By Adam B. Vary
Updated March 19, 2009 at 07:43 PM EDT

I’m sorry to start things at the end, dear readers, but man do I miss David Cook. Lemme ‘splain: The season 7 American Idol champeen pre-recorded an upcoming results show performance after last night’s live show, and the dude was so smoothly professional, so calm and even-keeled, that it reminded me just how, well, smoothly professional, calm and even-keeled he was throughout his march towards the Idol crown last year. No Matt Giraud-esque flop sweat, no Danny Gokey-ish smarm, no Adam Lambert-ian showboating, no Megan Joy-ful dance spasms — just good, ole fashioned musicianship, confidence and charm. And as an added bonus (and this is the part of the recap where we jump all the way back to the beginning and start things again in chronology), when Cory the Warm Up Comic commanded the audience to “get up on your feet!” before last night’s live results show, Cook’s mother and younger brother, sitting a few rows away from me, remained firmly in their seats. That alone is more than enough to sustain my snark demon, Smirkelstilskin, for weeks.

Alas, the Desai family hasn’t yet been inured to Cory the WUC’s “charms,” since the man I believe is Anoop’s dad allowed himself to be dragged on stage so he could, yes, “shake that booty.” (First Lil’s pap, and then Anoop’s? Is this going to be a regular thing now? Because Smirkel’s hissing into my ear that he would very much like it to be.) The judges were brought in with a particularly seizure-inducing lighting package, and Kara gave Randy, Paula and Simon each both-arms-around-the-body, sway-from-side-to-side, please-please-please-think-of-me-as-one-of-you hugs as they arrived at the judges’ table. Ryan entered, fist-bumped Cory, I realized I could never fist bump again, and Debbie the Stage Manager counted us into the show, stopping herself around the T-minus 12 seconds mark to compliment the judges for actually arriving with time to spare: “I think that was a record, thank you judges!”

addCredit(“Ray Mickshaw/Fox”)

During the Tuesday recap video package, the stagehands started wheeling out a piano, and I began wondering if Brad Paisley was a closet pianist until Debbie led Scott to the piano bench and the Idols all took their places for the group number. Smirkel began to shrink to half his size when he realized Scott would not be dancing for us again, but then sprouted back to vibrant life after Megan Joy (who I shall forevermore be referring to as M.Jo) threw her leg almost back over her head when she slipped “dancing” up to the piano. During the ad break, the Idols bizarrely kept up their exaggerated laughing and kidding around, giving me acid flashbacks to The Partridge Family, which is kinda weird, since I’ve never actually seen an episode of The Partridge Family. As Kara tried to leave, Debbie told her (and the rest of the Idol Thunderdome) that “it’s only one-and-a-half minutes, Kara, it’s only one-and-a-half minutes!” Kara left anyway, but, it should be noted, she was also the first judge back to her seat. You do not cross Debbie.

The footage of Jorge and Jasmine’s farewell dinner was so sweet that not only do Smirkel and I have anything snarky to say about it, but the judges didn’t talk through pretty much the entire package. It certainly threw some cold water on the Idols’ garrulousness, too; in contrast to their Chatty Cathy party at last week’s results show, they all remained rather somber and silent throughout the rest of the night. Things certainly didn’t get any brighter when Allison and Sarver were pulled into the top three; after we entered into the ad break, Alexis mouthed an incredulous (and, in hindsight, inauspicious) “What?!” And with that, the Idols were whisked away as the stagehands set up for Brad Paisley (pictured) and his band. (Let me just say that I’m kinda tickled by the implication that Carrie Underwood and David Cook, two people who owe their careers to Idol, are so on-the-go that they cannot sing their Idol segments live, but Brad Paisley has absolutely no problem squeezing the show into his schedule.)

The judges came back into the studio in time for the girl Ryan accidentally hit with that water balloon to show Simon and the Idol host the precise splash point on one of her calf-high boots. It looked to me like Simon then began debating Ryan through the beginning of Brad Paisley’s performance about whether Ryan owed the woman a single replacement boot, or a brand new pair of them. After Paisley finished and we went into an ad break, Randy walked up to Paisley for a firm bro hug, then brought him back to the judges table to meet Simon, Paula and Kara. The judges continued talking after the country star made his exit, but Paula was turned to face Simon in such a way that her chair completely blocked Kara from joining the conversation. Looks like your patented super-duper hugs didn’t work, Kara; might I suggest gift baskets for next week?

We came back from the break, and the moment Ryan asked Scott to stand up, Alexis and Adam shot each other a knowing look — “Whoa boy,” said their eyes, “that means it’s down to us” — and I was happy to see that at least some of the Idols are wise to the producers’ results show seating chart shenanigans. Alexis was bottom three’d, Allison got her reprieve, and we went to the ad break. Back at the benches, Allison took a moment to lean back in relief, and then headed to the other side of her row to give Scott and M.Jo a hug. M.Jo, however, had other plans, swaddling the faux-redhead like her favoritest doll in the world, which Smirkel thought was a pretty bald-faced ploy to use outward affection to infect her competition with Influenza B. I, on the other hand, would never dream of thinking such a thing.

Once the lights went dark for Carrie Underwood and Randy Travis’ pre-taped duet of “I Told You So,” things got pretty quiet until some be-flashlighted PAs guided the judges back to their seats and it became pretty clear that some not-so-subtle TV sleight-of-hand was afoot. Did any of you buy that, after Carrie and Mr. Travis finished, they were “sitting” just “off-camera” from Ryan, Alexis and Sarver? (No, I didn’t think so.) We went into the final ad break, the judges stuck around and got makeup retouches, Debbie brought Alexis and Sarver center stage, and I caught Paula hugging Randy from behind, her head resting on his arm. I don’t exactly appreciate having this image in my head, but not so much that I don’t want to share it with all of you. Aw, you’re welcome!

Ryan sent Sarver back to the benches, and when Simon acknowledged that the judges had only considered saving Alexis, the aw-shucks roughneck demonstrated why he was one of my very favorite finalists to talk to during the Idol Top 13 party by simply giving a quick nod and easy smile. Alexis sang and appeared to forget her words, sparking what I’m sure will be a levelheaded and equitable debate about whether she would have performed better if Ryan and the judges hadn’t made it so abundantly clear that she actually had a shot at being saved. Alas, Randy began scooting back to his spot before Alexis even reached the second verse, her fate seemingly sealed after that first crack in her voice. When Simon delivered the bad news, Allison looked especially unhappy, directing what I can only describe as a “you’re just a bunch of meanies!” death stare towards the judges. (I’m kicking myself, by the by, that I neglected to make my official choice in this week’s Idol Prediction Challenge, because I totally called that Alexis — who found herself in the dangerous position of being neither memorably good nor all that memorably bad on Tuesday night — was going home. Really, I did. Truly! Ask my boss!)

The Idols swarmed Alexis during her Idol journey package, the show came to a close, and Kara was the first judge to commence the weekly ritual of passing along some sage advice with a dollop of sorry-we-ditched-you consolation. Paula and Randy followed, and quickly the tiny mother with the pink streak in her hair was surrounded by all four judges, Simon standing before her with his usual one-armed hug and I’m-sorry-but-not-that-sorry hand squeeze.

The on stage commiseration was cut short, however, by the stagehands carting out the results show benches and whisking in David Cook’s band equipment. As they set up an eight-piece string section, what looked like eight amps for as many as four guitars, and your standard full drum set, Cory continued the time-killing technique that worked so uncommonly well on Tuesday while we waited for Carrie Underwood’s pre-taped setup: Pulling volunteers from the audience to sing for the four stand-in judges. Tuesday, we were treated to the soaring gospel tones of Lil Rounds’ big sister Tiffany. Last night, well, after a less-than-stirring “The Star Spangled Banner,” a kinda unrecognizable interpretation of the Beatles’ “Oh! Darling,” and a semi-pro rock climber mumbling a Bloc Party song I couldn’t quite make out, let’s just hope Cory doesn’t employ this tactic any time soon. (Which means, of course, he’ll be doing it for the rest of eternity.)

Finally, after a half-hour wait, Ryan came back out to introduce David Cook. Debbie joked that after Cook’s performance, “We’re going to do a group number, Cookie’s favorite part of the shows!” And Cook delivered a solid, polished rendition of his new single “Come Back To Me.” When he was finished, some fans screamed “We love you David!” as Cook was speaking with Ryan on-camera, and Cook didn’t miss a beat, replying back, almost quizzically, “Not as much as I love you!?” Oh, wait, I almost forgot! Right before Ryan and Cook came out, two willowy blond girls were plucked from the Swaybot pit and brought backstage. Thankfully, we quickly learned after Cook’s song that the girls were singled out only as pretty faces worthy of delivering a framed platinum record to Cook on the air. The reigning Idol reminisced about spending a year selling just 1,000 copies of the self-published record he made pre-Idol in 2006, and marveled that he could now move a million copies in just four months. Then, once the taping was over, Cook walked right up to his mom — who had been moved, with his younger brother, to a seat in the front row — and presented his framed platinum record to her. I mean, how could you not love this guy?

All right, PopWatchers, that’s it for me and Smirkel for the next few weeks, but don’t you worry a whit, because, that’s right, the one and only Whitney “Aunt Whittlz” Pastorek will be taking on the Idol on-the-scene duties, and she’s almost certainly sure to deepen her highly entertaining obsession with Mr. Seacrest. (The guy’s not going to know what hit him.) Until then, dear readers, tell me, would you have sent Alexis packing based on her final performance? Does it matter to you if a guest performer is singing live or on tape? And now that Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and David Cook have all paid their respective visits to the Idol Thunderdome, which former Idols would you like to next return to their pop culture alma mater?