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American Idol Recap: Help

AMERICAN IDOL: Burnell Taylor performs on AMERICAN IDOL Wednesday, March 20 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Oh my God, you guys. Tonight’s American Idol was a significant two hours of television. Like the best art, it tore me apart cell by cell and reassembled me. I am a fundamentally different person than I was before Ryan Seacrest descended the disco stairs.

I actively dislike the Beatles now. This is my new normal.

It isn’t the top nine’s fault that they’re unfamiliar with the Beatles. Sure, all nine of them do seem to want to be singers, and singers typically work within the context of music, and the Beatles created pretty much everything that we currently take for granted in that particular area, but you can’t force appreciation. Consider this: Several of our finalists were born after “Free As a Bird.”

And maybe these kids don’t actually think the Beatles only performed overblown, Celine Dion–esque ballads. Maybe they’re just in Idol survival mode, terrified to sing songs they can’t stuff with overwrought, dramatic moments.

All I know for sure is that we want children to revere the Beatles the way we do, and maybe it just isn’t going to happen, and maybe it shouldn’t. Like: I write and perform comedy, and so do most of my friends, but if you put on a Charlie Chaplin movie, we’d all fall asleep. It’s the way of the world.

We should never, ever do this again.

Let’s begin.

You know how Nicki and Mariah won’t look at each other? As of tonight, they also won’t walk through the same doors. The JumboIdolTron now opens into three sections, with Randy and Mariah coming out of one gap, and Nicki and Keith coming out of the other. The ladies are so far from each other on the stage that the director can’t get a shot of all four of them together that isn’t from a crane. It’s getting ridiculous. I’m not opposed to ridiculous, but make it fun, you two. Do something with this beef. Throw punches or shake hands.

Oh! Also! Carly Rae Jepsen is doing some kind of activity sometime later in the season! And you can choose things for her! Like if there’s going to be fire onstage, or drums, or a tuba, when she sings some song that doesn’t exist yet at some time that is to be determined! You now know exactly as much as I do about what’s going on with Carly Rae Jepsen.

We start with results, because there was that thing last week where they choose an eleventh person to go on the Idol Tour. And the winner is ... Aubrey Cleland! Won’t that be fun for Aubrey Cleland? Going out onstage and being like: "Hey, you didn’t vote for me, and then you forgot about me, and then you did vote for me, largely because my opponent was a child with autism who used his stage time to fight with his mother, and then you forgot about me again, and now here I am"? I predict she’ll use her Idol Tour moment to sing the timeless classic “I’ll Be Out of Your Hair in Just a Moment.” Be strong, Aubrey Cleland.

Kree opens our show with the Joe Cocker version of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” You know what’s missing from that version of “With a Little Help From My Friends?” A melody, that’s what. There are a lot of opportunities for melisma, but none for actual song-singing. It’s all crescendo. The judges love it, obviously. Mariah pulls out the hoary old “I didn’t think it was good ... I thought it was fantastic” Simon Cowell classic and it actually works because we all know Mariah has no sense of humor and can’t act.

Burnell Taylor commits his first major error of the season by admitting he doesn’t know “Let It Be.” I will repeat that: A man who wants to be a singer, in the year 2013, a full decade into the era in which you can, at the very least, run on down the public library and familiarize yourself with the Beatles’ oeuvre via YouTube, has never heard “Let It Be.” Does he capitalize on his lack of familiarity with the song by reinventing it and making us hear it for the first time just like him? No. Does he still kill it? Yes. He comes off like a more earnest John Legend in an earth-tone straitjacket. Again, the judges love it. Mariah, speechless, ends her evaulation with “Burnell, vote for you, America!” Great work, Mimi.

In Amber’s hometown package, her father says simply this: “Daddy loves you, and all Daddy wants you to do is win it.” Oh, that’s all? Appropriately, she counters with “She’s Leaving Home,” a song that never fails to bum me right out. And Amber’s version, though innovative and emotionally direct, is no fun. She has also never heard the song before, and somehow, neither has Mariah. I don’t even know what’s going on anymore. Nicki gives Amber the business for being less fun than usual, but hasn’t it all been dreary ballads from Amber so far? From everyone, really?

A lot of these songs are feeling like assignments from the producers, and if that’s the case, would it have killed the producers to assign one singer one upbeat song? Can we get a “Paperback Writer” up in this bitch?

Let’s be honest with ourselves: Lazaro really should be gone by now. But he’s still here, and God help me, he chooses my favorite of the Beatles slow songs: “In My Life.” This is a song that makes me cry on the regular. My hopes are high. My hopes are dashed. He’s off-key, he’s out of breath, he looks terrified. The judges don’t like it, and they tell him this in the nicest way possible — Nicki even tells him to be more confident because of how great a singer he is — yet he still cries. We are talking serious tears. Tears of petulance. He won’t look at the camera or the judges, and Ryan has to massage his shoulders, and oh Jesus we’re stuck with him, aren’t we?

At least Candice will hold it together. Her hometown package reveals that her whole tiny South Carolina island is rooting for her! All kinds of local businesses have GO CANDICE signs on them, and the first one we see is ... United Hospice. Way to nail the tone, Idol. Anyway, she does “Come Together,” as someone must each year, and of course she sings the shit out of it, but why not have her sing the shit out of a song that she can connect to? Why does this woman have to pace the stage with her stank face, singing about toe-jam football? Why, when she asks Jimmy what the lyrics mean, and all he can offer up is “just get through them so you can get to the chorus,” didn’t somebody just cancel Beatles Night? Let’s put this one to bed forever. (The judges love it.)

Paul Jolley is from some small town in Tennessee, and I don’t remember the particulars, and I’m pretty sure I won’t need to because his version of “Eleanor Rigby” is going to send him home. Oh, he’s fine; it’s just such a bummer of a song, and if anyone needed to start looking like he was enjoying himself, it’s Paul. I think he could have slayed “Got to Get You Into My Life,” and I think that would have served as a nice cup of coffee on this long nap of an episode. Nicki just says: “I didn’t like it.” To which Randy bellows: “WOW.” Yeah, someone giving a clear, concise opinion — it’s weird to hear, right? Mariah actually has something useful to say: “Have as much emotion when you’re singing quietly as when you’re singing loudly.” That makes sense! She adds that he should try a dance track, which of course he should and of course he will, because that’s what works on the summer Gay Pride circuit.

Ugh. Nobody is connecting with their material, perfectly good songs are having the life ripped out of them, and I have fallen asleep twice. Perhaps this is a clearance issue; maybe Paul McCartney will only let them use his most played-out compositions. But if that’s the case, there are plenty of theme nights in the sea. If you look at the list of cleared songs and they’re all snoozers, and none of the kids has ever heard them besides, it is perfectly legal in the state of California not to have a Beatles Night. If we’re going to give these kids things they don’t relate to, what about a Sondheim night? When is the American Idol Salute to Weimar Culture? Should I get ready for John Cale week?

When Angie Miller waves at the camera, she looks like she’s playing a very difficult Kinect game. She is charming, she is lively, she is fun, so of course she sings an anemic version of “Yesterday.” Shouldn’t she be at the piano? Shouldn’t she be able to emote in other parts than the big, belty notes? Can it be that Angie Miller has peaked early? The judges go crazy.

Devin Velez is in military school. Apparently they don’t teach kids how to do more interesting runs in military school these days. His take on “The Long and Winding Road” is chock-full of boring little vocal tricks, and he looks like the computer-generated Tintin got a job as a bellhop at the W Hotel. Nicki attempts to acknowlege the pianist, and it turns out the only person in America who’s still awake at this stage of the show is the censor, because it is bleeped out for sounding too much like “penis.”

Janelle closes us out with “I Will,” which is a left-field choice. And also kind of a boring one, especially for the pimp spot. It’s kind of just nice. It allows her to be her folksy self, which America will love, and the judges declare that she is back, although I remember them all going just as bananas over her last week.

Want to freak out for a moment? Allow me to help: There are hundreds of thousands of children who are hearing the Beatles for the first time tonight and wondering what the big deal is.

I think our bottom two will be Paul and Devin, I don’t think either of them has a prayer of being saved, and I’d like tomorrow’s results show to be one solid hour of Paul McCartney shaking his head in disappointment. Your thoughts?

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX