Kellie Pickler
Credit: Michael Becker

I’m back, P-dubs, having just motored home in a jiff from the Grove and tonight’s Idol results show. I’ve only got an hour to pound this report out before I’m off to see Nada Surf, so you can expect me to keep the withering sarcasm to a minimum (well, for me, anyway) as I blow through the events at hand. Actually, I had a lot more fun tonight. And while I’m no rocket scientist, my gut tells me that’s because it was just an hour long this time.

Got there at 5, and they already had the smoke machines turned on. The “mosh pit” was full of the shiny-haired girls, and I took a quick second to count the flat-screens in the studio. Final tally: 47. I’m sure there are more that I couldn’t see. It’s a little like guessing the number of jelly beans in the jar at the state fair — you just have to write down a number and hope you’re close enough to win the chicken dinner.

Another thing I noticed: The excitement on the faces of the kids and teens and families around me. I refuse to change my general stance on the show — I see it as a necessary evil that occasionally veers into being entertaining — but I have now softened my attitude towards the folks who travel from far and wide to get the chance to see Idol live. They get dressed up! And we’re talking about a generation of people who can barely be pressed to put on pants for air travel! I surely can’t begrudge my fellow Americans the one occasion in their lives where a matching Juicy sweatsuit just can’t cut it.

After the jump, my weirdly cheerful attitude and I weigh in on Kellie Pickler (pictured), the Idol call-in segment, and explore the phenomenon that will forever be known as The Curse of Access Hollywood. That’s right, Amanda Overmyer fans: if you’re pissed she went home, blame Billy Bush. Click through for more!

addCredit(“Kellie Pickler: Michael Becker”)

With 45 minutes to go before the live broadcast, Debbie the stage manager summons Corey the Warm-Up Comedian and kills the music. It’s our Corey’s time to shine, but he’s forced to work around a lengthy pre-tape segment in which the judges, the contestants, and Ryan answer questions from callers who are apparently just sitting on hold indefinitely, hoping they get a chance to ask Ramiele what her most recent download was.

There are no celebs in the audience except for Kevin “Chicken Little” Covais, whom I don’t recognize at first. Well, strike that: I do recognize him, but only as “some kid who looks like that Chicken Little dude from a couple seasons ago.” Laura from Access Hollywood informs me that it actually IS he, that he lives in L.A. now and is a “movie star.” (Translation: He’ll appear alongside Drake Bell in the upcoming College.) It appears that Bobby “Copacabana” Bennett is here as well, though no one is quite as excited about him.

They start the Q&A with that nice Cheryl Ann, who wants to know why Simon spends all that money on cars and none on clothes, and as Paula and Ryan lay into him about his million-dollar vehicle and predilection for driving at night with the top down and the interior light on, the audience bursts into laughter. Sadly, the answer will forever remain unknown, as Debbie announces we’re having “technical difficulties” and makes them start over. In the intervening reset time, Ken Warwick, Idol exec producer, heads to the judging platform to say something to Simon. Ryan points this out and says that, as usual, Simon’s in trouble. (Yes, their relationship appears to be that way even if the cameras aren’t rolling.) The second time the question comes around, Paula’s top-down-lights-on comment gets nary a response. The rest of the questions are rather not-noteworthy, except for that disturbing photo of Simon and Paula in near-kiss. I don’t ever need to see that photo again. I know there are those of you out there on the Interwebs who cultivate Simon and Paula romance fantasies, and to that I can only say that it is a damn good thing there’s another X-Files movie coming out this summer, because you ‘shippers have scraped a damn hole in the bottom of the slash barrel, and you should be ashamed.

Ryan then introduces Kellie Pickler — his statement that she’s “grown in so many ways” elicits several dirty old man chuckles from Journalist Row — and she comes out to do “Red High Heels.” I was hoping for her newer single (“Things That Never Cross a Man’s Mind”), but I guess it wouldn’t have presented as many hot wardrobe options. And believe me, ladies and gentlemen, when I tell you the woman looked HOT. I don’t know if that read on TV — haven’t watched the broadcast yet — but we couldn’t get over how gorgeous she was. The dress kept the girls in check, the makeup didn’t make her look 45, it was all-around an excellent appearance for our favorite dippy blonde. Only problem: The “mosh pit” had apparently not been coached as to what to do with their hands, and so they spent her whole performance just standing there like normal people do when watching someone sing, instead of like extras in a Six Flags Little Mermaid cabaret. The horror!

Pickler finished the song, threatened to jump headfirst into the “mosh pit” — at least she knows what a real one is for — and left the stage. And we still had 30 minutes to go before the show. Corey the Warm-Up Comedian seized this opportunity to do what I understand is a new thing for him: call audience members up on stage for an impromptu session of Don’t Forget the Lyrics — also, I believe, a Fox show! (P.S.: During this break, they finally sent the pages through with the chewing gum cup. “You’ll get it back at the end of the show,” cracked Corey. Actually funny, Corey! Nice!) Six audience members came up to sing: Brian, who did not know “I Love Rock and Roll”; Ed, who looked like Zac Efron and did not know “SexyBack,” despite claiming to; David, who didn’t even bother to do the line from his verse of “Play that Funky Music” and just cut to butchering the chorus; Kristy, who got so into “You Shook Me All Night Long” that she actually hiked up her skirt to knock us out with her American thighs; Anna, who led the crowd in a singalong of “Walkin’ on Sunshine”; and a woman named Agora (I think), who requested an “old person song,” so Corey gave her “Yeah!” Luckily, she picked up on the song’s elementary lyrical structure pretty fast, and when he cut the sound, she just said “Yeah!” like four times. She got my vote. Sadly, we’ll never know who technically won, because Debbie shooed them all off the stage, and it was time to start. Just as well. I don’t think Corey had an exit strategy in mind. iTunes gift cards for everyone!

The contestants come back out on stage, Ryan says “THIS…” and the place bursts into flames yet again. (That camera and the swooping! My eyes!) As the opening credits roll, David Cook helps the ladies up to the top step of the contestant bleachers (after which Michael Johns sticks out his hand like, What, no help for me?) and Seacrest bounces up and down before the cameras come back on. He announces the mentors — Michael Johns starts madly gesturing to someone in the crowd about Neil Diamond; we’d later learn his parents are in town from Australia — and during the reel announcing this year’s songwriting contest, Debbie frantically tried to clear space in the “mosh pit” for her camera crew, so we could start the Medley Done With Just One Camera Shot. I don’t know if you noticed that at home, but, yeah, that medley was one camera shot. Probably it looked cool. For us in the audience, it looked super bizarre. Basically, the contestants would walk around and stand in really specific spots, sometimes with their backs to us, then move with the specificity of a tiny marching band as a man wearing a Steadicam sprinted around them in circles. Performance-wise, not the best floor show I’ve ever seen. During the medley, Randy grabbed Paula’s hand, and the two of them started to sway. Ooh! When are they gonna make out??

During this commercial, Debbie and Nigel go chat with the kids, and they’re all laughing about something related to the medley. Then we come back from break and they all leave the stage during the highlight reel from last night. Meanwhile, Kellie Pickler has emerged back onto the studio floor to stand with Nigel. When a clip of Jason Castro hits the monitor, Nigel takes his hands and puts them on the screen, looking for all the world like he’s trying to block out the dreadlocks and just focus on Jason’s adorable face. Keep dreaming, bossman — no way is that kid gonna cut his hair… and I won’t vote for him if you make him do it. Seriously. Just let it be, as they say. Let it be. Let it beeeeee, let it be. I am whispering words of wisdom.

Time for the results, dim the lights: Brooke makes it through to the sofas, but we are immediately struck with the most jarring blow of the night. Carly’s in the bottom three! There is MASSIVE booing, much of it coming from Journo Row. Meanwhile, Archuleta’s being put through without a hitch, and Kellie Pickler raises her arms in triumph. As Michael Johns makes it to safety, too, I notice that Carly is looking awfully forlorn over on her stool, and frankly, kind of sick. Thank God we go to commercial — it’s pretty obvious she’s crying buckets. The minute the cameras are off, Ryan walks straight to her stool and gives her a big hug, adding another 50 bonus points to my “I Am Impressed With Seacrest” tote board. Debbie goes over to sit with her (“We hate Wednesdays,” she says over the P.A.), Brooke fixes her makeup, Nigel embraces her… most of the girls in the “mosh pit” don’t care, taking this opportunity to just screech at Archuleta some more. Two girls in front of me are especially unmoved and just want Archie to see the giant orange sign that says they love him. I am reminded of something Eddie Vedder told me once, that when he sees fans with signs at shows, he likes to acknowledge them as soon as possible so they can put the signs down. I can only hope little David learns this lesson before I’ve got to cover this show again in a couple weeks.

The Ford commercial stuff is running, and Ryan’s sitting with Carly again, patting her arm reassuringly, and then we’re back to moving people through elimination: David Cook gets a standing ovation from MJ; the Bottom Threeness of Kristy Lee Cook causes no real shock and/or awe amongst the crowd, and since she’s now a pro with the exile stools, she’s in no way as upset as Carly, who’s hiding a Kleenex up her sleeve. Jason and Ramiele get through — the latter sparking someone on Journo Row to say, “NO!” very loudly. At the next commercial, Ryan goes and pats KLK on the shoulder. She gets no hug. And when Corey says “Kristy Lee Cook!” off-mike, it gets no reaction from the girls who are still busy hollering at Archie. Nigel comes over and talks to KLK during this break; again, she seems quite fine.

Now it’s time to roll the pre-taped segment, which we’ve decided makes no sense since that stuff was shot with everyone on stage and happy and full of promise, and not when two ladies had been shunned and were forced to stay on the other side of the stage from a half-full bleacher… but I guess continuity isn’t a concern. Ryan’s comment about Pickler’s “growth” is still funny the second time, though her performance is a little more off-key (I shan’t say that other word) on tape than it was in person, I suspect because the levels have been tweaked a bit and I can actually hear the vocals. For the most part, the people milling about on stage aren’t really paying attention to what’s playing on the big screen.

So this is where I was introduced to what we shall now call The Curse of Access Hollywood: In trying to figure out who’d be the last member of the bottom three, Journo Row was looking at seating order from earlier in the evening, and determined that Chikezie and Amanda — seated together at the end of the front bleacher — were the likeliest candidates, given the order everyone had been marched out. Laura from Access Hollywood then mentioned that they’d hosted a viewing party for Amanda’s friends and family last night. And it seems that nearly every time Access Hollywood hosts a viewing party, the person they’re allegedly celebrating is bottom three. It happened to LaKisha Jones last season. It happened to Mandisa the season before. “Dear God!” I said. “Is that true?” “Yep,” answered Laura. “It’s because their family and friends are talking to us, instead of voting.” I started to get a funny feeling in my stomach.

Yet another commercial, and Carly has clearly spotted her old boss out in the crowd, because she yells, “Will you give me my job back?” and then mimes pulling a pint. I pray it won’t come to that as we’re back on air and Journo Row proves their mettle: Chikezie and Amanda are indeed the last two contestants in danger of being in the bottom three, and holy Shaun Robinson, Amanda Overmyer’s number comes up. The three ladies in jeopardy stand together center stage and basically clutch each other throughout the last very mean commercial break, until Amanda squats down to chat with the shiny-haired “mosh pit” girls and I realize that if tonight is in fact her time, she’ll be fine. Hell, she’ll probably be grateful. That woman is far too salt-of-the-earthy for this mess. Then we’re back, and Carly learns she’s safe — “WE LOVE YOU CARLY!” yell three girls, holding a “WE LOVE YOU CARLY” sign upside-down — and then the big announcement comes and the entire room gasps. Seriously. There is weird silence, a slow smattering of applause for KLK, and then a massive standing ovation for the rock ‘n’ roll nurse as she takes the stage one last time. “Way to go, Access Hollywood,” says Richard Rushfield. “You killed Amanda Overmyer.”

I don’t know if you got to see her goodbye rendition of “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” home viewers, because according to the monitors, they started the song with exactly :01 left to go in the broadcast. Well, to put it in terms you may understand, it started a little rocky for me. But then Amanda became totally who she is, and as the song progress, this big, s–t-eating grin spread across her face. I don’t want to put words into her mouth, but from where I was sitting, it sure looked like her inner monologue was something along the lines of, “Dude. WTF was I doing here in the first place???” You don’t know how lucky you are, boy. You don’t know how lucky you are.

The song ended with the Top 10 streaming out of the bleachers to give Amanda one last group hug, which clearly made her uncomfortable, but I don’t think her friends cared. Then some sort of camera crew from some sort of Idol extras show on Fox Reality took the stage for exit interviews, and I beat it to the door, walked clockwise around the studio, found my car, and opted for Dr. Dre on the ride home. See you again in, um, I think three weeks, maybe? I was originally on for Idol Gives Back, but my mom is in town, and I just can’t do that to her. The inimitable Shirley Halperin will be your host for next week’s show. Treat her nice, and she just might get ya some back-door scoop. Meanwhile, please feel free to use the comment space to justify why you CLEARLY did not vote for Carly Smithson Tuesday night, how you’ve seen the error of your ways, and what you will do in the future to remedy that inexcusable behavior.