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American Idol recap: This Is Thriller Night!

As the top 13 contestants tackle the Michael Jackson songbook, multiple serious contenders emerge. Meanwhile, Ryan hints at a possibly troubling twist!

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American Idol 0310
Ray Mickshaw/Fox(2)

American Idol

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

I’ve complained quite a bit about American Idol over the first 17 episodes of its eighth season, and I have a feeling I’ll be kvetching even more vigorously after Wednesday night’s telecast — especially if that ”surprise change to the rules” Ryan hinted at this evening matches my deepest, darkest suspicions. Yes, somebody call 9-1-1, because I fear that the people responsible for arranging not one, not two, but three live performances by Jasmine Murray over the last couple weeks are about to commit felony (ham)burglary by stealing control back from the voting public when it comes to the show’s eliminations.

Board up your doors, people, Kara DioGuardi is coming — and she doesn’t want to take you shopping!

While we’re waiting for the police to arrive, though, let’s focus on some good news for a change. All week long, I’d been fearing a 13-singer pileup when our still-somewhat-unknown vocalists tackled Michael Jackson tunes to kick off the season 8 finals. I mean, let’s face it: The King of Pop’s songbook is a musical minefield for the amateur singer, filled with impossible cadences (”Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough,” ”Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin”’), stylized stuff meant only for Mr. Jackson himself (”Thriller,” ”Bad”), and a handful of tracks that really aren’t gonna sound good on anyone in the post-Bubbles era (”Ben,” ”ABC”).

But a funny thing happened tonight: In a season where I’ve felt more cynical about, enraged by, and (dare I admit) disengaged from my very most favorite television show, I’d say that seven (maybe even eight) of the 13 finalists stepped up with performances that proved, as Randy Jackson might so ineloquently put it, that they’re ”in it to win it.” Mind you, I’m not heading to iTunes tomorrow morning to download all of ’em — $7.92 is a lot of money in this economy, folks! — but when more than half of the field makes you want to (internally) get up and boogie like Paula, then you know something is going right. And better still, no member of the top 13 is sending me to bed with nightmares of a barrel-racing beauty queen brutally driving a Q-Tip into my ear, the way Kristy Lee Cook did in the opening week of the finals last year with her countrified ”Eight Days a Weak.” (Nope, that’s not a typo. Thanks.)

That said, a visit from the Lunesta butterfly might be helpful in getting me over my fears of what Kara, Randy, Paula, and Simon have in store for us (and our collective voting power) tomorrow, considering that all too often tonight, their critiques ended up being a little pitchy, just a’aight, not knowing who they were in the competition, etc. Let’s start by discussing…

The three contestants who deserved a little more praise than they received: Allison Iraheta, Kris Allen, and Alexis Grace. Now can we all raise our lighters in unison for the most convincing rocker chick to ever grace the Idol stage? Yes, it’s Allison Iraheta, who took ”Give in to Me,” a completely obscure album track from Jackson’s Dangerous album and delivered it with such passion and confidence, I felt like I should call Ticketmaster and let them retroactively charge my credit card a couple hundred bucks just for the privilege of hearing her. With her fuchsia hair blown out into wispy waves, and clad in a cropped, black leather jacket, Allison infused the guitar-heavy track with a world-weariness that seemed completely contradictory to her tender age. (She’s only 16, dawgs!)

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