By Adam B. Vary
Updated April 19, 2007 at 12:00 PM EDT
Frank Micelotta/American Idol/Getty Images

I entered CBS Television City Stage 36 last night to Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” mashed up with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” — and immediately I knew it could only mean one thing. That’s right, Corey the Warm-Up Comic was back! Ah, Corey, how I’ve, er, grown to stop caring about your repetitive, tightly scripted, get-audience-members-
to-dance-hip-hop-badly and then coyly-ask-prepubescents-
if-they’re-single shtick. Fortunately, I barely had time to pay attention to it given all the juicy off-camera goings-on last night.

Let’s start, actually, at the end: Sanjaya’s swan song. It’s provoked me to share with you PopWatchers an internal debate I’ve been having over the past month: Is the kid really that awful? Based on the studio audience’s explosion of cheers and applause when Ryan announced Sanjy was going home, you’d think the soft-voiced 17-year-old was a puppy-smothering dictator being sent into exile. And before you protest that those cheers were for LaKisha surviving to see another week, I’ve been to just about every single results show this season, and I can tell you that not once before has the audience applauded after Ryan delivered the final verdict, let alone leapt to their feet in jubilation. (And it wasn’t just LaKisha’s posse that was standing last night, either.) I mean, Sanjaya may be the least talented singer among the Top 7, but he’s by no means even close to the worst performer Idol‘s ever seen.

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

Part of what’s got me so riled is what happened the moment after Sanjy,Kiki, and Blake (pictured, left to right) were named to the bottom three, and Ryan cut tocommercial. To put it bluntly, Sanjy — who had continually impressed mewith his unwavering pearly-white-grinned pluck in the face of so muchmedia guff — pretty much dissolved right then and there, immediatelyconvinced that he was going home. It was as if the weight of everythingthat’d come before finally pushed past that smile, and it was just abit heartbreaking (and guilt-inducing) to watch unfold.

Thank goodness for Mama Doolittle, who wrapped poor Sanjy in herembrace and gently wiped away his tears. For the record, though, thebest hugger of the Top 7 is Chris; the dude pretty much swallowed therail thin Sanjy in his arms just before they came back from thead-break. At which point Kiki lost her composure a bit too, smearingher make-up, which Mindy Doo then dutifully fixed with a well placedunder-eye thumb-wipe. That’s why you saw Blake doing the same to Kikiat the end of the show, by the way. Girlfriend’s got to keep her facetogether, you know, especially since the stage manager had tophysically separate Sanjy from her at the end so the cameras could getthe shot of Sanjy watching his Idol “journey” with Ryan. Ah, TV, yourelentless machine, never letting a moment of genuine feeling gettingin the way of your manufactured sentiment. How we love you so.

But enough of tears. Before Sanjy had collapsed into Mindy Doo’s arms, she had a score to settle with a certain Idolexec producer for that unconscionab(ly hilarious) stunt, making herchoose which group of three was safe. Seriously, I really wish you allcould’ve been there to see the look on Mindy’s face as sheraced down from the stage and started smacking Nigel Lythgoewith impunity. She may be nice, she may be modest, but you do not want to cross Mindy Doo — those were some fierce daggers shooting out of her eyes, and Lawd help anyone in their path.

I have a feeling, actually, that most of the audience had it out forNigel last night. I’m not sure if you noticed — actually, how could you not notice that Fergie’s performance wasn’t so much with the live, especially if you’ve been a regular reader of these Idol On the Scene posts.But, see, they didn’t so much clue in the studio audience that Fergiewas not actually in the building when they announced the female BlackEyed Pea would be performing, causing several audience members aroundme to work themselves into an omigod-omigod-OMIGOD-FERRRGIEEEE!lather of twitterpation. When Ryan introduced the performance, and thelights went dark, the tension for the brief seconds before the giantviewscreen came alive were almost more than I could bear. I wonder ifNigel actually lives off of the “awwww!” of disappointment ringing upfrom the risers when Fergie appeared on the screen instead of thestage. (By contrast, though Martina McBride certainly impressed — and nobackup band or chunky multi-colored bracelet needed! — I could almostfeel most of the audience staring her down at first, thinking, “You’reno Fergie.”)

Oh man, I’m nearing 1,000 words, and I haven’t even started the celebcount yet! Well, you saw Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, JeffreyKatzenberg, and Antonio Banderas’ greasy ponytail (didja catch how theywere musical-chair’d up to the front row from the fourth for theirsegment with Ryan?) There was also Kal Penn, Justin Long (who somehowgot ticketed in the very last row and had to sweet talk his way to abetter seat), former Idols Bucky Covington and Matthew Rogers, and Rich of Big & Rich sitting next to Cowboy Troy. (Big shout out to Judging the Judgespanelist Amy Adams, who was also in the house and told me who Rich andTroy were, because otherwise I would’ve had no friggin’ idea. What canI say, I’m a country music greenhorn.)

With my remaining 75 words, let me pivot back to Sanjaya, because Iwant to put it to you PopWatchers: Yes, on the whole it’s a good thingthat Sanjaya’s gone; yes, he was all kinds of atypical for a reality TVstar, let alone a pop music idol; yes, he helped cultivate that imagewith his multiple outré hairstyles and timid stage presence. But,cheering his departure as if a long national nightmare was over? Isn’tthat a bit… much?