Image Credit: Michael Becker/PictureGroupI should tell you up front, I did not get to see Ke$ha perform at last night’s American Idol results show. Or, rather, I did not get to see her perform live. The pop tartlet pre-taped her performance a few hours before the live show, and I couldn’t make it over to CBS Television City in time to see it. So I have no fun anecdotes to share about how her dancers managed those oversized TV-screen headdresses, or whether the production had trouble getting the shot of Sarah Chalke in an SNL skit Ke$ha kicking in that TV set like the iconoclast she is. I know, I know; my snark demon Smirkelstiltskin is disappointed too. He was so looking forward to foraging through Ke$ha’s hair for crumpled Red Bull cans and dried chunks of glitter paint.

I did arrive at the Idoldome, though, in time to see the crew striking Ke$ha’s band equipment — or, rather, what I thought at the time was the crew striking Ke$ha’s band equipment. But with 26 minutes left to air, the drumset, amps, and mic stands were still up, and the crew appeared to be just fiddling with them; with 11 minutes left, the crew had all disappeared. When Jay the Substitute Warm Up Comic took to the stage — bringing three audience members up to sing for an iPod Touch — it occurred to me that the amp with the manatee beach towel draped over it was a bit too hipster cute for Ke$ha’s garbage-chic appetite. It began to dawn on me that, if the show was actually opening with either David Cook or Orianthi, we would be spared the horrid spectacle that is the group performances. Then the aforementioned audience members began singing, and I realized God does not give with both hands.

With four minutes to go, Jay introduced the judges, starting with Randy. He then began a long wind-up for Ellen’s intro, getting the audience whipped up into a minor frenzy for Idol‘s newest judge. Into that storm, and to Smirkelstiltskin’s unending delight, stepped Kara DioGuardi, obliviously waving to the increasingly enthusiastic crowd as if their cheers were for her. Finally, Jay said, “Welcome Ellllllennnn DeGennneressss!” Kara spun around and looked at Ellen with an expression that Smirkel is currently immortalizing in a charcoal portrait he’s tentatively calling “Willful Bewilderment.”

After Simon finally showed with just a minute to go before air, the judges talked and laughed through that entire creepy-cheesy opening video. Debbie the Stage Manager walked Ryan up the aisle near my seat; Didi shared some fist bumps with Aaron, Siobhan, and Tim (and seemingly only stopped after she couldn’t reach anyone else in the back row); and David Cook stepped on stage and strapped on his guitar.

I said in yesterday’s on-the-scene recap that the judges barely talked during the Top 12’s first live performances inside the Idoldome, but last night Simon, Ryan, and Randy were back to their old shenanigans, huddled around Simon’s chair and talking right through at least half of Davey C.’s “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” Of the current Idol hopefuls, Lee appeared to be the most interested what David was cooking (eh? eh?), but once he noticed Simon, Ryan, and Randy gabbing away, season 9 wannabe David Cook just started shooting daggers at the judges table. Ah, Lee, it’s gonna be a long season if that’s your threshold for bad manners. (Poor Aaron, meanwhile, just looked mildly disoriented by all the jangly rock-and-roll.)

At the ad break, Simon was the first judge out of his seat to greet the season 7 Idol champeen, and the first to head outside after he was done. The Idol crew cleared out the band equipment with such clockwork efficiency, I was certain Ryan had cast a Scourgify spell (because we all know Ryan is secretly Simon’s personal house elf). (No, I do not regret that joke at all; why are you looking at me that way?) The Idols themselves nervously took it all in and barely spoke a word.

Back from the break, the Top 12 adorably attempted to make the words “Ford Fiesta” seem hip and playful, and not reminiscent of a tin can with wheels. Paige proved a laryngitis sob story can’t make up for three weeks of making no impression whatsoever, and was the first to be sent to the silver stools of doom. Ellen told the world that Simon had asked her “What is a Snooki’s poof?” just as I was writing down that very quote in my notebook. And we learned that Tim’s enviable hair and fitted threads aren’t quite enough to rescue him from ill conceived reggae remixes.

At the ad break, Paige and Tim made what appeared to be some pleasant small talk. Ryan mumbled Accio Orianthi’s Band Equipment!” and it began to swiftly ensconce itself on the stage. Lee and Andrew entered into what looked like a rather serious discussion. And Crystal Bowersox began an animated conversation with one of the bald bodyguards who step to the lip of the stage in front of the velvet benches of safety at every ad break.

This conversation, in fact, would last practically the entire night, and it mystified me. In break after break, Crystal would point to someone or something out in the audience ’round about where her official friends contingent was sitting. The bodyguard would nod and look stern and slightly aggrieved. Crystal would gesticulate like she was nervous, angry, frustrated, or some combination therein. Nothing would appear to be resolved by the time the judges wandered back to their seats, and the entire cycle would pick up again at the next break. At one point towards the end of the night, it got to the point where Crystal was nervously pacing on the stage, the only Idol contestant who wasn’t seated. She then tried to talk with a stagehand, and still appeared to get nowhere. If I were to guess, I’d say Crystal was attempting to walk down to her friends seated in the audience, but I was seated last night next to American Idol guru extraordinaire Richard Rushfield, late of the Los Angeles Times, and he said that sort of decision is made by Debbie, not the bodyguards. Debbie, however, never appeared to register that this conversation was even happening. Stranger still, neither did any of the other Idols. ‘Tis a mys’try, dead dear readers, ’tis a mys’try. [UPDATE: No mys’try about my use of “dead” instead of “dear,” dear readers; blame late night deadlines and proximal “d” and “r” keys.]

Back from the post-Paige-and-Tim-are-bottom-three’d ad break, a woman sitting a few rows behind me bellowed “I love you Tim!” just as Ryan began talking with Green Contacts and Fitted T-Shirt. Orianthi took to the stage, and when Ryan introduced her, he apparently conjured some kind of invisible wind machine for the blonde Aussie. Lee leaned in with the same “I totally dig your stuff, man” expression he’d used with David Cook, while the rest of the benched Idols worked out their nervous energy by pathologically moving their bodies to the beat. Siobhan and Aaron led the Idols in a standing ovation at the end.

This time, Randy was the first one to hustle up to Orianthi at the ad break, followed by Ellen, then a more reluctant Kara and Simon. Ryan murmured “Scourgify!” once more, and Orianthi’s band equipment zapped out of existence. On her way back to the judges table (and then out the soundstage doors), Ellen hugged a few lucky drones in the stage right sway pit. Finally, Orianthi walked over to the Idols, guitar still strapped on her shoulder, giving out solid hugs to the front row, and firm handshakes to the back row. And Jay the Sub Warm Up Comic continued his comprehensive demographic profile of the Idol studio audience, asking “Who’s got a job in the room?” He paused. “My parole officer got me this job.” Har.

Back from the break, Didi began talking about her mom, and someone backstage let out an epic sneeze. Once Ryan started polling the judges about what sort of artist Katie should be, I finally noticed that Kara and Randy had swapped seats — I blame my continued preoccupation with l’Affair Bowersox on the oversight. As Casey and Lacey stood to receive the bad news, a woman directly behind me screamed “Casey!” Lacey was sent to the bottom three, Tim was saved, and as we went to the break, the hair-blessed Texan slumped back onto his spot on the benches with a giant sigh of relief.

The judges all left, and remained backstage until after Ke$ha’s pre-taped performance. Ryan apparated Lacey and Paige off the stage, and then took to the stage right catwalk to “introduce” Ke$ha. In stark contrast to Orianthi’s live performance, only Lee and Andrew were visibly grooving to all the blah blah blahing; everyone else stayed dead still. Ryan apparated Lacey and Paige back next to him for Ke$ha’s outro, and we were back into an ad break. Debbie placed the bottom two stage center, and the Idol roommates managed to laugh a bit, and not nervously so, either. As the judges finally filed back into the Idoldome, Jay said, “Are you ready to find out [who’s going home]? There’s a lot of tension in the room.” Yes, there was, in the way that there’s a lot of tension in Abe Vigoda’s face.

We came back, Ryan told Paige she was safe, and Jan Hooks Lacey’s mom cheered on her daughter: “Come on, Lacey!” I liked how Lacey got to choose her farewell-but-please-think-about-bringing-me-back song, and the audience stood at the end of her lilting performance of “The Story,” but no one was exactly surprised by the outcome. Lacey watched her Idol story, and Debbie gathered the remaining 11 Idols around her. The 19 Entertainment logo chirped, and Simon was the first judge up to wish Lacey well, although Kara and Randy spent at least twice as much time with the red head as either Simon or Ellen.

Lacey finally left the stage, but the audience stayed put for yet another musical guest performance pre-tape, for an Idol results show in the undetermined future. But what took the Idol crew mere minutes to accomplish with the obvious aid of Ryan’s house elf magic stretched into a full half-hour of equipment prep when Ryan was nowhere to be seen. We didn’t even learn until halfway through the interminable set-up that Sons of Sylvia was the name of the band we were waiting to see, although that was just as well, really, since no one in the studio seemed to have a clue who the country rock trio even were.And that would be the winners of the gangbusters 2007 Fox reality competition program The Next Great American Band, backwhen they were known as The Clark Brothers. I’ve already spent way too many words on these dudes, since I left after they finally made it through a rehearsal for a song with such a generic hook — “Oh, whatcha waiting for / One more step and you’re out that door” — I can scarcely conjure even a few notes from it at all.

Rather than end on that sour note, though, I’ll note instead that as Lacey’s teary mama left the Idoldome for likely the last time, she shared a warm consoling hug from Aaron Kelly’s adopted mother. See, much better!

Next week, my colleague-in-snark Whitney Pastorek will be handling your Idol on-the-scene duties, followed by EW’s newest Idol newshound, the mighty John Young. In the meantime, how did you feel about last night’s results show? Do you have any theories as to what had MamaSox so worked up? And if Idol hopes to ward off the group performances by booking three pro acts per results show, who would be your dream guest Idol performer?