Credit: Michael Becker/Fox/PictureGroup

The Idoldome giveth and it taketh away. In the case of Thursday night’s Top 12 results show, it offered us a group performance that (for once) delivered the goods, plus some St. Patrick’s Day stage lighting and a snazzy drink coaster 10th Anniversary Idol CD. But in exchange for these fine gifts, Karen Rodriguez had to bid adieu to her Idol dreams. Tears were shed (not only by Karen), hugs were exchanged, and Bones started at its scheduled time. Life moves on, but let’s hold on to that single hour in the Idoldome just a bit longer and dive into the moments you didn’t see on TV.

First and foremost, I want to reiterate that Ryan Seacrest is as competent as reality-show hosts get. From where I was sitting — I had the innermost seat and was surrounded/imprisoned by a posse of eight tween-age girls — I had an excellent view of Seacrest’s main teleprompter. And what amazed me was how frequently Seacrest went off script, adding little tidbits here and there. Furthermore, the teleprompter sometimes couldn’t keep up with Seacrest, and the host effortlessly filled those gaps with an extra aside or two. Sure, he’s been doing this for 10 seasons and gets paid a fortune to do so, but I’m still nonetheless impressed by the guy’s everlasting reservoir of energy, and I can forgive him for such occasional tangents as asking Steven Tyler to define the word “goop.” (In Tyler’s words, it’s the “stuff you get when you’re creative to get the job done,” but this scene from Flubber would have also sufficed).

Seacrest brought out the Top 12 and we went straight into a group performance mash-up of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” (I must admit that the latter tune, despite my initial reservations, has grown on me). Now, this is likely the 286th time we’ve mentioned that nearly every Idol performance sounds better in the Idoldome than it does on TV, and that was once again the case here. In the Dome, the kids rocked it (regardless of whether they were assisted by a backing track), and the audience entered a state of genuine ecstasy. Poor Haley and Pia, though. They were stationed stage-left and were left out of the performance for such a long time that their cameraman managed to read two-thirds of Anna Karenina before the girls’ moment finally arrived. And while waiting for their cue, the two singers continuously danced in place, like animatronic creatures from a Disneyland ride.

The group song ended and we went to our first commercial break. Jacob appeared the most pleased with the performance, applauding wildly as he returned to the Top 12 couch. The makeup team materialized from thin air and dabbed the sweat off of the contestants’ faces (or, in the case of Casey, they played with his curls). And Jay-The-Back-Up-But-Actually-More-Entertaining-Than-Cory-Warm-Up-Guy reintroduced each of the judges. I doubt, though, that Jennifer Lopez appreciated Jay describing her as an actress who starred in “two blockbuster movies.” How did he arrive at the number two? At the time, I thought Jay was undervaluing J.Lo’s movie career, but her top-grossing film was Maid in Manhattan, and that earned $94 million domestically. Blockbuster status? Not really. But then again, Jay’s a guy who can barely contain his excitement while handing out ice-cream certificates to the audience.

On to the movie-themed Ford music video, set to Bowling for Soup’s “Val Kilmer” (Idol producers, that was the best song you could find?). Upon seeing himself cast as a spooky horror-film thug, James raised his arm victoriously into the air. And as the video ended with an implied romance between Stefano and Haley, Jacob raised his finger to his mouth and pretended to gag. Seacrest informed the audience that Oprah had stopped by overnight and left Idol Anniversary CDs under each chair. Led by Scotty, the front row of the Top 12 looked under their seats as well. Alas, no CDs for them. Suckers!

Jacob, Lauren, and Casey were all declared safe, and then Haley and Paul were brought center stage. When Haley said she’d like to combine rock, blues, and funk all into one song, the 11-year-old girl next to me shouted, “Get the goop!” But Haley was sent to the stool of shame, while Paul was saved. During the break, Casey and Jacob walked across the stage to presumably console Haley, but Debbie the Stage Manager had already led Haley offstage so that it could be prepped for Lee DeWyze’s band. Last year’s Idol winner slowly emerged, strumming his beloved guitar. Randy went onstage to greet Lee, and for a quick moment I was teleported to the long-forgotten mirage that was Season 9. With a few seconds left until we returned from the break, Lee whispered into the mic, “Here we go again.”

And there we went again, as Lee sang his newest single “Beautiful Like You.” The Top 12 rocked their heads — such good sports, they are — while Scotty had particular trouble figuring out how to clap in rhythm. Unlike Adam Lambert last week, Lee did not walk over to the couch and say hello to the Idol hopefuls. After Lee’s band left the stage, various segments of the audience shouted their adoration for particular contestants: “We love you, Stefano,” followed by “We love you, Casey” and “We love you, James.” When we returned from the break, Scotty, Pia, and James discovered they were still “in it to win it,” and Stefano and Thia were declared safe while Naima and Karen were sent to join Haley as the night’s bottom three.

During the following break, Nigel Lythgoe initiated a long conversation with the nine contestants remaining on the couch. On the stools, Karen and Haley fixed their hair in preparation for the pre-taped performance by the Black Eyed Peas. (I wasn’t there when the BEP performed, so I cannot comment on their stage presence or Fergie’s, um, different look). Jay asked the audience if anyone had been waiting for months to score their Idol tickets, and James gamely raised his hand. Karen, Haley, and Naima walked to the center of the stage, where Seacrest shook each of their hands. The judges conversed with one another, but it didn’t appear as if they were seriously considering the three singers’ fates.

Then the moment came. Seacrest revealed that Naima was safe (on the teleprompter, her name was spelled phonetically as Na-eema). Upon returning to the Idol couch, Stefano stood up and hugged Naima, and Jacob gave her a big on-the-cheek kiss. Next, Seacrest announced that Haley was safe and that Karen would be singing for her survival. The 21-year-old New Yorker performed Mariah Carey’s “Hero” one last time, while the judges leaned in and “deliberated” (I think this was just for show, but who knows?).

Randy told Karen that while the decision wasn’t unanimous, they unfortunately wouldn’t be using the judges’ save for her. As the credits began to roll, the judges were the first to step onstage and console the tearful Karen. Lopez gave the eliminated contestant an extended hug, but it was nothing compared the 15-second embrace Karen soon received from a clearly devastated Naima. Finally, Jacob joined the hug fest, and that was the final image I was left with — Karen, Naima, and Jacob as a tight-knit group of friends, suddenly realizing that their trio just became a much-lonelier duo.

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