Tune up the acoustic guitars! Cue the adorable babies! And drag that plastic bin liner filled with the pulverized dreams of Angela Martin, Thaddeus Johnson, and J.B. Ahfua down to the curb! American Idol‘s ninth season is officially underway — and you can either try to ignore it by covering all your sensory organs with a protective layer of Paula Abdul’s nutty Tweets, or you can get ready to sacrifice your next 14 Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the altar of Fox’s prime-time ratings behemoth.
I’m obviously choosing the latter option, but it’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’m paid to ride this high-speed roller coaster of melisma, producer manipulation, and intermittent musical brilliance. I mean, what 500-channel sailor could resist the siren-like pull of season 9’s deep and potentially awesome field of female contestants? With the first round of live performances from Crystal Bowersox, Lilly Scott, Janell Wheeler, Lacey Brown, and Didi Benami less than a week away, my emotional state resembles a small, hyperactive poodle who’s about to get sprung from a constrictive handbag to run free in the neighborhood dog park. After all, it’s been almost nine months since Kris Allen and Adam Lambert took the stage at the Kodak for season 8’s Tuesday-night performance finale, and that’s a brutally long stretch — especially if, like me, you find the juggling mimes of America’s Got Talent too abhorrent to feed your addiction to reality singing competitions in the Idol off-season.
Of course, as I punch my fist in the air while chanting the words ”Bow-er-sox! Bow-er-sox!” I’ve got to keep reminding myself that it’s way too early to be backing any particular pony in the Season 9 Derby. At this point last year, we’d barely heard a peep from eventual winner Kris Allen and fourth-place finisher Allison ”The Rocker” Iraheta. And it would have been a long season indeed if I’d pledged allegiance to Brent Keith and Jasmine Murray after the top 24 announcement, and thereby closed my ears to less-hyped semifinalists. In other words, nine seasons in, regularly questioning the producers’ transparent agenda is just another aspect of a well-rounded Idol experience.
And while the last five weeks have found the Idol Hype Machine keeping its dial closer to a ”4” than the typical ”11,” I’d still have to contend there’s one mortal lock for the top 12 based on his body of work to date: Andrew Garcia. Which is what made it particularly peculiar to see the producers try to set up an end-of-episode showdown juxtaposing Andrew’s ”final judgment” against Thaddeus Johnson’s. If there are 10 people in America who watched tonight’s show and believed the latter kid had a mutt’s chance in Westminster of upending Andrew, then even those gullible souls likely changed their minds after the younger contestant announced ”America, get ready for Thaddeus Johnson!” (Alas, he dropped the key words ”to go home” at the end of his sentence. Badum-bum!)
In all seriousness, though, everyone knows that pride indeed goeth before a fall on Idol, and even the slightest hint of arrogance will not go unnoticed or unpunished by fans — or by the production itself. In Thaddeus’ case, it might’ve been less painful (not to mention infinitely more enjoyable) to take a trip on the Hogwarts Express and put a hex on his own Idol chances than to go around boasting how he ”killed it” on his good-not-great version of ”Man in the Mirror.” Still, I was horrified to discover Idol‘s powers-that-be concluded that a teenager’s misguided belief in his own infallibility was an offense punishable by having a camera follow him — sobbing and emotionally devastated — into a bathroom stall for all of America to enjoy. Oh, Ken Warwick and Cecile Frot-Coutaz, I’ve taken the liberty of calling ahead to book you seats on a cruise liner to Hell. (Hot-poker ”therapy” on the lido deck every day at noon, 4:00, and 7:00!)
Thankfully, tonight’s episode ended not with Thaddeus’ meltdown (bleeped word included) but with Andrew’s far happier display of waterworks after sailing into the semifinals. I wish Andrew’s package had aired solo — a face-off of Alex Lambert and J.B. Ahfua, for example, would’ve been a lot more suspenseful — but my annoyance with such lame-o editing was washed away by the bespectacled dad’s tears. ”Sorry I can’t talk to you,” Andrew said to Seacrest, head buried in his hands. ”Usually I’m the cool guy.” And just like that, in one self-deprecating moment, the men’s front-runner went from ”smooth re-arranger of Paula Abdul popsterpieces” to a real-life human being with big hopes and his own share of fear and insecurity. If I had any advice for Andrew, though, it might be to think about a different pair of glasses; his current choice of super-thick, square frames hang so low they sometimes threaten to obscure his eyes. And as any former Idol will tell you, a direct gaze into the camera is worth an awful lot of votes — even in a post-Paula Abdul world.
[How was that for ridiculous over-analysis? You thought you’d come to EW.com, not Psychology Today, right?]
NEXT: Crystal Bowersox wins us over even more