Seacrest said it: Despite a week of solid singing, someone had to get out of the crowded ''Idol'' kitchen
Simon Cowell, Kristy Lee Cook, ...

”Idol” recap: Too many Cooks

It’s only been a week since American Idol gave back, but in its two subsequent results shows, America’s favorite talent competition has worked overtime to undo much of the good will fostered by its A-list-y fundraising drive.

Last Thursday, we had to endure Ryan Seacrest emotionally pistol-whipping all-around nice guy Michael Johns. And once again last night, the show’s producers worked overtime to psychologically torment the show’s seven remaining contestants — and by extension, the 30 million folks who’ve been cheering them on for the last nine weeks.

Yes, yes, I know emotional manipulation is part of the Idol experience, but I’m starting to get the feeling that Nigel Lythgoe & Co. have a dream of casting Mr. Seacrest as a metrosexual torturer in the next Saw sequel. I mean, after Tuesday’s performance show, which saw all seven contestants delivering decent-to-terrific performances from the Mariah Carey songbook, couldn’t the bad news have been delivered in a slightly less cruel, less convoluted fashion?

Instead, we had the old ”split the contestants into two camps” trick, with Brooke White, Kristy Lee Cook, and David Cook on one side, and Jason Castro, Carly Smithson, and Syesha Mercado on the other. I’ll admit, I was confounded, shocked even, at the prospect of either Rocker David or Jason landing in the bottom three, considering their position at or near the top of most major Idol polls, and the fact that their Tuesday performances, while polarizing, played well to their respective fan bases.

And then, of course, Ryan dragged out the show’s resident innocent, David Archuleta — much like he did last season with Melinda Doolittle — and you knew the kid was going to be asked to stand with the group he thought was safe. But not before Ryan muttered something about ”too many Cooks,” forced Syesha (her precision grin never wavering as she approached the plank) to swap spots with Rocker David, and made very clear which three singers were at risk.

To his credit, Little David plunked down on the stage, refusing to budge despite some hyperactive beckoning from Carly, and stayed frozen — possibly paralyzed with fear of choosing sides and damaging his Q Score — even after Ryan told him which trio was safe. Before you could say ”Inevitable Final Two,” Rocker David showed solidarity with his little buddy and sat down right next to him, while Carly, clearly committing to a new ”Must. Act. PEPPY!” mantra, broke out in an ear-to-ear grin and an inappropriate safety dance.

NEXT PAGE: A gutsy departure

If you plugged all the data into MapQuest, you’d have found the red dot right at the intersection of Awkward and Uncomfortable, which is pretty much where I remain at this moment, considering I actually found myself kind of hoping America might keep Kristy Lee in the competition one more week, and send Babbling Brooke packing. And, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, my motivation wasn’t solely based on the fact that an Idol without Kristy Lee will mean an Idolatry without robot montages.

Indeed, she may have struggled to hit the notes on the verse of ”Forever” on Tuesday, but Kristy Lee’s countrified take on Mariah’s bombastic ballad sounded pretty in parts, and perhaps more importantly, the Energizer Cowgirl’s determination to keep trying (and her ability to keep improving) even as the Idol nation attempted to reduce her to a Sanjaya-esque punchline, was downright admirable. As she stood with Brooke in a final two huddle and defiantly noted to Simon that she’d outlived his early prediction and ”made it past the top 10,” I think my left tear duct might’ve twitched — even if no actual droplets were produced from the effort. And her exit performance — delivered seated on the judges table directly in front of Simon — marked the show’s sassiest lyrical rewrite since Leslie Hunt bemoaned her decision to scat during the season 6 semifinals.

Still I burn on and on/ All of my life/ Only for a good comment from you.

So priceless, I almost feel bad about the things I said during week one of the Lennon-McCartney songbook. (Okay, not really.)

As for Brooke’s survival into the top six, well, perhaps the cosmos decided to show some mercy, considering that only a few days ago, the G-rated nanny missed her sister’s wedding so she could continue her Idol run. Perhaps as a way of thanking the cosmos, Brooke can refrain from speaking during the judges’ critiques next Tuesday night? Okay, yeah, that’s about as likely as Syesha singing an up-tempo number, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

Oh, and speaking of Syesha-Brooke connections, did anyone else notice how the former’s hair was exerting a magnet-like pull on the latter’s while they assumed the bottom-three stance? For some reason, I jotted down the term ”Wonder Twins” as I watched their tussling tresses. (Pop quiz: Guess who’s sleep-deprived!)

NEXT PAGE: Mariah gets upstaged

Anyhow, seeing that the bottom-three shenanigans were just one part of a night that had more knots and layers and colors than Paula’s Scarf of Many Crazies, let’s get a quick rundown of the evening’s other highlights/lowlights.

While Kristy Lee actually helped get ”One Sweet Day” off to a decent start, the night’s group performance quickly devolved into a cacophonous mess. It was like Mariah and Boyz II Men as arranged by a horde of scuffling barn cats.

As for the performance by this week’s guest mentor, I found it extremely appropriate that Mariah wore black to perform her new single, ”Bye Bye,” a tribute to deceased loved ones. Too bad the cut resembled a sports bra sewn attached to a foot-wide spandex ”skirt.” Seriously, how much do you think this woman’s stylist makes per year? And how many of us could do twice as good a job for half the money?

Funny enough, while Mariah was in decent voice last night, I thought she got outperformed by the other musical guest, one of my all-time favorite Idol contestants, Elliott Yamin, who brought beautiful energy and his always potent pipes to the Stevie Wonder-esque ”Free.” (A refreshing break from Tuesday’s ballad-heavy set list, no?) From his tribute to his recently deceased mother, to his huge hug for Ryan (which went over a lot better with the host than Carly’s) to his ”good luck” shout-out to the contestants, there’s no hiding Elliott’s sweet, genuine personality. It’s impossible not to wish him well. (Please don’t prove me wrong on the message boards, folks!)

Finally, in the battle of the contestant quotes, I’d say Brooke’s backstage, ”I wish it didn’t hurt but it does” response to Simon’s critique scored more sympathy than Carly’s too calculated, ”I think you’ve been a bit hard on me” — maybe because at this point Carly SHOULD NOT CARE WHAT SIMON THINKS. Sorry, had to get that out. And on the men’s side, Jason’s spacey, ”I haven’t been to the beach much, and I really like it,” trumps another empty performance-night recap from Little David: ”It was amazing how comfortable I felt last time. I felt really good. I felt great.” Really kid? Was it better than Cats?

Oh yes, I just referenced the feline-tastic musical of Andrew Lloyd Webber — mostly because I’m curious which contestants you think will benefit/suffer the most from next week’s guest mentor. Also, am I the only one who’s hoping the rest of the season’s eliminations are handled a little more tactfully? And finally, are you completely entrenched behind one contestant now, or could the next five weeks of live performances still sway your votes?

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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