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'American Idol' recap: Oil's well that ends well

Texas roughneck Michael Sarver exits season 8 on the classiest of notes, while Matt Giraud takes an unexpected trip to the bottom 3

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Frank Micelotta/American Idol/Getty Images

If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect someone snuck into my apartment while I was eating dinner tonight and slipped a mickey into my Blue Moon. The whole evening is something of a blur — hey now, don’t jump to conclusions; I only had one bottle! — but here’s the patchwork of memories floating around in my brain: Ruben Studdard singing ”Gonna Make You Sweat.” Megan (Joy and Pain) Corkrey reclining on the safety couches. Matt Giraud flirting with elimination. A possessed (and ravenous) Smokey Robinson repeatedly menacing a caterwauling Joss Stone. Paula Abdul’s cleavage being only a flimsy strap and decorative buckle away from escaping the Idol soundstage and going off to fulfill its destiny as part of the cast of season 9 of Dancing With the Stars. And Adam Lambert emerging from the midst of a horribly choreographed dance routine to clutch the mic stand and belt portions of ”Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Was I having a nightmare fueled by sleep deprivation and Kara DioGuardi’s sudden obsession with the word ”artistry”? Was it a gauzy dream floating on the dulcet wings of my iTunes download of Allison Iraheta’s ”Papa Was a Rolling Stone”? No, actually, it was just a special Thursday-night edition of the American Idol results-show extravaganza!

In honor of the truly bizarre telecast — and a very classy exit by Texas oil roughneck Michael Sarver — I present this week’s Idol-themed ditty, set to the tune of Marvin Gaye’s ”Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Click here if you want to sing along with a little musical accompaniment; heck, even if you’re not sure you’ve got enough soul to successfully pull off a Motown number, just remember it didn’t stop the guy whose name rhymes with Hot Back-on-fire. (Oh snap!)

Ooh, I wonder if the judges knew
That they came across so rude and crude
As they faked it through deliberation
While the oil-rig guy — he begged for salvation
It took me by surprise I must say,
To see Matt land in danger’s way
Don’t you know that…

The results show’s on the decline
Now the kids don’t even sing live
Oh the results show’s on the decline
And I’m just about to lose my mind. Dancing Paula, yeah.

They say that a man ain’t supposed to cry,
So the roughneck holds his tears inside
Losing Idol‘s not the end you see
But he lost to Megan Corkrey
Watch this Hybrid video from Ford
Damn Simon’s T-shirt has got me floored
Oh yeah…

The results show’s on the decline
Maybe Nigel shouldn’t have resigned
Oh the results show’s on the decline
And I’m just about to lose my mind. Go home, Kara, yeah.

NEXT: Group synch

Okay, Idol audience: The applause sign is flashing. Don’t force us to activate the shock paddles in your seats, the way we do to ensure you clap and cheer for the weekly ”Ford Music Video.” Seriously, didn’t it sound like the vocals on ”Pocketful of Sunshine” were generated using computer algorithms based on the speech and singing patterns of the season 8 top 10, rather than having been recorded by actual live human beings?

But then again, it seems like the results-show experience is getting further and further away from reality altogether. We’ve known for weeks now — just using our eyes and ears — that the group performances were being lip-synched. (Thanks, Jorge!) This week, however, after a New York Times report confirmed the use of a pre-recorded track, Idol‘s producers decided to give us a weird hybrid of music video and live stage performance, which (naturally) failed on both counts. It didn’t help that I was completely startled by the way Idol cut from a shot of the contestants on the couches, to some footage of Hitsville USA, to the image of Allison, Lil (getting the primo center spot), and Megan bathed in white light at center stage, singing ”You Keep Me Hangin’ On.” The middle segment — pairing Lil and Matt, and Allison and Scott on ”You’re All I Need to Get By” — served only one purpose: To amuse me with the notion of how much harder it’ll be for the producers to keep these segments heterosexually chugging along if Megan gets booted next week and leaves a six-guy, two-girl imbalance. And finally, there was the ”Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” portion of our show, with Lil standing front-and-center once again, Kris struggling with some very basic (and very hideous) dance steps, and Adam magically leaping into and out of formation to riff on the chorus.

All of this kind of raises an important question: If the Idols don’t have the time or energy to deliver a live group performance, and if 97.9 percent of the audience doesn’t enjoy said group routines in the first place, why don’t the show’s producers kill ’em altogether and find some other less unappealing way to fill the result show telecast?

Then again, maybe those savvy producers are onto something: By starting off the night with something so abominable, the remaining live performances from VIP guests can’t look too bad by comparison. Take Ruben Studdard’s rendition of his latest single, ”Together.” So what if the song seems to have no discernable melody? And so what if Ruben was sweating so profusely it looked as though he was having trouble keeping his eyes open against the tidal wave of perspiration? The season 2 winner’s voice is so mellifluous, and his demeanor remains so charming, it’s hard not to feel good whenever he takes the stage. And Ryan Seacrest’s penchant for using his bare hands to wipe the glistening beads off the big fella’s bald head continues to be as endearing as it is disturbing.

NEXT: Stevie Wonder steals the show

I enjoyed Ruben’s number more than Smokey Robinson and Joss Stone’s duet of ”You’re the One for Me” — not because Smokey’s voice isn’t in stellar shape at the age of 69 — but because, well, for starters, I’ve never really gotten the appeal of Ms. Stone, and tonight, her vocal was perhaps better than a Tatiana Del Toro, but not nearly as on-point as, say, a Kristen McNamara. (Oh yeah, I brought her name into it again!) Perhaps more disconcerting, though, was the fact that the duo chose a song that was dull as dry toast, and that the visual of aspect of their performance was akin to a waking nightmare. Let’s sum it up in a mathematical equation: Lusty-Eyed Old Man + Vacant Looking Young Woman x Sexytimes Lyrics = Queasy Tumtee. Note Simon Cowell looked quite reluctant to join the standing O.

Stevie Wonder, on the other hand, was all kinds of awesome, even though I am heatedly opposed to the concept of the medley. (Seriously, whenever I hear Cher weld together pieces of ”Half Breed,” ”Gypsies Tramps and Thieves,” and ”Dark Lady,” a little piece of me dies. And yes, that is officially the gayest sentence I have ever written.) But on that note, oh how I would have preferred to hear Stevie sing ”My Cherie Amour” or ”Superstition” or ”Overjoyed” (though not so much ”All About the Love Again”) from beginning to end, rather than string snippets of them together like priceless charms dangling from a 99 cent chain. But whatever: After almost five decades in the business, the man still knows how to get the party started. And I absolutely loved seeing Paula and the contestants — Kris, Anoop, and Lil in particular — spaz out only feet away from a living legend. (I might’ve thrown Kara into that mix for good measure, but she seemed so aware of the camera when she posed and sang along, that she is disqualified from participating in a sentence that begins with ”I absolutely loved.” Oh yeah, it’s like that, y’all.)

I got a huge laugh coming back from the break, though, when Ryan told Michael he was the lowest vote-getter and needed to sing for his life, and Michael responded with what appeared to be a very spontaneous: ”I have to sing after Stevie. Oh crap.”

No surprise, though, to get a punch line from the tall Texan, seeing how he conducted himself with total class and good manners tonight, maintaining a huge smile through almost the entire hour, and immediately pointing to Matt when Ryan asked Randy which of the bottom three contestants deserved to head back to the safety couches.

NEXT: Michael’s classy goodbye

I can only imagine most of you were as shocked as I, however, when Ryan instead told Scott he was safe (while never actually saying whether he was the second- or third-lowest vote-getter) and that Matt was going to remain on the chopping block for the remainder of the episode. Come ON: Choosing Scott’s ”You Can’t Hurry Love” over Matt’s ”Let’s Get It On” would be like opting for stale Melba toast over a helping of McDonald’s French fries.

I can’t quite figure out why Simon, who used the word ”brilliant” to describe Matt’s song choice on Wednesday, felt it necessary to kick the dude while he was down tonight. But his sour-faced answer when Ryan asked him if he planned to use the Judges’ Save — ”They’re there because the public don’t like them very much. You can’t reverse that.” — seemed like a not-well-disguised effort to create some Friday morning water-cooler buzz:

”That Simon! He’s so hardcore. He didn’t give an inch to that Matt Giraud kid, and what’s more, he stepped out in front of 25 million viewers wearing a Hanes V-neck undershirt that comes in a three pack for $10 at Target. Talk about keepin’ it real, dawg!”

Brit, please! Seacrest delivered a far more scathing (and subtle) zinger during the show intro tonight with his introduction of the show’s newest judge: ”Three words for you: Kara DioGuardi.” Retract those claws, Seacrest; your name ain’t Wolverine!

Anyhow, the good news is Matt will live to sing another week, and while one might argue that Michael deserved to outlast Scott or Megan (or perhaps both), it’s also tough to argue that a spot on the Idol summer tour wasn’t about the very best prize the dude could’ve hoped for. And while the judges’ extended and wildly unconvincing attempt to act like they were truly deliberating during Michael’s ”Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” might have seemed too cruel and too phony by half, let’s be thankful Michael didn’t play into their trumped-up drama. His vocal tonight may not have been the stuff of an American Idol champ, but thanks to his stellar attitude, the guy leaves the show a winner.

What did you think of tonight’s show, especially the pre-recorded group number? Did anyone notice Megan’s wacky face when Ryan recounted the judges saying her Motown performance was a ”horrible trainwreck”? Who else heard Paula’s loopy ”I love you, Stevie!” before Mr. Wonder began his performance? And was the word ”Deliverance” on Michael’s shirt a cinematic tribute, or perhaps his subliminal message about the likelihood that he’d be delivered from his Idol journey by hour’s end?

Do share your thoughts in the comments section below, and if you’d like to be a call-in guest on Idolatry, do shoot an email with your thoughts on this week in Idol (along with a daytime phone number) to idolatry@ew.com. Also: If you missed signing up this week for EW.com’s Idol Prediction Challenge, please do it now! Even if you missed scoring on Motown night, we keep tabs on week-to-week winners on our leaderboard, and hey, how often do you get a chance to humiliate me (plus a number of my Idolatry co-hosts) with your Idol prognostication skills.