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'American Idol': On the scene for Top 10 performance night

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I wish I could say it has been too long since I’ve been back in this spot, PopWatchers, but my god, has it really been just short of a year since I last set foot in the Idoldome? Can it be true that I was but a wee youngster of 32 last time I parked my car at the Grove and stashed my assorted electronic devices/gum in the glove compartment to avoid their inevitable confiscation, then walked that agonizingly short block to the gates of CBS Television City to enter the gaping maw of our nationwide obsession? It seems like literally yesterday. And yet, I think back on the musical experiences I’ve had since last we spoke — Pearl Jam at Bonnaroo, Rage Against the Machine at Lollapalooza, Prince at the Avalon, Metallica at SXSW — and I…


Ah, Cory. I’ve missed you.

And I’ve missed you, too, my Idol-loving PopWatchers. So without further ado, I will now take the baton from Adam “The Beav” Vary and stride forward into three straight weeks of the unique joy that can only come from watching tweenaged girls sell their souls for iTunes gift cards.

Kind of uneventful night in the I-Dome tonight: Our celebrity weigh-in was limited to Spring Break director Ryan Shiraki (big Giraud fan), Fox weatherchick Jillian Barberie, and Olivia Newton-John. I didn’t even notice the latter until she was pointed out to me after the show. But follow along after the jump anyway, won’t you? It’s my first On the Scene report of the season and I’m not burned out yet, so I promise I will natter on until you’re questioning the meaning of life!

addCredit(“Frank Micelotta/American Idol/Getty Images”)

When I at last summited Mount Scream-amanjaro (does that work? maybe not), I was pleased to find myself seated next to a journo friend attending her first-ever Idol performance taping. “Is it gonna be really loud?” she asked, as I pulled my earplugs out of my bag and stuffed them in place. I’m not sure I even fully answered before she learned the hard way that if Cory won’t kill you, the dude sitting behind you will: The loudest man in Arkansas responded to the warm-up comic’s pleas to make some noise with the shrillest pig-callin’ whistle I’ve ever heard in my life, right in my friend’s virgin ears. Even if they hadn’t planned to pre-tape Ruben Studdard and Jennifer Hudson’s performances for tomorrow at the end of the show, it was going to be a long night.

For some reason, they thought it would be a good idea to walk Smokey Robinson to his seat right in the middle of Cory’s adorably intolerable act, but this week’s mentor was calm and patient as we “got it crazy,” seemingly unaffected by the sight of grown men on stage dancing like fools — one throwing in a very PG-13 gesture to accompany his pelvic thrusts that I will not describe except to say that I assume he considers tramp stamps to be a handy guide for hand placement during intimate moments. The crowd, too, was unaffected as a whole — I’ve rarely seen that room so dead — so Cory moved on to the rules of engagement with the first in a long series of questionable comments he’d make over the course of the evening. “You in the bleachers, you can sit down,” he said. “But those of you right here” — gesturing to the swaybots — “you can never sit down.” Later, he would inform those same overburdened children that they represent “the millions watching,” and if they don’t cheer hard enough, Tinkerbell will die. “Don’t be afraid to boo,” Cory further instructed us, neglecting to include the part where he hands out bloody lamb shanks and encourages everyone to tear the flesh off the bones with their teeth while watching the gladitorial festivities. But his real capper was the following: “You’re in Hollywood. You can lie. We do it every day.” Um. We got kids here, dude.

Quick scan of signs (heavy on the Adam, Danny, Kris) before Your!Top!10! emerged to take their places for the cold open, and I spent most of Ryan’s intro trying to figure out if Adam Lambert looked more like Mario Lopez or a waxy Bobby Darin. THIS was American Idol — but sadly, my regrettable Seacrest crush of ’08 appears to be no more. For that, I blame this year’s Oscar red carpet: Once you’ve helped hoist a toppled Mickey Rooney to his feet with someone, it’s hard to think about sticking your tongue down that someone’s throat. I’m not quite sure why that is. But I digress worse than usual. Let’s talk about someone else. Like Kara! Who did not say a single thing I agreed with tonight, beginning with “Alexis picked bad songs” and continuing through every reference she made to “artistry.” Coming from a woman whose stated preference is “Last Name” over “Jolene”…need I go on here? No. I need not. She is on notice until further notice, and unlike Stephen Colbert, I do not acknowledge the existence of people on notice. She’s gonna have to earn her way back into these recaps.

Enjoyed the happy little journey to Detroit immensely, especially given all the bad press (and bad point guards) that city’s gotten of late. Enjoyed the smattering of applause given to Berry Gordy by the smattering of adults in the room. Both of these things paled in comparison to Matt Giraud’s opening performance of “Let’s Get It On,” which knocked my socks off, and had the crowd on its feet from start to finish. I espoused a controversial opinion a couple weeks ago that Scott MacIntyre could not win this competition because he was fundamentally incapable of selling out, of kicking over the piano bench (even metaphorically) and knocking our socks off. All those who poo-poohed me may now reference Matt’s performance to see what it’s gonna take. That junk was right.

Was deafened by the compulsive whistler behind me yet again as his fellow Razorback Kris Allen took the stage, and yes, that was him bellowing “ARKANSAS!” on your teevee after the critique. Retained enough hearing to really enjoy Kris’s take on “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” especially his killer last note, and I have something to tell you now that you will find SHOCKING and you may want to BRACE YOURSELF FOR: Remember that one time when, at the end of Kris’s song, Paula complimented him on said killer last note, because it was “a high A or something like that”? Yeah. I checked. It was more or less a high A. Zwa-huh? Dummy say what? DOES PAULA ABDUL HAVE PERFECT PITCH? I do not know. I am equal parts terrified and impressed by that woman’s sudden flirtation with lucidity. Debbie the Stage Manager — who is, as regular readers know, my true American Idol — hugged Kris on his way out.

They’ve put journo row stage right instead of left this year, which means I have lost my view into the wings where Ryan gets his hair smoothed during commercial breaks, but I had a clear shot at poor Scottie Mac (he’ll make ya jump!) being walked to and then abandoned on the space stools by his brother before the cameras started rolling again. As the judges re-entered and gave Smokey Robinson a round of hugs, Cory suggested that perhaps these tapings would be more fun if we were all drinking (the children, Cory!). Then we learned that Scott would be doing his second straight lady song. “Oh no,” muttered my newbie friend. During his rather unnecessary take on “You Can’t Hurry Love,” the audience was finding it difficult to muster up enough energy to keep the clap going, and I wrote “I do not think the inherent problem here is going to be solved by dancing girls” in my little notebook. When Simon made a crack about “how much more can I take” (and earned himself some crayons from Paula), I guffawed so loudly I started to worry that Mr. Arkansas was gonna shush me. To Scottie Mac’s credit, however, I’ve noticed that he needs only slightly more assistance getting around the I-Dome than Paula does. And whoever put that poor boy in pink pants should be killed.

During the ad break, Debbie sat down at the judges’ table to do a little coloring, while Cory chatted up a girl behind me. “How old are you?” He asked. “6,” she said. “How old?” Cory asked. “8,” she said. (For those of you who do not remember these things forever, as I do, 8 is apparently the minimum age for Idol attendance.) “Who told you to lie?” Cory asked her. She pointed to her father, Mr. Arkansas, with a perfect tiny-child deadpan. “It’s okay to lie,” Cory told her, and then gave her an iPod. I am never having children, if this is the society in which I must raise them. Ryan came over to talk to Debbie, did not color.

I had been informed earlier in the evening by sleeve-tat-loving Idol junkie Richard Rushfield of the LA Times that Megan Joy (formerly Corkery) is a closet metalhead — and I got a huge kick out of watching her squirm like Brittany Murphy in Girl Interrupted while waiting for her pre-commercial closeup — but not even that could really salvage her hack job on Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life.” I think Smokey hit it right on the head when he pulled the rictus grin back even wider than usual to tell her, “You are so different!” After she finished being ripped to shreds by the judges (which Rushfield insists was a travesty), she skipped off the stage.

Boring commercial break. Simon stayed in his seat to make some calls. When we returned, Anoop dared ask the question, “Can I pull off a heartfelt version of ‘Ooh Baby Baby’ while dressed like I just came back from an intramural bowling tournament?” Answer: Maybe! My heart was especially warmed by watching the three not-dead-inside judges swaying in unison as the Noop-Dawg sang. I got kind of sad, though, when I suddenly noticed Anoop’s parents sitting in the front row — where they had not previously been — and realized they’re rotating the families in and out of the good seats this year, instead of letting them all stay put for the whole show. During the next break, both Mr. and Mrs. Desai got hugs from Smokey, and Cory went back to talking to adults. He’s weirdly better with kids. I don’t mean that in a creepy way, either. Kids are just funnier when you hand them a mic.

Cringed at Michael Sarver’s man-flops in his mentoring video; determined that he looks like a villain from Buffy the Vampire Slayer when he sings; felt bad for his family, who were the only people in the house standing up as he performed. In fact, I noticed that we’d all been sitting a whole lot since the big Matt Giraud dance party, and that even Mr. Arkansas had for the most part given up on making any noises whatsoever, except for the occasional overzealous “BOO!” or “AW!” when he snapped to and realized he hadn’t been doing his part. While Paula was delivering her drawn-out critique of Sarver’s “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” Randy made some sort of choking gesture, and I did a little choking myself at Mr. Sarver’s second straight gee-whiz boy-howdy post-critique speech.

It was somewhere around here that the energy level in the house dipped to dangerously ordinary levels, which meant Lil Rounds sledgehammered her way through every last Vandella but received only half a standing O, with several of the people who got up looking like they needed to stretch their legs more than anything else. The judges swooped into interesting territory when they suggested that, by tanking Motown week, Lil had blown her “moment.” Coming on the heels of Randy’s comment last week that she should have  sung “I Will Always Love You” for country week… blurg. Also, please note: If the judges do not intend to use their save on Lil Rounds and only Lil Rounds, I will eat my hat.

Adam Lambert strode on stage during the next break, blinding us all with his brylcreemed hair. “Adam couldn’t make it tonight, we got Elvis in the house…” joked Cory, going over to fist-bump the wayward Wicked prince. “Adam couldn’t make it??” gasped the 6- and/or 8-year-old new iPod owner behind me. Debbie shoved Seacrest down into a seat about four seconds before we came back live, but he delivered his usual flawless teleprompter read introing Adam’s self-indulgent omg brilliant take on “Tracks of My Tears.” This is because Seacrest is a pro. Adam is also a pro, and with all of his Hot Topic + Twilight + Emo Jersey Boys style choices, he is working this show like a shiny shiny pole — even as I can’t quite figure out why on earth he would want any part of what happens to you when you win. (That discussion — along with my treatise on why no girl will ever again be crowned America’s Next Top Idol — can be found on my non-existent blog, Whitney Applies Entirely Too Much Thought To This Show Dot Com.)

It was at about this point that the judges started to whiz through their comments; I will do the same for Danny “Ghoulish Widower” Gokey by simply pointing out that I really hate it when the mentoring video is all about mentoring that goes unheeded during the subsequent performance, and that he seems to have curtailed his drunk-frat-boy-at-ex-girlfriend’s-wedding dance moves somewhat.

And then I will begin another paragraph by saying that Allison “Hope For A Brighter Tomorrow” Iraheta was worth the long, long wait; that her performance of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” energized the room like no one since Matt Giraud (who might as well have sung last Friday, given how long the show felt tonight); that for the first time I understood exactly what that song was about; that a friend in Chicago who had never seen the show before texted me to say she should win; that she received a completely unchallenged and not-obligatory standing ovation (trumping Lambert’s by far); and that when all the contestants came out during the song clips to close the show, young Allison was swept off her feet by Kris Allen in the biggest DUDE YOU JUST ROCKED THAT hug I’ve ever seen. Those two continued to party with each other under the video, spreading their lovefest to Adam by fake-bowing when his clip played, and grooving to everything else. I like the idea that Kris and Allison comprise some sort of Actually Have A Soul Patrol. I’m going to keep an eye on those two.

That was a wrap, except for how they still had to pre-tape Ruben and J.Hud’s performances. Despite the fact that we were all trapped in the I-Dome until well after 8 p.m. Pacific time, there’s not much of note to talk about here — I apparently missed an audience-member singing competition while I was interviewing Simon in his trailer for a video coming to an EW.com near you soon, and I’m assuming you are not interested in the details of the time-killing contest Cory held in which four kids under the age of 15 stood on stage and tried to see who could talk about Idol the longest without stuttering or saying “um.” Basically, both former Idol contestants sang through their songs once, Ryan chatted with them, you’ll get to see it all tomorrow night. And so will I, which is why I plan to sign off now and go to sleep.

I leave you with but one question: What did you think, PopWatchers?

Read more:
Michael Slezak’s ‘Idol’ recap: The Mo(town), the Merrier
‘Idolatry’: Alexis Grace stops by the EW office
Gallery: The 11 Most Awkward ‘Idol’ Mentor Moments