”Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”
I know some of you are asking, ”What’s a nice Wizard of Oz quotation doing in a TV Watch like this?” But tonight, in the immediate wake of what will from here on be referred to as Paulagate, I’m feeling as duped and bewildered as Dorothy at the exact moment she realized the great and powerful Oz was just a sad old man, one who didn’t have the power to send her back to Kansas, let alone provide her ragtag pals with a brain, a heart, and some courage.
Am I being melodramatic? Yeah, of course. But I can’t help myself after witnessing the moment American Idol‘s loopiest judge made what is indisputably the biggest (and most credibility-crushing) gaffe in the show’s seven-season history. (Yeah, even worse than Janay Castine’s season 4 semifinal rendition of ”Hit ‘Em Up Style.”)
At the midway point of tonight’s Neil Diamond week performance episode, after each of the five remaining Idol contenders had sung one song apiece, Ryan Seacrest appeared to call an audible (perhaps the show was running ahead of schedule?) and asked David Cook, David Archuleta, Jason Castro, and Brooke White to join him and Syesha Mercado on stage. Ryan then asked each of the judges to quickly weigh in on the contestants’ performances, before the Idols returned for their second numbers.
Let’s roll the tape and get Paula’s critique: ”Jason, the first song I loved hearing your lower register, which we never really hear. The second song, I felt like your usual charm wasn’t…it was missing for me, it kind of left me a little empty. And the two songs made me feel like you’re not fighting hard enough to get into the top four.”
When Randy jumped in and reminded Paula that the contestants had only performed one song at that point in the telecast, the typically bewildered ”Straight Up” singer gasped, then declared, ”Oh my God, I thought you sang twice!”
Me? I hit the pause button on my DVR, needing a moment to catch my breath from a combination of shock, embarrassment, and outrage.
I don’t for one second buy the explanation given by Paula herself, that she was momentarily confused and was reading her notes for David Cook; if that was the case, how come she changed course, seconds later, and told Cook he was ”fantastic”? And I find it hard to believe Paula’s flub was simply the result of her boarding the La-La Express; her critique of Jason’s performance was far too specific. (Note the use of ”charm,” a noun attributed to the Dreadlocked Dude all season.)
Nope, as far as I’m concerned, Paula’s blunder heard ‘cross the nation — click here to watch a video clip and to read Adam B. Vary’s report of how it played inside the Idol studio — can only be explained one of two ways:
A. Paula took notes during Idol dress rehearsals and used them (at least in part) to critique the televised live performances.
B. Paula was reading from notes given to her by the show’s producers.
Either way, Idol has some serious explaining to do.
The idea that Paula, or any of the judges, would base their comments on dress rehearsals is preposterous. In my mind, Paula, Simon, and Randy should neither see nor hear the contestants’ warm-ups, and even if they do, how is it that they’re not explicitly instructed to give feedback only on the same set of performances the viewing public sees on their TV screens?
And if there’s a chance that something more nefarious is going on, that Paula’s comments are pre-scripted by someone other than her, then I’ve got a feeling I won’t be the only Idol fan wondering if there’s any way Fox can make amends and give me a reason not to walk away from the show I’ve loved and obsessed over for seven straight seasons.
I know, I know, a lot of you are probably shaking your heads, wondering if I’m taking my conspiracy theory a little too far. Or else you’re thinking, ”We’ve already seen the man behind the curtain, Slezak! He’s in all the ads for So You Think You Can Dance!” But consider: Only seven nights ago, I was wondering aloud in my TV Watch column if the judges were reading off pre-written cue cards after they failed to call out Little David for forgetting his lyrics on ”Think of Me.” At the time, I wasn’t being literal.
NEXT: Actual criticism of actual performances