Mariah Carey, American Idol, ...
Credit: Frank Micelotta

The palindrome is dead; all hail the palindrome. Yes, PopWatchers, just when I was starting to like her, Kristy Lee “KLK” Cook — wide stance, Evita hands, MechaZilla survival skills and all — was asked to leave American Idol‘s dwindling island tonight, during an episode most remarkable for its complete mindfrak of an elimination construct. This was a night which will also forever live in infamy as the first and hopefully only time I’ll be hypnotized into downloading an American Idol iTune. Damn you, David Cook, and your infernal talent. You’re making me go all soft! Between your bizarrely appealing emo versions of cheesy songs I love and the persistent, itchy crush I’ve developed on Seacrest, I don’t even know who I am anymore. What’s next? I start watching Dancing with the Stars? I buy a Clay Aiken CD? I stop being totally creeped out by all these group numbers in which the Idol contestants sing about God and praying?

Okay, that last thing will never happen. But rather than launch into one of those rants you folks love so much — this time featuring my strongly held belief that if I want to hear evangelical music, there are channels other than Fox for my doomed soul to surf, thank you very much, and hey, I wonder what God thinks of all the families that network tried to destroy with Moment of Truth? — I’ll just go ahead and start the rundown of what happened during today’s taping, featuring none other than Ms. Mariah Carey herself. Join me after the jump, won’t you? The Baby Jesus would want you to!

addCredit(“Mariah Carey: Frank Micelotta”)

We were called to arrive at CBS Television City no later than 5 p.m. today lest we miss the Carey festivities, so I hustled my way to the studio, forgetting to leave my iPod and cell phone in the car. Of course, this was the one day they decided to clamp down on security, and next thing I knew, the iPod was confiscated. (Not the useful, show-stealing piece of technology, mind you — just the lump of third-generation ancientness that plays host to my wide variety of angry music.) Once I took my seat, the long arm of the law came for me again: The CBS pages were out in force with their gum cups, trying to collect our minty freshness. Well. You can take my iPod, Idol, but you can’t take my gum. As I sat there trying desperately not to move my jaw, I took a quick glance around the studio. Here is my tally of employees chewing gum:

People with headsets: 4

CBS pages, including the very one shaking the gum cup at my section: 5

Debbie the Stage Manager: 1

I mean, honestly.

During this scan, I also kept an eye out for celebs, but came up empty besides Borat‘s Ken Davitian, and the failure trio of David Hernandez, Chikeze, and Justin Guarini. Oh, to know what these men are thinking, and why they cannot leave this cruel mistress behind. Meanwhile, the woman in front of me tossed out the quote of the night: “Is Randy’s chair extra large, or does it just look that way?” Corey showed up to get the party started early, and the girls in the “mosh pit” squealed their approval. Apparently, Corey’s starting to see a lot of return business. “I love my stalkers in the house!” he bellowed, just as Debbie came out to announce we were about to sound check with “one of your favorite people, Mariah Carey! Say hi to Mariah, everybody!” As the diva took the stage to a big round of applause, the woman next to me let loose with the runner-up for quote of the night: “She looks way less skanky in real life.” And it was true! If you could get past that dress — which looked a bit like she’d snagged her slip on her bra in the wash and opted to just press on anyway — Mariah was looking very fetching. I especially like the way she carries a small fan around with her everywhere she goes so that her hair is, at all times, wafting softly in the breeze. (No, seriously: There was a fan up there. Corey made a joke about it later.)

“Please, no judging,” Mariah smiled, as she began warbling some notes into her bedazzled mic. “I don’t even know if they can hear in the audience,” she continued, then turned to us and explained. “They make us wear these headphone things, and it’s so bleak! Just FYI. Sorry to, like, have a sound check. I’m always late.” My goodness, Mariah, don’t apologize! We are happy to sit here and listen to you sing the same song four or five times. (Which, funny you should mention it, we did!) She ran through “Bye Bye,” and then the Idols and judges emerged. Paula was first tonight, wearing what appeared to be a scarf AND a necklace AND a giant rose (somewhere, Diane Keaton wonders why she never thought of that), followed by Randy and Simon. They all stopped to greet Justin on their way to the platform, while Ryan greeted Mariah’s backup singers and had his pants rearranged by that dude again. From the sofas, KLK giggled something at Nigel. I’ve noticed these two having private conversations a lot these past two days, but it appears I’ll never get the chance to launch that other blog I kept meaning to start,

We pre-tape Mariah, whose segment will air after the Q&A segment we’ll pre-tape right after we pre-tape Mariah. The back wall opens, we give Ms. Carey a standing ovation, she sings through “Bye Bye” again, and I am aghast at the way even a very direct lyric such as “Put your hand way up high” fails to provoke seaweed-swaying amongst the “moshers.” (My stars, is it possible they’ve done some deep self-examination and realized that their swaying was making people die inside? If so, I am thrilled, and I congratulate them, as well as their therapists.) Mariah finishes the song, does her little confab with Ryan, and once the cameras are off, Ryan asks, “Randy, how did it sound?” “Great!” replies Randy. “The ending was a little rancid,” Mariah says casually. “NO!” screams the audience. I write +10 for use of “rancid” in my notebook.

Once they’ve cleared Mariah’s setup, Ryan comes back out for the telephone question bit, and Debbie silences the crowd. “This is my favorite part, when you’re quiet,” she says. I am now no longer sure whether I have a bigger crush on Debbie or Ryan. They start the segment, but the mics screw up on the first question, and they have to start again. While they reset everything, Ryan seems a little loopy, and he ambles out to center stage singing an off-key version of “Always Be My Baby” (original flavor, not Cooked crispy). The crowd cheers, and in front of my section, Nigel mutters, “Don’t encourage him, please.” Take two, and the phone business goes off without a technical hitch. Miraculously, it ends up on TV sans editing — which was a shock to me, because I could have sworn that both “Meghan”‘s kiss-uppy intro and Simon and Paula’s “Straight Up” penis joke wouldn’t make the show. At the end of the phone stuff, they segue back into the Mariah Carey video that we just pre-taped, and play that all the way through again. I take this opportunity to visit the port-a-potties.

When I return, Corey drops the bomb that we’re not just getting a Mariah Carey performance, but one from Elliott Yamin, too. He continues to run down all the things we should cheer for, ending with “It’s basically all about you guys screaming for an hour.” Then he asks everyone in the house to hold up their signs. A quick glance around reveals very few of originality or interest, except one kid with a “Ryan, I Want Your Job” poster… but Corey keeps reading signs, people keep holding them up, this seems to be going on waaaaay too long. Then Debbie takes the stage, and says something to Corey, who sighs. “We heard there was… a sign…” he begins, but Debbie cuts him off and gets right to the point. “It said ‘Bye Bye Kristy,'” she says. “Is that true? If it’s true, you’re rotten. Put it down, and never put it up again.” She peers menacingly out at the crowd from under her hat. “I’m a mother, I’ll spank you.” From somewhere in the wings, she receives a signal. “We got it!” she cries, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. (Note to self: Leave iPod, cell phone, prescient signs in car.)

We killed truly massive amounts of time between the pre-tape and the show tonight, PopWatchers, believe me. I saw one woman nearly get her nose broken, they came around with the gum cups again, they tracked down the dude who won last year’s songwriting competition (I resisted the urge to swing by and ask him how his now is doing), every single person in the room got the chance to tell Corey where they were from… and then FINALLY, it was time to start. Ryan came back on stage and yelped to Debbie, “This is live on national television??” then began hyperactively clearing his throat. Someone pointed out the “I Want Your Job” sign, and Ryan told the holder they could have the job where he has to get up at 4 a.m., and he’ll just get up at 6. Debbie reined Ryan in again and began to count down from ten. As is her wont, Paula hit the platform with about three seconds to spare. And at long last, THIS was American Idol.

Here is where I would like to insert that rant about the red zone the Idol spirituality meters are hitting of late. While tonight’s group performance of “One Sweet Day” was at least three Veggietales short of a “Shout to the Lord,” it was still the second consecutive group number (third if you count the sheep-heavy version of “Shout…” the kids did last Wednesday) that namechecked God. I let “Shout to the Lord” off the hook for being “inspirational,” and I’m not saying this show is trying to convert me to anything but Ford ownership, but I do think maybe we could spread out the Jesus juice a little going forward. [Read very good HuffPo essay here.] During the first commercial, Nigel and Debbie huddled with the Idols, and it looked like they were explaining how this “Okay, we’re splitting you into two groups” elimination was going to work. Meanwhile, Corey was handing out free iTunes like candy from a van on a playground. When we came back, Ryan introduced the scenes from last night, and then it was time to start the crazy elimination game.

First up: Jason Castro. He gets nice applause, and when Seacrest tells him to go to the left, everyone cheers, despite having no idea what “to the left” signifies yet. David Cook gets big love, and I very much respect the fact that — even after Ryan asked him directly — he kept his personal business personal. He is told to go to the right. The room is now confused. Carly is next, gets whoops, Simon gives her the Space Camp speech I’ve been waiting for all season long (“Why are you so hard on me?” “Because you’re goin’ up!”), and she is sent to the left. KLK moseys out next, to vast indifference. She calls Simon a butt, and is sent to the right. There is polite applause. The audience has now convinced themselves that the right is the place to be, which is why it is the perfect time for a commercial break. During this break, we are introduced to a woman who is both a Polynesian dancer and a second grade teacher. It was not particularly memorable.

“Ford commercial everyone!” Debbie barks, and we’re back with Elliott Yamin, who sounds good and looks great, if weirdly similar to T.J. Thyne from Bones. During Elliott’s performance, though, something important is brought to my attention: Ryan Seacrest has no rhythm. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s as though he feels an extra beat that only workaholic TV hosts can sense. Not that he was dancing, per se; while Elliott sang, Ryan was more or less fidgeting, bouncing on his heels and twitching his knee, clutching an index card while keeping the other hand in his pocket, and doing this pigeon thing with his head. But rarely were any of these movements on the beat. They were more like… between. And given that he was standing in the middle of a row of Idols who were moving on the beat, I sort of feel like he was trying to fit in, and failing. Developing…

After Mr. Yamin’s sweet tribute to his mom, Syesha came out and was sent to the left, Brook to the right, and I wrote down Maybe they’re just going to give Archie the title today and get it over with. Instead, we go to commercial. During this commercial, a CBS page inadvertently punches Corey in the face. He gamely recovers, and comes up into my bleacher to interview a five-year-old girl named Liberty. Liberty tells Corey that she is five, and then corrects it to seven, since that’s how old one must be to attend Idol. “It’s okay,” says Corey. “She’s four at Disneyland, she’s seven at Idol.” The entire audience, myself included, was captivated by Corey’s conversation with young Liberty, one-sided as it may have been, and time flies. Before we know it, it’s time for the pre-tape segment to be broadcast. See above.

Commercial break #4, and Ryan is off getting his makeup done again. Carly is sort of dancing around in front of the sofa, and Archuleta is still stuck backstage. (Look! The adults are having fun! I scribble.) With 30 seconds to go in this break, Ricky Minor drops his iPhone off the band platform and very nearly hits Debbie in the head. Then we once again go live, and in a giant shocker are told that Archie — whose leather has thankfully migrated to the top half of his body this evening — is safe. THEN Ryan swapped Cook and Syesha, and THEN it became totally obvious which group was the bottom three. Archie sits down — didn’t someone pull this move last year? Melinda Doolittle, perhaps? — Ryan tells us which group is safe, Carly smacks Ryan in the shoulder and chokes Archie (love her!), cut to another commercial.

It is all moving so fast now. The girl next to me and I discuss the likelihood of Brooke going home, which we decide is pretty damn likely. KLK trots over to giggle with Nigel one last time. Then some woman falls down the steps of my bleacher, and we’re back. Syesha is safe. KLK gets in one last shot at Simon. Brooke is told she’s staying, starts crying. KLK is, too, but during her Farewell Montage Set To Ruben Studdard’s Cover of Kenny Loggins’ Most Grammatically Awkward Song, she can’t be bothered to watch the screen. Instead, she gets her tears wiped away by Carly, then walks to the judging platform to plant herself in front of Simon for a sassy final performance. You all caught her re-written lyrics, but since I think the telecast cut off before she got there, let me say her big final note was even better than last night, that when she finished, the other contestants swarmed her, she received a kiss on both cheeks from Nigel and a big hug from Ryan, and then Corey came out to make one last joke. “So, that was the rehearsal…” he said, and I was out the door before he could tell me to leave.

My iPod and I are now reunited, and I’ll be sure not to bring that with me next week, just in case Andrew Lloyd Webber demands Carey-esque levels of security. Meanwhile, my dear PopWatchers, if you’re still reading: Uh, what did you think? Did America get it right, or should KLK have eked out another week? Did you enjoy the celebrity performances this evening? And — here we go into the lion’s den — what do you think about the singing of blatantly Christian songs on a supposedly secular television program? Finally, to end on a note that’s less likely to get my head chewed: Anyone got early picks for Sir Andy week? I’m willing to go out on a limb right now and bet all comers $1 that Syesha and Archie will have a fight to the death over “Memory,” with Syesha coming out on top and Archie forced to mope his way through “Close Every Door” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat instead. Also I really hope Carly does “Tell Me on a Sunday,” please. Your turn!