By Michael Slezak
Updated March 26, 2009 at 11:17 PM EDT

This just in from yesterday’s New York Times: Those thoroughly abysmal group numbers that American Idol‘s season 8 contestants lamely bravely soldier through every results night? They’re lip-synched. Er, pre-recorded.

Of course, astute (and deliciously good-looking) readers have been pointing out that fact on our message boards for weeks. And as I asked in my March 12 TV Watch recap about the elimination of Jorge Nuñez: “If he hadn’t been the lowest vote-getter, could the producers have eliminated him just for his total lack of lip-synching skills?” (Remember how Jorge’s lips seemed to be moving to an entirely different song during that bunk Michael Jackson medley?)

Anyhow, for the last several weeks, I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to get a comment from Fox on the decision to pre-record the group numbers. Yesterday, the Times beat me to it, getting confirmation from Manfred Westphal, a spokesman for FremantleMedia North America: “Due to extensive choreography and to balance their voices with open mikes against a screaming audience, the Idols do sing along to their own prerecorded vocal track during the group performances only.”

Okay, you say “sing along to their own prerecorded vocal track,” I say lip-synch. And “screaming audience”? Screaming in pain, maybe. I mean, even if you get past the fact that the group numbers are almost universally loathed among Idol fans, and come up with some viable reason not to cut them altogether, it still doesn’t make sense to go the pre-recorded route. Half the fun of results nights from seasons past was keeping your eyes focused on the contestants who clearly had no affinity for atroshe choreography (Jason Castro, Brooke White), and your ears attuned to the contestants whose off-pitch caterwauling killed any attempt at successful harmonizing (hi, Haley Scarnato!). Now, we’ve been robbed of even that questionable pleasure!

Anyone else flummoxed by this Idol turn of events? And if you ran the show, what would you do: Kill the group numbers altogether? Force the contestants to sing live, with no backing track? Or continue the lip-synching shenanigans?

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