In the season's most emotional results show, the judges overturn America's decision to send Matt home. Now the question lingers: Did they do the right thing?

By Michael Slezak
April 15, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT
Michael Becker/Fox
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It’s fitting that the most dramatic results show of American Idol‘s eighth season arrived during ”Songs of the Cinema” week — brought to you in part by Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Ford, Coca-Cola, AT&T, the soundtrack to Hannah Montana: The Movie, New Line Cinema’s 17 Again, Quentin Tarantino’s movie that cannot be named, and the Paula Abdul ”Forever Your Girl” jewelry line (an HSN exclusive!).

Indeed, watching Simon Cowell tell underdog contestant Matt Giraud that the judges had voted to overturn America’s decision and let him return to the Idol stage for disco night next week reminded me of that clichéd-but-effective moment that arrives near the end of nearly every Hollywood sports flick. The scrawny substitute quarterback throws a ”Hail Mary” pass into the end zone and pulls off the last-minute upset. The crooked little racehorse with the oversized heart gets up in the final stride to win the big race. The figure skater who’d nearly given up on her dream lands the quadruple jump and scores a perfect 10.

It’s okay, folks. Stop hiding those Kleenexes. Because in much the same way you get a free pass for tearing up at the end of hokey sports flicks, there’s also no need to apologize if you choked up at the sight of Matt’s six competitors rushing the stage for a heartfelt group hug at the end of tonight’s show. Heck, my tear ducts activated so unexpectedly, I was ready to blame it on my Thai red curry — till I realized I’d finished eating it before Adam Lambert had landed the night’s best punch line. (Yeah, I’m referring to his coy ”Did he mean it as an insult?” after Ryan noted that Simon had compared his Tuesday-night rendition of ”Born to Be Wild” to something out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

But back to the crying for a moment. You see, as genuine as my emotions were for Matt, the more I think about it, the more the story arc of tonight’s telecast feels less like a cinematic event and more like a particularly touching cell phone ad. (Sometimes I cry at those, too.) Matt hadn’t won the big game, after all. He’d just taken another step toward his inevitable fifth-place finish. And that raises a question: As much as the live studio audience tonight wanted to see A Miracle on Idol Street, was Matt really good enough to earn the Judges’ Save? As with all moments of ambivalence and indecision, I think it’s best to make a list of pros and cons.

NEXT: Good idea/bad idea

Pros: Based on his body of work to date, Matt certainly deserved to outlast fellow bottom-two dweller Lil Rounds, and a case could be made that (depending on how he performs the next two weeks) that he may or may not be worthy of finishing ahead of fellow bottom-three resident Anoop Desai and/or Danny Gokey, too. What’s more, Matt is one of only two remaining contestants who regularly plays an instrument. (Sorry, Allison, we need more than a few bars of ”Don’t Speak” on your axe before you get lumped in with Kris and Matt as Idol instrumentalists.) And finally, from a purely TV-centric point of view, after all the hype and discussion of the judges’ new veto power, it would’ve been pretty anticlimactic if they’d never used it, no?

Cons: How many chances can one guy get? The judges sent Matt to Hollywood, then gave him a spot in the semifinals. After America reacted badly the ”Viva La Vida” Incident, the judges handed him a Wild Card slot, then advanced him onward to the top 13. And now, after yet another public rejection, they choose to save him again? It doesn’t quite make sense, especially when the Judges’ Save was introduced (with much fanfare) as a way to remedy shocking miscarriages of Idol justice — not to provide a mid-season spike in the show’s water-cooler buzz and/or ratings. Not that Matt hasn’t grown on me over the last several months, but I felt more outrage this morning when I discovered there was no milk in the fridge (after pouring a bowl of Chex) than I did when Ryan announced Matt was the lowest vote-getter. No wonder Simon prefaced his veto by telling Matt he has no chance of winning the season 8 crown.

What’s more, as Simon noted, Matt’s encore presentation of ”Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” was actually worse than the cover he offered on Tuesday’s performance episode. We all know the judges have a hard time paying attention to minor details like, oh, vocals and stage presence, but if ”singing for your life” starts to sound more like ”singing atop the washing-machine spin cycle while going through puberty,” should the performance really end with the greatest Idol reward of all? And finally, there’s the matter of the ”what ifs.” From my seat, if Matt cracks the top 5 at the expense of Adam, Allison, or Kris, then I’m gonna organize a march on 19 Entertainment. And everybody’s gonna be armed with copies of Katharine McPhee’s debut disc, ’cause I play dirty like that.

NEXT: Slezak’s little ditty

Anyhow, no matter where you stand on Matt scoring a lifeline, it sure would’ve been nice if Ryan hadn’t engaged in such aggressive foreshadowing that, were this a horror film, he’d be playing the role of the negligee-clad cheerleader who says she’ll be ”right back” before heading to the basement cooler to grab a beer/get stabbed to death. In the opening minutes of the telecast alone, Ryan noted one of the contestants could be going home, that he was going to deliver news that could end an Idol dream, and that the audience could ”could be in store for a lil’ twist too.” (Yes, fellow Idoloonies, ”could” is the new ”for me, for you!”)

Even without all the hints, though, did anyone think Kara DioGuardi was going to let her season-long lust object slip through her fingers like a salmon wriggling out of a bear paw? Oh hell naw. It is with that image in mind (Matt as salmon, natch) that I continue my season 8 results-night tradition of writing an Idol-themed ditty, set to a Song of the Cinema — specifically ”And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls. Click here if you want a little musical accompaniment from tonight’s very special results-show guest, Jennifer Hudson!

And Simon’s telling you
Matt’s not going
He was almost kicked off the show
There’s no way Kara can let go
No, no, there’s no way
No, no, no, no way she’s living without Matt
Either with or without hat
She’ll go out on a limb
He’s staying
He’s staying
Regroup, Anoop
‘Cause you’re gonna love him
You’re gonna love him

Aside from Matt’s last-minute rescue, though, the rest of tonight’s one-hour telecast was a pretty sleepy affair, save for the chance to hear Jennifer Hudson’s world-class voice back on the Idol stage. (Where was all the footage, though, showing how little the judges’ appreciated J.Hud’s gifts during her season 3 run?) ”If This Isn’t Love” is not my favorite cut off Jennifer’s debut disc, but she sang it with such power and passion that it didn’t really matter. Oh, and the next time some ditzy vocalist excuses a poor performance by citing a malfunctioning equipment, just queue up some YouTube footage of J.Hud’s performance tonight. The woman had to keep fiddling with her ear monitor, but didn’t hit a single bum note in the process. I just wished we’d gotten a second track from the former Idol contestant, instead of a bleaty ballad by a teenage girl who’s got absolutely nothing to do with the competition. Oh, I’d mention her name, but doesn’t she already get enough publicity? (Instead, let’s give a shout-out to…Jesse Langseth and Ricky Braddy! Your invitations to appear on Idolatry remain open!)

Then again, at least Jesse and Ricky can take solace in the fact that they didn’t have to participate in this week’s ”Ford Music Video.” If I hadn’t made a note that the former segment was set to J. Geils Band’s groovy ”Freeze Frame” and featured the contestants frolicking on the covers of magazines with names like ”Satin” and ”Plaid Paisley,” I am almost certain this paragraph wouldn’t stand an adjective’s chance in Randy’s brain. (Though I do seem to recall Anoop lookin’ pretty jaunty in a black and white houndstooth fedora. Also, how come most of the contestants wear better clothes in these ad spots than they do during their performances?)

NEXT: The up- and downside of Zac Efron’s appearance

As for the night’s group performance, a tandem take on ”Maniac,” well, it was sung live. I think. And no one sounded atroshe. Really, the less said the better, no?

And finally, a two-part quiz:

Which of the following moments provided the night’s biggest burst of warm-fuzzies?
A. Discovering that covering a sappy Bryan Adams ballad is an immediate ticket to the bottom three.
B. Seeing Zac Efron genuinely thank the Top 7 Idols for coming to his movie premiere.
C. Allison growling, ”Oh! Limo! Cool!”
D. Kris wearing a half-unbuttoned plaid dress shirt over a black v-neck tee. (Dreamy!)
E. Simon chiming in that Kris’ ”Falling Slowly” was ”brilliant,” thereby negating Randy’s bunk Tuesday-night critique.

Which of the following made you most uncomfortable during tonight’s telecast?
A. Zac Efron showing up to the result show with greasy locks covered by a busted winter hat.
B. Randy failing to keep time with the beat on ”Maniac.”
C. Lil wearing a dress made out of green ’70s-era curtains and making ”old man” jokes about Danny.
D. Miley Cyrus raising her arms weirdly and repeatedly during her rendition of ”The Climb.”
E. Randy failing miserably to counterpunch at Simon by praising Danny’s ”Endless Love.”
F. Anoop landing in the bottom three despite giving one of the best performances of the night on Tuesday.

Do share your answers to these very important questions, and your thoughts on the rest of tonight’s show, in the comments section below. And if you’d like to be a call-in guest on Idolatry, shoot an email with your thoughts on this week in Idol (along with a daytime phone number) to Also: If you missed signing up this week for’s Idol Prediction Challenge, please do it now! Even if you missed scoring on Songs of the Cinema night, we keep tabs on week-to-week winners on our leaderboard, and hey, how often do you get to simultaneously face off against Lisa Rinna, The Insider’s Ross Mathews, and my upcoming Idolatry cohost Missy ?

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