With plenty of drama unfolding among Hollywood Week groups, the case for the ouster of early favorites (like Deanna Brown) is curiously missing

By Michael Slezak
Updated February 05, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST
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Get out your freshly sharpened No. 2s; it’s time for the American Idol: Hollywood Week Quiz!

Question 1: It’s episode two of Hell Week, focusing on group performances by 100 or so of the nation’s finest undiscovered singers. Would you rather: (A) Listen to the vocal stylings of Megan Corkrey, Michael Castro, and a dozen or so other contestants who haven’t made a peep since their memorable auditions? (B) Turn the first half of the one-hour telecast into a music-free experience that instead focuses on hysterical meltdowns by folks who appear to be suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

Question 2: You are surprised to see a charming, talented contestant (such as Deanna Brown, David Osmond, or Jessica Furney) get the boot. As an emotionally invested Idol fan, your viewing experience would be enhanced by: (A) The chance to see a clip of said singer’s audition, so you’d understand why he or she didn’t advance. (B) No explanation whatsoever, only a quick cut to your favorite looking crushed, preferably fighting back tears.

Question 3: Which scenario would make for better television? (A) Anoop Desai belting his heart out. (B) A whiny trollop hiding under a comforter.

Question 4: Given the dearth of screen time for someone as seemingly terrific as Leneshe Young, what are your feelings about the way Fox aggressively replays old audition clips and teases ”coming up” footage before commercial breaks? (A) It sends me into a white-hot rage. (B) It’s essential; my short-term memory is as limited as Randy’s vocabulary.

Question 5: Do you think it’s mere coincidence that the producers always seem to pair audio of Ryan saying words like ”triumphant” and ”brilliant” and ”best” with video of particular contestants (i.e. Lil Rounds and Adam Lambert)? (A) Heck no! There’s no such thing as coincidence on Idol! (B) Of course it’s coincidence — and quit implying the producers have an agenda!

Question 6: Which do you prefer? (A) Singing. (B) Sobbing.

Okay, people. Put those pencils down. We could go over the answer key together, but you already know where this is going. If you answered ”A” to the above questions, you’re just like me, upset and anxious that Idol‘s Hindenburg-like trajectory over the last four weeks doesn’t just signal a less-than-stellar season 8, but possibly the beginning of the end of the show’s run as a pop-culture phenomenon. And if you marked ”B” six consecutive times, then an enthusiastic hello to Cecile Frot-Coutaz!

Seriously, though, if Idol‘s awesomely named producer is, in fact, reading this column, I’d like share with her four pieces of unsolicited advice that can help restore Idol‘s buzz-worthy status.

NEXT: Explain yourselves

I’m sure(ish) the judges have got their reasons for doing what they do, but if those reasons are valid, how come we’re not hearing ’em? Yes, yes, you knew this rant was coming, but the way the judges breezily dismissed Deanna Brown tonight — and the way the producers hadn’t allowed us to hear a note of her singing since the Jan. 13 season premiere — you’d never have guessed she’d given one of the year’s most intriguing auditions.

Now, I’m not totally deluded. I realize that Deanna’s brief, a capella performance of ”(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” from a Kansas City conference room may have been an anomaly, and that perhaps her Hollywood Week showing was marked by pitch problems and forgotten lyrics and disrespectful backtalk to the judges. But here’s the thing: It would’ve taken no more than, say, 15 seconds to give us an inkling about what exactly went wrong for Deanna. (In the case of class president Austin Sisneros, we got the gist in two notes, as he subbed the always hilarious term ”doo-doo” for his song’s actual lyrics.) And clearly, there were more than 15 seconds of fat that Fox could’ve chosen to trim from tonight’s broadcast to give Deanna the same treatment. And since they didn’t, that makes me suspicious.

Is it possible Deanna sang beautifully during Hell Week, but that, perhaps, her personality didn’t ”pop” on the TV screen? Or maybe she was great on camera, but didn’t have the kind of ”emotional” back story that could be milked by the show over the next 15 weeks? Or what if a bunch of 19 Entertainment execs got together and decided that the music on Deanna’s MySpace page wasn’t commercial enough for their multi-platinum purposes? (What label head would want his or her artist to muck up a perfectly good CD with creative input, anyway?) Whatever the case may be, Idol‘s inexplicable lack of disclosure has provided way too much fodder for my inner conspiracy theorist.

Can you imagine the outrage if, say, Grey’s Anatomy abruptly dumped Izzie and Denny — without the slightest explanation? (Um, wait…maybe that was a bad example, seeing how those unwatchable characters have been participating in ghost sex.) But you get my drift, right?

Folks bought over 4 million copies of Chris Daughtry’s debut album because of his singing voice — not his ”story arc.” Which doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a little of the self-induced drama that Hollywood Week creates among the contestants. And that’s why I understood perfectly well the reason that Idol‘s cameras never strayed far from crazy-dramatic Nate Marshall, crazy-moody Kristin McNamara, and crazy-red-haired Nancy Wilson — and why those cameras couldn’t turn away when tragically attired Tatiana Del Toto wandered over from her group to complete the quartet of crazy. (BTW, loved how Tatiana not only has the music inside her, but in Borg Queen-like fashion, seemed to be threatening to subsume the minds and bodies of her three singing partners, the four judges, the Idol sound boom operator, and any human within arm’s length of her reign of fabulousness.)

NEXT: Sanjaya’s ghost?

I mean, who doesn’t love a big, dramatic line-reading like ”IT’S NOT JUST YOUR DREAM AT STAKE!” (cried out by Nate, clearly lobbying for a role in that rumored remake of Fame). But who wants to see 20-plus minutes of ”drama” for drama’s sake, especially when it’s carried out by singers who’d probably consider it a successful Idol run if they could be season 8’s answer to, say, Danny Noriega or Alaina Whitaker?

The entire opening half hour of contestant squabbling and panicking, in fact, couldn’t match the emotional impact of the brief time spent on Emily Wynne-Hughes’ unexpected ouster. It broke my heart to see the cute pink-haired chick with the controversial earlobes choke back tears of shame after forgetting her Fleetwood Mac lyrics, and subsequently admit that ”[singing] is the only thing I know how to do.”

Here’s a thought: Maybe next season, Idol could do quick, post-elimination followup packages on a handful of Hollywood Week evictees, to show us how they’ve readjusted to civilian life and whether they’re still pursuing their musical dreams. I mean, I’d rather have seen a camera follow Emily’s reunion with her band, or Austin’s return to student government, or Jose Valenzuela’s first day back at his job in Sacramento, than have the producers devote another extended segment to She Who Should Have Stayed Under the Covers. (Unless, of course, Bikini Girl had revealed she’d been late to the Kodak on account of the time it took her to cut the shoulders out of her dress.) As my colleague Annie Barrett so scathingly put it in an IM to me tonight: ”I personally wish they’d devoted more than 30 minutes to Bikini Girl’s laziness/sleep habits/back problems. I wanted to know more!” That said, I laughed at (not with) BK when she gave that absurd pose while exiting the theater. Just a heads up — I don’t think FHM requires runway moves for its photo shoots.

We don’t need another Sanjaya. Please, somebody tell me that wasn’t Norman Gentle skating through the group rounds along with Jorge Nuñez. Because if that dude cracks the top 36, I’m not sure Idol will ever get its credibility back. It was one thing when, in season 6, a vocally limited teenager got in over his head — and then proceeded to get a swelled head — while courting Idol infamy. But Norman has not yet once performed a song from start to finish without infusing it with his ”camp” sense of ”humor.” Even though I used this quote from Simon last night, I think it’s worthy of an encore: ”Without the glasses and the silly headband, you’re just a boring person. And when you put the stupid outfit on, you become a joke…It’s just ridiculous.”

NEXT: Roughneck vs welder

And on that note, let’s do a quick rundown (in 11 words or less) of the 10 most memorable singers who scored at least a little bit of airtime tonight and advanced to the final 75. And to make it more fun, I’m gonna list ’em in order of preference.

Jesse Langseth: Newcomer’s ”Some Kind of Wonderful” smoked all the guys’ versions.

Jasmine Murray: Commercial as they come; initials could stand for ‘Just Money.’

Matt Breitzke: Welder turned up heat on vocals. And (whoa!) seems nice.

Danny Gokey: Super talented, but awareness of camera can work a nerve.

Adam Lambert: What’s with judges’ love of shrill oversinging?

Alex Wagner-Trugman: Best eyebrows of the season!

”Roughneck” Jeremy Michael Sarver: Don’t clap hands while holding mic. Round one to Welder.

Kris Allen: Vocals aiight. Where’d you get green argyle sweater?

Matt Giraud: Obama, please suggest bill outlawing aggressive vibrato!

India Morrison: Nothing wrong with rapping, but this is a singing competish, no?

Nathaniel Marshall: Fosse will haunt your dreams for those jank moves!

What did you think of tonight’s show? Was the singing content-to-ridiculous backstory ratio working your nerves? Did you notice Ryan said there were 107 contestants tonight, while at the end of Tuesday’s show, he said 104? And how funny was the reddening of Paula’s peepers after Ryan Pinkston accused her of having ”evil in her eyes”?

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American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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