Does TV get any more dramatic than Thursday night’s “American Idol” elimination show? Does it get any more manipulative? Does it get any more fun? The answer to all three questions is a resounding no; and like the tens of millions of “Idol” viewers across the country who’ve just finished watching this completely absurd circus from the twisted but brilliant mind of executive producer Nigel Lythgoe, I am amped up, exhausted, minus several fingernails, and thoroughly amazed at what happened tonight – not to mention that this show, now in its 10th season, and down Simon whatshisname and Paula whatshername, had me in the palm of its hand, like I was taking my first whiffs of reality TV.
“It scared the stuff out of me,” uttered Casey Abrams, and you know what? He wasn’t the only one scared and surprised and downright shocked. “What a crazy night!” tweeted Lythgoe. No s— Sherlock. The show included a happy birthday serenade to Steven Tyler, a guest appearance form J-Lo’s lucky husband Marc Anthony, a wrestling match, and the most unforgettable elimination in “Idol” history, not to mention its most incredible reversal. And it was so much purely addictive fun. For all you West Coasters, let me yell SPOILER ALERT as I get to the short, sordid and suspect point: Casey Abrams, the front-runner with the touchy tummy, received the least number of votes and, as a result, a shocking buh-bye, but received a last-second reprieve from the judges, who granted him a stay of execution after cutting him off mid-song.
Yes, Casey. Shocker, right? Can you believe it? I couldn’t fathom how Abrams surprisingly received the least votes of the 11 finalists. J-Lo provided some context. “You had a rough week last week,” she said, referring to his daring version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which she called “screechy. “No more antics. Just let people feel your soul. You deserve to be here.”
Moments before, Tyler and Randy had stopped Abrams’ version of “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” the Ray Charles song he wowed the judges with back at the very first audition in Austin. Randy told him they didn’t need to hear him sing; they knew what he was capable of, he said, and were ready to use their one-time save on him.
Bloggers had written that a save was unlikely because next week would be a “double elimination,” and there wouldn’t be a group of 10, which was supposed to be the number going out on this summer’s tour. Instead, the rules were bent to accommodate Abrams, who looked like he might have a heart attack, then didn’t know who to hug first—the judges or his parents. The 19-year-old had previously been hospitalized for stomach ailments, and the thought percolated that maybe the show’s producers didn’t think he was healthy enough to take the grind. Other theories have been floated across the blogosphere, but whatever.
Abrams finished in the bottom three along with Thia Megia and Stefano Langone, two of our picks to be next on the chopping block. The presence of the crowd’s and judge’s favorite in that position confirmed executive producer Lythgoe’s tweet early Thursday morning: “Alert! Shocking news tonight!”
Earlier in the day, various “Idol” obsessed sites speculated that Casey could be on the chopping block, based on his being at the bottom of the dialidol.com, which measures voting totals by monitoring busy signals. Even Abrams himself evidenced the pressure, tweeting this morning: “Within 12 hours, I will know if I’m going on tour or not. Woah.”
The show was essentially a very long build-up to that amazing reversal of fortune. I can’t figure out hwo to explain the audience disconnect from the dazzling effect Abrams has had on the live crowd and the judges from the very start. I might have expected this reaction after his nervy choice of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but his show-starting take on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” was up to his high standards and far better than numerous others. Perhaps the fact he went first, the most unenviable of spots, hurt him. At any rate, it will be interesting to see if Casey continues to languish behind the leaders.
Like the rest of the results shows, this one was a savvy pop culture product-pitching smorgasbord that brought in a variety of guest stars to keep things moving, including a surprise appearance by Stevie Wonder, who led the group through “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and then serenaded Steven Tyler with a “Happy Birthday” song. Marc Anthony also appeared; he tutored the contestants on how to hear themselves on-stage through their headphones. Hulk Hogan materialized onstage to let wrestling fans James Durbin and Paul McDonald know they were safe,; and Sugarland was there, too, for god knows what reason, though they should think about adding Scotty McCreery to their line-up. There was, of course, the requisite Ford Focus music video cum commercial. Note to “Idol”: Not that you’re listening, but at some point all this promotion is going to cross the line and you might as well jump from Fox to QVC.
Other observations: It appears as if Naima and Haley have improved their standing, as neither appeared in the bottom three this week. Stefano and Thia are obviously on the endangered species list, and, of course, Casey’s seeming blithe confidence has been seriously dented. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain his bravado in the midst of public blowback. We are headed, inevitably for a battle of the pipes between Lusk, Durbin and Toscano, with McCreery and McDonald lurking and Alaina hoping one of the favorites falls.
In the end, like the pro wrestling bit it aired earlier, “American Idol” is a shameless manipulator of audience emotion. It’s a singing contest meets the Octagon. Thousands enter, one emerges victorious, with all the twists and turns along the way. And I love it.
1. Jacob Lusk: Still his to lose, and he might if he keeps making those weird “Frankie Fontaine” faces when he sings.
2. James Durbin: Kid’s growing into a superstar before our very eyes, and it’s not often pleasant.
3. Pia Toscano: Best pure voice of the lot, but can she show a little more of that personality?
4. Scotty McCreery: The little girls understand… and they’re the ones doing most of the voting.
5. Paul McDonald: In the mold of past winners David Cook and Lee DeWyze, but isn’t he a little long in the tooth for the 15-year-olds?
6. Casey Abrams: Enough of the conspiracy theories… This kid’s a star even if he’s kicked off. Someone just needs to figure out what to do with him.
7. Lauren Alaina: Her following is strong and will undoubtedly keep voting for her, but 2011’s answer to Tanya Tucker doesn’t seem emotionally stable enough to stay the course.
8. Naima Adedapo: She continues to defy the odds, has no chance to go all the way, but is also coming into her own as a unique performer with potential outside the “AI” sphere.
9. Haley Reinhart: Also making a late run at respectability, she’s got that Joss Stone vibe down pat. Could be a sleeper to watch in her post-“AI” life.
10. Thia Megia: Don’t know if she can keep ducking the turk, but she’s a quick learner, and by the time this contest ends, she could have her own teenage army out there voting on cell phones.
11. Stefano Langone: J. Lo still loves him, but if he doesn’t keep his eyes open, the man who botched “Hello” could be saying “Goodbye” next week.