By Adam B. Vary
Updated August 03, 2020 at 08:20 PM EDT
Credit: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

I was thrown all out of whack at last night’s results show, Popwatchers. No recognizable mashup background music. The only celebs in the house were, er, A.J. Tabaldo, Sabrina Sloan and Ashley the Crying Girl. (Yes, she was there. Again. Yes, she was crying. Again.) LaKisha “Kiki” Jones, in previous weeks a stone-faced pro at the vacant stare, was one of the most talkative and upbeat of the Top 10. Heck, even Corey the Warm-Up Comic was thrown off his scripted-to-the-second pre-show routine when he pulled up a dude from the audience to enact the hip-swivel-and-booty-shaking portion of the evening and said dude instead broke out into a bizarre and slightly manic full-bodied, high-kicking spaz-out that would put Elaine Benes to shame. (I should point out the same dude turned out to be one of “Haley Scarnato’s Friends” according to the Idol TV title machine. Just connecting the dots, people.)

The weirdness didn’t end when the cameras went live either. I was grateful to learn that the home audience was treated to very little of Ryan clutching his Sanjaya wig once it’d come off — the thing looked like the worst-groomed Lhasa Apso ever. After Phil and Haley got bottom three’d, they cut to commercial, and the crew began setting up Gwen Stefani’s band equipment. Um. Isn’t there already a band there? On the stage? With equipment set-up, powered and all out-of-the-way like?

I’d harp on this more, but I soon became obsessed with an even greater mystery: When those ubiquitous Harajuku Girls made their way to the stage, who was out of his seat first and greeting them like they were all old friends? Would it be disappointing if I said anyone other than Sanjaya? He couldn’t have been happier to see them, either. This mystery was soon resolved — kinda — when it was revealed later in the show that the Top 10 had visited the rehearsals for Ain’t-No-Hollaback-Girl’s upcoming tour, but it also gave me the oddly disturbing image of Sanjaya lying on his stomach, head on hands, gazing up dreamily as the Harajuku Girls practiced their steps and Sanjaya found inspiration for next week’s hairstyle.

addCredit(“American Idol: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images”)

Where was I? Oh yes, the part about how I couldn’t hear Akon’s micat all during the live performance (pictured). I know his part in “The SweetEscape” is little more than a constant loop of “Woooohoooo!Yeeeehoooo!” But still, compared to the TV version, the studio’sspeakers were blasting Gwen’s voice and barely catching Akon’s. (Thiswas more than made up for later in the show… but I’m gettingahead of myself.) By the looks of it, y’all also missed Gina and Jordinsinging along to the song together like they were sitting front row inthe audience — which, come to think of it, they pretty much were.

The highlight of the show, though, was the second-grader in theaudience who, when asked for his best Simon Cowell impersonation byCorey the WUC, bellowed “what the bloody hell was that?!” The tykebrought the house down — even Simon broke into genuine guffaws.

Usually I would conclude with some snarky comment on the fact thatto my ears Sligh kept the Singing on Wednesday What You Should’ve DoneOn Tuesday streak very much alive. Or let the DVR viewers in on thefact that Sligh made his way over to all the finalists while he wassinging for an on-camera good-bye hug, stopping at Phil to tell him”You owe me 50 bucks.” (Seems this bit was cut off from most recordingsof the show.)

And, indeed, for you viewers at home, that is where the show ended.But not for us in the audience. No, we were asked to stay while the Idolcameras taped a solo performance by Akon, and then a separate soloperformance by Robin Thicke, both for “use on a later show.” (Whichshow? They dunno.) While they set up for Akon, Corey the WUC snaggedsome from-the-back body doubles for Randy, Paula and Simon from theaudience. Yes, the judges blew off Akon and Robin Thicke. No, I don’tblame them. Why? Because apparently, when it’s not live, the Idol crew takes their sweet time doing anything, from plugging in a DJ booth to placing new cymbals on a drum kit.

It took so long, in fact, that to kill time exec. producer NigelLythgoe took questions from the audience — and a few snippets ofinteresting dish emerged. Beyond the fact that Nigel’s vineyard hasseen much better days, we learned that the guest mentors most likelyafter Tony Bennett will be: J. Lo doing a Latin night, then Bon Jovidoing a rock night, and then Martina McBride doing a country night.Also, Annie Lennox and (wait for it…) Borat will appear on the Idol Gives Back night, which is sounding more and more like a pretty darn huge event.

Nigel was in such an expansive mood, in fact, that when a young woman asked if she could bypass the lines for Idol2008 and just audition for him right then and there, Nigel, withoutmissing a beat, said “sure, come on up!” Akon’s set-up finally finishedas she made her way to the stage, however, but Nigel promised the youngwoman would get her shot during the set-up for Robin Thicke.

So, finally, Akon performed “Don’t Matter,” gamely getting theaudience to wave their hands (including the stand-in Paula) and singalong. Just as he finished, and the audience breathed a sigh of reliefthat their unexpected hostage crisis was half-way over, the stagemanager announced they were doing “one more for safety.” So Akon sang”Don’t Matter” again, the audience waved their hands and sang alongagain, and just as the song was wrapping up, Akon looked down into theaudience and…cracked up. Someone’d made a funny face at him. The takewas ruined. Could we just go back 20 seconds and start over? No, the DJcan’t handle that, gotta start from the top. So, for a third time, wewove our hands and sang along to “Don’t Matter” like theI-wanna-be-on-TV cult that we were.

Akon, all smiles throughout, left the stage, and just as theaudience thought it’d reached its limit, Corey the WUC pulled thatyoung woman up for her Idol 2008 audition. At which point sheexplained that she was, er, you know, kinda kidding, but, since she wasup there, mic in hand, why not tackle a rendition of “The Star-SpangledBanner”? As I girded my eardrums for an all out assault, the womanopened her mouth and… sounded pretty darn good. Solid control. Greattone. Totally on pitch. Good stage presence. The audience lovedit. So you’ve read it here first: Mary Jane Anel, 23, from Long Beach,CA (who told me she never made it past the Rose Bowl when sheauditioned for season 2) could very well be your next American Idol — in14 months.

Oh, and how was Robin Thicke? No idea. After I saw the crew placing another cymbal on yet anothersuperfluous drum kit, I left. (Truth be told, by this point a goodthird of the audience had snuck out too.) Guess we’ll have to find outtogether, whenever his performance airs, but at least we’ll all knowwhy Paula Abdul is suddenly sporting a ponytail when we do.