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'American Idol': On the scene for Top 9 results night

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“It’s fine being artistic, just not on this show.”

Simon Cowell said that once, I think maybe to Scott McIntyre (which is funny when you think about it), and I start tonight’s on-the-scene peek under the Idoldome with his words because more than anything else, they manage to sum up both this show’s cruel truth and frustrating insufficiencies. On one hand, we flapped farewell to Megan Joy (No Last Name), who despite her homecoming queen-meets-edgy rocker look and trendy throwback voice refused to become the package artist the judges and producers hoped for when they cast her, and chose instead to exert her strenuously quirky personality over every inch of camera time until America sent her packing. On the other, we were graced with a performance from the strenuously quirky Lady GaGa, who absolutely will not shut the fart up about how everything she does is art, and who used the Idol stage as a chance to reinvent herself once again while showcasing live vocals that were definitely strong enough to keep her in this competition — and earn her the biggest ovation I’ve ever seen for a guest performer on this show.

So here’s my question, PopWatchers: How come Lady GaGa has the number one song in the country, and Megan Joy can’t muster more than the dubious support of VoteForTheWorst.com?

As you ponder that riddle — come up with a good enough answer and it’s entirely possible you could get a job in what remains of the music industry — I hope you’ll come along past the jump, as I break down all the action from a considerably more exciting Idol live taping than the one I sat through yesterday. Caw! Caw!

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Rolled in to CBS Television City with what I thought was plenty of time today, only to find out that I was kind of technically late and missed the Miley Cyrus pre-tape taking place. (No one told me about it!) Sources said she did “The Climb” in one take, and she looked good; said sources were also lounging around looking incredibly bored by the time I got to my seat, the post-pre-tape energy in the room being rather listless and spent. “Mosh pit” members were sprawled across the floor, one pregnant woman leaning against the corner of the stage (I’m learning that the Results Night pit is slightly less exclusive than the Performance Night pit), and Cory was nowhere to be found. Highlight of highlights, Debbie the Stage Manager had enough time to kill between Miley and the broadcast that she came up the stairs and paid a lovely — though Diet Coke-free — visit to Journo Row.

I asked if she could possibly spice things up in the Idoldome today, and she said it wouldn’t be a problem: “Our little Ry-Ry is sick.” They still weren’t certain he’d go on — guess he skipped the radio show this morning and everything. Luckily, yesterday’s show taught us that they have every phrase Seacrest ever utters programmed into a computer over there, and I’m sure a KIIS-FM intern put together a wonderful broadcast just slotting those sound clips together at random. But Idol is live TV, and Ry-Ry is sort of its hub. At first, I suggested that Debbie go on in his stead — she assured me quite dryly that she could — but then I sincerely asked about the contingency plan. “We’ve got [So You Think You Can Dance host] Cat Deeley standing by,” she said. Huh. I’d never really considered the possibility of a Sea-mergency (emergen-Sea?), but it’s nice to know they’ve got it covered.

Given the impending GaGa, I was not shocked to learn that Perez Hilton was in attendance — I believe he may be living in her pool house at the moment — or that he apparently intended to sit out everything except her performance. I was a bit surprised to see a pink-streak-free Alexis Grace already back in the land of premature heartbreak, but happy to see her seated next to Jason Castro, since he’s always been good at keeping things like frustration and regret (and lyrics) at bay. There was no one else worth mentioning in the crowd this afternoon, as far as I could tell. The best sign hands down was the little girl next to me, who sported a two-sided affair that read “Adam is awesome, but…” on one side, and “he SCARES ME!” on the other. The air in the Idoldome was still, maybe even a little stuffy, as we waited for something, anything to happen.


How boring is Cory’s warm-up routine getting at this point? Tonight, while leading the room in the side-to-side dance step he holds so dear, the man checked his own iPhone. I mean, really, Cory? Seriously? I’m forbidden to bring my electronics inside, but you can G-Chat while on stage? The least you can do is pretend to care about your job, honey. I beg of you. We’re all in this together. Don’t make me come down there.

Anyway, Cory told the crowd they’d get a performance from David Cook (“Eee!”) that was pre-taped (“Boo!”), as well as a performance from Lady GaGa (“Eee!”) that was also pretaped — just kidding, oh har har. Plus, a “live” “performance” from Your!Top!9! that would not at all feature lip-synching so bad it could have been a kung-fu movie, and the chance to be in the same room with the judges, who he introduced one by one as they drifted in. Kara received the largest amount of indifference. There was also this weird high keening sound emanating from the rafters, like air being released very slowly from a giant balloon. These two things are probably unrelated, but I cannot be sure. The contestants got on the benches, Scottie Mac throwing his customary too-enthusiastic wave to the crowd; Ry-Ry emerged from his deathbed, looking exactly the same way he always looks; Simon wandered in with about a minute to spare; and THIS was a crowd who wasn’t giving a standing ovation to much of anything at the top of the show.

As Ryan explained the evening, Adam Lambert seemed by far the most excited about the GaGa, and Matt had that pukey look on his face again. Simon was turned around in his chair, I assume chatting with Castro. When asked about last night’s “broken record” incident, Kara informed America that she appreciates “the audience” — something of an oversimplification when it’s a family member who called you out, dear — and reminded us that she’s here for “helping.” Then she asked us to boo her, and not that many people bothered. Further proof of her awesomeness, I suppose! Meanwhile, it’s pretty clear that someone is doping Paula’s sno-cones again, and Debbie seemed to be keeping an extra close eye on her Ry-Ry lest whatever sick-fighting formula they pumped him full of should start to wear off.

Ford commercial time, and the Actually Have a Soul Patrol led the giggles and high-fives on the couch. I always enjoy watching the contestants watch themselves on video — it’s still such a novelty for them, and I want to soak up their innocence before it gets corrupted by the minuscule amount of fame some of these people will possibly experience someday, maybe. My reverie came to an end when the group leaped to its feet and hastily spread across the stage — Kris getting Scott to the keyboard with nanoseconds to spare — to dump the last shovels of dirt onto the coffin of “Don’t Stop Believing.” To stretch this metaphor entirely too far: if Tony Soprano whacked that song, American Idol just dragged the corpse out of the Hudson, chopped it into tiny pieces, and then set some of them on fire. Can we all please stop believing now, just for a little tiny while? Doesn’t anyone want to sing “Wheel in the Sky” or something for a change? And by “sing,” I mean “tape something that will play while you tense up your neck muscles unconvincingly for the camera”?

Then again, what do I know: When we went to commercial, Cory declared that to be “the best group number we’ve ever had.” A man brought a box full of bottled water to the parched contestants — hoo boy, those “live” “performances” can be exhausting! — as Danny Gokey pulled a fussy little rag out of his pocket and cleaned his glasses. Debbie came over to explain what I assume was the upcoming three-group elimination staging to the kids, the judges sprinted back in with over ten seconds to spare, and we returned live with the video about how crazy it is to be an American Idol finalist. Adam, Anoop, Allison, and Kris all got screams when they appeared on the jumbotron — PS to Kris: the sexy face is working just fine, dear — but no one came close to the volume of the Gokey supporters.

Loved, loved, loved the impersonation shtick, and not just because it let Allison and Matt shine. No, the producers should rewind the tape and watch that segment a couple more times, because I think they might eventually remember what an unstaged, honest moment looks like, and decide the show could benefit from a few more of those. (Caw! Caw!) One thing we don’t need more of: Wacky elimination scenarios involving groups, trick phrasing, or any further time-sucking emotional manipulation. Just tell us who’s in the bottom three, wouldja? All the choreography is just getting old, and by the time we got to the next commercial, everything in the Idoldome seemed to be swimming in slow motion. Allison and MJ wandered off backstage together. For the first time, I noticed there was an enormous man with a Secret Service earpiece obviously guarding the contestants, his eyes scanning the “mosh pit” like a T-1000 just looking to engage.

“Cory, if the mosh pit wants to sit and watch the tape, they can,” said Debbie, tipping us off that CookieFest 2009 was about to begin. Not many people took her up on that offer. Instead, they just stood there, not moving, as we watched Cook’s performance in total silence. There was a smattering of applause when he finished (and by “finished,” I mean “the tape of him stopped playing”), but mostly, no one seemed to care,  and that song he did is unlikely to send me rushing out to help further boost his platinum sales numbers. Sure, I was moved to hear him talk about struggling to sell a thousand copies of his pre-Idol work — please recall that I have always been fond of this boy — but my overriding thought during most of the Cook segment was that I hoped Adam Lambert was watching very, very closely, and noticing what’s become of Idol‘s most rockified winner in the year since being crowned. Is that something you want, Adam? Look carefully. Notice the eyes. Is that something you want?

“David Cook looks so much different in person, doesn’t he?” joked Cory as we went to break. “We promise you the rest of the show is live.” And let it be known right now that if given a choice between listening to whatever song David Cook snoozed his way through tonight on permanent repeat during every commercial break this show has for the rest of the season, and listening to Cory as he interviews some woman in the audience but never lets her speak into the microphone thus resulting in an endless and literally one-sided discussion of Matt Giraud and someone named “Mrs. Creevey,” I will choose the Cook marathon in a heartbeat, every single time.

The contestants went back to their elimination spots as we got ready to come back live, and the small girl next to me with the excellent Adam-is-scary sign started trying to get her man’s attention, to no avail. She was nervous to yell his name too loud, but I’ve never had a problem with such things, and so I got her mom and one of my fellow journos to join in as we hollered at Adam three times without him looking up. I suggested that perhaps Adam is secretly deaf, and wondered what would become of Scottie Mac and his “challenge” if that turned out to be true, but before anyone answered me, it was time to start getting rid of somebody. Kris = safe. Matt = needs to take a seat?!? Oh! Over there! Yay! That left us with Megan… Caw! Caw!

Lil = safe. Allison = WHAT THE WHAT?? Sigh. At least she and Megan were happy on the loser stools together, content to fist-bump and flap their arms and mimic the fan frenzy when Adam swept through. Some might view MJ as being a bad influence on Ms. Iraheta, that the younger contestant should be careful of falling prey to the same spazzy apathetic vibe that played a big part in Megan’s downfall, but I say screw it. Life’s too short. Meanwhile, Ryan was asking Randy to assess whether Anoop or Scott would complete the Bottom Three, and Randy correctly chose Anoop, since “Scott dd his thing.” Though, dude, If a posery performance of an Usher song is not Anoop’s “thing,” then I guess I don’t know what is.

After more snarky waving from Megan, we hit another commercial, during which the Idol crew loaded in what looked like a bus-and-truck production of Cabaret so that Lady GaGa could blow our minds. We could hear her warming up backstage — her mic was on, though she was nowhere to be seen — and the stage began to fill with dry ice. Debbie took a second to flap her wings with MJ, Allison, and Anoop, who’d been relocated to the stairs to clear enough room for the bubble piano, and Kara stopped by to chit-chat with Perez (note Hollywood food chain: Gaga > Perez > Kara). Everything seemed to suddenly speed up here, and before we knew it there were 10…9…8…7 seconds left and Ryan was sprinting up a flight of stairs at full not-sick velocity and then he introduced the GaGa, and American Idol as we knew it was forever changed.

Okay, maybe not. But she was really good. And that’s coming from someone who does not totally get the GaGa thing — though I guarantee I’ve tried harder than most. I mostly just think she’s a talented girl with a lot of ideas who maybe doesn’t need to follow through on every single one of them, and I think there’s no way we’ll know what kind of lasting impact she’s gonna have until that impact’s had a chance to last for longer than 15 minutes. What I do know, however, is that her Devil-Goes-Down-To-East-Berlin performance of “Poker Face” was easily the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen a guest star try on the Idoldome stage. Oh, if only I could have passed a note to Kara in that moment that said, simply, “ARTISTRY,” with an arrow pointing at the girl with the zipper on her face.

The response in the soundstage was, as they say, off the hizzle — and for us, her vocals were much stronger than what you heard on TV, where the mix did her no favors. The sleepytime crowd was awake and alert. Adam was once again trying to keep flames from flying out of his ass as he partied on one side of the stage; Megan Joy was throwing down some Elaine Benes-caliber moves on the other. Even Debbie was dancing, and maybe my favorite part of the entire show was watching Kara DioGuardi become completely stymied by GaGa’s rhythm shifts, which resulted in her jerking around like a windup toy on its last legs. Only one person seemed unaffected by the pants-off dance-off: Danny Gokey, who kind of looked confused. When the Lady finished, she classily introduced her violinist, DBR, but this got buried under all the cheering. Ry-Ry seemed a little thrown off and awkwardly asked Simon to talk about the Bottom Three, but GaGa was still on stage, and we were still cheering. When they cut to commercial, Ryan, Randy, Debbie, Kara, Paula, and Adam all made a beeline to congratulate the tiny divalette, mobbing her until she could barely be seen, and as she strode offstage — with Perez carrying her metaphorical train, which is probably one of his pool boy duties — Cory cracked, “I almost wore that same thing tonight.”

Not far left to go: We came back, Allison got sent to safety, there was more Caw!ing, MJ was declared the biggest loser, she immediately informed us it was fine, a tall man in the stage left pit began flapping his wrists so hard (above his head, of course) I thought he might catch air, Simon told a not-broken-up-about-it MJ that she was going home no matter what, MJ turned in one of the most f— you goodbye performances in Idol history, and then somehow still managed to choke me up by sending a “Baby, I’m coming home” to her son. Honestly, when all is said and done, I think Megan Joy (No Last Name) will be remembered as one of those people who didn’t need this show as much as it needed them, to fire up the audience and frustrate the judges and crack up the bored journalists and generally keep everything from sliding into an oblivion where the only options are the calm confidence of an Adam Lambert or the dull pandering of a Lil Rounds. “I don’t want to change who I am,” MJ said during her Underwood reel. “I’m gonna walk the plank, and it’s my plank. Let’s party.” Kiddo, I am with you 100 percent. Good luck out there.

Your turn, PopWatchers: What did you think? I couldn’t see Megan crying from my distant seat, so when I got home and watched the show back, it was hard to determine what caused those tears. Overcome with joy to see her son? Sad that she tanked her once-legitimate shot at the title by completely ceasing to try? Or broken up that she’s gotta leave her friends, what Ry-Ry called maybe the tightest bunch of contestants the show’s ever seen? Me, I’m going half A, half C. And I am also going to bed. One more for the road: Caw! Caw!