By Whitney Pastorek
Updated April 01, 2009 at 02:51 PM EDT
Frank Micelotta/Fox

Sometimes when someone is on notice, PopWatchers, they do something extreme enough to flip back around to the other side and become completely awesome. Such was the case with one Kara “How Many Words?” DioGuardi tonight, and thus does she return to these recaps in a blaze of Young Guns glory.

First, might I share with you her definition of “artistry”? Yes. I might. You see, “artistry,” according to Kara, is “taking a song we’ve heard a million times and doing it in a way that’s unique.” That scratching noise you hear is every artist who ever lived digging their fingernails into the lid of their coffin in hopes that they might rise from the sodden earth and wrap their bloodless hands around her neck. But she didn’t stop there! How about her bizarre insistence that everyone who took the stage sing only songs that she, Kara DioGuardi, had predetermined would be the best songs for them to sing? Or her petulant snip to the booing crowd of “You get up here and do it, then”? (Oh baby. I would love to.) By the time she told Adam Lambert his performance made her feel like she was at “Studio 57,” I could do nothing but agree. Kara, you are awesome, and awesomely correct. It’s gonna take at least three extra studios to contain that guy. Hell, let’s put him in Studio 60.

After the jump, I break down the (kinda lackluster) non-Kara-related action at CBS Television City this afternoon, plus one more DioGlorious highlight: Remember that one time someone yelled “Broken record!” during Kara’s critique of Megan Joy’s performance? That was Megan Joy’s brother, CJ. And that wasn’t the only thing he said to her this evening. Onward!

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Let’s start with your obligatory celebrity follies: Say hello to the Lisa Rinna/Harry Hamlin family unit and their good buddy Carnie Wilson! Jillian Barberie had returned, and a dazzlingly slim Mandisa scored a chair next to someone who I’m still not certain was David Spade. My beloved Neil Patrick Harris was in the house, too, a couple rows beneath me in the bleachers. There, I occasionally pitied his celebrity — that guy is smart and loves music, and I can’t imagine it is pleasant to have to maintain an enthusiastic face while the kids on the stage are redefining mediocrity. But to his credit, he even clapped along merrily when the time was right. (Psst: Get me drunk sometime and I’ll tell you what he really thinks about everybody.) (Just kidding, Neil! You know I only take cash!)

Cory completed his warm-up slog — after last week’s dalliance with “ladies and gentlemen boys and girls are you ready,” he has gone back to the tried and true “aw yeah Hollywood make some noise” — then revealed the evening’s theme: “Popular iTunes Downloads.” “What does that even mean?” asked one of my Journo Row colleagues. “That could be anything!” I’m pretty sure it meant “We couldn’t get a mentor and we’re sick of doing birth years so whatever, just pick a song you like,” but who am I to judge? I am no Kara DioGuardi. I am but a humble entertainment writer trying to eke out a living without stabbing anybody. And so far, I totally rule at that.

Poster-board puns abounded in tonight’s audience, like “Go Go Gokey,” “Oh Danny Boy,” “Hot Sounds By Lil Rounds,” and “Vote for Kris.” I didn’t see any signs for Allison, but with three minutes to go the contestants took the stage and I realized there was no need to encourage her, because the young Ms. Iraheta — who apparently dyed at least one Idol staff member’s hair purple this week — is the most confident young woman I’ve seen in a long, long time. You wanna make fun of her? Go ahead. I am 100 percent certain she does not care, and anyway, people, has no one ever seen footage of Gwen Stefani before she got the Sporty Spice makeover? (Start here. I’ll wait.)

Once the excitement over Your!Top!9! began to wear off, it was time for the dramatic cold open… if only we could find Ryan. Ryan? Um. Ryan?? “Ryan, I need you!” yelled Debbie with 30 seconds to spare. I keep waiting for that guy to pull a Miss DTV and just vanish into thin air, but it wouldn’t be today; he soon appeared above us, the audience stood up and cheered, Debbie counted it off, “8…7…6…sit down…4…3…” and THIS was all going swimmingly until everyone kind of abandoned poor Scottie Mac midstage during the credits. I guarantee no one misses Alexis Grace more than him.

The strange patch of hair affixed to Anoop’s upper lip during his video intro: Made of the leftovers from Scott’s head, perhaps? Part of the same frat boy prank that forced him to sing that Usher song? (Good line, Kara!) The only person who gave Noopy’s swagger an ovation was one of Lil Rounds’ daughters, but she might have just been standing on that chair to see. Also, it was here that we got our first hints of a disaster far greater than Mr. Desai’s futile attempts to prove that he is fly: Paula’s critique, featuring something to do with “signature stabs,” was impossible to follow. Much like Cory, it seems she’s gone back to the old material.

During the first break, NPH gave a thumbs up and a wave to Kara as she left the room — NPH knows awesome! — and Cory went over to hassle Lil Rounds’ family. It is unclear whether he initially knew that the small children he was attempting to engage in conversation were family members (because they weren’t wearing giant pins with their mother’s face on them or anything), but Debbie soon tipped him off to their identity and he abruptly changed gears and tried to cover by giving them iTunes gift cards. “You can download Mommy!” he chirped. Maybe those gift cards can tuck you in at night now that the big mean show has taken Mommy away from you, I wrote. With 40 seconds to go, Debbie joked that judges were optional for the next segment, and they scurried back into their chairs.

I liked Megan Joy more after she used the phrase “punched me in the mouth.” I disliked her more after she sang. And just as I’d finished hooting with laughter at the brilliant cruelty of Kara opening with “I really like you, but” — you know it’s bad when they skip the outfit and go straight for the heart — a voice interrupted the DioGuarbot with “Broken record!” The voice seemed to come from Megan’s family, and sure enough, her brother CJ was more than happy to raise his hand and take responsibility. Kara ran off the rails and handed her flaming caboose to Paula, whose lucidity souffle further collapsed thanks to some nonsense about “where beauty develops.” Were I Megan, trying to make sense of what was almost surely my last critique on this television program, I think all I’d be able to come up with is “Can you get us Adele’s phone number?” Once the cameras were pointed elsewhere, Kara made mocking faces to Paula and Simon, presumably in reference to CJ talking back while she was trying to be authoritative. Paula and Simon ignored her. Meanwhile, Allison pretended to sock Danny Gokey in the eye right before the cameras turned on for their bump into commercial.

On her way out for break, Kara and her burly bodyguards stomped over to Megan’s family to have a little chat. Kara did not look happy. More cheerful was the conversation Cory was having with a kid who was wearing an “Anoop Troop” sticker and carrying a sign for Matt. The predictability of Cory’s shtick is such that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that this seven year old boy (“How old?” “12”) was getting an iPod the minute the comedian asked him “What’s been the best part of your vacation so far?” But then he didn’t. Cory walked away without giving the kid a damn thing, even though he’d totally gotten laughs for selling out his parents on the age bit. (Are they giving these kids deadpan training in the parking lot or something?) I got kind of confused and sad.

This sad was of course nothing compared to what I felt upon the announcement that Danny Gokey would be singing a Rascal Flatts song — but the good news is that I am forbidden to write about Rascal Flatts ever again, because if I can’t say anything nice, you know I won’t say anything at all. (Ahem.) So I’m free to use this space to comment on how nice it was for the producers to give one of their Chosen Ones the chance to defend himself from Simon’s “clumsy and amateurish” criticism last week, to point out that anyone having a hard time understanding why Danny Gokey is popular should really spend more time watching Gary LeVox, and to reassure you that Kara was completely correct in saying that all of us in the room were “moved emotionally” by Gokey’s performance. I know that I for one was nearly moved right out the door.*

The elders of Journo Row were plenty depressed by Allison’s comment that she “grew up” listening to “Don’t Speak,” as well as by Paula’s use of the word “axe” in her critique. This is where I started to suspect that Ms. Abdul had accidentally stumbled across the thesaurus we bought for Randy, and the new words — she’d also employ legato, cadence, and aborted tonight, using exactly one correctly — were starting to trip her up. This thought was enough to distract me from the fact that, once again, the incredible Iraheta did not get the focused critique she deserves. During the break, NPH signed autographs, and Cory’s mic was broken for a blissfully long time, but it came alive just in time for him to return to the 7/12 year old and hand him the iPod I knew he had coming all along. Whew.

Did I mention I spent last night at a Billy Joel concert? That makes me qualified to say that Scott’s performance was very much reminiscent of someone not as good as Billy Joel singing a Billy Joel song — but it didn’t suck as bad as everything else he’s done lately, so yay. My favorite part, however, was when he cracked a note halfway through and Kara looked over at Paula and Simon as if to say, “Guys! Guys! Did you hear that? Are we gonna make fun of him?” and they totally ignored her again, probably because Paula was too busy organizing her thoughts for the following commentary: “I must say that out of all the contestants that have graced the stage, I’m most proud of you. And I want the audience to know it has nothing to do about your challenge, but everything to do that makes me forget about that challenge.” Indeed.

Kara was back talking to Megan’s family during the break, while Debbie cleared the stage left pit for Matt Giraud to dive headfirst into a Fray song and crack his skull open on the rocks of overzealousness. I choose to believe he will not go home. I might be way wrong. But listen, Matt, on your way out the door, do be sure to limit yourself to a single genre of music so we know exactly which artist we should say you were not aping enough before you go, okay?

I can’t figure out what’s so strangely unsatisfying about Lil Rounds — she’s like Reduced Fat Wheat Thins or something — but her performance wasn’t the worst part of her segment this week. No, that would be the double whammy of the “Why can’t you just be Mary J. Blige” judges lobby and the flagrant foul committed by Ryan Seacrest and the producers in using Lil’s daughter for vote bait. Seriously? You’re gonna use the flesh of an innocent three year old to muffle the fact that regardless of how bad she was tonight, the judges’ comments were worse, and one of the Chosen Ones was suddenly crying on camera? Why doesn’t Megan get to use her kid as a crutch? Why didn’t Alexis, or Michael Sarver? If I brought an adorable moppet to the show, could I use it to fetch me Diet Cokes? I’m just saying it doesn’t seem fair. My cold, cold heart also saw an ulterior motive in the fact that Lil was allowed to come out during the commercial and hug her children tight, much like she was allowed to hug Terrence Howard last week. Don’t the other Idols have people they’d like to hug? Why don’t the producers ever bring enough gum for the whole class?

Descending into madness now, overstimulated completely during this commercial, I think Cory gave an iPod to someone over the age of eight, and Ryan draped himself over Randy as “7…6…stay there…5….” went Debbie, and Adam Lambert was upon us. Whenever that guy takes the stage I want to hide under my chair, though tonight that would have meant missing the chance to experience the sensation of Steven Tyler performing at Wigstock, circa 1989. The crowd loved it. The judges loved it. Kara said that thing about “Studio 57” and it looked like she was pretty much immediately corrected by Simon, so she stood up once they went to break, made eye contact with a friend in the audience, and made throat-slashing gestures while mouthing the words, “I’m dead.” By the time all the histrionics had died down, my brain smelled a bit like burnt toast, and so I just smiled like a dope while Kris sang pretty, watched him and Allison be adorable during the recap video, and fled the Idoldome as soon as possible.

And here is the moment you’ve all been waiting for: On our way to the Grove parking structure, two of my journalist buddies and I ran into Megan’s brother CJ. He’d sprinted back to get his phone out of the car and call their mom to see if she heard him say “Broken record!” on TV, and was all out of breath and flustered with excitement as he passed us going the other direction. We flagged him down, told him we were press, and then — being outside official Idol property lines and therefore allowed to talk to the families, as I understand the rules — we asked him what Kara wanted when she came stomping over to them. CJ said she seemed mad, and wanted to know what he meant by “broken record.” He responded with “‘Package artist’ is your package phrase,” which made her stomp away. When she came back, she tried to make light of it, but I get the sense that for the Familia de Alegria, Kara is now pretty much on notice for good. Which is too bad, because seriously, you guys, she is completely awesome.

That’s it! Your big show! I am tired! There will be more tomorrow! For now, PopWatchers, I ask only your thoughts: Who’d you love? Who’d you hate? Who can’t wait to get flashed by Lady GaGa tomorrow? And if you were one of the judges and wanted to offer completely disrespectful, contradictory, and/or nonsensical advice to one or more of the contestants, what would it be?

*Did you like that joke? You can find more just like it on my new blog, Whitney Rips Off Old Statler and Waldorf Routines Dot Com.