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On the Scene: Andrew Lloyd Webber Night on 'American Idol'

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Andrewlloydwebber_lI should think the nearly 300 of you who commented on last week’s American Idol + Religion = Debacle! post would be surprised to learn just how into Carly Smithson’s rendition of “Jesus Christ Superstar” I was this evening. Sure, I knew it was coming — Richard Rushfield had tipped me off at the start of the show, because he reads TMZ whereas I’d rather poke my eyes out with a hot molten lava stick — but even in my wildest dreams I could not have imagined my girl’s sonic tour de force. The dress was hot, the soulful vocal line was hotter, and every single person in the Idol Thunderdome was on their feet before the last note came down. Which is why, when Randy busted out with “I mean, I don’t know if this was your best performance…” I was completely unable to stop a shriek of rage from escaping my lips. And I do mean “shriek,” PopWatchers — I shrieked so loud it was actually audible on the broadcast. Go rewind your DVRs: He’s not quite finished saying “performance,” and there is a sound like a cat being strangled from the back of the auditorium. Yeah. That was me.

And sadly, that was the most interesting thing that happened off-camera today, despite Rushfield’s pre-show proclamation that this was “the most important night in the history of entertainment.” The goodies mostly made it to air, from Jason Castro’s own personal kitty strangulation to Rickey Minor’s Pussycat Doll routine. Still, a few tidbits lurk after the jump…

addCredit(“Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Idols: Michael Becker”)

Nice to get the band out front tonight, complete with harpist — it was a classy move for a week that was, rightly, all about Lord Andrew’s lush orchestrations. Of course, putting Rickey behind the contestants’ line of sight didn’t help some of the more tempo-disinclined singers with their pacing, but that’s a small thing that only people interested in actual musicality would notice. And by the time Corey AWWWWW YEAAAAAAHd us into submission, I doubt there were too many in the house who cared about much beyond getting the party started now, and quickly.

Count among your celebrity guests Ms. Allison Janney, someone who looked like Ricky Schroeder with a Dominic Monaghan makeover, and Idol frequent flyer Joely Fisher. All of these you saw on the tee-vee, along with the night’s most unexpected guest, David Duchovny, who accompanied his son, Miller. Both dashing gentlemen had donned sportcoats for the occasion, and Miller brought a lovely handmade sign voicing support for both David A. and David C., a dual loyalty that was echoed across the room. Note to prospective signmakers: There is no apostrophe in “Davids,” plural. Young Miller did not make that mistake (must be the Ivy League blood), but several others did, and it upset me. Stray pluralization apostrophes should be reserved for takeout menus and bodega awnings only. I must ask that you respect this proud American tradition.

Meanwhile, Nigel was milling about, his arm at last free of its sling. They finally gave Carly’s hubby some prime real estate behind the judging platform, though he was too far right to make it into the standard shot (unlike David Cook’s brother last week), and I saw someone who I momentarily thought was Amanda Overmyer but it turned out to just be some chick who’d made a similarly unfortunate decision w/r/t the front of her hair. Though my cell phone had been confiscated at the door yet again, I encountered no gum resistance — and believe you me, Debbie the Stage Manager, I was fully prepared to drop your name if they gave me any trouble — and as I sat there, happily gnawing away, I watched Lord ALW take his seat. The theater school student inside of me was pretty thrilled to be so close to that dude, I must cheesily admit. He is unexpectedly tall. I wondered what Tim Rice was doing this evening. I also couldn’t stop myself from wondering what both Mssrs. Lloyd Webber and Duchovny thought of Corey the Warmup Comedian’s Spectacular Bootyshaking Spectacular. Ah, to have the libretto of those inner monologues.

Ryan got introduced first, then Simon, who blew right past ALW to greet the shinyhairs in the “mosh pit.” Randy came out next and took the time to hug the guest mentor, but with 40 seconds to broadcast he was still hugging people, and Paula, of course, was nowhere in sight. Debbie struggled mightily to get the crowd to shut the hell up for the melodramatic cold open, but when Paula trotted in with 15 seconds to spare, the screechy sound started up again. For the first time in my Idol life, I was frightened — what if Debbie couldn’t get the room under control? What if Ryan’s carefully metered speech was cluttered by the sound of preteen hysteria? What if — oh, I needn’t have worried. THIS is American Idol!

I added a file to my growing “Ryan Seacrest May Not In Fact Have Rhythm” dossier tonight as he awkwardly fiddled around with Rickey’s baton. (I can’t believe Simon missed that joke, come to think of it.) Then, as the ALW montage began, I made a mental note never, ever to check out the Emmy Rossum version of Phantom. The room was eerily silent during this video presentation, actually, like all the air had been sucked out and replaced by dry ice and the lurking presence of Terrence Mann in spandex. I’ve never felt it so still in that room. Even when Syesha mounted the piano and did a couple warmup flexes and stretches in silhouette, the crowd sat frozen. Perhaps they were in awe of the musical genius who’d graced us with his work this evening, or perhaps they were simply taking a moment to figure out the appropriate response to a woman whose biggest strength lies in her ability to plausibly imitate a gurgling baby standing atop a baby grand in her bare feet to sing a somewhat obscure song from a musical that closed before 85 percent of the audience was old enough to rollerskate. Either way, it be quiet.

Of course, during Syesha’s performance I mostly became aware of the dazzling production of Chicago being singlehandedly staged by Rickey Minor this evening, and within the first three seconds or so, I was pretty much obsessed with him. He Fossed his hands. He Fossed his hat. He Fossed his shoulders. Somehow, the orchestra played on, even the poor percussion section, stranded up top all alone. I wonder how hard it was for them this evening, with all the dancing. I wondered who the poor woman was with the job of buckling Syesha’s heels back on her feet after her number because Syesha clearly could not bend over in her dress. I wondered a lot of things this evening, but none so much as I wondered what in the name of all that is furry Jason Castro was thinking when he decided to sing “Memory,” a song which causes me much conflict and angst on a good day. Funny story: I used to work for the American Theater Wing when I was in college, taking high school kids to go see Broadway musicals, and because the universe enjoys toying with me, I was consistently assigned to escort groups to Cats. Please bear in mind that I am allergic both to real kitties and to actors who come off the stage and touch you during Broadway shows, so this was not an ideal situation. But after leading a short Q&A at intermission, I was allowed to leave my high school group alone, and so while I must have seen the first act of Cats something like 25 times in a single fall semester, I never once had to sit through a full-blown performance of “Memory.” Thanks to Jason Castro, I guess I still haven’t.

Luckily, only one girl fainted and had to be removed from the “mosh pit” while Paula was struggling through her assessment of Jason, and the minute we cut to the next commercial, Simon bolted for the door, giving a big two thumbs down to someone seated next to ALW as he passed. Corey started doing his “Are you married?” schtick with a seven-year-old kid over in the house left bleachers as Ryan appeared on stage, desperately looking for Debbie. “Where’s Debbie??” I could see him mouthing. “Ry-Ry! Here!” she said over the P.A. (At least I think she said “Ry-Ry.” I think she said it a good more times over the course of the show, too. I don’t know how I feel about this.) Debbie was clearly setting up the next shot for behind the judging platform, but it seemed Ryan wanted to do it in the “mosh pit” so he could stand next to that nice-looking white-haired woman he later called Betty on air. “What is she doing in the mosh?” Debbie said, when she saw Betty. I wonder who Betty is.

Brooke comes out and sits down, but before I have time to wonder what is it about show tunes that’s making everyone feel the need to sit down when they sing, Brooke totally botches the start of “You Must Love Me.” Oh no. Her hubby is leaning forward, hands on knees, and the seaweed starts swaying in the front, but the girls are clearly in shock because not a single one of them is getting their hands above their heads as they’ve been clearly instructed to do. It’s so strange — they all have their elbows cocked at the exact same bony right angle, sort of half-swaying but also maybe just trying to offer a soft cushion should the G-Rated Nanny decide to plunge off the apron to her metaphorical death. No need, of course. Brooke is remarkably stoic about the whole affair, and while Paula once again begins to drag on about whatever — just me, or did Paula reaaaaally need a nap tonight? — Simon and Randy started exchanging looks behind Ms. Abdul’s head, while Ryan and Rickey stood off to the side with their arms crossed in the exact same manner. It was all pretty damn awkward until Simon called starting over “a brave thing to do,” and the crowd got back into it. I looked over to see Allison Janney applauding Brooke’s bravery, and even Duchovny was nodding his head in an empathetic fashion. Frankly, I don’t have the foggiest idea what I would have done were I in Brooke’s huraches, except maybe not sing “You Must Love Me” in the first place.

They cut to commercial, and Ryan grabs Brooke by both arms, turns her towards him, and hugs her tight. I wonder if Ryan has ever been this chummy with a group of contestants before. Debbie takes Brooke by the shoulder and walks her over to Nigel as Ryan moves to the stools, where Archie is ready and waiting. There, he puts both hands on Archie’s shoulders and whispers something in the puppy’s ear. Either Ryan is being incredibly supportive tonight, or he is really starved for a cuddle. Could go either way. Meanwhile, Corey has entered my section of the bleachers, and the 10-and-under set is going wild. “I will come up there and say hi to you guys if you don’t scream again,” he offers to the six girls in front of me who are literally standing on tip-toe to get his attention. They pipe down, he talks to them a bit, and then with five seconds to go, he is stuck on my bleacher and is forced to run up the aisle to get out of the live shot, taking the time to bro-hug some dude in a headset as he goes by.

Quick question: Are you like me? When ALW was coaching Archie and he said he had two pieces of advice and the first was “open your eyes,” did you quietly yearn for the second to be “stop licking your lips, it’s effing creepy”? No such luck. But like a boy band that spent the night too close to the campfire, Archie made his way through “Think of Me,” and despite the fact that he totally forgot the words and watermeloned his way through half a verse, he was given his usual snacky treats, including Randy’s mysterious assertion that by doing “Stevie riffs” during the song, Archie had somehow injected it with his own personality. “Great job!” Paula yells after we’re clear and Archie starts walking off stage. Simon puts both hands on Paula’s shoulders and pretty much shoves her out the door.

Carly emerges to the usual sound of woooos — I have come to the conclusion that anyone who enters Idoldome likes Carly a whole lot more than people who have just watched her at home, for some reason — and as she’s talking to the “pit,” Ryan pulls her aside, hugs her, and whispers in her ear. Now I’m just wondering if Ryan’s not playing some private game of “Telephone” in order to pass the time. Surely he gets bored with the same routine week after week: intro, walk out, more intro, commercial, get pants adjusted, intro, recite phone number, outro, intro… Ryan and Debbie then walk out to the judges table, talk to Carly’s hubby, Paula darts behind them to her seat with literally one second to spare, and my mind is completely blown by the Kennedy Center-caliber musical theater number that takes place on the stage before me. Simon, on the other hand, sits for the whole performance with his fingers plugging his ears. When Carly finishes, I look behind me to see Rushfield actually dabbing some strange combo of sweat and tears off his face. Had I human emotion, I too might have reacted in such a way. Oh, wait. That’s right. I shrieked so loud the mics picked it up. Okay.

Next commercial, Ryan goes to talk to Simon’s girlfriend Terri, and his groomer swoops in. The groomer takes a look at Ryan’s pants, does not straighten them, and swoops away. During D. Cook’s montage, when ALW tells him to imagine he’s singing to the most gorgeous girl imaginable, at least three ladies in the “mosh pit” yell “ME!!” I am too busy wondering what in the name of Steven Tyler is hanging out of Dave’s pocket to really take in the performance at the beginning, but color me impressed that he not only went for but nailed the high note on “take you where you long to BEEEEEEE.” I used to hang out in a West Village piano bar, and most of the men who decided to take on this song absolutely butchered that, so mad props to edgy rocker boy. If I didn’t know better, I would say the tide — in the room, anyway — has now completely turned in favor of Cook over Archuleta. Let’s see if/when the judges get the memo.

D.Cook stays on stage after his lovely performance, and hugs each of his competitors as they walk out to line up for the “Remember This Stuff That Just Happened?” video clips. ALW comes on stage, the judges and Rickey put on Phantom masks, Debbie tries to center everyone, Brooke has no one to clutch (RIP KLK), Carly’s clip gets a rapturous reception, and when David Cook’s clip plays on the big screen, the girls go about 15 times more wild than they did for Archie. The light op turns on a dim spot so they might better see the object of their affection. He grins. I am glad the ladies are choosing the man over the boy. Wise choice, ladies, one that will serve you well in the years to come. Once the FremantleMedia logo appears on the monitors, Debbie applauds everyone, then shoos them off the stage. I bolt for the door, but not before I see Duchovny getting a kiss on both cheeks from Paula Abdul. I add it to the list of things I never thought I’d witness should I live a thousand years, and step out into the Cali sun.

All right, P-Dubs. What did you wonder about tonight? What’d you love, what’d you hate? If Brooke gets penalized for starting over (again), shouldn’t Archie get points off for dropping his lines (again)? If Jason Castro didn’t know the songs from Cats were sung by cats, what other things might he not be aware of? Would you rather be Ryan Seacrest’s pants-straightener or Syesha Mercado’s shoe-buckler? And who should I be prepared to seaweed-wave bye-bye to this week?

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