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

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Sometimes, when I am sitting in the audience for the taping of American Idol, I forget that I am holding a notebook in my lap. I forget that I go on TV and talk about American Idol from time to time, and that my name and place of employment are emblazoned under my head when I do. I forget that since both of these things amount to a giant blinky neon “REPORTER” sign hanging over my head, I should at least try to maintain the appearance of emotional separation from my subject matter. But sometimes, PopWatchers, I forget myself completely.

Had you been in the house for tonight’s Top 10 elimination — in which we bid a tardy farewell to one Michael Sarver, in a turn of events so not-shocking there was nary a gasp to be heard in the crowd — you would have seen me vigorously celebrate such a moment. When Seacrest said Sarver’s name, I pumped both fists in the air, then soundly applauded America’s decision to rid themselves of the one man whose presence in this competition I have questioned for weeks. Say what you will about Megan Joy (formerly Corkrey)’s kook factor, or Scott MacIntyre’s occasional inability to sing — knocking off Sarver was tonight’s only option. Plus, I’d promised my friend Maura I’d throw a chair at him if he didn’t leave, and we’re really trying to keep 2009 restraining order free.

Yes, I walked into the Idoldome with a smile on my face tonight, PopWatchers, and I left with one, too. Maybe it was Wednesday night’s Ho Chi Minh Trail of a broadcast making this results show seem like a traipse through Care Bear-infested woods, or maybe I’ve already become inured to my fate. More likely, I have Mr. Stevie Wonder’s JoBro-free renditions of “Superstition” and “Overjoyed” to thank for saving me, and I have washed that down with the warm cocktail of justice being served. After the jump, I break down all the action from inside CBS Television City. Won’t you put a smile on and join me?

addCredit(“Frank Micelotta/Fox”)

First off, mad props to PopWatch commenter “time4bedlam,” who correctly rearranged my clumsy “Mount Screamamanjaro” from yesterday to form the genius “Mount Kilimaeardrums.” As I climbed its slopes this afternoon, I was glad I’d brought trail mix, for the mountain was treacherous today, my friends, its volcanic gullet demanding to be fed the sun-bleached bones of the easily annoyed. I found the 100 percent increase in aggravating audience members somewhat surprising, considering that 1) Mr. Arkansas and his piercing hog whistle were nowhere to be found, and 2) the median age of the folks in tonight’s “mosh pit” appeared to hover around 35. What were grownups doing in the “mosh pit”? I do not know, but they were down there, and an audience coordinator eventually pulled two adorable 11 year old girls out of my row to help even things out.

The two 11 year old girls were replaced in their seats to my left with two squirmy 11 year old boys, just itchin’ to assert their independence from their parents, who were obviously seated elsewhere. To my right, meanwhile, there sat two lovely young ladies who I would estimate at 14 years of age. One of them clutched an enormous, glittering sign professing her love for Ryan Seacrest (see? he doesn’t need me), and let’s just say I do not believe that young woman would have stopped clutching that sign for all the iPod Touches in the world. She and her friend went on to hoist the sign and scream bloody murder for one straight hour. I was, in other words, cornered.

But I took the time to spot the celebs — my girl Kim Caldwell with her girl Carly Smithson; a shorn-for-TV Ace Young; Debbie the Stage Manager, hitting the Diet Coke a bit early tonight; and, um, Terrence Howard. I spent so much time trying to figure out why Terrence Howard was there (and what on earth he could have to talk about with Ace Young) that I missed watching a guy who looked like my 11th grade physics teacher shaking what passed for “his thang.” Once dad got cleared from the stage, they began to wheel out the Starlight Express stairs for Ryan’s big Busby Berkeley entrance number, and Cory the Warmup Comedian explained to the room that they should get super excited because they are about to be on TV. At our current rate of speed, I estimate that every single person in America will have been on TV by approximately 2011, so that won’t work as an incentive anymore, and Cory will be left with the one and only sure-fire way he knows to get the crowd excited (besides giving them iPod Touches): Remind them that it’s okay to lie. Apparently, that works every time.

With about five minutes to air, people started willingly surrendering their gum to the pages, and Ken Warwick snuck Lil Rounds out into the house for a warm greeting and hug from Terrence Howard. With three minutes to air, Your!Top!10! took to the benches — wearing the same outfits they had on while Ruben Studdard pre-taped his performance last night, of course — and received a nice standing O. Sarver and MJ(fC) looked nervous. Scottie Mac looked cocky. Cory introduced Debbie, who reminded everyone to shut the hell up for the cold open, but it was in that moment that Seacrest emerged at the top of his staircase… and the girls to my right with the sign went absolutely bonkers. Their hysteria fueled that of others, and with nine seconds left, you couldn’t even hear Debbie counting down anymore. The judges weren’t in their seats, there was bedlam in the bleachers, and I missed the Most.Intense.Idol.Cold Open.Ever, just trying to write it all down. THIS… etc.

So it seems the show is getting lots and lots of votes these days! I blame the recession — this entertainment is as cheap as it comes — but I’m sure the producers want us to believe it’s because Idol is having a terrific season. I don’t know about that. At the same time, I certainly enjoyed Paula flinging props at “her schoolmate Simon” last night (so long as they keep the funny business out of Allison’s critiques from now on), and I will certainly vouch for the level of talent they inadvertently and despite their best efforts stumbled into this year. Watching the Motown clips back — during which the Actually Have A Soul Patrol of Allison and Kris were at it again, nudging and cheering their fellow contestants — it was obvious that no matter how frustrated I may be with the fact that Michael Sarver gets to go on tour and Alexis Grace does not, he’s no Scott Savol, and we should be thankful for such small blessings.

Here’s the question, though: Does it matter whether this season’s cast can actually sing when the group numbers are now not only lip-synced — nice job getting that confession, New York Times — but pre-taped?? I don’t know how it read at home, but that Motown medley wasn’t so much with the live, kids. Instead, it played on the big screen while the contestants watched and the judges left the room. I wonder if this is because they were singing over the original Motown tracks or something. Whatever. Still lame. Back in my day, we sang and danced at the same time, on live TV, uphill both ways. In the snow. PS Best part of this medley: Adam Lambert out-Lilling Lil on the high riffs.

We cut to commercial, and the two girls to my right seized the silence to shriek, “GO RYAN!” in unison. This was deafening, unnecessary because Ryan was not currently competing for anything, and particularly absurd since he was not on stage at the time. “Where’d he go?” asked the one clutching the sign. Meanwhile, Cory explained how we’d all react when the pre-taped performance from Ruben was introduced: Just as enthusiastically as we’d react if the Velvet Teddybear were among us tonight! And why will we act this way? Because this is Hollywood, and we’re all liars! I swear to god he said this, PopWatchers, he just keeps on saying this horrible thing. And then he looked up at the two girls who were still screaming for Ryan and said, “You won’t put that down, will you?” “Not until he sees it!” they answered. But Ryan — who had returned to the stage at this point — was engaged in his very best Scottie Mac impersonation, and Cory had moved on to pointing out Kim, Carly, Ace, and Terrence Howard in the crowd. The latter caused quite the stir. Huh. Imagine what Iron Man 2 could have done for that response, Terrence.

Back from the break, we moved into a segment I will now call “The Deceptive And Possibly Evil Magic of Television.” Ryan did a live intro for the Ford commercial, and a live intro for Ruben — even though he’d taped the Season 2 winner’s intro several times the day before. Then Ruben “appeared” for his number, wearing my grandfather’s pajamas from 1985, and somehow convinced Thursday’s audience to clap along in a way Wednesday’s audience did not. This resulted in the totally weird experience of watching the brainwashed swaybots of the “mosh pit” put their hands above their heads and bash them together during a jumbotron performance by a man who could not see them doing it and had not experienced similar levels of engagement when he was actually in the room the day before. Like I said: deceptive. And it got weirder! As Ryan on the jumbotron was interviewing Ruben on the jumbotron, he turned to the contestants — who had been on the benches wearing their clothes for today, yesterday — and asked what they thought. But instead of cutting to the pre-taped shot of yesterday’s contestants today, they cut to a live shot of today’s contestants today, and spliced that in between the pre-tape. Then once you saw Ryan standing at the teensy podium, we were back all the way, as though we’d been there all along. I wonder: Did any of that show up at home? Did it look nuts? Because I found it exhausting, and wished Debbie would bring me a Diet Coke to clear my head.

But finally! It was time for results! Allison: safe! Matt: sa — WHAT THE WHAT?? Kris: “You too… are safe.” Sarver/Lil: Sarver joins Matt on the space stools, where the dueling pianist was looking rather ill. At this point, people in the audience started yelling things out at inappropriate times. Chaos began to take hold, so thank god we cut to break.

During this commercial, the judges stuck around to schmooze with some sort of executive-looking man who I did not recognize, but who looked like the love child of Joe Lieberman and Rush Limbaugh, if it were possible for that love child to be not at all hideous. “30 seconds, judges. 30 seconds, children,” called out Debbie, trying to get everyone in place. “5…4…3… do something, Ryan…” she grumbled to the host, who was stuck in an awkward Abdul bottleneck at the judges’ table when the cameras clicked on. He covered as usual, and introduced Joss Stone n’ Smokey Robinson, whose actual presence on stage was weirdly disorienting after all the jumbotron action we’d been given up to this point. It was also the second week in a row we’d seen a slightly past-his-prime male icon singing lovey-dovey lyrics to a much, much younger woman on this show, and I’m starting to wonder about that trend. (I’m also sure that if Annie Lennox were to mentor the contestants, they’d let her duet with Pete Wentz or Zac Efron or something, right? Right?) The contestants in the top row used the next break to practice their imitations of Smokey’s arms-wide dance as Cory showed up not just in my section but about two feet from my face, the iPod in the back pocket of his fashion jeans just begging to be picked if I wasn’t so terrified to touch him. He gave it instead to a small Allison Iraheta fan named Elizabeth, and sweetly promised to get Allison — who needs a nickname, bad — to sign it later.

More eliminations! The Ryan fans next to me did not cheer one way or another when Allison (“Red”?) was declared safe, but they wooo‘d plenty for Anoop and Danny. (See again my theory on why a girl can’t win this thing anymore.) The 11 year old boys to my left, meanwhile, had been left unattended by their parental units for entirely too long, and were starting to get out of control. In every moment of silence, they came up with something to scream in unison, and when Scottie Mac was put in the bottom three they cried out “NOOO! PLEASE!” with such ferocity I decided they either must really like Scott, or had seen this video too many times. But then I realized they were just in love with the sound of their own preadolescent voices, for when Ryan asked Randy of the three men on stage, “Who does not deserve to be standing here right now?” the boys cried out, “ALL OF THEM!”

Not in your bottom two tonight: Scottie Mac. I briefly became Canadian while pondering the possibility that my motherland could actually be mental enough to send Matt Giraud home. But during the next break — as I watched Michael Sarver chowing down on some sort of snack while seated on a space stool that could barely contain him as it was — I regained my confidence, and when Debbie announced, “Cory, we need to welcome somebody to the stage!” I regained my soul. It was Stevie, at last. “STEVIE’S NUMBER ONE FAN!” yelled the boys. Back from break, everyone failed at pretending Stevie Wonder wasn’t sitting on stage, and without much further ado, they just let the superstar run. And it was straight-up awesome.

Quick observations of the contestants during the Wonderama: Allison and Kris have the most infectious body language I’ve ever seen. MJ(fC) fakes it well. Gokey would rather schmooze Ryan than listen. Anoop knows every single word to every single Stevie song and practically passed out on the couch when he started into “Overjoyed.” Lil Rounds almost matched Kris in her spazzing. Adam Lambert needs to stop working so hard to not ever be flamingly anything or he’s gonna pull a muscle. And Ryan Seacrest, god bless him for trying, still cannot keep a beat in a box.

It should be noted that as Mr. Wonder brought the house down, the 11 year old boys — Stevie’s number one fans! — were staring blankly at the stage, mouths hanging open, bored as could be.

At this point, the only thing delaying Sarver’s fate was a two and a half minute commercial break, during which Cory had some cheerleaders from Orange County do their color shout: Red, red, red, red, blueblueblueblueblueblueblue. Then the moment was upon us, and Sarver was gone, and if anyone is doubting this decision I direct you to the man himself and the comment he made upon being handed the mic to sing for the salvation that never came: “I have to sing after Stevie?” Dude, if you aren’t prepared to sing after Stevie, you have no business being here in the first place. The Jonas Brothers are barely out of Pampers and they sang with Stevie, on the goshdurned Grammys, for crying out loud. Sigh. At least we made it through his elimination without anybody saying “Influenza B” again.

All right. I’m Audi 5000 until next week. What did you think, PopWatchers? Talk amongst yourselves. Since my iTunes “purchased” playlist just randomly coughed up David Cook’s “Hello” from last season, I’m going to sleep pondering whether we’ve heard anything that good yet this year. Perhaps controversially, I am saying “no.” Oh, and hey! Did you know Michael Sarver used to work on an oil rig?