'American Idol': On the scene at Top 11 elimination night
Image Credit: Michael Becker/PictureGroup“We’ll find out what you’ve done, right after this.” — Ryan Seacrest
Credit where credit’s due, America: What you lack in planning, you make up for in execution. Paige Miles should not have stuck around this long, but she’s gone now and we can all stop rocking our children feverishly to sleep. The curse of “Against All Odds” was probably not even necessary in her case — Miles (not Davis) had become so listless and non-factorish that upon her dismissal, those seated around me in the Idoldome’s neon embrace could barely be bothered to awwww, despite having been coached to do so for upwards of two hours.
Results night is always an adventure; unlike the assembly line of performance night (sing, judge, commercial, repeat), Wednesdays are more like a pinball machine. Everything dings and lights up. There’s often a pre-tape — for example, Miley Cyrus did not sing live — followed by an in-person star turn. The contestants are on stage at all times, and are allowed to speak as freely as their little hearts desire, which, when you’ve got f—ing weirdos like Siobhan Magnus in the mix, tends to be an adventure. To reiterate: I mean “f—ing weirdo” in the very most complimentary sense. That girl is crackers. I want to take a road trip with her, just to see where we end up.
Since my job on these recaps is to cover what you might not have seen on TV — you can read Slezak’s column if you want the broadcast minutia — and about 85 percent of the interesting things that happen on results nights take place off-camera, we’ve got a lot to tear into tonight. So much for “write short.” Onward, Idol soldiers!
Because of the aforementioned Miley Cyrus pre-tape, I got to the Idoldome at 4 p.m. for a show that didn’t go live until 6. My hopes for a “Party in the USA” dance party in the USA were immediately dashed upon seeing the piano and weeping willow trees on stage, and I wrote a frowny face in my notebook. Perked up a bit at the sight of the judges’ stand-ins: Ellen’s is a much older woman who would not look out of place dealing blackjack at a casino in downtown Vegas, Randy’s looks like he’s been on a juice diet, Kara’s is a solid and responsible-looking brunette, and Simon’s has a far rounder head. While we waited for Cyrus Time to begin, I noticed Tim Urban’s dad making the rounds in the family section, vigorously shaking everyone’s hands.
Idol semi-regular David Duchovny was in the house tonight, with his lovely tow-headed daughter and her lovely tow-headed friend in tow; Adam Shankman — he of the Last Song producing and dance-show something or anothering — had returned for another night. Crying Girl (and Rejected Contestant) Ashley Ferl was reportedly somewhere in the back of the room. If David Guetta was on site, I didn’t see him, because he was not jumping around and yelling happy things in French. I saw no signs worth mentioning, if only because I do not want to mention the poor girls with, honestly, the ugliest sign I have ever seen in my entire life who were back from yesterday with the same ugly sign. I will say only this: you may have a Marks-A-Lot in your glove compartment, but that does not mean you have any business writing in big letters.
Billy Ray Cyrus, a.k.a Dad, entered house left, provoking a wave of recognition that spread through the crowd like a slow virus. Glad to see he’s abandoned the Keith Urban hair for something a little more age-appropriate and Hasselhoffy. I think Billy Ray is sorta ridiculous, but I’m a fan of the Miley. She may not have the world’s best singing voice, and she may speak and frequently dress like one of the girls who stands outside the casinos in downtown Vegas encouraging people to buy foot-tall strawberry daiquiris, but Miley says what she thinks and seems to know who she is. I’m not sure how to argue with that.
“It’s a results show night, so someone’s gonna go home,” Cory the Warm-up Comedian told the crowd, who showed no signs that they were listening. “Did you vote?” Cory asked. Some people cheered. “This is Hollywood, you can lie,” Cory said. This is one of his favorite chestnuts. Cory told us Miley was about to come out and pre-tape her performance. “You guys gonna go see the movie?” Cory asked, after pointing Shankman out to the crowd. Shankman grimaced until the crowd more or less cheered. A girl in the mosh pit told Cory she was going to the premiere tomorrow. “Adam, what’s up with that?” Cory asked. “I didn’t get the Evite to the premiere.” Shankman showed no signs that he was listening.
Debbie the Stage Manager materialized from backstage, again wearing the most fetching pair of wide-leg pants. Tonight’s were plaid, and approximately the width of Big Mike’s torso. I coveted them. Then Ryan Seacrest appeared, and started charming the pit. “Who is in, and who is out? Tonight. On American Idol,” he said, using his fancy radio voice in a self-mocking way. The crowd laughed. Then he walked up to one of the “clock towers” (I learned tonight that’s what they call the balconies under the spinning globes of death), and we gave it up for Miley.
Miley entered in a long satin gown and sat down at the piano. This was not a skill I knew she had. (Tonight’s exhibition didn’t convince me.) “Doesn’t Miley look beautiful?” Debbie asked. Then, we waited. And waited. Ryan tried to fill the dead air with small talk. “Do you have your favorites? Who do you like?” he asked the crowd, and like Cory, got minimal response. “Any Ruben Studdard fans?” Ryan tried. Those of us old enough to remember the Velvet Teddy Bear laughed. Debbie asked Ryan to talk to Miley so Ms. Cyrus could test her in-ear monitors. “Miley, Ryan Seacrest,” Ryan said, in that radio voice again. “We’ll pay your bills tomorrow morning, 6 a.m., on KIIS FM.” Miley couldn’t hear him. Ryan tried again, this time by singing* [*not the right description] “Party in the USA.” With 30 seconds to go before pre-tape, they started pumping in thick smoke, which Ryan joked was gas. The swaybots vanished in the fog.
At some point during Miley’s pretty-decent-for-her performance of “When I Look at You,” I searched the room for her boyfriend before realizing I don’t know what he looks like. Settled contentedly back into the ballad — is she going for Martina? Mariah? — until all the hair-tossing yanked me right back out. We are not Sebastian Bach, I wrote in my notebook, and then started thinking: What is with that generation and all the hair-tossing? Miley, Taylor, Kristen Stewart — they all do it, substituting follicle motion for actual emotion or authenticity, and it’s really starting to irk me. I mean, I have a lot of hair, people. Rarely do I use it as a prop.
Miley finished singing, immediately slumped back into teenager posture. Did an interview with Ryan that one of my press colleagues later said was “like she was Joey Bishop or something.” While we waited to see if she’d have to run through the song again, Cory chastised “the whole city of Burbank” occupying the mosh pit for not swaying enough. “I wanna see arms, Burbank.”
Miley did not require a second take. Billy Ray headed for the door. Suddenly, we had a lot of time to kill.
By about 5:15, the stage right mosh pit had collapsed to the floor in a pile of Forever 21 finery. Duchovny and Shankman were drafted to pre-tape donation spots for the forthcoming “Idol Gives Back” special, then tell the camera the last things their mothers gave them, for reasons that were not quite clear. Duchovny: “Underwear, socks, and soap.” (“Promise you’re not going to use that for anything else,” he said.) Shankman: “A giant picture of herself.” Adam required a second take. “Adam is going home today,” Debbie cracked.
By 5:50, Cory had resorted to starting the wave.
The judges and Your. Top. 11. entered almost simultaneously, Kara in her shiny caftan (or “glitter Snuggie,” as one of my press colleagues put it), Big Mike blending in with the judges’ security guards. The TERROR INTRO began. That thing was like a send-up of a commercial for Lost. If you got voted off tonight, said Randy in a clip from yesterday, “you could miss out on a giant opportunity.” Because we are going to have you killed, I wrote.
The pre-recorded vocals of the group number were so rough they actually sounded live to me, and the choreography only got worse when you could see everyone stumbling around off-camera. Gotta give Crystal mad props for participating with both competence and enthusiasm. When the contestants finished torturing Wham!, and by extension my childhood, Katie Stevens found herself immediately in front of the judges’ table. She took the opportunity to greet each one of them personally once we cut to commercial.
Stylists arrived to pat down the kids with paper towels as they took their spots on the couches of safety. Crystal and Katie sat practically on top of each other, squeezed together by Big Mike, and chatted merrily. It was dark over there during the Ford commercial, but the ball fountain provoked what looked to be much giggling. IMPORTANT NOTE: I do not know if you could hear this at home, but when Andrew Garcia appeared in the Ford commercial, the girls in the room went nuts.
During Ry-Ry’s interview segment, I loved Katie’s hesitation about whether to tell millions of people that her dad was somewhere drinking during the show, and the parents around me did, too, all tittering with familiarity at the anecdote. The same parents also looooooved the sight of Big Mike and his newborn. (I don’t know if you guys heard or not but Big Mike recently bred. Seems strange they wouldn’t have brought that up before now.) Some of the mosh pit kids turned around to watch the monitor behind them rather than the human action taking place not 30 feet away on stage. When it was announced that Paige and Tim would be Bottom 3, enough people oh-no!ed about Tim that I knew he wasn’t going home. I noticed the judges (specifically the naughty study hall duo of Simon and Kara) were paying far closer attention to this than they did to anything last night.
We entered the pre-taped part of the show, and Debbie told the swaybots they could go ahead and sit back down. On the contestant couches, Andrew, Katie, and Crystal kept chatting, as Big Mike, Aaron, and Didi stared into space. Miley sounded way more nasally on the playback than she did while singing live. Billy Ray Cyrus did not return to watch the pre-tape live. When Miley finished, a man behind me said, by way of apology, “She’s only 17.” Not to keep harping on my age, but when I was a teenager, it never occurred to me to use it as an excuse. And in her defense, I don’t think Miley does, either. [Long Taylor Swift digression cut for space.]
The commercial break following Miley’s performance was the best one the Idoldome has seen in a long time: Cory pulled a five-year-old math whiz in a sport coat named Jasper on stage. Jasper had a Tim Urban haircut, and could not have been much more than two feet tall. Crystal and Katie immediately demanded hugs. Jasper, after seriously considering whether or not this was worth his time, toddled on over. Andrew Garcia gave him a fist-bump. Big Mike resisted the obvious urge to snack on the youngster and instead lifted him high in the air. “If the judges don’t show up, Jasper, are you interested in being a judge?” asked an impatient Debbie. Jasper, to his credit, was not. He is now the proud owner of a shiny new iPod Touch, which he will most certainly lose within the month.
Further elimination interviews were conducted. Ryan asked Crystal who she’d be listening to next week, Simon or Kara, and Crystal, god bless her, said, “Me.” The Urban family really liked this answer. After the seeming no-brainer of Andrew vs. Katie for Bottom 3 resulted in Katie moving to center stage — please see IMPORTANT NOTE, above — my section was legitimately shocked. But Katie almost immediately returned to the couches of safety, slumping towards a standing ovation from her fellow Idols. She was hungrily absorbed by Big Mike. Actually, as Paige and Tim headed over to the dark stool place (which I could not really see tonight, because there were two giant cameras in my way), the remaining contestants (now tour mates! $$!) did a lot of hugging. “Katie, how’s your dad doing right now?” Cory asked during the commercial, as though somehow Katie, who had not yet left the stage, and her father, somewhere drunk under a bar at the Grove, had been communicating telepathically. Then Cory gave someone a Samsung Mystic, which, just to refresh, is a type of phone.
I truly wish each and every one of you at home could have seen the faces of the contestants during whatever it was that Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas sang. The girls did a better job of masking their lack of enthusiasm than the guys. Lee Dewyze looked like he was involuntarily witnessing childbirth. At one point, Big Mike turned to Casey, and the two men had a silent, shrugging conversation that went one of three possible ways.
1. Big Mike: “Dude, what song is this?” Casey: “I have no idea, dude.”
2. Big Mike: “Dude, who are these people?” Casey: “I have no idea, dude.”
3. Big Mike: “Dude, you think I could bench press that Jonas?” Casey: “I have no idea, dude.”
Kara and Simon, upon seeing people singing on the stage in front of them, immediately started having a conversation.
I took serious exception to Joe Jonas’s statement that American Idol is “bigger” than the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I mean, just from a square footage perspective, he could not be wronger (still not a word).
Once we got to commercial, all the judges made a beeline for Jonas and Lovato. Ellen didn’t stay long, though, and started giving high-fives to the mosh pits. Demi and Joe followed her, creating brief pandemonium and generating significantly more volume than anyone else got out of those kids all night. Joe then shook the hands of every contestant, even though I’m not convinced he meant to. (He tried to get away with just meeting the girls, but Big Mike sort of enveloped him in a paw.) Cory rendered the iPods not-special by giving out another one.
Back for the final elimination. When the inevitable fate of Paige came to pass, the Urban family breathed a visible sign of relief. Andrew Garcia and Lee Dewyze huddled together for warmth, and I’ve decided I’d rather watch those two in some sort of Tenacious D-style buddy comedy than in any further episodes of this television program. Tim returned to the safety of the couches, and when Simon announced Paige had no chance at redemption, the Boy Who Is Not Yet Zac Efron sunk even lower into the blue cushions and mouthed, “Wow.”
Rather uneventful from here on out. Ryan kept his hand on Paige’s back during her Idol Journey Video, during which we learned she “had fun” and “would do this for free.” (I have some good news, Paige!) When they replayed Simon’s line about Ms. Not Davis having the best female voice in this competition, Kara and Simon shared quite the glance. And when Paige finished her quite all-right rendition of “All Right Now” — I noticed even Debbie shaking her plaid rump and giving a couple big ol’ Paula seal claps over in the corner — it was, of course, Tim Urban’s dad who gave our castoff the most enthusiastic round of applause. I have decided Tim can stay as long as he likes, just so we can keep Urban Dad. If you’d grown up in the same neighborhood as the 49 Urban children, theirs so totally would have been the house to hang at, the one with the Laserdisc player and the cool waterfall in the swimming pool and the seemingly endless supply of Fruit Roll-Ups and Diet Dr. Pepper in the fridge out back.
Enough! What did you think, PopWatchers? Happy (in a relative sense of the word) about your Idol tour roster? Was I the only dope to be surprised (again!) that no one mentioned Alex Chilton (again!)? Are you looking forward to Usher/R&B night next week? Will Usher bring Justin Bieber? Do you sometimes look up from your life and notice the “target demo” has moved so far away you can barely see it anymore? I don’t. Love you, Miley! And love you, dearest readers. I’m off for the next two weeks, passing the mic to my recapping coworkers John “Button” Young and Adam B. “The Beav” Vary. Take it away, gentlemen. Please.