Simon Cowell called tonight’s episode of American Idol “officially the strangest show we’ve ever done,” and I don’t know about y’all, but from where I sat inside the Idol studios at CBS Television City, I’d say Simon was referring to that glorious moment when, halfway through the show, Paula Abdul critiqued both of Jason Castro’s songs after he’d sung only one.

Let’s take a quick step back. With the final five contestants each cramming two Neil Diamond tunes into the hour-long production, it was indeed an unusually frenzied evening, and the judges refrained from commenting on the singers’ first songs. At the end of the first half of the show, Ryan invited all the Idol contestants on stage and then had the judges run through their thoughts on the first half of the show. (Stage manager Debbie Williams had to step on stage herself to motion the Idols to come out to the stage, as if, perhaps, this half-way check-in wasn’t entirely planned.) Randy shocked no one —”just OK…doing your thing…the bomb”—and then, with executive producer Nigel Lythgoe and Debbie watching from the wings, it was Paula’s turn.

“Oh gosh—we’ve never had to write these things down, uh, fast enough,” she said. “Jason, the first song, I loved hearing your lower register, which we never really hear.” So far so good. “Um, the second song, I felt like your usual charm, it was missing for me. It kind of left me a little empty.” Huh? The audience began tittering with confusion, and Nigel and Debbie both began quietly freaking out. Paula continued, unaware. “The two songs made me feel like you’re not fighting hard enough to get into the top four.” By this point, several audience members were openly cracking up, Debbie had to stop herself from stepping on camera to end the madness, and Nigel was frantically gesturing a single finger to anyone who could see him: ONE SONG! THEY’VE ONLY SUNG ONE SONG!

“So, David Cook,” Paula continued, until Randy saved the day: “Oh, they’ve just done the first song though, just the first one.” The tension was finally broken with this apology (of sorts) from Paula: “I thought you—Oh my god, I thought you sang twice!…You know what, this is hard! You know what, I’m looking at, it’s your notes, David [Cook]. You were fantastic.” As Simon swooped in for his chance to scold the Idols, Nigel stepped off stage to, I’m assuming, get the on-site EMTs to give him some oxygen. At the ad break, the judges were all whisked out of the studio, Syesha Mercado, David Cook, David Archuleta and Brooke White left waving to the audience, and Jason Castro was left on a stool, stage center, contemplating what, exactly, had just happened. (Get more on last night’s shenanigans in Slezak’s TV Watch.)

A Fox spokesperson declined to comment, and Paula’s rep did not return e-mails seeking comment. Below is the clip in question. What do you think, PopWatchers? Was this just an honest mistake, or did the whole event strike you as bit more…curious? (If you’re looking for our regular on-the-scene write-up, don’t fret, it’s coming soon. It’s just that this was too juicy not to bring up as soon as possible.)

Hell to the No!
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