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American Idol recap: Welcome to the Dolly House

With two glaring exceptions (sorry, girls!), the contestants’ takes on the Parton songbook made us believe this might indeed be the most talented group ever

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American Idol

TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, Ryan Seacrest
Reality TV

Watching the nine remaining American Idol contestants perform selections from the Dolly Parton songbook tonight, I suddenly experienced a childhood flashback to those picture puzzles that used to come in My Weekly Reader — you know, the ones where you’d have to look at a scene and pick out the items that didn’t belong. The whole jam-packed episode could be summed up as ”good performance,” ”good performance,” great performance,” ”can opener hanging from the banana tree.”

In other words, that’s my complicated way of saying that Ramiele Malubay and Kristy Lee Cook simply and unequivocally do not belong on the same stage as Carly Smithson, David Cook, Michael Johns, Jason Castro, David Archuleta, Syesha Mercado, and Brooke White, a septet of singers who might, if they collectively pull it together and consistently perform up to par, live up to the early-season mantra that we’re looking at the most talented group! of finalists in Idol history. (Except for maybe season 5.) (Ish.)

Indeed, we’re at the stage of the Idol season where rapidly cementing loyalties threaten to tear households and friendships apart. I almost hung up on my mother tonight when she (again) refused to utter the words ”Jason Castro,” just because she thinks his hair (with its wooden beads and occasional entourage of fruit flies) looks like one of the macramé plant hangers she used to make back in the ’70s, but we quickly united in the common belief that America must scrape Ramiele and Kristy Lee from the competition like unwanted plaque from Ryan Seacrest’s teeth. (Perhaps it was just me, but those chompers looked exceedingly sparkly tonight!)

And isn’t that something all of us can agree on?

Surely, no one in his or her right mind would want to see Carly get booted before the dastardly duo, not after her chill-inducing reinvention of ”Here You Come Again.” And, no, I would not include Simon under the ”in his right mind” heading after his ”good not great” critique of the Irish barmaid’s performance. Heck, I even took issue with Randy’s understated contention that Carly had ”maybe” given the performance of the night. Um, maybe the performance of the season, dawg!

I mean, seriously, how come certain contestants get credit for taking risks with song stylings, and yet when Carly strips down a well-known mid-tempo romp and turns it into a searing acoustic ballad, none of the judges even mentions the arrangement? And what’s more, her risk paid off. The way she held back on the gale-force belting, taking care with every word of the lyric until she built to that final, wondrous glory note, I barely had time to take note of her ho-hum red jeans and bulky black blouse. I realize Simon’s inner record exec is sizing up Carly, and her tattoos, and her imperfect teeth, and her not-size-zero physique, and it makes him say things like ”Have a word with whoever’s dressing you.” But seriously, dude, Ashlee Simpson is about to release her third major-label album: Why are you hell-bent on crushing the self-esteem of a gifted vocalist right at the moment she should be basking in the afterglow of her best live performance in seven weeks?

NEXT: A little bit rock & roll