We judge the ''American Idol'' judges: Paula is beginning to spin out of control, while Simon and Randy continue to phone it in
Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell, ...

”American Idol”: We judge the judges

Straight up, now tell me: When did Paula Abdul become American Idol‘s most entertaining judge?

I’m not saying the woman who once scored a hit duet with an animated cat has the most discerning musical taste in the world. In fact, when I saw Paula in concert back in the early ’90s (did I just publicly admit that?), she chose one of the era’s worst groups, Color Me Badd, as her opening act. Still, I’ll give Ms. Abdul this much: During the first two weeks of audition shows, she’s been a bizarre yet riveting presence, channeling a squeakier, less confident Faye Dunaway doing Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest.

Marvel as Paula widens her eyes in white-hot rage and storms out of the room! Try to look away from the screen as Paula unsuccessfully works a variety of increasingly disheveled hair, makeup, and clothing styles! Listen to Paula’s maniacal demands that she get a little of the respect that she’s entitled to!

Case in point: After New Orleans native Michael Liuzza belted out a surprisingly soulful tribute to his hometown, Paula started rambling on like an elderly aunt who’s sipped a little too much cooking sherry. When Simon cut her off, we got a classic bit of Abdullian lunacy: ”You take the joy out of me having fun showing love!” Oh, Paula! You had me at hello!

If only Simon and Randy found such joy in critiquing the mostly pitiful Idol hopefuls who showed up in Las Vegas and New Orleans. Listening to them phone in their comments, I started thinking how Idol really ought to consider emulating a network-TV veteran like Law & Order. No, not by launching 14 spin-offs (I’m almost done with my American Juniors memory-suppression therapy, thanks very much) but rather by regularly replacing a judge (or how about a host?) every couple seasons.

I’d upgrade the increasingly irrelevant Randy with bawdy and hilarious Mo’Nique, or at least someone with a bagful of evolving and memorable catchphrases. (Carson Kressley’s gonna need a new job soon, no?) After all, you needn’t have produced a Mariah Carey single to know when you’re listening to a budding superstar, but you do need lightning-fast wit and an actual point of view to stop me from switching over to Lost every 30 seconds.

And what about Simon’s dig that Emily Neves’ rendition of ”Girls Just Want to Have Fun” sounded like ”fingers going down a blackboard”? To use one of Mr. Cowell’s catchphrases, that insult ”simply wasn’t good enough.” I’m hoping Simon kicks it up a notch when they get to Hollywood. Otherwise, we’re going to have to bring in a real firecracker to blow things up from the judges’ stand; you’d certainly never have a dull episode if, say, Courtney Love or Bill O’Reilly were passing judgment on the contenders, would you?

Still, as much as a dash of fresh guest judge can spice up the show (Gene Simmons, warm, thoughtful, and interesting; Kenny Loggins, none of the above), the real stars are the contestants.

Proof positive: Not since Frenchie Davis has an Idol audition made my skull vibrate with excitement like 27-year-old homemaker Jennifer Todd’s. Styled like she’d just come from making her kids’ lunches, Todd proved with her stunning rendition of ”If I Ain’t Got You” that raw talent and a winning personality trump midriff-baring antics every time. I’d suggest sending her straight to the Final Three, but I want to hear her sing once a week for the rest of my life.

When you hear talent like Todd’s, you have to wonder why the Vegas and New Orleans episodes gave so much screen time to gimmicky clowns too fully aware of their sheer awfulness. The producers devoted 5 minutes and 57 seconds to 22-year-old crunkmeister Leroy Wells (yes, I timed it), when his hyperactive ”can you dig?” nonsense felt played after 15 seconds. The show made room for Ryan Seacrest’s interminable moments in local history. And how to explain the camera time given to Joseph Land, an older gent who pretended to be 28 while Simon looked on in mock befuddlement? Just. Not. Funny. Nor was Kenny Loggins’ assessment: ”That was more like a deposition than an audition.”

If 16 singers from New Orleans advanced to Hollywood, why did we get to see only six of those performances (five if you count twins Lamar and Jamar Jefferson — who dress a little like Kris Kross — as one)? Why not let us see 10-second snippets of all the winners, instead of showing another stilted white-boy rendition of ”Superfreak” or ”I’m So Excited”?

At least the week in Idol showcased enough talent to keep me hopeful for the Hollywood shows. Divalicious 16-year-old Mikalah Gordon (who’s better when she’s singing than when she’s bantering about her mom’s future breast implants) and sultry Lindsey Cardinale were the week’s leading ladies, while 27-year-old New Yorker Mario Vasquez and the tearful David Brown made the best impressions among the guys.

I’m even looking forward to hearing more of foul-mouthed twin Rich Molfetta — who got rejected with his brother (twice!) in New Orleans, then came back solo in Vegas and bulled his way into the semifinals. If Rich really wants to score points with Paula in Hollywood, though, he might consider dropping his Nick Lachey act and try covering the Color Me Badd classic ”I Wanna Sex You Up.” It might give our loopy lady judge a serious flashback, and as we’ve seen this season, a disoriented Abdul is an entertaining one as well.

What did you think of this week’s episodes? Do you have an early favorite for the Idol crown? Do Randy and Simon deserve to go on to Hollywood? And should Paula get her own ABC spinoff series: Extreme Makeover: Hair Edition: How’d She Do That?

Episode Recaps

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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