By Ken Tucker
February 18, 2009 at 07:43 PM EST

American Idol entered its sing-and-vote stage last night (as if the entire American news media would allow you to forget), and I dutifully tuned in, as I do every year, to see if, by some miracle, Idol has gotten any better. As you recall, I have promised you that this blog occasionally will be a safe haven where you can come to vent your Idol dislike, annoyance, even — dare I say it, lest my gracious, witty colleague Mike Slezak write me out of his will? — hatred.

Nope, no improvements last night. Still, once again, the endless parade of vocalists who over-sing everything, starting with Jackie Tohn’s version of an Elvis Presley hit, “A Little Less Conversation,” during which I think Elvis’ corpse roused itself to retch during her grotesque caterwauling. Casey Carlson, whom I gather from context (sorry, I skipped the audition shows; I have a soul to protect) is one of the show’s designated sexpots, was actually told she shouldn’t have sung “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” because “the Police hits… they’re iconic, you don’t touch them.” Really? Sting-sung music is untouchable for other mere humans??

By the time the two hours circled the drain with Danny Gokey’s tremulous “Hero,” and he was proclaimed the “redeemer of the night” (!!!), I was glad that Simon Cowell said he wasn’t “buying the hype” so far. (Man oh man, some Fox exec must be adding a wad of cash to Randy’s pocket to gush over just about everything; I half-expected him to tell us he was “really feelin'” the boom-microphone operator, dawg.) But I also thought Simon’s grudging, sullen act has become foolish too. There’s only so long you can play the party-pooper without coming off as mere poop.

I know I can just stop watching, but you know how it is: Idol starts to pervade the culture; other shows start to chatter about it incessantly. Celebrities I like, such as Neil Patrick Harris and Ted Danson (oh, how I admire your Arthur Frobisher on Damages, Ted!) show up in the audience.

But does anyone out there share my dread, as the weeks of Idol voting now stretch before us?