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'American Idol' recap: Rage against the machine

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American Idol
Frank Micelotta/American Idol/Getty Images(2)

Without rage, there is no Idol.

Indeed, for every thrilling David-vs.-David finale that restores your faith and fandom in the nation’s most popular talent competition, there’s usually an infuriating counter-agent: Paula’s critique of Jason Castro last season — before the dude had even performed; the cockroach-like survival skills of Sanjaya Malakar and Kristy Lee Cook; the sight of Fantasia, LaToya, and J.Hud in the bottom three, with John Stevens and Jasmine Trias sitting on the safety benches.

These are the maddening moments that prompt the all-too-common refrains of a disgruntled American Idol nation: ”I’m never watching this show again!” ”If this keeps up, I’m not tuning in for the rest of season!” ”Why the hell am I still watching this program?” We’ve all said (or thought) these words, or some close approximation. But in Idol‘s eighth season, it seems the mutinous feelings are coming on stronger and earlier than ever before.

It doesn’t help, of course, that the show’s producers seem hell bent on spoiling their good thing. From the biggest decisions (giving a Wild Card spot to the insipid Jasmine Murray; not even considering the vastly superior Mishavonna Henson) to the smallest (destroying any sense of suspense or excitement for the third consecutive set of voting results), Ken Warwick, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, and the entire Idol production team seem to be treating their multimillion-dollar franchise with all the care and attention of a disinterested high-school sophomore taking a multiple-choice exam and filling out ”A” for every answer. Sure, they’re bound to get a few things right, but for the most part, the majority of season 8 has felt truly and arbitrarily wrong.

But before we dive deep into tonight’s troubling one-hour telecast, let me continue our new results-night tradition of penning a little ditty, this one set to the tune of Tracy Chapman’s ”Give Me One Reason.” Yeah, I’m paying tribute one last time to the lovely and talented human punching bag Kristen McNamara, who took one final sucker-punch to the kidneys tonight when the judges passed her over for a Wild Card spot in favor of Tatiana del Toro. Click here if you want a little musical accompaniment from Miss Chapman, and by all means, sing along — you can’t do any worse than the Idol backup vocalists this season, right?

Give me one reason to stay tuned, and I’ll watch the Wild Card show/
Give me one reason to stay tuned; quick, before my head explodes/
Yeah, since you screwed Felicia Barton/
You’ve got to make me change my mind

Kara, I got your number, you’re a soulless corporate shill/
You gave props to Jasmine Murray, even though her voice is shrill/
Take your package artists, /
Back to where you came from,/
You are no Paula

Give me one reason to stay tuned, ’cause tonight’s show really blew/
Give me one reason to stay tuned, Ju’Not Joyner where are you?/
Said I can’t go on without Idol/
You’ve got to make me change my mind

I don’t want no Tatiana, with her tears and crying fits/
I don’t want no Tatiana, she’s a mediocre ditz/
I just want some Mishavonna — how I love her voice to bits

Oh handsome Ricky Braddy, come and give us what we need/
And that redhead Jesse Langseth, well, she’s a’ight I concede/
But if Matt Giraud sings Coldplay once again/
I suspect my ears will bleed

Give me one reason to stay tuned, ’cause this show has gone to poop/
Give me one reason to stay tuned, okay I’ll tune in for Anoop/
I miss singers playing instruments/
You’ve got to make me change my mind

All right, dawgs! That was the molten-hot lava bomb! (It’s official: There’s no way to say that without sounding like an a–hat.)

NEXT: Oh, the (lack of) drama!

And now, onto our results! Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone was shocked that Lil Rounds, Scott MacIntyre, and Jorge Nuñez scored spots on the Silver Stools of Safety — but again, it felt like the show’s producers worked overtime to drain the announcements of even the slightest bit of energy. That said, credit must be given for announcing Lil’s inevitable advance first: The excessive amount of hype she brought into the semifinals, combined with the pimp slot, a solid performance of ”Be Without You,” and borderline religious adulation from the judges made her the evening’s mortal lock for the top 12.

Once again, though, Lil’s encore performance of the Mary J. Blige hit fell a lil’ short of perfect for me. Granted, I have to give the woman props for picking one of the better songs of the season 8 semifinals — it’s current, it’s got a beat, it’s not an ”inspirational” ballad — and performing with abundant confidence, but her lower register is like a slightly wonky restaurant table leg that can throw off an otherwise terrific meal: The second you forget there’s a problem, it wobbles ever so slightly, and makes you wonder if you should flag the waiter for help. Okay, maybe that analogy was a little overwrought, but considering Lil downgraded from that cute black dress with the canary yellow top on Tuesday to something from the Crate & Barrel tablecloth collection tonight, I couldn’t help but go there.

Let me take this paragraph as an opportunity to call out Kara for the annoying comment that she expects ”ridiculous vocals every single week” from Lil. Um, isn’t it a little early for that kind of prediction, seeing how Lil has only had one live televised performance to date? Or have the producers already given Kara her scripts going up to Top Four week? Then again, Ryan prompted the exchange. And you know the old saying, ”ask a stupid question…”.

Anyhow, with Lil up and over the Top 12 hurdle, I expected the producers to milk the suspense out of the fact that Scott, Jorge, Ju’Not, Kristen, and Felicia, as well as Von Smith and Kendall Beard, all carried some small flicker of a chance to grab the remaining two positions, but they went and whiffed it by lumping Scott with Kendall, Arianna Afsar, Taylor Vaifanua, and Alex Wagner-Trugman. As a few of you pointed out last week, under this season’s ”one guy, one woman, and next top vote-getter” format, if Kendall, Arianna, or Taylor advanced, it would mean the remaining women awaiting judgment on the benches would be automatically eliminated. And Alex, well, he had about an impala’s chance in the lion’s cage of beating out Scott. The producers could’ve at least given us a brief moment of uncertainty if they’d grouped Scott with Von and Ju’Not, and then lumped Jorge together with Felicia and Kristen for the ”non-gender-specific slot,” but apparently I took more time writing this paragraph then they did plotting out the pacing of what’s almost certain to be the evening’s No. 1 rated network television program.

Alrighty then! Suffice it to say, I hope the judges are right in their assessment that Scott is a much more effective artist behind the piano, because his repeat performance of ”Mandolin Rain” was pretty sleepy. In fact, my mind started wandering to thoughts of the Moroccan-style chicken pie I had baking in the oven (the recipe is from this month’s Bon Appetit, and it’s pretty damn good!) until Scott botched that final dramatic run and brought my attention back to the screen.

And finally, there was Jorge, a guy whose personality is increasingly harder to resist, even if he tends to use his powerful singing voice to rather old-fashioned effect. I will cop to laughing out loud when the Puerto Rico native declared ”it’s freezing here” regarding the frigid 78-degree temperature in L.A., and I liked the way he expressed his excitement about advancing to the top 12 without seeming disrespectful to Ju’Not.

NEXT: The Ju’Not injustice

Of course, Jorge’s advance was made significantly easier for me by the fact that I knew with every fiber of my being that Ju’Not would be getting a chance to compete during Thursday’s Wild Card telecast, right? Right, judges? Right, Simon? You have ears. You know Ju’Not’s not only got a smooth, mellifluous tone to his voice, but that he’s one of the few top 36 contestants this season who didn’t settle for mere mimicry of an established hit, instead choosing to completely reinvent the Plain White T’s ”Hey There Delilah” on Tuesday. YOU KNOW THIS, YES? AND YET YOU CHOSE TO LET THE DUDE’S ”IDOL JOURNEY” END TONIGHT WITHOUT THE SLIGHTEST ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF HIS EXCELLENCE?

This, I do not get, Simon Cowell. I would expect such outright frakkery from Randy or Kara, but not from you. And Good Paula, who has been with us for so many nights this season, I’d almost forgotten she has an unrepentantly flighty twin, I am disappointed with you as well. These Wild Card picks…they are an outrage! If I spoke another language, I’d be so overcome with emotion that I’d have to chastise you in a second tongue. That’s how irritated I am!

But what was I expecting? I knew we were in trouble when Ryan explained that 20 contestants were in the Red Room — Group 3’s nine eliminated singers, plus 11 of the 18 evictees from Groups 1 and 2 who’d ”made an impression” on the judges — and Mishavonna Henson wasn’t included.

What to the what-what? Mishavonna, whose ”Drops of Jupiter” was so wonderfully on pitch and restrained and heartfelt, was apparently considered among a septet of utterly unspeakable, unmentionable vocalists along with Casey ”eff the Police” Carlson, Anne Marie ”not Aretha” Boskovich, Stephen ”keyboard slam” Fowler, Stevie ”oh so wrong” Wright, Jeanine ”legs” Vailes, and Kai ”shaggy mane” Kalama?

Lucky for Mishavonna — but not so great for those of us who think of Idol as a singing competition — she soon ended up in great company, along with Ju’Not, Felicia, and Kristen, on the Wild Card ”have nots” list. The other folks left empty-handed in the Red Room were: Brent ”I’m country’ Keith, Jackie ”lycra pants” Tohn, Dude No Longer Wearing Red Headband for ”Comedic” Effect, and Matt ”welder” Breitzke, plus aforementioned Group 3 members Alex, Arianna, Felicia, Nathaniel, and Kendall.

NEXT: The odds

I really wished that tonight’s format had forced each judge to select two singers and justify their decisions to the public, but instead, they made it clear the octet of Wild Card holders scored their spots through group decision.

And that leaves eight folks — Ricky Braddy, Anoop Desai, Jesse Langseth, Tatiana Del Toro, Von Smith, Megan Corkrey, Matt Giraud, and Jasmine Murray — competing for what’s believed to be three remaining spots in the season 8 finals (although wise-guys are predicting each judge will get to put through one singer at the end of tomorrow’s performance show, resulting in a top 13).

With six men and three women already in the finals, I wonder how much gender parity will play a role in the judges’ decisions. Idol has already announced it’s not wedded to an equal male-female split for its top 12 this season, but an eight-man, four-woman top 12 would be pretty testosterone-heavy for a major TV show whose producers and marketers are most likely obsessed with demographics. Whether or not that plays a role, here’s my breakdown of the Wild Card contenders in 12 words or less, as well as my very unscientific odds of each of ’em advancing to the finals:

Anoop: Huge existing fanbase plus Simon’s ringing endorsement. This is his to lose. 2-1
Ricky: Best pure vocal among Wild Card contenders; damn his jeans were tight. 5-2
Megan: ”Package artists” can afford a couple wonky notes. Plus, she’s not dull. 3-1
Jesse: Voice memorable for right reasons; personality memorable for wrong ones. Hmmm. 6-1
Von: Don’t wear hat; hair is kicky! Room for him and Adam? 10-1
Tatiana: Tears looked faker than Ryan’s hair color. Voice? Seriously? Not all that. 12-1
Matt: Face screamed ”Of course I’m Wild Card!” Should’ve whispered ”thank you” instead. 15-1
Jasmine: Not as good as she thinks she is. 25-1

What do you think of the Wild Card picks and their chances of advancing on Thursday? Were there any omissions that enraged you? Are you expecting a surprise twist by the end of the episode? What did you think of the navy-blue valance Paula wore tonight? Did you notice how she dodged Ryan’s question about how season 8’s finalists match up to previous seasons? And was it just me or did it sound like the contestants were lip-synching their group rendition of Katy Perry’s ”Hot and Cold” tonight?