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American Idol recap: Finding Hacks in Cali

The San Francisco auditions showcase only one clear contender but several dubious calls by Paula, Kara, and Randy

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American Idol 012009

American Idol

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

This morning, while eating breakfast and watching some coverage of the presidential inauguration, I came to the realization that I’ve got a little bit of an American Idol problem. I could tell you all the ways that Fox’s ubiquitous talent competition dominates my work life, overtakes my social life, and occasionally invades my dream life from January to May each year, but I think the core of my downward psychological spiral can be summed up by sharing the Facebook profile status I posted right after my last bite of Nature Valley Oats ‘n Honey cereal: ”Michael hopes the Obamas have their White House DVR installed in time to record tonight’s American Idol.”

But here’s the thing: If I had known this morning what I know now — namely, that the third episode of Idol‘s eighth season would be as useless as a dollar-store umbrella in a hurricane, as pointless as a Hotel for Dogs sequel, as flavorless as boiled Wonder Bread — I’d have told the Obamas, and anyone else worried about missing the San Francisco auditions, not to bother.

To make matters worse, on paper, tonight’s telecast had all the characteristics of a winner: A slimmed-down one-hour episode, with the show’s producers choosing to show footage from seven of the 12 successful auditions coming out of the City by the Bay. The problem is, though, we’re more likely to see ”Kennedy Center Honors…Bikini Girl” in our lifetime than to witness most of tonight’s featured Golden Tickets recipients coming anywhere close to the season 8 finals.

The sole exception to that rule could be 26-year-old Adam Lambert, whose clear and pleasing take on ”Bohemian Rhapsody” drew one of Simon’s oldest and most dreaded critiques — ”theatrical.” Which raises some questions: Aren’t most Queen songs theatrical? Isn’t Bohemian Rhapsody the band’s most theatrical song of all? And maybe, just maybe, could theatrical serve as code for ”copped to seeing a Paula Abdul concert at age 10” or ”openly admired Kara DioGuardi’s accessories”? Which might be construed as ”not quite manly enough to activate music-downloading impulses of tween girl armies”? I don’t know: Maybe I’m reading too much into it all, but I think there was a clear and righteous subtext in Kara’s frustration with Simon during the deliberations over Adam’s fate. The dude out-sang, out-emoted, and out-charmed at least 75 percent of the Idol hopefuls we’ve seen this season; he should’ve been sent to the next round with the speed and enthusiasm of Paula getting distracted by a shiny object.

I mean, really, compare Adam’s potential to that Tatiana Del Toro (aka ”Prom Girl”), who got sent through by the judges for the simple reason that she was all too willing to embrace the role of ”ball of yarn” in their enthusiastic game of ”mean kitties.” Oh, imagine the fun they’ll have batting her around during Hollywood Week!

NEXT: It’s Idol prom time