David Cook, American Idol, ...
Credit: F Micelotta/Getty Images

Seems hard to believe, PopWatchers, but I don’t think I’ve been to Idol since Amanda Overmyer was voted off. You’ll be shocked, I’m sure, to hear that not much has changed. Corey’s still there, forcing strangers to booty-dance. Debbie the Stage Manager continues to shuffle around in her headset and cool hat. Americans of every shape and size are still getting their scream on when requested. For me — a girl who spent a transcendent weekend watching Eddie Vedder dominate a non-blinding stage using nothing but a series of guitars and his legendary voice — it was a bit like leaving Oz and heading back to Kansas, except louder, and with less farm implements. But I know you kids hate it when I bring that kind of downer talk to the table, so how about this: “AWWWW YEEEEAAAAAH!”

Let’s hit the required setup and then get into the action:

1. People brought signs! My section featured “David CookTakes the Cake” and “David Cooks,” the latter featuring real forks andspoons glued around its border.

2. Celebrities were there! Ring up Teri Hatcher, Minnie Driver, and — I think — former Head of the Class star Dan Schneider, better known to this demographic as the producer of Zoey 101 and Drake & Josh.I was also somewhat dismayed to see David Hernandez and Ramiele Malubayin the crowd, creating quite the fustercluck of pre-teens swarming forautographs. Somewhere in my brain, a long lecture about dignity thattangentially involves the Real World/Road Rules Challenge cast is brewing, but I’ll save that for another time.

3. There’s a reason they don’t call it “showFUN”! Once we’dall been coached within an inch of our lives — clap! but not duringballads cause it’s weird! but give everyone a standing ovation! butdon’t block the teleprompter with your sign! but get those arms aboveyour head! — Corey brought out the judges. This was rocky. First,Debbie made him stall, as the judges were clearly not ready, and then,when he introduced Simon, the Idols came out instead. There are so fewof them left! The tiny group huddled together on the stage, Brooke’sdress shimmying in the strobe lighting, Kristy Lee Cook bouncingmerrily. And as the countdown began to the live broadcast, the crowdcould yell but one thing: “Where’s Paula?” The tiny purplepeople-pleaser was nowhere to be found as we counted down from ten,nine, eight — “Where’s PAULA??? the crowd yelled louder — seven, six,five — Debbie is strangely calm — four, three, “WHERE IS PAULA?!?!?”they shrieked — two… Oh, thank god, there she is, tottering in onheels twice her height, and mounting the platform just as Ryan beganthe show. Aaaaand, THIS was tonight’s American Idol (after the jump)…

addCredit(“David Cook: F Micelotta/Getty Images”)

After Ryan scolds us all for not voting and thereby leading Michael Johns to his untimely doom, the Idols are introduced to a nice standing ovation. The Mariah montage begins as Nigel — who is sporting a big blue cast on his right arm for reasons Google cannot clarify — Debbie, and Ryan frantically discuss something on stage. When Archie gets introduced, the screams are nowhere near as deafening as I remember, but that’s possibly because I had my earplugs in from the get-go this time, and the revelation that he’s singing “When You Believe” (hey, Happy Passover, America!) comes as a shock to exactly no one. During the performance, some of the “moshers” begin to sway their arms, but cannot seem to get a quorum for that, so they give up. Mostly it seems the ladies of the “pit” are just standing in awe, though probably not of Archie’s leather pants. Song finishes, the judges love it, blah blah blah — keep an eye out for my forthcoming anger blog, — and then it’s revealed the child doesn’t eat on performance days. Well, no wonder he looks younger than Miley Cyrus. Poor puppy!

During the first break, Corey has the world’s most boring conversation with a six year old, and Ryan and Carly laugh it up on the space stools. Nigel and some of the judges are talking to a distinguished TV executive type, but since I wasn’t sitting next to LA Times writer and eternal font of information Richard Rushfield this time out, I’ve no clue who that dude was. When it comes time for Carly to perform, I make sure to wooooooooo! at the top of my lungs to make sure that Nigel and the TV exec man hear it and reconsider their evil master plan to elect a puppy king, but based on the judges’ blasé comments after the Irish lass blew the doors off of “Without You,” I doubt it did much good. Still, Carly, I screamed for you. And I just don’t scream at these things, my dear.

Break Two, and someone in an argyle sweater is following Paula around. Good thing — she’s having trouble walking in those heels. Meanwhile, Simon’s lady friend person shows up as he’s ducking out for a smoke, and he sarcastically looks at his watch, then walks away. (So warm!) Ryan emerges with a pretty blond thing following him into the “pit,” where he sets up for the next shot; you could see this girl on TV, standing to his right as he introduced Syesha, smiling and looking at him with moony eyes. And when that shot finished, she followed him right back out the door. I do not know who this pretty blond thing was, but as my initially-competence-based but now dangerously-bordering-on-romantical affection for the stylings of Mr. Seacrest grows ever stronger, I’d strongly caution her against making the moves on my man.

Break Three, and Brooke White is seated at the piano, warming up for her charmingly horrific version of “Hero.” Ryan soon comes to take her by the hand and guide her to the stools, where she put her heels back on in time to totally botch that story about her sister’s wedding and the cardboard cutout. (Seriously, Brooke: The cardboard cutout was a cute factoid. You could have just let us go on believing. I hardly think your family would have sold you out on that one. Also, while I’m giving you tips, darling, in the future, should you have one, please refrain from singing songs that terrify you so badly I can see your curly head shaking like a Pekingese from all the way in Section D.) The crowd seemed sort of sad for Brooke — although damn, do those people ever love it when folks sing high! — but Simon immediately turned our frowns upside down with his “Can I speed you up?” comment amidst Paula’s ramble about how Brooke needn’t rush.

Refreshingly, KLK was permitted to follow sans commercial, and I’m afraid I snorted awfully loud when Mariah tossed out “She delivered it well” as a compliment about that version of “Forever.” (Why do I call her KLK? It’s a palindrome, folks. Just let me have this one.) I frankly didn’t thoroughly hate her performance, but I mostly hope she stays in the competition so that our video editor, Jason Averett, can continue to make absolutely brilliant Idolatry videos involving KLK as MechaGodzilla, a giant robot controlled by power-hungry Japanese men from the ’70s. During her feedback, though, I found myself totally distracted and trying to determine what, if anything, Ryan is thinking when the judges talk. Meanwhile, my section was starting to get extra snotty about Paula, who had to be literally carried out of the room during the next commercial break after stumbling yet again.

Not sure what happened during this span of downtime, as there was a CBS page standing directly in front of me for most of it. I do know that Rami and David H. took off out the door, because Debbie barked, “David Hernandez and Ramiele, get back in here!” while trying to set up the next bumper, in which Ryan was, I guess, supposed to sit with the both of them. Of course, during this setup, Ryan was up in the bleachers, shaking the hands of little girls and high-fiving little boys and generally being a lovely host. Also, somewhere in here the woman across the aisle from me emphasized how much she and her daughter loved Brooke’s performance. I promised her I’d make a note of that, and then was totally mean and ignored whatever she said next, because Debbie was counting down and David Hernandez was still not in his seat. In fact, he was allllll the way over by the door, lackadaisically wandering to his seat with a soda in his hand. Ten, nine, eight — he starts to hustle — seven, six, five — no way in hell is he going to make it — four, three, two — Debbie forces him down in a chair out of the shot — one, and Ryan and Ramiele are sitting on camera to introduce David Cook.

As D.Cook’s montage gets underway, Ryan gets up to have his hair reconstructed after donning an audience member’s hat, and I stare in wonder at the number of times that man must be groomed every day and ponder how much effect said grooming is having on my growing emotional attachment. And then David takes the stage, and someone turns on some sort of blazing white-laser fresnel, and it totally effing blinds me. I joke a lot about blindness in these reports, but I’m not kidding this time — I’m staring at Ryan’s head, and then all of a sudden it is replaced by pain. And thanks to that bright white light, I don’t so much see David Cook’s super-brilliant performance of “Always Be My Baby” as I more or less intuit its goosebump-inducing existence, and now I’m concerned that the blindness in my left eye is payback for having salacious thoughts about Ryan Seacrest. Either way, I try desperately to shake the spots so I can fully appreciate D.Cook’s success, his subsequent tears, and the way Seacrest gave him a giant thumbs-up after they cut to commercial.

Then something happened that I’ve never seen before: David came off the stage and straight out into the audience, ignoring the clamoring “moshers” to make a beeline for his cancer-stricken brother, Adam, who was seated behind the judging platform. Massive hugging ensued. This was, even for me, a really kind of amazingly touching moment, despite the fact that I thought David was just hugging his mother and uncle or something until after the show when Rushfield informed me that I should really try reading the Internet every once in a while. The judges greeted Adam warmly, and the three also give David a few more props: Simon pointing fondly in his face as if to say, “You. You were… magical”; Paula hugging him; Randy clasping his shoulder very sincerely. During this tissue-worthy drama, much of the crowd was occupied by Corey, who was presenting a miniscule boy with his very own signed copy of Guitar Hero.

Before Jason Castro closed out the night, Debbie and Ryan set up the “Simon for President” sign that Ryan would later rip in half. And during Castro’s luau, I looked over to see Nigel dancing with his one good hand, having apparently now accepted the dreadlocks as something little girls will, in fact, pay good money to enjoy. As Simon applauded Jason’s work, Ryan sat on a stool off to the side, gesturing in agreement when the Brit proclaimed the guys had won the night. Then all the Idols took the stage for the recap montage, some dude actually came out to straighten Ryan’s tie and his pants, KLK appeared to be (once again) consoling Brooke, Ryan signed off, saluted, and as soon as the cameras were off, he unbuttoned his suitcoat with a flourish and walked offstage, giving Debbie a wide-armed shrug as he passed.

Which summed up my reaction to the whole shebang rather perfectly. David Cook kicked ass, Carly was robbed of the praise she deserved, everyone else was kinda meh, in my opinion. What did you kids at home think? Did you know about the touching story of D.Cook’s brother? Can you explain to me why audiences seem to relish the singing of contextually “high” notes over all other things, and if this is true, why it shows no corresponding effect on the mainstream career of, say, Björk? And would someone please suggest some sort of pill or salve I might employ to get over this stupid Seacrest crush?