By Adam B. Vary
Updated April 29, 2009 at 02:42 PM EDT

This isn’t exactly going to thrill my editors, but I’ve gotta be honest, PopWatchers: Last night’s “Rat Pack” performance episode of American Idol was, for me, for you, for Idol, for all of us, kinda like that episode from the second season of Project Runway where everyone was tasked with making an outfit out of fresh flora — a bit precious in concept resulting in uniformly solid work from all the competitors and Nina Simon going kind of gaga over Daniel’s Glambert’s flowers theatricality. From a behind-the-scenes standpoint, however, it was a decidedly meh affair. How meh, you ask with your raised eyebrows? Put it this way: Towards the end of the night, Randy announced on Cory the Warm-Up Comic’s mic that Paula’s mother was in da house, and not once did anyone break into a spontaneous fit of cartwheels, crying-jags, or tortured, mixed metaphors. Instead, there was just a crush of warm hugs and smiles, causing my snark demon Smirkelstiltskin to scream, “Are you kidding me with this?!?” (Well, maybe not scream, per se. More like a tinny toot.)

For starters, the celeb count was quite low. I definitely caught 90210‘s Lori Loughlin, there with three adorable little girls all wearing matching American Idol baseball caps a few sizes too big for their moppet noggins, but that was it on the famous face front from my vantage point. I did keep thinking this one woman was Scrubs sweetheart Sarah Chalke — only she wasn’t. And there was this guy in a flopsy knit hat who could’ve been one of the Jonas brothers’ bohemian, iPhone-addicted cousins — except he (probably) wasn’t. There was also a fleeting moment of euphoria when Cory stepped on stage to begin his warm-up routine and it looked like his mic wasn’t working — except, alas, it was only on mute.

So thank jeebus for Kara DioGuardi, who, upon entering the Idol Thunderdome after Randy, literally fell ontoMr. Jackson as he was working the Swaypit, and almost fell out of her form-fitting dress. It’s exactly that kind of doofery from which hardy snark is born, and I was relieved to see at least one Idol denizen was in it to win it. For real, yo.

Once Kara and her bazooms were safely in her seat, the Idols were brought in, all of them looking quite sharp — although, I’m just gonna say, whatever your persuasion, I think we can all agree Kris would be in far less precarious a position for today’s vote totals if he’d come in sans tie and with one or two more buttons undone on his shirt. I mean, even Jamie Foxx came off like he’d already created his “KRIS IS SOOOO KEWL!” results show sign, complete with giant sparkly stars surrounding a massive Kris Allen portrait lovingly rendered in colored pencil. (Those with long memories, meanwhile, may recall a real version of this sign from last year’s Top 5 performance show.) The audience was certainly on his side too, last night, raucously exploding into cheers when Ryan merely announced that Kris was going first. I know it sounded like he was getting cheers on your TV, but I feel like they keep the sound board dial on the audience mics turned to a perpetual 4 when everything else is at a 7 or 8.

Perhaps that’s why Simon could not wait to be out of his seat when we went to break, leaping up before the Idol theme outro “music” had finished. (Yes, those are quotation marks, because, let’s face it, the theme “music” for the biggest music show on the planet doesn’t even have a melody, and barely contains what most would consider “notes.” But I digress. Again.) When we came back from the break, and Jamie “Please, people, please come see my movie The Soloist even if Fox won’t dare mention it since the flick’s studio Paramount evidently didn’t shell out for any ‘promotional consideration'” Foxx declared his undying devotion to Kris Allen…’s artistry in the video package, the audience launched into yet another ear-splitting tizzy. And they were well on their feet and bursting their vocal chords as young Mr. Allen landed his final high note. It was into this dewy atmosphere of barely contained adulation that Simon waded when he called Kris’ performance, ahem, “wet.” When Simon suggested Kris could never take the Idol crown, in fact, one deep-voice dude even bellowed “You’re crazy!” (I was so distracted by the audience’s reverence, meanwhile, that I completely missed the PAs positioning Allison into the Swaypit. Wah wah.)

As we swooshed into the break, Simon yet again was nearly off the judges’ platform before we were fully off the air, as if he couldn’t stand being there for a single second longer than he had to be. It’s curious, in hindsight, that he didn’t pull this stunt again the rest of the show; even though I agree that all told Kris was out-sung by most of his fellow Idols last night, Simon’s behavior does makes one wonder whether he may be in a wee bit of denial about the depth and breadth of Kris’ fan base.

When we came back from the break, Ryan pulled a Cory and tried to hook up Allison with a random, Justin Guarini hair-alike in the Swaypit, and then Allison earned a Standing O! that wasn’t as enthused as Kris’. Oh, by the way, I wanna ask y’all, when Randy said Allison looked like Brittany Murphy, and then Simon moaned that Allison “could be in trouble,” could you guys hear my eyes rolling? Watching it back on TV, I think I could.

As we entered the break, Randy playfully (I presume) grabbed the back of Simon’s neck as the Brit was leaving the platform and gave Simon a few good why-you-gotta-hate-on-Allison-dawg? shakes. Kara then began nattering at Simon as they both walked out of the studio, Simon moving at a far brisker clip than Kara. Paula, meanwhile, happily fielded a torrent of compliments from Cory the WUC on her red dress with the matching bosom embellishments before joking as she walked out of the studio that the frock was “from Simon’s closet.” (And who said Rat Pack night wouldn’t be classy?) Cory then mentioned that Adam Lambert was “wicked good,” but I couldn’t tell if he was foreshadowing or just reading off of the Adam Lambert sign that said “Adam is wicked good!”

Next up, Matt Giraud. Although, once more, the Western Michigan University grad sounded better in the studio than he did on TV — those falsetto notes of his especially — Matt received a merely tepid standing o, with all lowercase letters and no punctuation whatsoever. At the break, Gokey milled about the stage, chatting briefly with Debbie the Stage Manager, adjusting his mic stand, and allowing Miles the Idol men’s stylist to adjust his suit before they both disappeared backstage. (I guess it’s Miles we can thank for Gokey’s über-cuffs, huh?) Ryan and Debbie engaged a grey-haired duded sitting in the center of the bleachers in conversation, which looked to me it had the basic tenor of “Hey, dude, you’re [insert ostensibly well known celebrity that Adam plainly doesn’t recognize at all] — do you mind if Ryan heads over to you for a little camera time when we start this next segment?” The grey haired dude waved them off, and when I went back in slo-mo on the DVR of the ensuing mysterious-grey-haired-VIP-deprived intro package, I still couldn’t quite make out who the dude was or why Ryan and Debbie seemed so keen on putting him on live TV. Help me out, eagle-eyed P-Dubs: He’s the guy in the black shirt with grey hair sitting five seats in from the center aisle and two rows back from Simon ex-girlfriend Terri Seymour. Who is that guy?

We came back from the break, and as Danny power-growled his way through “Come Rain or Come Shine,” it dawned on me that I had not once that night seen the judges commiserate with each other during the performances, save the occasional “can you believe this?” look that Kara kept vainly throwing at any judge who would make eye-contact with her. Their restraint was quite refreshing to see, dear readers. It was also incredibly boring, but who ever said life was fair? The audience, by the by, was far too keyed into Gokey to even care about the judges’ absence of shenanigans — they were at a full STANDING O!! (yes, all caps, two exclamation points) well before Gokey was done with the song. As the judges heaped praise on him as a way to thank him for finally delivering a routine that validated their relentless hyping of him, Adam entered the studio and stood next to a row filled with his relatives, trying the best he could to greet them without distracting from Gokey’s still unfinished segment. Alas, his relatives didn’t quite catch on and were so emphatically happy to see him, I think they were responsible for Simon’s rare “uh, uh” stammer in the middle of his comments to Gokey.

The night’s final ad break unfolded as the rest had, with precious little by way of interesting stuff going on — save perhaps the deployment of the Idol Thunderstairs, as clear an indication that we’d be getting the Full Glambert Experience as any. But then, oh then, with less than 20 seconds to go before the break was over, a woman from the audience intercepted Simon en route to his judges’ seat. She emphatically began speaking with him about something so important, she didn’t know or didn’t care that she was keeping the judge from reaching his mark with a paltry 15…14…13…12…11…10 seconds to go before we were all on live TV. One of the on-set bodyguards basically had to step between the two of them to be able to get Simon to his chair. I have no idea what they could have possibly been talking about, but I do wonder if the woman will ever get a chance to air her grievances to an internationally famous reality competition show judge again. Probably not.

Finally, I must tip my hat to the Steadycam operators for Glambert’s “Feelin’ Good,” who unleashed some first-rate hustle while racing around Adam before he finished his epic final high note. Their work ethic was so impressive, actually, that I rose to my feet with the rest of the crowd on that note, a note that also got me wondering how exactly Adam could possibly out-do his own vocal acrobatics at this point in the show. (Maybe enter into frequencies only dogs can hear?) No matter; during the recap package, Adam’s Idol rivals came out to sincerely congratulate him, Kris first with a full two-armed hug, followed by Gokey with a solid one-armed bro hug, and then Giraud with a good-goin’ high-school-sports-coach slap on the shoulder. Allison appeared too nervous for any sort of physical contact, and Adam, Kris and Giraud instinctively surrounded her like protective big brothers; Gokey, through no fault of his own, found himself boxed out like the neighborhood kid who can’t quite take the hint. When Lambert hit the high note again in his recap clip, Kris pointed to the sky, as if to say, there’s this guy’s limit. Debbie lined ’em up, Ryan took us out, the 19 Entertainment logo chimed, and that was all she wrote for the Rat Back performance night.

So, P-Dubs, do you think Adam’s showmanship and voice have a limit? Which non-Brittany Murphy celeb do you feel Allison most resembled? Do you think Kris is in trouble and maybe should’ve sexed it up a bit more, or is Simon just dead wrong and Kris is a shoe-in for the finals? And do you think the muted sound levels of the crowd’s cheers gives a warped perception of a contestant’s ability to connect with a live audience, or are you simply grateful to be spared all the tweeners’ caterwauling?