It's an hour of shock and sadness as the Top 12 finalists are named. Can season 9 be saved?

By Michael Slezak
Updated March 12, 2010 at 05:00 PM EST
Fox

‘I don’t know what America wants to hear.” — Lilly Scott, seconds after being robbed of her spot in American Idol‘s season 9 top 12

Outrage. It’s as integral to the process of enjoying American Idol as seeing Simon Cowell’s insuppressible smile during a genuinely good audition, or rewinding your DVR after a performance by some heretofore anonymous kid who just gave you goosebumps all the way to your spleen.

Indeed, Idol‘s eight-season history is littered with unspeakable horrors that drove us to scream at our televisions and insist to anyone who’d listen: ”I’m done with this show! Never watching again!” My stomach clenches even now thinking about Jasmine Trias over Jennifer Hudson, Haley Scarnato over Sabrina Sloan (maybe that’s just me?), Sanjaya Malakar and Scott Savol over, well, pretty much anyone ever. But like I said, outrage is part of the process, imperative to create the ebbs and flows and emotional crescendos of American Idol the TV Show, even if it’s our least favorite byproduct of the relentless search for the next Kris Allen or Adam Lambert or Allison Iraheta.

So you’d think by season 9 — during the inconsequential semifinals, no less — it would be easy to brush off the bad judgment of speed-texting tweens, to process the way-too-early exits of Lilly Scott, Katelyn Epperly, and Alex Lambert (plus the sort-of-maybe-too-early ouster of Todrick Hall), and move on. Once upon a time, we survived Daughtry’s fourth-place finish, so why do the ritual killings of the dreams of four indisputably flawed semifinalists feel like they’re part of something bigger, a shifting of the tectonic plates at the core of the Idol universe?

Maybe it’s this: In the course of 21 episodes, we’ve endured the sadistic pillorying of Angela Martin, we’ve swallowed our disgust at the sight of Kara’s rogue left shoulder rubbing hungrily up and down Simon’s torso, we’ve witnessed precious few performances that would hold up to the Kelly Clarksons and Melinda Doolittles of Idol seasons past — let alone the Mandisas and Michael Johnses. (Heck, my own Glambert mother emailed me last week to say the parts of Idol she most looks forward to these days are Kris Allen’s Ford commercials. They are pretty freakin’ awesome, no?) And in the background all this time, we’ve heard the steady, approaching war drums of The X-Factor.

Which is why, for the past few weeks, we’ve looked to a ragtag group of 24 singers to reassure us that Idol‘s still got a little life in it yet. We wanted them to assure us that it’s not yet time to leap off this carnival ride, shrug our shoulders, and shout ”Thanks for the memories!” as we run full-tilt toward that monster rollercoaster the British guy with the deep V and the sunburned chest is erecting on the other side of the fairground. (Sorry, that was a lot of sentence.)

And that’s precisely why each abysmal voting result tonight stung so badly.

Katie Stevens getting more votes than Lilly Scott didn’t just mean that we’d lost the chrome-haired chick who experienced pitch problems Tuesday night on Patsy Cline’s ”I Fall to Pieces.” No, it meant we’d had the gift of surprise ripped out of our hands, and replaced by a three-pack of department store socks wrapped in ruffled, off-the-shoulder, hot-pink wrapping paper.

NEXT: Alex’s sad tears

Aaron Kelly outlasting Alex Lambert was demoralizing not just because the latter teenager was so shattered during his exit performance that he resembled an expendable crew member about to get devoured by a space creature in a bad sci-fi movie. It was demoralizing because we’d lost the most distinctive male voice in the competition — one that with a little nurturing had the potential to be something special — and now all we’re left with is a kid who’ll offer semi-competent covers of Rascal Flatts and Lonestar and Garth Brooks till he eventually goes home in ninth place.

And Katelyn Epperly going home before Paige Miles? Do I need to dig between the couch cushions for an outlandish metaphor to prove the point of how freakin’ wrong that is? No, I do not. Not if you heard Paige earlier this week channeling a car-battery jump-start to the tune of Charlie Chaplin’s ”Smile.”

Heck, on some level, I’m even gonna miss the histrionic gymnast-dancer who sullied the world’s favorite Kelly Clarkson tune in the most peculiar way. I mean, it’s not like Todrick Hall had (brace for Randy-ism in 5, 4, 3 ,2…) a million-billion in one chance of taking home the season 9 crown, but wouldn’t it have been more fun to spend a couple extra weeks with the guy who takes his coloring book and turns it into a papier-mäché sculpture than someone like Tim Urban, who’s going to bore you to tears filling in the outlines of better artists with his pale, insipid colors?

Of course, the notion that bad things were about to happen was telegraphed right from the show’s opening seconds. Please tell me I’m not the only Idoloonie out there who found himself deeply perturbed by the dated, red font the producers used to blast words like ”tonight,” and ”Top 12 revealed” and ”coveted spot” across our screens. And then, of course, there was the fact that a crying Katie Stevens was the last image flashed on the screen before the cameras cut to Ryan telling us ”we could be in for a surprise or two.”

Katelyn was the first to walk the plank last night. And somehow, when it came down to the shaggy haired blonde standing next to the ”Smile” killer, Simon declared that ”the one with the most potential is Paige,” thereby continuing the fascinating mythology that Ms. Miles is some kind of powerhouse vocalist who saves her ‘A’ game for those special times when her mic pack is switched off and there isn’t a camera within 100 yards of her. Memo to Paige: Survivor is the reality show where you win $1 million by hiding your gifts and ”flying under the radar” in the early parts of the game.

It must be said, though, that Katelyn’s sing-out to Carole King’s ”I Feel the Earth Move” was a vast improvement over her stilted Tuesday night rendition. Katelyn took a lot more chances vocally — twisting the melody till it resembled an origami swan that took flight. (Too much? Yes, oh dear God, yes. But it’s really late, Idoloonies, and I really believed Katelyn had Top 5 potential if she’d survived this week.) There’s a moral to Katelyn’s Tuesday-night ”Earth” and that is: Do not stand bench-less behind the keyboards when you’re on the Idol stage. Just like Kara trying to make an analogy, it never ends well.

NEXT: Todrick dances away

The night’s second elimination could’ve been a lot more suspenseful had Ryan put Aaron and Todrick in the ”one stays, one goes” positions — and if Todrick hadn’t chosen to wear hideous fingerless gloves for the second consecutive night. Did the dude learn nothing from Michelle Delamor and Jermaine Sellers last week?

Dear remaining contestants,
None of you people are performing a Today Show concert series from Rockefeller Plaza in the middle of January. Mittens, man-scarves, and Danny Gokey’s blinding white parka are all strictly verboten!
Love,
Slezak

Todrick, like Katelyn, delivered a far cleaner and more convincing exit vocal than he did when he was courting America’s votes. And as a reward for giving the performance of a lifetime, what’d Todrick get? Only the ”fun” of being lifted and swung around like a ragdoll by Big Mike. Oh, and also the parting gift of being taunted by a trying-to-be-helpful Ryan — ”I feel like we should go to the judges on that one!” — so that he may still be wondering if he’d missed filling out the required paperwork to qualify for the Judges’ Save Program.

Elimination No. 3 contained material that was unsuitable for young viewers, viewers with actual human-like emotions, viewers who enjoy good singing, and pretty much every other subset of our species with the possible exception of Heidi Montag and her new psychic manager. (God, please don’t smite my brain area for housing such hideous information.)

And that’s why I don’t want to talk about seeing He Who Might Have Had an Actual Chance to Crack the Top Three If He’d Cut His Mullet and Learned to Confidently Phrase a Song standing next to He Who Has Been Defined by His Cover of an Awesome Paula Abdul Track. I had already suspected Andrew was gonna be safe, since Ryan had previously chatted him up about what he had to say to his fallen comrades. (”I love them and I’m glad I met them”? Kinda sounds like a tepid yearbook autograph, no?) But, oh, really…no…no…no. I am not ready to be done with Alex and his bad Russian figure-skater hair. The two of ’em (Alex and his hair, along with Katelyn and Lilly) have an open invitation to appear on Idolatry whenever they are next in New York City*. I DON’T WANNA TALK ABOUT THIS ANYMORE, OKAY? Because I can’t bear to see Alex crying. And I can’t bear to see Siobhan crying about Alex crying. Let’s thank our lucky stars that Fox chose not to air slo-mo replays of whatever occurred during what Ryan called an intensely emotional ad break.

(*Offer does not include major holidays, airport layovers lasting less than one hour, nights when I have an Idol TV Watch recap due, or any time period where Matt Giraud is stopping by to perform Allison Iraheta’s ”Scars.” Standard text-messaging rates apply. Diet Dr. Pepper is on me. And I’m gonna expect you cats to sing. Jermaine Purifory, Tasha Layton, Jesse Langseth, Leneshe Young, Tami Gosnell, and Mishavonna Henson, this invitation also applies to you.)

NEXT: Lilly shows a hint of her outrage

And now I am going to slide myself back into a deep funk by returning the topic to Lilly’s ouster. Kara’s assessment that the juxtaposition of Lilly vs. Katie was ”very interesting” was perhaps only slightly less phony than when she told Ryan earlier in the week that she had nothing to do with the offensive proximity of hers and Simon’s chairs. I mean, come ON! Kara writes and produces hit records for a living; she has to know that Katie Stevens is the next Jasmine Murray, destined to be that name you’ll Google search in two years when some misguided season 11 contestant decides it’s a good idea to cover ”Put Your Records On.”

But since Kara didn’t have the guts to speaketh the truth, Lilly did it herself. ”I thought I did really well. I really gave it my all,” she said, clearly flummoxed by her swift and sudden downfall. ”I don’t know what America wants to hear.” Was Lilly response perhaps a tad cocksure? Um, yeah. I mean, it’s Idol, and everybody’s supposed to put up a faˆade of false modesty and wonderment — lest they lose a vote or two from easily offended audience members. But I have to give Lilly props for going out with her head held high, her feathers in her ears, and her own sense of Idol outrage as prominent as the zig-zags on her most curious tights.

Finally, a few random notations and observations…

A Memo to Simon and Kara: It is not your job to create an ”Idol moment.” That’s for the contestants. Stop frakkin touching each other.

A Memo to Ellen: Your hugs have consequences. For every bit of praise you lavish on Tim Urban for not totally tanking on ”Hallelujah,” there is a counterbalance. Hopefully you learned that when you saw the devastated face of Mushy Banana tonight. Bottom line: Not everyone gets a gold star.

A Memo to Big Mike: Glad-handing your fellow contestants for the duration of the already interminable group numbers only adds to the discomfort and disgust the audience is feeling. You have a newborn baby, sir, but this does not make you the father figure to the top 12 contestants and/or the entire home viewing audience. Thank you.

A Memo to Lacey Brown: Wait. What kind of artist do you want to be again? ”I like to sing songs that evoke emotions.” Ohhhh. Okay, thanks. I can’t wait to buy that masterpiece.

A Memo to the Group Performance Choreographer: Your journey ends tonight.

A Note About the Scott MacIntyre-#SignMattGiraud Duet: In cooking terms, Matt threw it down on the grill; Scott gently nudged it onto the dorm-room hot plate. Methinks Matt deserves a followup invite to return to the Idol stage (and not have to share it with anybody) later this season.

And finally…A Memo to the Crystal Bowersox: We feel your pain, MamaSox, and we hope that by next week, you’ll find the will to smile again, to enjoy the journey for however long this wacky nation of music lovers will allow. Because, honestly, we need you in this competition. We need you to give Siobhan a hug. We need you to keep up the jaunty repartee with Seacrest. And we need you to give guitar lessons to some of the doods.
p.s. We could read your lips after Katelyn got the axe, and we 100 percent agree with you. ”This is f—– up.” Yep, it is. But keep on carrying on.

What did you think of Idol‘s final semifinal results? Despite the ridiculata, are you gonna go the distance this year? Which of the 12 finalists are you excited about? And should we start a petition to end the Simon-Kara physical contact shtick? Despite my better judgment, I’ll be back here doin’ my thing next Tuesday night. Hope you’ll join me!

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