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I was standing in line at my local supermarket, the West Hollywood Gelson's, where you can sometimes witness celebrities in various career stages, all of them buying Pom juice, from up-and-comers like Sarah Silverman to old-and-obscurers like the guy who played Joe on Rhoda--the most famous of which was Reese Witherspoon and the most unrecognizable was the little French dude who used to be on Hogan's Heroes and is super-old now--I was awakened from my shopping reverie (green tea, Cap'n Crunch, ice cream, Sara Lee Pound Cake, beer, thoughts of pound cake remorse, competing thoughts of pound cake entitlement) by "IDOL SECRETS" screaming at me from the cover of this week's People magazine. It also shouts, somewhat less loudly, "LOVE LIVES! FEUDS! MAKEOVERS!" So I had to buy it. Of the two available "collector" covers, I chose the one where Sanjaya is on the front of the fold and Haley is inside doing a Britney-sans-panties pose. Blake's inside the fold too, wide-mouthed and bouncy, like he's in the middle of a photo shoot with his improv comedy group, who I assume refer to themselves as the Mixed Nuts. As I recap the performances, I'll spill every Fox-sanctioned "secret" I find in the issue. Your mind's going to be blown. Well, not with the "FEUDS!" part. That was a come-on, amounting to little more than a rehash of Simon and Seacrest's constant impugning of one another's heterosexuality.
Tuesday night's show opens with Seacrest lying about the importance of Tony Bennett to American pop music history. "Tonight, we head into the world of a legend," says Seacrest, upholding the current party line that rewrites Bennett as equal in stature to Sinatra, when in fact he's always been a B-teamer who happened to be likable. He's the triumph of the winning personality whose greatest career move was the tricky end play of not dying. Bennett is simply The One Who Lived. At this early point in the show, before the credits have played and the Kelly-vator has reached Floor Hicks, my husband/partner/whatever says, out of the blue, for no apparent reason, almost wistfully, "Remember American Juniors?"
I do. I do indeed. Those were good days.
Seacrest introduces the judges quickly and the camera scans them left to right, wardrobe wackiness in full effect this evening. Randy's got on some kind of long-sleeved, be-skulled-and-rhinestoned T-shirt and is further festooned with more man-jewelry; Paula's sending mixed messages with a pink Dior scarf tied around her neck and a black and white striped jacket, the effect of which can only mean that she can't decide if she's Cha Cha DiGregorio or Beetlejuice; Simon's in a decolletage mood. So yeah, a shitstorm of fugly outfits.
Time for more butt-licking of Tony Bennett, a man I honestly have no beef with but for whose music I have no misguided affection. Seacrest calls him "The Master."
"Ha," says my husband/partner/whatever. "Master. That dude was in TheOscar."
Have you ever seen that movie? It's a 1966-born, booze-bloated, kookoo-bananas star vehicle masquerading as a bitter-pill-dispensing "expose" of ego-driven celebrity. It starred people like Elke Sommer and Jill St. John. And Tony Bennett as a guy named "Hymie." It was his first and last film. In fact, if you put the TiVo on slow motion and freeze it on the flash of his album that's cleverly titled The Movie Song Album, you'll see "Song From 'The Oscar' (Maybe September)" to the right of his face at approximately age 40. Anyway, Seacrest informs us that he's earned 15 Grammys, so props to the man for that. That's 15 more than I've ever won.
Time to move it along with the singing stuff. Blake's up first. According to People, Mr. Beatbox is straight. I find this hard to believe, but I'm also the kind of person who will take a man at his word, even if those words sound like jive to me. "I'm sexually frustrated," he says in the article. "I broke up with my girlfriend right before Hollywood week, which was sad. I have no game... But when [I'm performing], it's easier for me because then they come talk to me. A tour could be fun!"
So yeah, not only is he straight but he wants to tour so he can fuck all the chicks he can get his lady-loving hands on. Meanwhile, the People piece also drops a Blake style-bomb: He makes his own pants. As in designs and executes them. His own pants. And tonight he makes "Mack the Knife" into the burger jingle McDonald's once used it as. Tony's not convinced that he can do it: "Somehow if he could come around to the meaning of the song," says Tony, who has suddenly just become cooler than I've ever given him credit for being, and that's because he has the ability to shake his head "no" and communicate the expression "these kids today" WITH JUST HIS EYES. It's kind of amazing. Gwen Stefani's subtlety-defying mood indicators of last week have nothing on Mr. Bennett. And what T.B. is getting at here is this: It's a song about murder. He even goes so far as to call it a "pre-rap" song about a "gangsta." I love it when old people use young words. It's like when a sitcom granny says "big dick!" or something. Of course, you'd never know that the song is about any sort of evil deeds from the way the Human Snickerdoodle lays it down. I'm surprised he doesn't mash it up over a loping, herbal, reggae track, that's how "party-time" he is with it, concerned more with smoove footwork and finger-snapping than staying on key or communicating the darkness or even remembering all the words. Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darin, in that crappy movie where Kevin Spacey was Bobby Darin, was better than this. Once again we're back in the land of Ruben Studdard's all-grin-version of the Carpenters' heartbreaking "Superstar." He's bobbing up and down like there's a giant puppet master above the stage and he's a marionette, happily bouncing along as he sings lyrics about "cement bags" disposing a body in a river. And watch, every fuckin' guy tonight will do the finger-snap thing. I hate that Swingers shit. A lot. Randy calls him "funky, jazzy, cool," and Paula says the following: "Well, tonight you personified pizaa-[hiccup]-aazz. You're a hipcat!"
She meant to say, "hepcat," but if I have to choose accuracy or spiritedness from The Abdul, I'll take the latter.
Commercial Time: The first notable one is about how people who drink Diet Coke turn into chain-drinkers of Diet Coke and can't quit. Seriously, the shit is like heroin. My friend Aaron said at the beginning of the year that he was going to kick the habit, and to his credit, I think he's cut way down, but that monkey is still riding around on his back like he's just a bigger monkey giving it free taxi service. The next one is about two women eating salads and one of them dumps a bag of little meat cubes on hers. When she does this the meat cubes chant like hip-hop cheerleaders. Naturally, this startles the salad ladies. But then one of them grabs the bag of meat cubes and shakes it all over her friend's salad, dancing in her chair and going, "Whoo!" Man, do I like that commercial. And oh, look! It's the all-singing, all-dancing, please-go-into-life-crushing-debt Visa commercial again. I like that one too because as long as I'm going to believe lies I prefer them to be candy-colored and decorated with spontaneous outbursts of mass choreography.
We're back and Seacrest is talking about a special Idol Gives Back show that's coming soon and will feature the following people with something to promote: Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, Helena Bonham Carter, Forest Whitaker, Pink, Gwen Stefani, Rowan Atkinson, Daniel Radcliffe, and Kelly Clarkson.
Next up: Nosferatu, ingratiating himself with T.B., who's so charmed by the Bald One that he declares him "one of the better singers that I've heard, not just today but for a long time." Bennett also encourages Nos to add a bit of a beat to "Night and Day," advice that is soundly ignored, even though not seconds ago we were informed that Bennett is Nos's "hero." Way to listen to your hero, man. Tonight's take on the song is morose and mushy, the sharpest element being the razor-precise brow trim the man allows to keep happening to his face. That makes three times I've bitched about this unfortunate manscaping ritual, and that means I'm done with it until it gets worse or better and merits further discussion. Randy didn't feel any passion from the song, and he rubs his shirt's sparkly bits to make himself happier. Paula, however, is ready and willing to lay it on thick: "You're reminiscent of a young Frank Sinatra."
This statement receives a blunt "What?" from Simon. As it should. The audience, needy for judges to affirm their affection for whoever's onstage, applauds wildly for Paula's opinion. This is because most people are bone-stupid and will compare any male crooner to Bing or Frank. It can be John Stevens, even. It doesn't matter. We are a tone-and-talent-deaf society and everything and everyone weighs exactly the same to us. Oh, and his People profile reveals a grand total of zero interesting facts about him beyond the knowledge that he has Spice Girls on his iPod. I guess in some dumb way, to People magazine, it must be amusing that a guy in the Navy likes the Spice Girls, when the reality of the entire world is that everyone likes the Spice Girls. It's sort like saying you enjoy breathing air and drinking water.
As a final dig at Miss Abdul's ability to distinguish good from bad, Simon says, "Which Frank Sinatra are you referring to?" And of course the answer to that question, even though he's dead right about this one and is frequently dead right about a lot of things, is "Fuck you, asshole. You created Il Divo." In fact, virtually any time Simon Cowell steps to you on matters of taste, even if he's right, you can always get the upper hand by invoking the toxic name of Il Divo, and I'm surprised, frankly, that Chris Sligh is the only person in public life to do this so far. When it's Simon's turn to talk to Nosferatu, he harps on the wrong thing entirely, calling it "really dark" when he should be calling this guy out for being a wet bag of nothingness. This is the same judge who told Jordin that singing "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me" was also too much of a bummer. Again, I refer you to Il Divo's operatic cover of Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart" as proof that this is a man guilty of serious lapses in judgment. As a lame attempt to cover his ass, the now flop-sweat-glistening-skull-shaver brings it all back to his wife. He was singing this song to her. BECAUSE HE LOVES HIS WIFE, WHO JUST HAD A BABY! A BABY BORN ON HIS AUDITION DAY! A BABY HE HAS TO LEAVE SOON TO GO BACK AND BE IN THE MILITARY! WHY DON'T YOU SUPPORT THE TROOPS?
And now I have to interrupt writing this recap to go off and see Disturbia, the new teen remake of Rear Window, sort of like the way I had to go off and see The Hills Have Eyes 2 a couple of weeks ago. Everyone thinks going to advance press screenings and reviewing movies for a living is so glamorous. What they don't get about that is the fact that I have to put on actual pants, leave the comfort of my couch, and go out in public to do it. See what I mean? Oh, sure, you feel sorry for me now...
OK, I'm back from Disturbia, and now it's time for Melinda. I learn from People that she likes comfortable clothes and that every time you see her on this show she's wearing a wig. But I'd kinda figured that last part out already. Anyway, professionally she sang backup for Aaron Neville and CeCe Winans and George Huff. Yes, that George Huff. It's really a wonder to me how backup singers can keep from strangling the less talented people they're singing backup for. People like George Huff. Anyway, she's here to sing "I Got Rhythm" and T.B. pushes her "Golly-Gee-ME?" button by telling her she's the best singer of the bunch. And seriously, Ms. Doolittle, YOU HAVE GOT TO KNOCK THIS SHIT OFF. I think we can work out a deal here. I've already held up my end of the bargain by not goofing on your neck situation, the one that simply needs a stylist with good sense to correct. But you, ma'am, you have to stop it stop it stop it with the aw-shucks-isms. Take ownership of the fact that you can blow just about everyone else on this show out of the water. It won't mean you're conceited or stuck up or not humble or some yucky "diva." It will just mean that you're not constantly wallowing in a reflexive humility that gets more and more irritating with each passing week. I say this out of love. I am your fan. QUIT IT. And I know that it's the editors stringing together all the random backstage moments of you being overwhelmed by your good fortune to paint a picture of you being this way all the time. But that's no excuse. Clamp it down. Get your thing together. We'll still like you.
We will not, however, like that dress you're wearing tonight. We will not like it, ever. And I'm using the royal "we" here. It's an outstanding bit of misguided garmentry. This dress has a piece of fabric stretching down over her shoulders and squeezing her directly under the boob line, like a picture frame for jugs, pushing them out. And it's got a BUCKLE. The closest thing I've seen to this is guys wearing ball-stretchers in gay porn. Everything looks like it's about to explode.
As for the song, she takes an invisible ax to it and chops it into three parts: the softy ballad beginning; the frantic rooty-tooty-fresh-'n'-fruity middle where I half expect Bugs and Daffy to come out in tuxedos, top hats, and canes to goose-step behind her; and then a big blues-mama finish where she finally pulls it out and belts the way you know she can belt. But dag. That was like watching terrified puppies leaping through hoops of fire. Randy loves it. Paula loves it so much she's off on a blabbing rant about Melinda's future number-1-charting CD and concert hall SRO performances. Then the camera cuts to someone who's made a fuzzy sign for Melinda. And by fuzzy sign I mean it's literally got fuzzy material all over it. Also some Froot Loops, I think. Simon, meanwhile, is now laughing openly at Paula's incessant yammering.
Now that Chris Sligh is gone it seems sort of useless to refer to the other Chris as Not Sligh. I suppose I could just call him Chris now since he's the only one. My husband/partner/whatever suggests "TimberFake" and I sort of like that. Chris TimberFake. I'll try it out.
Seacrest is here with the carefully-chosen-for-maximum-nothingness viewer question. "What do you consider most when you're choosing a song?" asks Someone From Somewhere. TimberFake's response: "I think first and foremost you gotta do something you're comfortable with and then see if you think it's gonna be something that the audience would like and then ultimately ending up [unintelligible tossed-off remark about the judges, though not an insulting or dismissive one, because his thing is to be super-nice and boring]." And by this statement what he's really trying to say is "I make sure I have a jaunty cap that matches whatever song I pick."
This prompts Seacrest to ask more questions about the judges, like does TimberFake enjoy singing directly to a judge? Like, say, Paula? While C.T. is chuckling, the camera cuts back to the judges twice, and neither time do any of them appear to be paying any attention whatsoever to anything that's happening onstage. People, however, pays lots of attention to C.T. and uncovers a lot of stuff that you'll think is fascinating. Like, for your information, did you know he worked at Hooters? That he met the for-real Timberlake once? That when he came to Los Angeles the first time he was told by record industry people that he was too fat? That he may be dating Alaina Alexander? And who is Alaina Alexander, you ask? The answer is that I can't remember either. If I had to guess, I'd say she was the Idol contestant who looked like a Pussycat Doll, but I'm too lazy to go back to my old recaps and look it up, and I know most of you don't give a shit.
C.T.'s time with Tony involves C.T. not having memorized the lyrics to the song yet, I assume because he was very busy selecting this week's hat. It's the evolution of young male "style" at work, because just a few seasons back you didn't see any of the guys wearing hats and now they all do--an endless series of stupid, ironic novelty hats that 10 years from now will cause them all to cringe and shrink from the video and photographic evidence. By then they'll have moved on to other awful fashions. But let's get back to the song and how C.T.'s lack of time spent on learning the damn thing makes Tony say, "I want you to really memorize the song" and in return makes C.T. shoot Tony a pretty funny, "STFU, old man," glare. It's a quick one--again, TiVo helps--but it's there.
Performance time. Because I couldn't care less about his vocals, I've decided to count the finger-snaps. They're here, even if he's somewhat listless about them and seems to fall back on them the way a nervous public speaker makes use of the word "uh," and the ones that officially make contact with a camera lens add up to about 39, give or take a few that he seems to actually miss. How in the fuck do you miss when you're snapping your own fingers? This, for me, is a move on par with last season's moment when Taylor Hicks pulled an imaginary gun from an imaginary holster, pointed the finger-gun at the audience, fired, then attempted to reholster his pretend pistol and missed. Then tried it again and succeeded. I know you think I'm probably making that up, but I remember it way more vividly than I remember Alaina Alexander. Song over, the judges give him lots of praise for...I don't know. Something. Randy calls his performance "very cool and young and hip." Paula, the copier says, "You made it so hip and so cool" and then she saves the earlier bit by commenting on eye contact they had during the song.
Cut to a child in the audience holding a sign that reads "CHRI$ IS RICH WITH R+B." This prompts me to ask the members of my household what they consider themselves to be rich with. My husband/partner/whatever says, "Contempt." Friend Aaron's response: "Self-doubt." Me: "Butterfat."
Jordin's up next, practicing "On a Clear Day," one she's chosen because "it's a really cute song." Tony likes her. You like her. She's even growing on me, even if she did go on tour once with Christian Adult Contempo dullard Michael W. Smith (that's from People). She finishes her performance with a superlong note. It's nice. But my favorite version of that song is from San Francisco-based hangover/miserablist/saddo band American Music Club. Their singer, Mark Eitzel, creaky-whispers the song in a "the T.B. is killing me" way that I find very appealing. I know that I could be alone on that one but no less correct for it. Randy gets crazy-excited for Jordin, going "BLAH BLAH YOU'RE ONLY 17 AND YOU'RE SO AMAZING ETC." and finishes his praise-a-thon with a Fred Schneider/"Love Shack," high-pitched "Wha-a-at?" that just set off several car alarms in my neighborhood. Even Jordin is taken aback by it. Paula calls her a "magnet of joy," which makes Simon laugh. Then Paula falls back on her favorite adjectives of the night, "hip" and "cool." Simon is less enthusiastic, prompting boos, as usual, from the crowd and the statement "It's like they're watching two different shows" from Seacrest.
I know what that feeling is like. Every week.
Seacrest then compares Jordin's performance to a "core workout," which is, I hear from people who have gym memberships and personal trainers, something to do with abs. So that figures. Then Seacrest, adding asshole icing to douche-bag cake, says, "When we come back, Gina Glocksen aaaaaaannnnd... [sarcastic inhalation pause] ...Sanjaya Malakar." The name of the latter contestant is delivered with a failed attempt at withering disdain I've only witnessed in my adult years at jerk-wad Hollywood parties I've been forced to attend and at this one Sunset Boulevard breakfast joint I know of that is super-popular with young L.A. industry creeps. I won't say the name of the place because their food is delicious and it's not really their fault that their clientele are the collective Devil. But yeah, it's a kind of condescension that you used to only see among high school jocks and cheerleaders but that's now made its way into the general adult population. It's based not in any sort of informed expertise on a subject but on a general sense of superiority and entitlement. And I can't believe this show is going to hate on Sanjaya so much that it's going to force me to join Team Malakar. But that's where it's headed, I can tell.
Commercial Time: Charlotte's Web is out on DVD. That movie made me cry like a little bitch. No joke. I dare you to watch that shit and not weep your face off. Also I just realized that I probably threw away a new bike or a million dollars or something when I tossed my Coke cap into the trash four days ago. I had no idea the little code-y numbers inside the cap meant something. But according to their Web site, it does. I'm such a fucking loser.
Back to the show. Gina the Red, according to People, knows Antonella Barba's pain. "I always think, 'That could be me,'" referring to Meadow's boobie-shots. This has to mean that somewhere down the road, the cute boyfriend snapped some boudoir photographs he can use to blackmail her with should their relationship ever go south. Anyway, G is going to sing "Smile." Tony Bennett gets choked up and says that when he sings the song, with its lyrics, "Smile though your heart is aching, smile though it feels like breaking," that he thinks of 9/11 and the soldiers in Iraq. And if you think I'm going to mock him for that, then you're thinking I'm as much of an asshole as Seacrest just was. But not me. No, sir. What I will mock right now, though, is Gina's hair game. Two cornrows taking up residence in the quadrant closest to her forehead. Why is that? What's up, girl? Are they for good luck like that pickle? Are they meant to draw attention away from the Mrs. Freeze icy-silver eye shadow? You're a beautiful girl. Stop mucking up the presentation!
Sanjaya's here, and the most interesting thing he said to People was that every time he goes onstage he has to pee. He's going to sing "Cheek to Cheek." He wears a white suit--wouldn't it be great if he peed in this outfit?--and black shirt, his hair slicked back and flat. He snaps his fingers. He dances with Paula, who's been pushed, literally shoved, out of her chair by Simon to do so. He sings badly. He hulas a little. Cut to my favorite sign of the week, which reads SANJAYA IS MY PAPAYA. I can live with that. Taylor Hicks was The Boogie, after all. Sanjaya can be The Papaya. Oh. and here's another great sign: HAIR PRO SANJAYA. And that's about all I have to say about Sanjaya. If you'd like more. you can go to just about any newspaper, Web site, or magazine. They're all over this kid, but I'm getting bored with it. How many different ways can you come up with to say that somebody sucks? At this point I hope he wins the whole thing.
Haley's turn. She's a Martina McBride fan, did you know that? People told me. But first another viewer question. "Are you more nervous singing before the crowd or waiting to hear the judges' comments?" asks Someone From Somewhere. Again, the judges aren't paying attention to this bit. And if it weren't my job to write about it, I wouldn't be either. Haley's answer is designed to flatter Simon, as though it might make a difference. What Haley still fails to realize, however, is that nothing short of a lap dance is going to work on him at this point. She tries, though, in a cooch-short sparkly green dress cut down to her belly button. She's going to sing "Ain't Misbehavin'" and when she practices with Tony B. she vamps the shit out of it, increasing fourfold the number of men she's in love with, lyrically speaking that is, to more than the strict "one" the song actually calls for, cooing, "I'm saving my love for you, and you, and you-oh-and you." Tony doesn't like this. "The premise of the song," he scolds, "is there's only one person she's in love with," adding, "if you say 'you and you and you,' it doesn't make sense." It's his nice way of telling her to stop hooring it up. She knows better, though, giving her glittery rack an emphatic forward-thrusting BOMP! at the end of the number. She's using what she's got to get what she wants. Some might call this third-wave feminism. I mean, not me, of course, but some. The judges, weirdly enough, are sort of on board for this. Randy's got something not-opinionated to say. Paula tells her that green is a good color for her but refuses to discuss the singing. Simon's sole initial comment is, "I think you've got great legs." Well played, Cowell.
Commercial break, then back to a shot of Seacrest being love-mauled by Sanjaya's dad and trying desperately not to give the man a full on "Eww" face as he peels the guy off of him. Anyway, it's time for LaKisha. According to People, LaK loves to cook and knows how to make oxtails, collard greens, gravy and crab salad. Hey Kiki, I'm a big fan, did I mention that? Can I come over for dinner? Because I will clean my plate. Twice even. She's singing "Stormy Weather" and Tony tells her she should end it on a big note instead of a little "ain't no sunshine when he's gone" addendum. She ignores him and does it anyway, and, much like "Last Dance," assumes a series of battle stances to pummel the song into the ground. Watching her sing, I get the feeling that she wins lots of arguments. Randy loves it, Paula loves it, Simon tells her she's "sassy." Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, African-American lady readers, but I was under the impression that "sassy" is to black chicks what "flamboyant" is to fags, a word that does little more than irritate the person it's being used to describe. I know I read Wanda Sykes say once that she was tired of hearing it and that woman practically invented the demeanor as a default life-position, so if she's fed up with it then I assume other folks must be too.
On to elimination night...
They've got 30 minutes to pad. I'm not going to. Time to number it down like last week:
1. Someone in audience holding sign that reads simply "Paula." Some hearts around the name. Appropriately enough, the sign is upside down.
2. Paula in white lace blouse over black bra. Yeah!
3. Fourth Ford commercial. This one brings Kermit the Frog back to speak for the Hybrid. And I'm just bummed now. Not because of Kermit. I love Kermit. It's just that this season's Ford commercials have been so lackluster and uninspired. Last season they seemed meatier, weirder, more fraught with Bizarro-Meaning. I feel cheated.
4. Contestants are divided into three groups: top three, middle three, and bottom three. Jordin, Melinda, and LaKisha are in one group, and I'm immediately nervous. I know I'm nervous because this is the first time this season I've had an actual feeling about anything on this show. I remember, back in season 3, when Fantasia ended up in the bottom two one week and narrowly escaped being chopped. So I wonder if something weird like that is about to happen to one of the three best singers tonight.
5. Nope, they're safe. So is the other group of TimberFake, Snickerdoodle, and Sanjaya. That leaves Haley, Gina, and Nosferatu.
6. Tony Bennett has the flu. He won't be here to sing. Bring on drunk Michael Buble! Watch him weird out, mumble and slur the words, sing off-key, and grin strangely, like "Holy zhit I'm sho-o-o wasted and I'm on TV! HA! I washn't even spozed to be on til later this month. Been doin' shots with Emily Blunt..." My husband/partner/whatever thinks M.B. is hot. I don't see it, but whatever. Now he's telling me, "Make sure you mention I hate his singing. I just want to bang him."
7. Nosferatu is safe.
8. Gina's going home. Well, that makes perfect sense. Of the three, the two worst get to stay, and the best of them is chopped. The Daughtry song plays, the "You're Dead" reel spins, Gina cries, holds the "lucky" pickle and resings "Smile."
9. Next week? Jennifer "If I Want to Floss I Got My Own" Lopez. I know someone whose latest album is probably tanking...