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'American Idol': Michael Jackson night proves it's a closely matched field!

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So the first performance night of American Idol‘s season 8 finals has come to an end, and here are four observations: First, probably six or seven people have a legit shot at winning the Idol confetti shower at the Nokia in late May. Second, Paula Abdul was back with her batty self, and yet…she gave some of the evening’s most pointed and astute critiques. What’s next? A fall 2009 return to the top of Billboard’s charts with The Emancipation of Paula? (Hey now…as a fan of “Vibeology,” I would welcome such a turn of events.) Third, it was a good night for singers with obviously dyed/highlighted hair. And finally, if you haven’t signed up for EW.com’s Idol Prediction Challenge, then you are TOTALLY breaking my heart. Come on now: Season 6 superstar Melinda Doolittle is playing. My Idolatry cohosts Kristen Baldwin, Missy Schwartz, Annie Barrett, and Jessica Shaw are all playing. Idolatry producer Jason Averett is in! Even America’s Next Top Doll contestant Princess Thursday is enrolled. So go to EW.com/idolpredict and shake what your mama gave you. Right this second! (It only takes 2 minutes tops to enroll.) You have until 7:59 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, March 11, to sign up for the first round of voting. So go, go, go!

Finally, about this “surprise change to the rules” Ryan mentioned. You know, the one that Simon said involved the judging panel. The indigestion in my tumtee has me wondering if the bottom two vote-getters each week will have to “sing for their lives” on the results show…with the judges determining which one gets through. Color me: UNAMUSED! As if the producers don’t spend enough time trying to manipulate us as it is? Also: Who do you trust more? America…who’s managed to get it right more times over Idol‘s seven seasons than the heads of most major record labels? Or the quartet who insisted Jasmine Murray make this year’s top 13 over Ricky Braddy? Think about it! That said, I’m not entirely convinced two people will be eliminated tomorrow. Note Simon said something about two contestants “going home”…but that could have been a careful and deliberately slick word choice. Or maybe I just don’t want to believe the producers are dumb enough to give us a top 13 on Tuesday, and immediately trim the fat down to 11 the following Wednesday.

On that note, I am off to write my full TV Watch recap, which will post here on EW.com early tomorrow morning. In the meantime, watch our latest two-part episode of Idolatry (part two plays immediately after part one…just give it 5 seconds) in which Jessica Shaw and I share our real feelings about Kara DioGuardi, Allison Iraheta, and Adam Lambert. Holla!

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Carrie Underwood’s ‘American Idol’ exit song: A vast improvement on ‘Celebrate Me Home’
‘American Idol’ Power List: Vote for your favorite from the top…14?
‘America Idol’ sex-line snafu: And you thought Bikini Girl was racy!
‘American Idol’: What should the top 13 sing for Michael Jackson night?
‘American Idol’: Our Advice for the Top 13
‘American Idol’: Tracking the Top 13 Finalists with our Idol Tote Board
‘American Idol’: Q&As With the Top 13!
‘American Idol’ recap: Boys Gone Wild Card!
EW’s ‘Idol’ Headquarters
‘DWTS,’ ‘Idol’: What’s the most you’ve voted on a single elimination night?