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Goodbye, last
interesting person

Goodbye, last
interesting person


It's week 14 of American Idol. That means you've been watching this show for almost four solid months. A little sad, isn't it?

It's Country Week on Idol. And that means it's time for major, serious awfulness to go down. Here's why: People without a natural affinity for country music are likely to treat it as though it were some kind of wacky novelty prop. Everyone except Sanjaya may have felt lost last week on Latin Night but at least none of them pretended they knew how to sing those songs. Country music, however, is kind of like asking somebody to impersonate a 4-year-old. Everyone thinks they can do it because clearly a 4-year-old is stupider than they are and that means it's easy. And because most people equate country music with the South and therefore with redneck idiots, it turns into Hee Haw '07. Previously unheard Southern accents and hickisms suddenly pop out of mouths. Hats appear, as do ugly boots, often brightly colored ones. It would be no less ridiculous if the producers gathered everyone together and said, "OK, it's Marx Brothers night. Put on these Groucho glasses, noses, and mustaches and run around all crazy while wiggling a cigar at your lips."

But first a somber Seacrest introduces the Tuesday night show with a message of Idol solidarity with the grieving people of Virginia Tech and the "No Applause" signs are on. I think that's only appropriate here. You can't not talk about it, really, even if this is the totally wrong venue for it, but you certainly don't want some clown screaming "Whoooooooo I LUV BLAKE!" after that sort of moment of solemnity. And you know that would happen. Nobody knows how to act in public anymore.

So on with the credits and the screaming and the "OK, NOW Applause" signs flashing. Cut to handmade signs in audience. One has a photo of Crying Girl on it and the message "I [HEART] THIS SHOW MORE THAN HER" and the other one reads, "IT'S MY SWEET 16, KISS ME SIMON!" which I suppose is legal in England.

Then Seacrest introduces this week's musical mentor, Martina McBride. Her fame montage rolls.

I can't stand Martina McBride. I look at her and I think Shania Twain minus the awesome Def Leppardisms and the Swiss castle and the greedy careerist Showgirls aura; I think Faith Hill without the hot husband and entitlement and prim demeanor despite the hot husband. But most of all I think of nothing. I've heard a lot of her singles and I couldn't hum a single one or remember any of their names. I know she's pretty and has a nice voice. I know that lots of 30-something moms swear by her. I know she's inoffensive. I know nothing about her politics. Actually, wait, I take that back. I just Googled her name and "Republican" because, you know, just a hunch, and it turns out that in keeping with the train of thought I'd already jumped on, she keeps all of her political opinions private, steadfastly refusing to speak on issues nonmusical. She's been engineered for your comfort. She looks normal; has hair that's achievable; even her level of fame is comfortable. It's just plain old fame, as opposed to superfame or monsterfame.

Commercial Break: A weird Wal-Mart-Shrek the Third commercial where that guy from the Burger King commercials from a while back pretends to work on the movie at a big computer, clicking on stuff, enhancing Mike Myers's hilarity, as if that were even possible because, you know, he's so funny already. A woman walks through pushing a Wal-Mart cart and takes a Shrek doll off the guy's desk. The End. I don't get it. But what I do get is that this movie opens in four weeks that are going to feel like 4,000 nights of marketing bombs being dropped on everyone's head. Just yesterday I was driving up La Cienega and at the intersection of that street and Venice Boulevard are eight Shrek the Third billboards. This is not an exaggeration. There are eight billboards clustered at that spot and all eight of them, facing in all four directions, are covered with different characters from the movie with dumb tag lines. The shit is about to get feverishly insane, so watch out. The devouring-all-in-its-path maw of DreamWorks is opening wide and you are going to be swallowed. My next favorite commercial is the one for something from Apple, an iWhateverItIs, and the whole point of the ad is, "Hey, obviously you know you can watch a movie on your iPod or your iBook. But did you know you can also watch one on your television?"

Back to the show. There are four women down front all wearing knit caps similar to the ones Phil Stacey's become so enamored of and they have signs that read "HATS OFF TO PHIL!" These are lazy fans. If they truly cared about the fate of this person, they'd have all shaved their heads or at least gone to the trouble of getting skullcaps and finding a makeup artist to make it look serious. Phil deserves to lose because of their lack of commitment. Someday, when a troubled adolescent is on whatever that show is on MTV where they make you look like the famous person of your dreams--I think it's called Cut Me In the Face Until I'm Brad Pitt and maybe it's already canceled, who knows--and that troubled adolescent is like, "Get with the mutilation and shaving so that I resemble Phil Stacey, and don't forget to do the brows," then these women will feel the shame of the dilettante. Hope you're happy with yourselves, ladies.

OK, time to talk about the boring singing and the boring mentoring. Martina tells Jordin "Blah blah blah" about Jordin's decision to cover Martina's own song "A Broken Wing." Jordin takes that advice to heart and delivers the power ballad about self-esteem, lightly dusted with steel guitars, by standing stock-still and exhaling enormously while wearing a blinding column of orangey-pinkness. Amount of actual "country" being communicated on a scale of 1 to 10 = 3. The judges like her, and Simon tells her she could win it based on how well she stood still and opened her mouth extra wide so all the triumphant loudness could emerge. Meanwhile, I'm fixated on Randy's hair. Or at least I think it's hair. See, Randy's hair is very, very close-cut. He's one trimmer setting away from having none at all. But something's going on up top this week, like maybe they just stenciled a hair shape for him this week and spray-painted the top of his head. I can't stop looking at it.

Another commercial break and then we're back and...sigh...Constantine is back. Again. If you recall last season--and really, do you have anything better to think about than who made repeated visits to the show last season--then you might remember how Constantine was frequently sitting in the audience. So now here he is again, Idol's most loyal alumnus. What gives with this cat? Is he making extra dough being a seat-filler now? Does he have a personal-best goal of how many times he can cock his eyebrow at a camera? Any camera? Anywhere? Does he go to sitcom tapings too? The Price Is Right? Next he's going to be standing outside the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard posing for pictures with tourists for five bucks a pop alongside Oily Superman, Cracked-Out Spidey, Haggy Marilyn Monroe, and the guy in the Darth Vader costume.

And it's time for Sanjaya, who's made the fatal error, I believe, of covering up his hair with a big red bandanna. I don't think it's ever a good idea to obscure the brand. Do porn stars hide their gigantic fake jugs or superdongs? No, they don't. And this bandanna has been tentatively applied at best. It's spread wide, like the mast of a pirate ship, and tall, the point standing almost straight up instead of lying down and following the natural curve of a human skull, as though someone didn't want his precious hair too flattened or mussed by it all. It looks ridiculous, a big red triangle on his head. And I say that with full memory of the pony-hawk fresh in my brain.

Before he sings, Seacrest has a viewer question. "If you could force a judge to sing a song, which song would it be and what judge would you pick?" asks Someone From Somewhere. Sanjaya says he'd get Simon to sing "Shining [sic] Happy People" so that he "could show his true personality." Get it? Because Simon is such a meanie? And then he'd have to sing a song about something happy? It's a joke. But to Sanjaya's credit, he delivers this canned line as though he'd maybe almost made it up himself. And now he's going to sing a Bonnie Raitt song, "Something to Talk About." Martina says "Blah blah blah" and Sanjaya agrees before taking the stage to ruin the not-very-country-at-all song. My husband/partner/whatever, who's been silent until now, looks up from playing whatever dumb game he's got going 25/8 on his laptop, and says, "Sanjaya Twain." Then he goes back to his game. Country Communication Score = 0. Simon's had enough. "Utterly horrendous," he says, before comparing Sanjaya to early, bad mass-auditioners like the Hotness. OK, he didn't invoke the magic name of the Hotness, but I wish he had. She was great. I miss her. Like, weekly, in fact. Every time someone grinds this already dullest-season-ever to a halt, I think, Oh, the Hotness, where are you? Why won't you come save us all right now? And when Simon verbally lunges at Sanjaya, I wonder why he's trying so hard to make this boy go away. He's the last interesting person left this season. After Sanjaya goes, what will keep me entertained?

Seacrest decides that now is the right time to scrap with Cowell, accusing him of never liking Sanjaya. Meanwhile, this is the dude who's taken dig after dig at the young man at every opportunity that presented itself, so it's not like you can ever trust that anything that lives in the same zip code as sincerity will ever come out of this person's mouth. Simon asks Seacrest, "Who rattled your cage?" and then tells him to shut up. And you know who looks best during all of the ensuing bitch-slappery? Paula Abdul, naturally, whose sudden bout of uncontrollable cackling suggests that she's something of a stealth anarchist, her greatest pleasure lying in off-script moments. Randy, always feeling a little left out of the wackiness when it goes down around him, jumps in and congratulates Sanjaya on the bandanna hair treatment. Sanjaya rolls his eyes. This is why I will miss Mr. Malakar. Even if he's too young or possibly not smart enough to be fully conscious of it, he fucks shit up each week in one way or another, and that's what keeps me here.

Hey, LaKisha, what are you thinking, singing "Jesus Take the Wheel?" Seriously, the worst possible move. You don't ever really get away with singing a song so closely associated with a past Idol winner. I seem to remember Lisa Whatserface trying a Kelly Clarkson song last year and getting sent home for it. Anyway, Martina McBride thinks the following about LaK: "Blah blah blah." And LaKisha follows that direction and huffs, puffs, and blows the song down, shredding it into unrecognizable bits. Nice chocolate-brown dress and crazy gold stiletto boots, though. I have a shiver of fear for her safety after she's done, and that's unusual because my official position is that I don't give a shit about who stays and who goes. I mean, yes, I have favorites--her and Melinda and no one else, basically--but ultimately I don't care who you are if you're name isn't Fantasia Barrino, season 3 winner, star of Life Is Not a Fairytale: The Fantasia BarrinoStory, singer of the amazing song "Baby-Makin' Hips," and the most talented person to ever come out of this six-year-long national nightmare.

Chris TimberFake is going to sing the Rascal Flatts song "Mayberry." He's from Virginia, he explains, and was raised in North Carolina. So he's going to ham it up on this one, just watch. "Blah!" exclaims Martina, "Blah blah blah!" And you know how encouraging it is when people tell you that sort of thing. On the steps that lead up to the stage, a guy who I think is Rip Van Winkle begins fiddling, and Chris begins whining his way through the song. It's about--what else?--the "good ol' days" of Mayberry, the sweet, sweet era of polio, racial segregation, and the subjugation of women and homosexuals. It was a gentler time back then. And lest you think I hate the values of country music, I want to state for the record that I'm a huge country music fan. And I can prove it. I actually put something on that wasn't a pair of pajamas last Sunday and drove 15 full minutes to Amoeba, Los Angeles's biggest record store, to see a 30-minute set by 80-year-old country-gospel legend Charlie Louvin, the surviving half of the Louvin Brothers. And you know what old-timey-values ballad he sang? A Louvin Brothers hit called "Knoxville Girl," a murder song about bashing in your fiancee's head with a big rock and then rotting for life in jail. Rascal Flatts would rather eat rat poison than cut loose like that. So let it be known that when Chris Richardson is crooning on stage about "sittin' on the porch drinkin' ice cold cherry...COKE," he's simply swimming in a tide of forces much greater than himself and communicating a lot more about the perceived values of both yesterday and today than he probably even realizes. Oh, look, a banjo picker, stage right!

OK, here's a brief rundown of what happens next. If you pay any attention to this show's media coverage, you're already aware of it and how it's become a miniature controversy, but here's what happens:

1. Randy says Chris has no connection to the song. He makes no mention of the bad singing and the pitch problems.

2. Paula agrees with Randy and says something nonsensical about joy and love.

3. Simon says, "They gave you a standing ovation. What I heard was a very nondescript, nasally, tinny vocal, which had no impact on me at all. I just thought it was completely and utterly insignificant."

4. Chris gets cocky-ugly and snaps back, "Nasally is a form of singing. I don't know if you knew that or not." And suddenly we're back to white-boy hip-hop poses and attitude. Way to be country.

5. Simon says, "Oh, so it's intentional."

6. Chris issues a statement of support for Virginia Tech. It's a weird moment to choose to do this sort of thing, but whatever. People grieve in public in odd ways. I got no beef with this.

7. Simon rolls his eyes.

And I'm not going to comment on any of it until we get past what he says to Blake later in the show and then after Wednesday night's show, where it all gets crazy silly.

Commercial break, followed by a viewer question for Melinda. "Have you ever run into any crazy fans on the street and what did they do?" asks Someone From Somewhere. Melinda talks about a woman who said, "Oh, my God!" and ran toward her. Melinda, not getting that she was the "God" in this instance, ran too. You had to be there. Anyway, Melinda will now sing "Trouble Is a Woman." Martina McBride says "Blah blah blah" and Melinda concurs. To remind everyone that we're still in Country Week, Rip Van W is back on the fiddle, this time in a face-off with Melinda. She wins, naturally. The judges know it. Everyone knows it. Simon reminds her that she should know it and to "lose the surprise," echoing, of course, the already articulately delivered Martina McBride advice.

And we end up at Blake, but not before Seacrest returns from the break flanked by a row of nine blond girls all seating in the same row of the audience. Is it a club? Do blonds seek blonds for friendship and solidarity? Did they all dye their hair to be more like their dreamboat Blake? Is everyone in America who likes this guy nuts? Because here's a thing: HE'S NOT A VERY GOOD SINGER. He's chosen a song that he credits to Tim McGraw, "When the Stars Go Blue," and though McGraw did make it famous, it was written by alt-country guy Ryan Adams. Martina McBride, in coaching Blake, really gets heartfelt and almost misty-eyed when she tells him "Blah blah blah."

Blake's back in Argyle Sweater Town again and he's missing note after note of this really lovely song that I used to like until just now. I hope he shoehorns an awkward beatbox break into this. That'd really make everyone happy. There's not a song Blake can't ruin if he puts his innovative mind to it. And speaking of innovative, Simon is about to deliver what may be the weirdest commentary of the season. Here it is, transcribed in its entirety:

" wasn't a jumping-out-of-my-chair performance, Blake. I thought it was OK. I'm with Randy insomuch as maybe it was a wise thing not to go down a route that didn't suit you...I would like to say on a more serious note, just to pick up what Ryan said on behalf of the three of us, that we would also like to offer wishes and support to the families of this tragedy as well. It's been a, you know, tricky week for you guys...but was OK."

So, yeah, nice attempt at a save there, Simon's Earpiece.

On to Elimination Night.

"I think you're kind of cheating by making the Wednesday night episode into a numbered skim-over job," says my husband/partner/whatever, referring to my habit of making the second half of these recaps into a mini-countdown of events rather than an exhaustive travelogue.

"And I think I didn't ask you," I say.

"You're so exacting with the first half," he says, "I mean, you're no TV Without Pity, but you're thorough. And then you just treat Wednesday night's episode so cavalierly. Because why?"

"Because of SHUT IT. That's why," I respond. Sometimes you gotta put the hammer down.

So here it is:

1. Seacrest repeats his stare-down of Sanjaya, who seems less and less good-humored about it, saying something about "all this before," unmicrophoned, back to Seacrest. Last week he laughed along. But tonight he seems more somber.

2. Randy steals the trophy for Ugliest, Stupidest Hat of All Time away from Blake's white mesh job of last week. He's got on a porkpie-ish thing that's covered in skulls and crossbones. Man, oh, man.

3. Paula trumps him in a silver metallic, puffed-sleeve, ruffled-lapel jacket.

4. And now, before anything is allowed to go further, the PR rehab for Simon Cowell begins. For the first time ever, we're shown an instant replay from two different cameras and sound feeds. Simultaneously we get to watch Chris TimberFake's commentary about Virginia Tech and also Simon's commentary to Paula about his singing. See, what happens onstage and what happens at the judges' table is often two different things, and most of the time the judges aren't even listening to what's going on with Seacrest and whoever's just finished singing. So the Great Eye-Roll of '07 Controversy gets squashed as we learn the roll was delivered as a response to TimberFake's comment about "nasally" being a style of singing and not to his comment about Virginia Tech. Of course, it's been a whole day, and for all we know some Capricorn One shit went down and they restaged the entire Simon sotto-voce dialogue to save face. That's my favorite version of events, in any case, and I'm going to believe that's how it all happened. If they can fake a moon landing, then they can fake a bit of chat that no one at home heard in the first place.

5. Seacrest, in a taped segment, talks to some tourists on Hollywood Boulevard outside the Kodak Theater. There's a little mall there, and tired, disappointed people from the Midwest like to take a walking break at the Cold Stone Creamery on the third level. One lady thinks Blake's beatboxing will only take him so far. Another lady likes Melinda's humility. A long-haired, bearded guy wants LaKisha to shake her breasts more. Regarding TimberFake, one lady says, "The guys don't have it this year." Beard Guy thinks Chris should "keep smoldering." And that is how you know that Beard Guy is intentionally talking shit just to see if they'll show his comments on air. Some Indian people are backing Sanjaya and another woman trumps Beard Guy by saying that Sanjaya looks like "a little girly-girly queeny boy" while fluttering her hands around. And Sanjaya, if by some weird sequence of events you ever wind up reading this recap, just know that The Advocate is 100% pro-Girly Girly Queeny Boys and will smile when we call you that.

6. The kids sing a country song. I forget the title. Their collective performance involves a lot of down-home, aw-shucks-ishness and one pair of cowboy boots (Jordin Sparks). As the camera pans around their backsides, it becomes evident that Sanjaya has a hankie in his back right pocket. What color, I wonder?

7. Hey, it's Bucky! He's sitting next to some big hot bald goon. I think his album just came out. Bucky's, not the big guy's.

8. We all get to learn about the disheartening musical taste of the contestants. Melinda likes Kirk Franklin; Sanjaya, shown being curling-ironed into a stupor, says he's been downloading country and blues; Blake likes the new Incubus album and he acts like king of the hipsters when he says this, even though Incubus is awful and generic; Jordin likes Fergie. That's funny because I was just saying that I think Congress ought to pass a law banning Fergie from public life. TimberFake likes Maroon 5, LaKisha likes Yolanda Adams, and Phil likes Willie Nelson. Holy shit, Phil Stacey is the one with not-shit taste? Crazy.

9. Oh, fuck, Fergie's "singing." I never do this, but I'm about to fast-forward through this on my TiVo RIGHT NOW.

10. Whew, safe from Fergie. AAAUUUUUGGGGHHHHH! Now it's a Fergie commercial for Candies shoes! This shit ain't fair.

11. Ford Commercial. The Top 7 sing "I Ran" by Flock of Seagulls as secret agents. I'm still bored. Hire someone better to think these up next season, Ford.

12. Idol Gives Back is next week. Are you pissing yourself yet?

13. Time to divide and conquer. One group is Sanjaya, LaKisha, and Blake. One group is Jordin, Phil, and Chris. Melinda is left in the middle. Seacrest asks her to pick which group she thinks is also safe and go stand with them. She refuses to play along and sits down center stage, shaking her head no. Little acts of refusal like this make me happy. It doesn't take much.

14. Bottom 3 = Sanjaya, LaKisha, Blake

15. For no reason at all--and by that I mean other than DreamWorks purchasing a significant chunk of brain-shatteringly expensive airtime--we're "treated" to a Shrek the Third gang bang, a several-minutes-long press junket for this movie, one that uses the contestants as indentured servants. The kids go see the film and they meet Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, and Antonio Banderas. Antonio's also in the audience with Melanie Griffith. Now for an extended clip of the film. Now for testimonials. Jordin loves Donkey! The movie comes out May 18 and Banderas tells Seacrest it's being released in June. Good one.

16. Martina McBride is here to sing. It's a song called "Blah Blah Blah."

17. Blake is safe. Sanjaya is already crying. He knows. It seems like they always know. LaKisha holds him during his entire "You're Dead" reel while he sobs into her shoulder. He sobs some more while Seacrest acts supportive. And Crying Girl gets two cutaways. Then Seacrest says, "We're glad you were here this season." (Translation: You're the only one that people gave a shit about discussing publicly).

18. The hankie in the pocket is a darkish green. After Googling the hankie code, I discover that that shade, right-hand pocket, means "looking for a daddy." Then I find, a little farther down on the list, that lime green, left pocket, means "buy me dinner in exchange for sex." I think that's my new favorite.

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