” she reveals that she’s turning it into a ballad. A ballad with a fucking harp. She nails it and loses my interest at the same time, which is what I have come to know as the Jessica Sanchez Conundrum. The judges love it. Jessica says in passing that when she sings, she is her alter ego BB Chez. Oh. Okay. What?

We were making such swift progress here, it is time for this show to screech to a halt with another trio. Deandre, Joshua, and Heejun do a medley of Michael Jackson songs. Here’s what really gets my goat about these things: They are only there to pad the show out, but the producers still cut the shit out of all the songs to fit them in. “PYT” becomes “Where did you come from, baby / now is the perfect time / max! / P! T!” Like, you are wasting my time, but doing it in a great big sloppy hurry. Pick a goddamn lane, American Idol.

Phillip Phillips does “Still Rainin’” by Jonny Lang, which is actually a really smart choice. Stevie tells him that if he were friends with her and Lindsey Buckingham in the seventies, Mick Fleetwood would have asked all three of them to join Fleetwood Mac, and that by now in 2012, his septum would have completely eroded from cocaine. I made up that last part. Phillip wears a sport coat with the sleeves rolled up, like a late-eighties stand-up comic. It’s adorable. His performance is more of the same, but I like this same, and I’m rooting for him, but I hope he gets eliminated so he can do his own thing without 19 Entertainment’s greedy, blundering management.

Of course someone was going to do the Mariah Carey version of “Without You,” and of course it’s Joshua Ledet. When he says that’s what he’s singing, the producers put up a big picture of Mariah’s face that is so airbrushed it’s basically anime. Why not just show us a child’s stick drawing of Mariah Carey? He pummels the song into submission in a way only an effeminate man can — listen up, Carson Daly — and if you like Joshua, you love it. There are even some fake tears at the end! Another standing ovation from the judges.

Our last trio of the night is Hollie, Jessica, and Skylar, who give us the least-sexy Madonna medley in history; when Skylar asks, “Come on, girls: Do you believe in love?” I actually have to hit the pause button and think about it. (Ultimately, I do.)

Last up is Elise Testone. In the rehearsal room, she and Stevie duet on “Dreams.” Could we have pulled ten seconds from some other part of this show to see ten more seconds of that? Could we have relegated the Jason DeRulo chunk to the website and seen the whole thing? Could we even put this footage on the Internet somewhere? No? Come on.

Getting back. Elise does “Whole Lotta Love,” and it is by far the highlight of the night. Sexy! Raspy! Elise has a renewed energy in Erika’s absence, and when she promises to give me every inch of her love? You guys? I believe her. Do you want to go drink bourbon with her and Stevie Nicks as much as I do? Are you sure? Because I a lot want to. Another standing ovation, and this one is actually deserved.

Also, she and Steven are wearing the exact same pants, and Steven is not alarmed by this news at all.

So! That took forever. I think Deandre and Hollie will be this week’s bottom two, and I am only occasionally right about these things.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX