By Whitney Pastorek
Updated March 24, 2010 at 10:42 AM EDT
Credit: Michael Becker/Fox

Image Credit: Michael Becker/Fox“I don’t get the song choices tonight. I really don’t.” – Ellen Degeneres

Your Aunt Whittlz took her first steps into Idoldome Oh-Ten this afternoon with what could tentatively be termed optimism, PopWatchers. I have learned my lesson after yea these many years of writing blogs on this here website: You commenters can be tough, but you are never more cutting than when the author expresses a certain weary disdain for the subject at hand. New Season, New Attitude! was my TLC-reality-show-style motto today, fueled by the gorgeous L.A. weather and a meeting we had with the editors earlier in the year where they told us to stop writing so much about the damn Idol live broadcasts and just focus on what the people at home didn’t see on TV, because there’s no reason why anyone other than Slezak should have his personal life ruined enhanced by this travesty. I was going to get in, get out, write short, and then catch up on last week’s Lost, which I missed thanks to my annual trip to SXSW.

But you know, Idol is a cruel mistress. And because I feel confident that America got to see the full brunt of the heinocity they hath wrought on stage tonight, I’m sure you won’t mind when I answer my colleague Mandi Bierly’s rhetorical tweet question, “Worst night of Idol ever?” with a hearty “Probably, but how can you even tell anymore?”

Great job, speed-dialing Americans. We now get to spend the next 10 weeks with these yahoos. Hollywood, are you ready to make some noise?

From the top: Cory the Warm-Up Comedian was back tonight. Nothing about what he does has changed. American Idol is the only place in Hollywood where women don’t think twice about jumping on stage and shaking their moneymakers just because some shady stranger (i.e. Cory) tells them to. Should you find yourself in the Idol audience at any point in the future, have some dignity and don’t go up there. Also, do not be tempted by the ridiculous contestant swag Cory is tossing out during commercials, exclusively consisting of tote bags and t-shirts adorned with slogans like “Cougars for Casey.” (I’m not at all exaggerating when I tell you that particular item features an illustration of a woman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Kara DioGuardi.) Instead, wait for Cory to ask if you’d rather have what’s in the commemorative tote bag. It is not an iPod Touch. It is a Samsung Mystic, which is a type of telephone. There, I have just saved you some time.

Tonight’s signs were in no way extraordinary, because rhyming “Rox” with “Bowersox” is about as creative as putting the “Go” in “Gokey”. (What, you thought he was off the hook just because he’s not on the show anymore? Fools.) The in-house celebrity crop was similarly lackluster, with just Gordon Ramsey and Chi McBride (both Fox plants) on hand. This week’s mentor, Miley Cyrus, was also there, alongside her Last Song producer Adam Shankman, who also produced the Oscars. I am told he also has something to do with a televised dance competition, but I don’t watch those.

When Your. Top. 11. took the stage at the top of the show, I had a few observations: I would like Katie Stevens to start wearing more age-appropriate shoes. Didi Benami cuts a Carrie Underwood-esque figure. Crystal Bowersox looks great in a hippie dress. Siobhan Magnus needed to be singing Pat Benatar in her outfit/fauxhawk, or nothing at all. Michael Lynch could devour up to three of his fellow contestants without noticeably changing in size. With about 20 seconds to go, Debbie — whose wide-leg pants I now covet — directed Ryan Seacrest toward two audience girls sharing a single sign proposing marriage. He gestured the world’s least-sincere yesss fist-pump at the prospect of statutory polygamy. And THIS. was American Idol.

“Tonight, a lot is at stake,” Ry-Ry said to Randy, once the imminent catastrophe was under way. I wondered how far ahead of time Ryan thinks up his on-air conversation topics. But he had a point: Tonight’s performances would determine the tour roster, a magical unicorn of opportunity that Simon shortly revealed to be mostly about $$. Meanwhile, Kara started having a private conversation with Simon, an activity that did not stop for two hours. I do not know why she is so intent upon being his total bestie, nor do I know what they are talking about. I could warrant a few guesses, but in the interest of being kinder to Kara now that she has moved into the official Loopy Dancing Kook spot behind the judging table, I’m gonna lay off for fear she comes looking for my head later this season, threatening to hang it from her rearview mirror.

As the Idols filed off stage to get ready to perform, Andrew Garcia — who has creepily been reminding me of Gokey lately; anybody else? — shared a nervous handshake with Lee Dewyze. (Note: I am convinced at least two of this season’s contestants are using fake names.) Simon scored an Altoid from someone. I watched the Miley Cyrus introductory clip intently, trying to figure out if she was sporting a nose ring. I moved my hips like yeah when appropriate.

Lee Dewyze (fake name #1) sang a song called “The Letter” by a band called the Box Tops. This was the first of the night’s many terrible performances, rendered all the more so by one little technical detail that will haunt me until the day I die. As I myself tweetered this evening, only on American Idol can someone sing a song by a guy who died a week ago, with nary a mention of the guy who died a week ago. If you have been reading EW’s music blog, the Music Mix, over the course of the last week, you are well aware that Box Tops lead singer Alex Chilton died of a heart attack at age 59 on Wednesday, as he was preparing to travel to SXSW for a reunion performance with Big Star, the undeservedly under-the-radar band he fronted in adulthood. I can read Web stats; I know that most of you are not, in fact, reading EW’s music blog, the Music Mix. But still. Alex Chilton. Had a Replacements song written about him, helpfully titled “Alex Chilton”? Wrote the theme song to That ’70s Show, known before its cultural reappropriation as “In the Street,” off Big Star’s debut album, #1 Record? Is any of this ringing a bell? If, say, Lee Dewyze had sung a Beatles song the week John Lennon died, or a Nirvana song the week Kurt Cobain died, or a Corey Haim song two weeks ago, do you think we would have made it through the broadcast without hearing the names of those dearly departed individuals? Have I made my point yet? Did you kids miss my rage?

During the first commercial, Simon and Randy made a beeline for Miley. Cory asked us if we were “ready for some Paige Davis.” I worried that someone was about to come in and start aggressively rearranging the room’s furniture. Meanwhile, Paige Miles sat on the stools, waiting.

Paige Miles couldn’t really walk in her shoes, like she said, and minced backstage during her intro clip intro like a deer with bunions. Sadly, I do not believe that better footwear could have saved her performance of “Against All Odds,” because no one has ever sung a decent version of that song on this show ever. EVER. EV. ER. Not that 3/4 of the judges were overtly paying attention to what I dubbed “Paige Miles Sings Her Own Harmony, Live!” Simon and Kara were chatting merrily away. Randy was leaning back to try and join their conversation. Only Ellen was watching Paige, like some dweeb actually doing homework in study hall. After being eviscerated by the judges, Paige earned a lone standing ovation, from Tim Urban’s dad. Mr. Urban Dad was promptly chastised for doing this by one of Tim Urban’s 49 siblings.

Next commercial, Kara went straight to Miley.

Despite going all Super Bowl Springsteen on at least one cameraman, Tim Urban received the most scathing critique I’ve ever heard on this show, a drive-by Uzi shooting of takedowns that started off funny and then just kind of made us all depressed. As much as his chipper reggae version of “Under My Thumb” last week made me wonder if they’re even bothering to teach reading comprehension in schools anymore, he didn’t deserve that. Let’s not dwell here. It was dark.

Next commercial, Aaron Kelly appeared on stage and the swaybots in the pit started shrieking, but these two things were not connected: Tim had pulled a lucky blonde on stage for a hug. He may not be up to snuff as a vocalist or interpreter of lyrics, but if anyone’s interested in making a quick buck, you should send this kid on a dollar-per-squeeze hugging tour of American high schools. Meanwhile, Ryan and Aaron sat on the stools with nothing to say to each other. Kara talked to Simon.

When it was announced that Aaron would be tackling Aerosmith’s song about a giant deadly meteor hurtling towards earth, the mom next to me leaned over to her son and said, “I think this song’s too big for him.” During the performance — which was nowhere near as bad as it should have been; this kid is like the worrisome little love child of Clay Aiken and David Archuleta — Randy leaned back in his chair, pointed at Aaron, and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively at Miley.

Everyone listened respectfully to Crystal. Simon even nodded along. I do not know why the judges keep treating her like the talented kid in the t-ball league where the parents have voted that everyone gets trophies and therefore no one may stand out. Let’s all take this week and screen The Incredibles a couple times on DVD, to remind ourselves why exceptionalism is important. And then let us recall the words uttered by one Mister Randy “Yo, Yo, Wow, Um, Yo, It Was Terrible” Jackson, in the wake of Crystal’s performance: “I am so happy now!”

America, don’t you want Randy Jackson to be happy?

Next commercial break, Randy talked to Miley.

I would have given large sums of money to watch Gordon Ramsey hold back the sniggers during Big Mike’s performance, but then it occurred to me I should probably keep my money in case Big Mike asked us to tip our servers and try the veal. When the Love Unlimited Orchestra exited the stage, a woman in the row behind me was crying.

During Andrew Garcia’s baby-seal-esque clubbing of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” I wondered 1) if his wallet chain was connected to an actual wallet and 2) what number I dial to vote for Rickey Minor. And I swear to god beyond that all I could think was, “Wow, this guy was so much better that one time he covered ‘Straight Up’ on acoustic guitar.” Weird, I know. I feel kinda bad boxing him in like that, but no one else seems willing to bring it up so I guess it’s on me.

Next commercial, Kara went to explain Andrew’s problem to Miley. My rudimentary lip-reading skills picked up her saying, “He did this Paula song, and it was ridiculous, and then…” Here, she gestured a collapse.

During Katie Stevens’s performance, Simon held his head in his left hand, one finger clearly in his ear. Katie’s voice could not have sounded wronger (yes, I know that’s not a word) on the Fergie cover, but everyone seemed very thrilled that she picked a song from somewhere within the last two decades. Every time I hear the judges go off on how the pretty pageant pony needs to sing her age, I wonder if they would have told LeAnn Rimes to work younger, too.

Next commercial, Simon talked to Miley. Casey sat on the stools and tried to decide if the “Cougars for Casey” shirt made him uncomfortable or not. If I had to guess, I’d say no. Of all the contestants, he seems to be the only one having a straightforward good time.

During Casey’s introductory clip reel, Kara leaned back in her chair and rolled her eyes at Miley. I hope to god it was because of the “I’m a big fan…of your dad” crack, and not because she is secretly two-timing Casey with her husband. During Casey’s performance, Ellen looked the most consternated I’ve seen her look since she went on Oprah to talk about gay marriage. Then Simon complained that Casey’s version of “Power of Love was “identical” to that of Huey Lewis. It was not. Casey repeatedly transposed “might” and “just” in the chorus. This bothered the crap out of me.

Next commercial, Kara literally shoved Simon out of the way to get to Miley.

Didi Benami (fake name #2) is like Megan Joy with conviction, and I want to know what kind of upper-arm workouts she does. After Didi was run out of town by the judges and we cut to commercial, Debbie the Stage Manager came over and said something to her that looked reassuring. Kara sat at the judging table, violently winging shirts at people’s heads on Cory’s behalf. She throws approximately as well as she dances. The horn section assembled on stage, demolishing my last hopes that Siobhan Magnus was singing a Pat Benatar song. Right before we came back from break, Debbie moved three of the horn players into a semicircle around Ry-Ry, who noticed he was now the only one in the group not wearing sunglasses. A helpful swaybot handed up a pair of Olsen Twins-style shades; Ryan rejected them. A dad in the pit handed up another option just as Ryan’s dapper groomer emerged from the wings with a third set. In the end, I believe Ryan went with both latter pairs at some point.

I love that people keep calling Siobhan “different.” When I was her age, folks were very fond of using “unique” in a similar way. Me, I’m going with “so f—ing weird.” When Your. Top. 11. reassembled on stage to observe the clips reminding us what they just did, Siobhan got a lot of hugs. Personally, I do not care for her Glambert-lite screeching, but do not want her to ever, ever stop doing it. In fact, when she suggested she screech for a whole song next week, I mentally set my DVR to “save until manually deleted.” Siobhan’s f—ing weirdness is, without question, one of only two reasons the show is worth watching this season in my opinion, the other being the free mini-concerts we’re getting each week from Crystal.

When the show was over, everyone went straight to Miley.

What did you think, PopWatchers? Who’s going home this week? Can all of them go, and then maybe we spend the next 10 weeks watching Crystal and Siobhan play dueling banjos? What about just cutting to Top 5? Who would that even be at this point? Are you happy with the choices you’ve made? Have you learned anything about consequences yet? Can the Judges’ Save be applied to all of us?