By Adam B. Vary
Updated August 03, 2020 at 08:29 PM EDT

It was all topsy-turvy at this week’s live show — up was down; on-key was pitchy and pitchy, on-key; the warm-up comic didn’t force an 11-year-old to booty shake on stage; and Sanjaya (pictured) was actually sorta decent.

Actually, let’s stay on the Sanjaya tack for a second, because beyond his soft and subtle rendition of “Besame Mucho” — which had many audience members just as perplexed as the judges seemed to be (“Wait, isn’t this guy supposed to be gawdawful?”) — his cheer squad this week was a mini-spectacle onto itself. There was, of course, Sanjy’s sis, Shyamali; next to her sat a bright and cheery dude sporting a (somewhat meek) pony hawk with what appeared to be no shame whatsoever. (If I see that look on the street, however, I may need to move to Canada.) It took me a second to ID the dude as Tom Lowe, the openly gay, semi-controversial British former boy-bander who made it up to (but not past) the Top 24 cut with almost zero TV time. Lowe got a hug from Randy as the judge entered the stage; later, during one of the ad breaks, Lowe walked up to the judges’ table and got a warm if slightly awkward reception from all three (“Love your hair,” Simon told him with a wry smile). Next to Lowe sat, well, at first I thought it was Sean Michel, i.e. the Castro-bearded dude from the Memphis auditions. Which would make sense, since Michel, Lowe and the elder Malakar could’ve logically become friends during their stints during Idol‘s Hollywood week. But I’ve since been told that the bearded dude in question was, in fact, BJ, of BJ and Tyler, winners of The Amazing Race 9. How he knows two American Idol cast-offs is a mystery best left to the Realty TV gods.

addCredit(“American Idol: Frank Micelotta”)

(For those craving actual celebrity sightings, other than the cast of Drive and the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz — random! — the only other celeb I spied was Mimi Rogers.)

It was easy to pay attention to the Sanjy section since we had yetanother new warm-up comic, Johnny D, who, for the first time, didn’tinsist that all eyes be on him at all times when the cameras weren’tbroadcasting into your living room. Indeed, unlike theScripted-To-The-Max-Schtick of Corey and the Super-Pumped-Up-Flop-Sweat that poured out of What’s-His-Name(Will? Bill? Phil? I can’t remember), Johnny D., like his name implies,was totally old-school. Lackadaisically roaming the aisles in a classicnight club bowling-shirt, he got the audience into a rabid lather withthe simple execution of that time-worn audience warm-up tactic “DivideThe Crowd Into Sections And Then Have Them Compete For Free T-Shirts ByWhich Section Cheers The Loudest.” This, of course, resulted in everysingle pre-adolescent girl in the place screeching at the top of theirlungs, a phenomenon as impressive as it was headache-inducing.

So perhaps by the time the show started — after Blake snuck a pre-showrun along the stage with his camcorder pointed at the audience — myeardrums were a bit warped, but from Sec. F, Row 4, Seat 6, the splitbetween who came off good live and who works great on camera only deepened.Sure she was more low-key this time out, but Mindy Doo’s ease with anaudience was crystal clear yet again from the first note; she simplyknows how to connect with a room, to open herself to the back row soeveryone can participate in the fun she’s having on stage. (ClearlySimon disagreed; he was over talking with Randy before Mindy Doo’dfinished the first verse, and as we happily cheered at the end, heflashed us all a look that was pure “what are these people on?!” disgust.) By contrast, Jordin Sparks, a favorite of Randy, Slezakand my mom, yet again left the audience a bit cold; to put it bluntly,the cheers were louder for frakkin’ Haley than they were for Jordin.

But really, the whole night came off as middle-of-the-road as it seemedon TV. Haley and Phil were bad but not awful, Mindy Doo and Blake weregood but not goosebumply memorable, Sanjaya was the biggest surprise ofthe night by doing almost nothing at all, and, if I’m not mistaken, bythe end I caught Randy stifling a yawn. Really the highlight of theevening was when a blonde woman in a brown top sitting two seats fromme was handed the mic from Johnny D. the New-and-Improved Warm Up Comicto ask Simon a question. First she told him he was hot, and then sheasked what he found most attractive in a woman. “I would have to sayblondes in some sort of brown top,” replied the judge, to the delightof said woman and the audience at large. And when the audience isupstaging the show itself, you know something’s a bit off in American Idol land.