OK, so something really actually bad happened on American Idol last night, and nobody seems entirely sure yet what it means. This was Neil Diamond week, and all the contestants had to sing two songs, which made for a completely rushed and chaotic show. The judges withheld their comments until all the contestants had a chance to sing one song each, but Paula Abdul, when she finally got a chance to talk, talked about both of the songs Jason Castro had sung. After a long, uncomfortable pause, Randy Jackson had to jump in to tell her that he’d only sung one song. Ryan Seacrest tried to make a joke out of it. Paula said, “This is hard!” Paula is, of course, a notorious space-cadet, but hallucinating a whole other song out of thin air is some real other shit. The clip made all the morning news shows this morning, and conspiracy theories are circulating all over the place. It’s entirely possible that Paula slipped up like that because the show’s producers have been telling her what to say before every show and thusly manipulating the results. This explanation would seem to jibe with plenty of the show’s other problems this season. Paula and Randy, for instance, have been riding especially hard for David Archuleta, who’s been straight-up awful for the past several weeks, and plenty of anonymous internet types are speculating that the show’s producers consider Archuleta to be the most potentially marketable of this batch of contestants. And this week, Syesha Mercado effortlessly outsang everyone else on the show, and the judges all patted her on the head and said she’ll do great on Broadway, the purgatory that will always embrace former Idol castmembers.
It’s fun to think about the furor that might result from the revelation that America’s most popular TV show has been cooking and manipulating its results for the past several years, trying to ensure that another Taylor Hicks never happens just like the Democratic National Committee put in that goofy time-bomb superdelegate rule just so they’d never get another George McGovern. As much of a blast as it might be to see the show taken down in a media feeding frenzy like the 50s Quiz Show scandal, though, I just can’t buy that narrative. After all, if you were going to orchestrate a massive live-TV conspiracy, would you really want Paula Abdul as your point person? I don’t doubt for a second that Idol exec producer Nigel Lythgoe is doing whatever he can to make sure Archuleta wins the thing, but I very much doubt that his devious efforts include passing fake notes to a fruitloop like Abdul. More likely, I think, is the possibility that Abdul just spaced right out and proved why nobody should ever put her on live TV in any capacity again. Can we just send her home this week?
Beyond that one shock-reveal moment, though, this week’s show was a total mess, something near-unwatchable. At this point, the show has prematurely disposed of all my early favorites (Josiah Leming, Asia’h Epperson, Chikezie), and it’s been losing legit contenders like Carly Smithson just when I’ve been starting to like them, something that may well happen with Syesha Mercado tonight. Mercado competently warbled her way through “Hello Again” and then sassed the living hell out of “I Thank the Lord for the Night Time.” She didn’t do anything all that stellar, but she turned out to be the only contestant with the slightest idea what to do with a Neil Diamond song. I liked Diamond as a judge, and it was nice to see one of the OGs of American songwriting get a big-platform salute, but I’m not sure what the show’s producers were thinking in raiding his songbook. As a singer, Diamond has always belted everything out in a big, husky grown-man baritone and written his songs accordingly; his approach is totally antithetical to the Idol house-style calisthenic runs. I would’ve thought that David Cook would be able to manage it, but he just turned his two songs into scratchy brooders that I forgot about before they were even over. Jason Castro, meanwhile, disappeared completely into his two songs. And Brooke White, who looks more and more unhinged and freaked-out every week and who really should’ve gone home after last week’s meltdown, spazzily grinned her way through a Shreked-out version of “I’m a Believer,” and that song is just too good to be stomped all over like that. She managed to recover enough to give a convincing take of the stateless lament “I Am … I Said,” but yeesh. I liked Brooke well enough early on, but at this point I mostly just want to see her go home for the sake of her own mental health. She’s about two blown cues away from having a full-on coronary on live TV.
But the worst of the worst, once again, was David Archuleta. If this whole Paula Abdul thing does turn out to be evidence of a nefarious pro-Archuleta plot on the part of the show’s producers, they’re really selling themselves a bill of goods on this kid. He’s not a good singer, he’ll make terrible records, and he’s nothing like the transcendent star-in-waiting that Lythgoe seems to be imagining. He managed to stay away from drippy ballads this week, opting instead for the two most glaringly obvious songs in the Diamond repertoire, “Sweet Caroline” and “Coming to America.” The latter was a just-shy-of-OK pander-move just like Kristy Lee Cook’s Lee Greenwood monstrosity of a few weeks back, but “Sweet Caroline” was the real disaster. When you’ve got one of the most recognizable drunken-singalong jams in the English language on your hands, maybe you shouldn’t try to sing it in a pinched, lifeless nasal quaver. Just saying. I can’t wait till this show ends and I can stop thinking about this kid.