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Headband Made of

Headband Made of

And a "coat of many colors." And an ascot of "sexy, lovin' lies." That's what Dolly Parton week is made of.

You know what I love? Super-funny April Fool's jokes, that's what. All that Rick-rolling? Hilarious. Seacrest announcing that the episode's being preempted? Hilariouser. So many tricks coming from that man, a human joy-buzzer in shiny pants.

Tonight it's just me and my pal Gary at my house watching the show. Everyone else we know is either off on some fancy vacation or working somewhere or sitting at home posting M4M "missed connection" notices on Craigslist. The husband/partner/whatever isn't even home. He's out at a movie. It's like all my friends suddenly decided that watching the Idols misunderstand Dolly Parton wasn't the most monumentally important thing a person could do with their Tuesday night.

Well, Gary and I know better. We're also more excited about Kylie Minogue performing on Dancing With the Stars than anything going down on Idol. As soon as this is over we're watching that. I can listen to the harshest, most extreme noise and doom-saturated metal for hours, but the second someone says, "Oh, hey, let's put on Kylie," I remember that I'm a gay. She's my Achilles' heel.

The show begins. Gary's never seen them before. As the new opening credits man and opening credits lady give each other the eye, asking each other for reassurance that it's OK to take that stage and soak up mass love, Gary says, "YOU IN? I'M IN! ARE YOU IN? CUZ I'M IN! WE'RE IN! OHGODYOURHANDFEELSSOGOODONMYMICROPHONE!"

I'm feeling somewhat let down by the celebrity audience members this season. They flash on the face of a blond woman. And I know her face. I've seen it. I should know who it is. And Gary says, "Who's that famous lady? I know her." And we replay the TiVo over and over, trying to sort out who she is. And we both draw blanks. But we recognize Michael Kors sitting right behind Randy and Paula. He's here to give them all judge-y support, I guess. Maybe they'll exchange judging style tips during commercials and Kors will say stuff like, "Oh, that second Beatles week! So down-market! Like somebody barfed all over John Lennon!"

The biggest star here tonight, though, is mentor Dolly Parton. Seacrest introduces the clip that explains Dolly to all the kids. The facts:

1. She's super-old now.

2. She's written 3,000 songs, which is a lot. Like one every day for 10 years. You take her, Carole King, Diane Warren, and those Beatles guys, and that accounts for about 87% of all music ever written.

3. She's a bazillioguggleffffftrillionaire.

4. Enormous tits.

Dolly is seen prancing into the rehearsal room where all the kids are waiting. She's wearing a dress made from very flexible aluminum. This "howdy, y'all" moment is cut together with a big-head-and-wig-combo interview bit where she talks about how since she's never bothered to have actual flesh-and-blood sprogs of her own that it's her songs that are her children. And she's given birth 3,000 times. Occupying exactly one half of this shot is a bouquet of really stupid-looking flowers in a glass vase that someone decided would look really good tied with raffia bows. You kind of have to wonder if this is suddenly the actual April Fool's joke and what we're really watching is an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and those flowers are about to begin shrieking profanity and shooting flames at Dolly's fake hair. I don't trust those flowers.

Cut back to her talking to the kids. She explains that on the set of 9 to 5 she was without her guitar (this seems like a lie) and that she wrote the song by clicking her acrylic nails together because they sounded like a typewriter. IT'S CUZ HER NAILS ARE SO FAKE AND WHOREY, Y'ALL! AIN'T THAT CUTER THAN A BANJO-PICKIN' MONKEY RIDIN' A PIG?

Then, maximizing her time so as not to miss a branding opportunity, Dolly leads them all in a chorus of "9 to 5," which also happens to be the title of the new Broadway musical she's written, coming soon to a high school drama club near you.

Time for some sangin'...

First up is Brooke. She gets a rehearsal moment with Dolly and dares to sing "Jolene" in front of the woman. That would take some nerve, really, especially when Dolly stands there with a half-smile stuck on her face, one that's impossible to read because of all the extreme dermatology she's imposed on herself. The most I can take away from Dolly's description of Brooke as "warm" and "honest" is that Dolly simply likes Brooke's hoop earrings because she, Dolly, is wearing some herself.

Then Brooke takes the stage and sings "Jolene." And it makes me wonder what Brooke hears when she listens to Dolly's original version. Have you heard it lately? Really listened to it? Because it's a song about a tortured person begging to be spared from doom. It's desperate and ghostly, intended to be delivered by a woman who knows what pain means. That's why treating it like it's a Sunday picnic sing-along-good-time-jam that you wink and grin your way through is, you know, totally fucking stupid and wrong. But you go and have a good time, Brooke.

Simon and Randy are into it, more or less. Simon says the violin player accompanying Brooke is "weird." Paula says what I'm thinking, "You're insulting. The. Band." Then I go back and actually look at the violin player that I ignored because I was so busy focusing on Brooke's awful performance. And Simon's right. The guy has a mullet and looks weird. But he can fiddle. And that's all that matters. Score one for Paula. Then Paula and Brooke compliment each other's hair. And they're both right. They each have really good hair tonight.

David Cook is here to set the record straight about who he steals from. It's a lot blah blah blah. It's all been said. You pick nice arrangements, dude. We know. But this week he's going to do his own arrangement of Dolly's song "Little Sparrow." Cut to Cook with Dolly. He sings, "Little Sparoooooooowwwwww!" It's sharper than sharp. Gary and I invent thought bubbles to occupy the half of the screen not consumed by the woman's wig:

1. "I've written 2,999 other songs I suddenly like more than this one, and that includes 'Straight Talk.'

2. "Get these evil, flame-throwing flowers away from me."

3. "Sly Stallone in Rhinestone is a better singer than you."

4. "Ow, my glass septum!"

But I have to say that DC's actual performance is pretty darn good. And his hair is cut this week, allowing him the opportunity to look a touch more masculine. Paula agrees with me. As for Simon, he's got yet another bug up his ass about bird songs. First he harshes on Carly for singing the Beatles' "Blackbird," now he's annoyed by Dolly. Next week I want Michael Johns to do "Free Bird" and David Archuleta to do "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep."

Ramiele. Poor cute little Ramiele. So lost in this genre. So overpowered by the band. So bouncy and chicken-neck-move-y. Dolly loves her because she's even tinier than Dolly, if you can believe that. But the show doesn't love her. The show wants her off. And I didn't quite realize this until after she sang and after Simon finished telling her she sounded like she should be on a cruise ship. Because the next thing you see after all this is Carly and Jason Castro out in the audience waving to the camera. They're up next after the break. But what this all means is that they were obviously hustled out into the audience during Ramiele's number, creating what had to have been a major distraction. Sure, bring hearthrobby Castro out into a sea of girls. They'll totally keep paying attention to Ramiele. Meanwhile, Gary and I have come to the decision that Ramiele's problem is that she can't yet translate her bubbly little personality into anything approximating it in song.

Jason Castro's nonfake weird hair is fascinating to Dolly, who is most likely bald under that blond meringue. He sings "Travelin' Through," from that Transamerica movie. His performance is serviceable. Not much more. And I can't hear that song without thinking of Felicity Huffman in awful banker-lady suits.

I'm planting my loyalty flag on Carly soil. She may be too witchy-woman for the tweens, with her shaky nerves and her dark eye shadow, scary-looking husband, and shiny-disco-funeral outfits, but no one on this show can sing like her. I may even be close to thinking of her the way I think of Kelly and Fantasia and Melinda Doolittle. OK, not Fantasia. But definitely in that camp. I figure I have to get behind someone, right? Then it's going to be her. If I was in the audience, I'd have a sign reading "Carly Is Gnarly! Sing 'The Wind That Shakes the Barley!'"

Randy says she gave the performance of the night, which is true. Paula says some gibberishy things. Simon poo-poos on it all and then tells Carly that she needs to wear different clothes. Now, I'll admit that the pants tucked into boots thing she's doing tonight is a tough look to pull off when you're a little pear-shaped, but come on, man, give the woman a break. She looks just fine. If anything, she should ramp up the Morticia and really separate herself from the pack. Dress like Helena Bonham Carter did in Sweeney Todd. Those were some clothes.

Archuleta smells like fresh-baked cookies. I don't have proof of this, but I think I'm right. He sings "Smoky Mountain Memories" for Dolly and she claims that she's going to cry just from hearing it and that would be BAD Y'ALL BECAUSE OF THESE DANG FALSE EYELASHES! THEY'D COME ALL UNGLUED AND I'D LOOK A FRIGHT! HAVE I MENTIONED IN THE LAST FIVE MINUTES HOW FAKE AND ALSO DOWN-HOME I AM, ALL ROLLED UP INTO ONE? LOCUST RIDGE! BUTCHER HOLLER! WHEREVER IT IS I'M FROM! I DON'T EVEN KNOW MY OWN MYTHOLOGY ANYMORE! OMG DAVID ARCHULETA COOKIES!

Then Archuleta sings. The girls lose their minds. And the song -- which really is a great song, like signature Dolly, since it's all about the mountains and home and the old folks and Jesus and extreme longing for something you might not have ever had anyway -- suits him perfectly, since the boy seems to have an intense distaste for anything that's not a lachrymose ballad. The judges love him. Randy even decides that Archuleta and not Carly has now given the performance of the night. Well, Randy is wrong, of course. Note-hitting is not the same as being something true. Paula loves him. Simon loves him. The camera cuts to Michael Kors, who also loves him. Gary on the couch launches into his best Kors impersonation, "What I'd love to see you in a little pair of white tennis shorts and nothing else, cleaning my pool!"

After Simon praises him, Archuleta does this thing with his mouth that has become something of a trademark move: he mutters little "thank yous" and other unintelligible talk-to-himselfisms. That he couples this with palpable relief washing over his face and a heaving chest cavity that suggests nothing so much as respiratory anxiety, makes it almost unbearable to watch.

Kristy Lee Cook time! Since last week when she whipped out the big machine gun of "God Bless the U.S.A.," I've decided that I want her to stick around and slime this show with her mediocre singing and craven gestures until the set implodes and sulfur rains down on the audience. And she doesn't disappoint me this week at all. She meets Dolly and, when told by Big D that she looks pretty, has, "Well, not as pretty as you!" on reserve. Spike the ball, Kristy Lee Cook!

Then, Dolly tells Kristy Lee Cook that she made "Coat of Many Colors" her own. That's the default "yeah, whatever, it was fine" response. That's Paula's go-to line when she can't think of anything else to say. But she saves it by telling Kristy Lee Cook that "your mama's gon' be so prouda yew!"

Kristy Lee Cook's response? "When she said my mom was gonna be proud of me, I was excited, but, um, I'd rather impress her than my mom at this moment."

Dang, Sun Tzu, play it a little closer to your boobs, will ya? Next week she changes her stage name to Always B. Closing.

Then she performs the song. BAREFOOTIN' Y'ALL! Also pitchy. And she does that "I don't know how to stop singing" thing where the last note seems like it will never end, just turning into a pile-up of yeah-yeahs. Randy uses the word "wheelhouse" twice in describing whatever it is she just did. Paula loves her. Simons says she was "pleasant but forgettable," which causes Kristy Lee Cook to give him the tut-tut face, featuring eyeballs of pissed-off-county-fair-fury. "Thank you, Simon! Love you!" she says in her best sarcastic voice -- which isn't, you know, a very good sarcastic voice at all -- before blowing him a kiss, one that probably contained invisible poison air darts she'd been storing in her cheeks. That she didn't mention the troops even one time is a failing from which she may not recover.

OH! The famous lady at the beginning of the show? Vanna White. That's why I didn't recognize her. I haven't laid eyes on her since 1986.

OK, Syesha, there's something you may not know about "I Will Always Love You." That thing is this: NO ONE SHOULD EVER SING IT AGAIN.



How many times do human beings need to hear this overcooked thing? I mean, I know that when Dolly first sang it and it was all fresh, that it was a touching, tender goodbye-forever-Porter-Wagoner ballad. Then it became a Whitney Houston self-esteem anthem. Then a joke (I heard a comedian once do a bit about the Whitney Houston Car Alarm. I just can't remember which comedian that was). Anyway, now it's just the high bar for girl singers on this talent show.

And another thing. The hair.

It's hair I don't even understand. Harshly lit from above and going in several directions, most of them fuzzy. Gary says, "With that hair she oughta be singing 'Muskrat Love.'"

She ends it by holding a note so long that it has to equal good singing, right? The judges aren't interested in her. Well, except Paula.

An ascot-be-necked Michael Johns closes the show with "It's All Wrong But It's All Right." It's the best he's ever sounded. But the true fact remains that if a man wearing a scarf tied around his neck demanded that I tell him some "sexy, lovin' lies," I'd find keeping a straight face somewhat difficult. Pal Gary, on the other hand, delivered several my way when I requested him to do so:

1. Hey, call you later.

2. No, this was fun. Let's do it again sometime.

3. Eight.

4. Wow, no one's ever done it to me like that before.

5. My partner's out of town, but we have an understanding.

6. Top.

On to Ramiele-gets-the-boot Night...

Here's what happens:

1. The kids come out and sing "9 to 5." I swear they don't even have Ramiele's microphone turned on. This is a conspiracy. I mean it's not like she was going to win or anything. But let that adorable girl continue being short on national television! Get ride of Michael Johns or Syesha instead. They're bores.

2. I've decided that it's Jason Castro who's the ringleader of the impromptu choreography. He do-si-do's Kristy Lee Cook in the middle of the song when no one else is bothering to do much else but sway.


4. The best part about the song "9 to 5" is that it's also analogous to the music industry, in which the artists get the shaft and the labels get the dough. There hasn't been a group-sing moment this on-the-nose since they all did "Do You Know the Way to San Jose" a few seasons back.

5. Michael Johns is safe.

6. Archuleta is safe.

7. Carly is wearing yellow. Why? Is this what it means to dress for Simon? Is there no room on this earth for people who like to wear black day in and day out? I'm depressed now. Then Seacrest taunts her with the possibility of being back in the bottom three, which freaks her out. Then he tells her to go sit on the couch with the safe people and she stomps over. If she doesn't have an ulcer already she's going to by the time this season is over.

8. Hey, it's dumb fuckin' questions from the public time. The only question that means anything to me is when Randy gets asked who he wants to work with in the future. The answer should be that he wants to work with a stylist that won't put him in skull-ridden T-shirts that say "ROCK" in giant sparkly letters. He doesn't say that, though. He gives some vague answer about working with the winner of American Idol.

9. The Clark Brothers, a country band that Seacrest says are "set to take the charts by storm," are here to sing "This Little Light of Mine," the one song in music history not written by Dolly Parton. So it seems that these guys won the no-ratings-getting, Idol-sponsored, next-great-band show. They're kind of dorky, but they can pick at them gee-tars (and mandolins or whatever they are) just fine. At least they don't sound like Maroon 5.

10. The Ford commercial involves no singing at all. The Idols chant Run-DMC's "It's Tricky" while they're seen playing basketball against a crew of shirtless men. Naturally, Kristy Lee Cook is the meanest baller of Team Idol, snarling into the camera, all "MY HOUSE!" and whatever. Then they high-five over Ramiele.

11. David Cook is safe.

12. Ramiele is unsafe. Goes to the stool. Kristy Lee Cook also goes to the stool after showing her little homemade note she made to reserve her seat.

13. Nashville! It's this town! Look who lives there! Bucky! Bo Bice! That other guy! Bo Bice had stomach surgery, in case you didn't know. Like three times. Then he turned into Lenny Kravitz. "Southern rock's what I do," says Bo. And dashikis is what he wears. And babies is what he makes. He's got a 2-year-old son and is shown being appropriately affectionate to the little career obstacle. My guess is that the kid calls mommy "Mama" and daddy "Beard-Mama."

14. Syesha is safe. Also wearing a T-shirt of Carly's tattoo.

15. Jason Castro is safe. Brooke takes a stool. I know I'm 9 years old, but I do love this season's emphasis on stool. It's gross, yes. But totally great, you have to admit. Brooke shames Simon about calling the fiddle player weird, demanding that he say he's sorry. So Simon throws random sorry(s) into the air, most of them aimed at what seems to be the stage's staircase. But this satisfies Brooke, who tonight is wearing a headband made of hair. That it's a shade lighter blond than the rest of her blondness is...well...AWESOME. Dolly probably advised she do it. Or more likely, she borrowed it from Kristy Lee Cook, who infiltrated Dolly's dressing room and stole it while dressed as a caterer.

16. Idol Gives Back is next week. Steel yourselves. To get the exploitation ball rolling, they show a clip of two homeless Ethiopian sisters who wind up separated on the streets of Addis Ababa. The Idol cameras just happen to be there as one little girl goes in search of her sister and miraculously finds her. Of course, she was standing in the middle of a crowd with a sign that read "TAKE ME TO THE PROM, DAVID ARCHULETA!" So it wasn't that hard to spot her. There are agonizing reunion -tears, lit in a way that would make Days of Heaven appear to have been shot on a home video camera. But thanks all the same, magic Idol-cams. You save the world, one photogenic child at a time.

17. Dolly sings. Dolly's a great singer. Just not tonight. I'll give her a bad night. Everyone can have one.

18. Brooke and Kristy Lee Cook are safe. Which means Ramiele finally gets to cry for someone who isn't someone else. I will miss her. And my genuine affection for her is such that I don't want to put that little red X-sticker on the promotional Idol elimination magnet board I got sent from Fox. But I will be brave and do it anyway. Oh-lo...

19. Then I go watch Kylie perform her new single on Dancing With the Stars. And oh, man, she's sucking like Dolly just did. What's up with not cutting it live tonight?

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