Photo: Michael Becker / FOX
The intervention finally took.
This season, week after week, millions of American Idol fans sat down, typed up speeches in their shivering hands, and said, “I love you, but I will not continue like this. You are destroying yourself, and you are taking me for granted. No more bloated performance nights, no more banal theme shows, no more judges with nothing to say and all night to say it. If you keep behaving this way, I will leave you, and I will never come back.” Idol pretended to listen, as an addict will: “No, I get what you’re saying. Just wait until Burt Bacharach night, and everything will be fine.”
But now, Idol has woken up alone, all its friends happily watching a Big Bang Theory rerun. At last, Idol has really thought about what it’s done — How many performances did I stuff in last night? How long was I going on? — and is wracked with regret. This week, Idol admitted it had a problem.
So now, with the evangelical zeal of the newly sober, Idol has promised to change absolutely everything. Everything will be all new next year, just you wait. And they’re starting with the judges: reports indicate that everyone is out. Mariah won’t be back next year, which is less of a big deal when you consider that she pretty much forgot to show up this year. Randy is officially leaving, and any casual reader of these recaps knows where I stand on that. Randy ran out of interesting things to say in 2004, ran out of uninteresting things to say in 2007, and for the last three seasons has communicated entirely in onomatopoeia and hashtags like some kind of millennial Gerald McBoing-Boing. Don’t let the door hit your man-brooch collection, you fucking monster.
But if Nicki and Keith are truly not invited back, that’s a shame: both brought a mischievous charm that a self-important beast like Idol really needs. Both seemed engaged in their jobs, both brought unique perspectives, both had sassy spring hairdos that were practical enough for the office but suitable for a night out with the gals. Had the judges table been Keith, Nicki, and Jimmy, we might have gotten somewhere. I’d recommend not throwing the Aussie and the Barbie out with the bathwater, but apparently the die is cast.
Big changes appear to be afoot at Idol, but tonight’s episode reminds us what this show can be. It can be powerful, emotional, and suspenseful if you simply get out of its way. That’s my advice to you as you go forward in your recovery, Idol: Just do what you do — introduce us to characters and make us crush their dreams one by one — and you’ll be fine. One day at a time.
So let’s get into it.
Tonight, Mariah will debut the video for her new single “#Beautiful,” which is actually spelled just like that because this is 2013 and future generations will judge us harshly. Fans hold up homemade signs for her that are so perfectly in Mariah’s promotional font family that they were either made by a stalker or her management, and for all I know those are the same thing. Nicki is dressed like the Cowardly Lion in an S&M-themed revival of The Wiz.
The top three do a group version of Selena Gomez’s “Who Says,” and all of their audio is out at the beginning. “What’s happening here?” I ask my boyfriend, who worked for many years as an audio engineer. “Well, see, they’ve double-monitored the audio, which means that…” and then I fall asleep and wake up a thousand years in the future with a long grey beard and the show is still on. And this year, us fans at home not only get to choose the winner, we get to choose which Ford automobile they win! Television interactivity has really not changed a bit since 1995, when you get down to it.
This week’s Ford Fiesta Mission requires the top three to go to a Los Angeles high school and sing with their glee club. It’s very sweet, but crowd shots of the kids unwittingly reveal the lie at the heart of Glee: Real life show choirs are 100 percent comprised of Kurts and Rachels.
JimmyTruthTime is going round by round tonight, because there is still an hour to fill, and — with only three singers left — less than ever to fill it with. Jimmy thinks everyone was nervous in round one, and repeats his assertion that Angie should have been at the piano for “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” but he still gives the round to her. Difficult to dispute.
Season ten runner-up Lauren Alaina is back! She is 18 years old and styled like a masseuse from The Client List. But her new single, “Barefoot and Buckwild,” is peppy summer fun, and her band has more people of color than have been on the country charts in the last 30 years. Which is to say, “three.”
Jimmy says Kree won round two with the perfect combination of good performance and sad hometown visit. He is basically congratulating her for having dead parents, which is disgusting and exactly in keeping with the tone of this show.
Mariah hosts “a little Music Video 101” with the girls, which means showing them her new video and telling them how wonderful it is. “I want this video to be the antithesis of everything I am on Idol,” she says. So … it will be footage of her not looking terrified? “#Beautiful” — and I am already furious that I have to type it that way — starts like a perfect summer song, and then stays at exactly the same level for its whole running time, which is somehow too short. Terrible food, and such small portions! As for the video: Mariah Carey’s transformation into Angelyne should be complete by 2015.
And then we check in with Adam Lambert, who still looks like a villain in the show that would happen if Logo did to Zoolander what MTV has done to Teen Wolf. He’s on tour in Singapore, and there is a shot of his fans chanting what translates to: “ADAM YOU MAKE US GO CUCKOO,” and it just makes me so happy. Ryan teases that Adam will be back for the finale with “a surprise duet.” Feel free to speculate in the comments; the correct answer will earn you a brief feeling of satisfaction.
Alicia Keys comes by to perform her new single “Everything I Do Feels Like Homework.” Not really. It’s called “Tears Always Win,” it’s another ‘70s R&B genre exercise, and Alicia Keys is the most talented and accomplished singer to consistently fail to excite me, ever. She’s like Oprah Winfrey Presents: A Pop Star.
Jimmy gives Kree an A for attitude in round three, but gives the round to Candice, because that version of “Somewhere” really was outstanding. “If she goes home, I’m going home,” he says, and the crew applauds. It takes me some time to realize that they’re clapping for the idea of him leaving; I initially assume they’re congratulating him for getting through the line. (Jimmy’s still not super comfy on camera. I would still take him over Randy any day of the week.)
Okay. Finally it’s time to say who’s made it to the finals. First to hear the good news … is … CANDICE! I am on board with this. But it leaves Kree and Angie, only one of whom can make it, and Angie has been the frontrunner since the very beginning though I feel she peaked early and might be in danger, and a strong case can be made for both of them, which is almost never the case at this stage of the game, and there is a real, honest moment of suspense which I can actually feel despite an hour of this show trying to numb my soul. And making it to the finals … is …
Kree Harrison! I would have said this either way, but: Wow.
Okay, here’s the deal: Angie Miller is out, and she honestly cannot believe it. She takes the news graciously, but is obviously stunned. Gutted. And you can understand why: She believed, more than anyone this season, more than anyone in years, maybe, that she could win. She had no reason to think otherwise.
Also, she is a child.
They make her sing her good-bye song, which she struggles to sing through her sobs, and in so doing gives us what we’ve needed from her all along. The pageant-y artifice is stripped away, she is feeling real emotion, she is heartbroken and defiant and desperate, the way a great singer should be. In defeat, Angie finally delivers on her promise.
Though it would have been lovely to see her win, can you imagine an Angie Miller who just sailed through to victory and stardom with no heartbreak along the way, and how shallow a star that would make her? Devastating though her loss may be to her, it’s exactly what she needs. It’s the School of Hard Knocks, sponsored by Ford and the new animated family hit “Epic.”
So next week, Candice and Kree face off in the finals! Who you got?