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10:05 PM: Thank God, finally. I’m so glad that we were able to survive it together. I don’t want my contempt for this show to detract from the fact that I truly, honestly believe in giving to charities (real ones) that you trust. Donors Choose is a great one, but so are lots of others. Pick something; give something. But that doesn’t change how unbelievably nitwitty this closing number featuring the idols dressed like ice-cream men singing about how they all sing for the Lord, despite the fact that we know nothing about the religious backgrounds of any of them, and I seriously doubt they were polled before this was planned, meaning that they are singing their love for the Lord because they were told to, and isn’t that what gives it all meaning? Good night, everybody.

10:01 PM: HOW IS IT NOT OVER? IT’S NOT OVER! Oh, man. Mariah Carey. Figures. With such a weak-ass show, though, what could possibly have gone long by this much? Did Robin Williams just storm the stage with that Russian thing without being invited? This completely confuses me.

9:56 PM: Daughtry is still as boring to me as he was when he was on the show. Boo!

9:55 PM: DAUGHTRY! This is the closer. The closer is Chris fucking Daughtry. In a show that also included Annie Lennox. Way to go, jerks.

9:50 PM: They have saved Brad Pitt for last! I really, really wish he weren’t wearing that stupid cap. Projects to build housing are pretty cool, though. “He wants to be the first baseball player and lawyer in space” — aw! I think they’re all just really happy about seeing Brad Pitt. Aaaand here he is!

9:49 PM: So: Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, David Spade. They hit the trifecta of bug.

9:42 PM: I was listening to Robin Williams do this SAME THING in about 1986. Not one new trick since then.

9:40 PM: Oh my God, I would so rather be watching the actual Russian Idol.

9:38 PM: Dear Miley Cyrus: Pardon me if I find your sympathy for the poor somewhat hollow when you could lift them out of poverty by giving them a set of tickets they could scalp.

9:34 PM: Miley Cyrus AGAIN? Do we really need to see the same celebrity twice? Does she have some purposeful stomping she didn’t get done last time? …Apparently so. And really, when you yell “2, 3, 4!” during the only moments when the band isn’t playing, it kind of defeats the purpose.

9:32 PM: Ashley Tisdale is donating her old nose to poor people who don’t have noses.

9:25 PM: Dane Cook barf barf barf barf barf.

9:23 PM: The lesson here is that singing in a stage ensemble like the Rent cast does is harder than it looks, and coming up with that really true, impressive choral sound, even in a pop-style show, is not for sissies. It’s amazing how this song falls apart when nobody can get out of his or her own head long enough to sing in unison. There’s a lot of unison in this song, and it means having humility and learning to blend, which none of these goobers are trained in.

9:21 PM: Reese Witherspoon promotes the Children’s Defense Fund. That’s a good choice of charity, and AT LEAST IT’S SPECIFIC. Unfortunately, Reese does not have the natural touch of an Annie Lennox. She seems very nice, but the thing where you’re comfortable anywhere? She does not have that. I guess because I was raised by teachers, I’m always particularly impressed with programs focused on schools, which is why I commonly give money to Donors Choose. (Love the letter packets! Got one once that said, “Dear Donor: We learned with our computer that you could give a hamster a bath!”)

9:13 PM: Britain donates millions of mosquito nets! Now that needs a “One Shining Moment” video.

9:10 PM: I think they maybe could have chosen someone to introduce a malaria film who would have a slightly easier time conveying seriousness. (Stephen: “Does anyone on Earth have less gravitas than Sarah Silverman?”)

9:07 PM: Sheila E. Wow. And a whole chorus of show choir kids!

9:05 PM: Oh, Gloria Estefan. It’s nice to know somebody still thinks she’s relevant.

8:56 PM: Carrie Underwood. So very much the heart and soul of this show, because she’s so unobjectionable and so brutally generic. And can she walk in that skirt? Is she on top of a cake? God bless her, there’s nothing but melisma from fifteen seconds into the song. I love the way this show equates depth of feeling with number of stringed instruments, incidentally. It makes it much easier to figure out how I’m supposed to be feeling at any given time.

8:52 PM: I always really, really like Simon Cowell when he goes out and does normal stuff. I don’t know if I’m an apologist or what, but I generally think that’s a good guy, and an honest guy, who does what he does well and doesn’t have pretensions about what he does. And indeed, you get him with poor people, and he’s weirdly able to relate especially because he doesn’t pretend this is natural to him; he acts like a visitor, which he is.

8:50 PM: Is Jimmy Kimmel going to sing “I’m Fucking Simon Cowell”? Because that would be awesome.

8:49 AM: Every thought I have about what Celine Dion looks like standing next to underfed children makes me seem like I am made of evil with a dollop of whipped psychosis, so I’m going to keep them to myself.

8:41 PM: Hey, I got my wish! She’s singing!

8:37 PM: Hey, Annie Lennox! Now she’s kind of cool. She is way cooler than Bono. I wish she were singing. I also really love how easy she is with the kids in this segment, picking them up just like a mom — any mom. There’s something about her manner that seems much more genuine and real than most celebrities who go and have their pictures taken standing next to children in Africa. You can totally tell that at some moment, she thought about whether she could adopt those boys. For an instant, anyway, she thought about it; you can tell.

8:34 PM: The Beckhams ask that you donate money for people who “have no world.” Victoria is shocked to know that some people don’t even have ridiculous fur hats.

8:30 PM: Oh, of course it’s “Fix You.” Of course it is. That poor, poor song.

8:28 PM: Damn, it’s the Katrina stuff that always kills me. Damn you, Fox.

8:25 PM: Oh my God, Adam Sandler, stop acting like you’re better than this. You’re not better than ANYTHING.

8:20 PM: THIS JUST IN! FERGIE CAN DO A WALKOVER! OR TWO!

8:19 PM: I swear to God, there is nothing in the last fifteen years that has done as much for Heart as American Idol. There’s this small collection of people — Heart, Diane Warren, Martina McBride — who are, like, eight times as famous because of American Idol. Heart was famous anyway, but where do you mostly hear actual Heart songs now in the context of existing popular culture? American Idol. And did Fergie really need to butt in? I just listened to her. Heart needs her help, is the theory?

8:16 PM: I feel so bad about the fact that I’m one of those people who can’t forget the pictures of Fergie after she wet her pants onstage. I really admire the way that later, she was like, “I didn’t get to go before I went on; what’s the big deal?” But it is still the first thing I think of every time I see her. I apologize, Betsy Wetsy.

8:08 PM: Wow, they got Bono for their charity project? That must have been tough.

8:07 PM: I kind of like the way Miley Cyrus performs by stomping over to one part of the stage and then turning on her heel and stomping over to another part of the stage. Like, “I will sing some lyrics over HERE! And then over THERE! Have you noticed that my hair is BOUNCY? Because it IS!”

8:04 PM: This bit where Billy Crystal and Miley Cyrus have never heard of each other could not be stupider if they both did it with their tongues hanging out.

8:01 PM: Wow, Billy Crystal looks OLD. And puffy. (Stephen: “Is Billy Crystal morphing into Christopher Walken before our very eyes?”)

7:54 PM: Okay, I’m kind of interested in this Band From TV performance. I’ve heard of it, and I can’t remember who’s in it. I hope they explain it better. GREG GRUNBERG! Oh, Teri Hatcher. I liked you better as Lois Lane. I’m not too excited about the — OH MY GOD, BACHELOR BOB. Is that Dr. Chase on fiddle? How hot! It would be nice if they’d explain who all these people are.

7:50 PM: Paula and Randy! Like it’s the Academy Awards! Hey, at least she’s standing up. And they are visiting poor children. No swimming pools, and lots of gang activity. I like how the carefully stay with the woman who works at the school until she bursts into tears. Don’t miss that part! Hey, at least they all hugged Paula. But this whole thing underscores my fundamental problem with Idol Gives Back: what charity are we giving to?

7:45 PM: Snoop Dogg! Surrounded by small children! I wonder if those children qualify as “bling” for tax purposes. That would make quite an itemized list. “Grill, giant microphone cover, moppets.” Poor Snoop is telling the audience how to clap. Sadly, they need it. I also would think they could have afforded kids who can put their hands in the air and wave them like they just don’t care without hitting each other in the face.

7:43 PM: The only thing I can think of while watching this high-concept “yellow jug” ad is how the ad agency must have been so impressed when they thought of it. It’s a yellow jug!

7:41 PM: I would buy Stiller Whips Whitney’s Ass For Charity.

7:40 PM: Maria Shriver! Mrs. Governor Of California! And Seacrest made it through her intro without doing his Schwarzenegger. But the band did not get through it without playing “Maria” from West Side Story. I guess that pegs the number of songs with “Maria” in their names at one. Maria wants me to be a volunteer. I’m sorry, but does her forehead and brow look kind of…Klingon to anyone else? Forehead too shiny; brow too pronounced. Seriously, her eyes look mean. “We can all be American Idols in someone’s life.” Barf-o-meter: 1.

7:38 PM: I think George Lopez just declared for the presidency.

7:34 PM: There’s a Jimmy Johnson other than the one with fancy plans and pants to match? Oh, wait, that’s Jimmy James. That guy still looks like he might have fancy plans and pants to match. Flame-retardant NASCAR pants. I think I just figured out what I want for Christmas!

7:32 PM: I never thought I’d find anything with less street cred than Step Up 2 The Streets, but I’d say this opening number is right up there. Is there a reason for Idol to be hosting a review of various dance styles? Isn’t this a singing show? It’s like this is an obituary for Dance: 1986-1998. Dear poor and needy people: At least you do not have to watch this. Oh, it’s the So You Think You Can Dance people! That makes sense, and yet it makes no sense.

7:30 PM: The time has come, bitches. And by “bitches,” this time I mean “Ryan Seacrest.”

Starting at 7:30 ET (that’s in half an hour!), watch this space for live and ongoing coverage of Idol Gives Back. I’m not going to lie to you — the reason I’m doing this is that I want to watch it and I will for entertainment value, but I am fairly sure I will be crushingly bored, and struggling to entertain you will keep me awake. I will be following it live, and also probably stealing the best of the annoyed text messages I am likely to receive, because nothing pleases me more than lifting brilliance from my friends.

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I am one of the many people who believe Dolly Parton to be a national treasure who should be worshiped at every opportunity, no matter what she does to her face — which, at this point, is kind of depressingly too much. I have loved her even more ever since I read about the interview where somebody asked her about Bill Clinton and she just laughed and said, “He’s a horny little toad, isn’t he?” It was so laid-back and so obviously possessed of both honesty and perspective that it made me her fan for life.

Anyway, I think Dolly Parton is infinitely more deserving of a theme night than lots of past buffoons, including Gloria Estefan. I looked forward to seeing her interact with the contestants, and I was not disappointed. Well, I was disappointed in a lot of the singing, but not in Dolly herself.

Ryan Seacrest’s April Fool’s Day Gag: Boo.

Brooke White: I love Brooke; I really do. But unfortunately, her appeal is narrow. (By the way, people who say “gal,” as she did about Dolly — and as I KEEP SEEING all over the place, it seems like — are generally my natural enemies, but I make an exception for Brooke, because..I still like her.) I liked her performance of “Jolene,” but you kind of have to be an angry person for this song, and I’m not sure Brooke is comfortable being angry. Or…maybe “raw” is what I’m looking for. One of the guys in the band looked exactly like Dr. Phil, is the other thing, and that totally freaked me right out. Who gave Dr. Phil a drum? The other thing with Brooke is that she doesn’t grin inappropriately all through the song the way, say, Diana Degarmo used to, but she can’t not grin at the sheer joy of performing, which sometimes takes her right out of the performance, ironically. As Dwight once said of Michael Scott’s breath, “Good not great.”

David Cook: He’s a rocker! A rocker! They tried to help him out by giving him a chance to thank the people who are actually responsible for his wildly original arrangements, so you know the producers are following stupid internet controversies, which…actually isn’t that comforting. I couldn’t help noticing Dolly’s comment that he “seems certain.” That is not the highest musical compliment I’ve ever heard, particularly since it’s also something you might say right before someone goes over Niagara Falls in a laundry basket. This was okay, and his hair was less idiotic than usual, but I’m just over this whole thing. When what he does isn’t kind of freaky, I find it boring. I guess it’s positive, strictly speaking, that I feel like I could hear this on MTV tomorrow, but it would be by a band that’s already been invented, so the question becomes: Is David Cook Necessary?

Ramiele Malubay: Perfectly okay. Fine. Dolly is using way too many words that mean “small,” though, for this to be good. I’ve never seen anybody start off so hot and turn so quickly into the most boring person in the competition BY FAR. I’m surprised she stays awake through her own performances. It’s not even cruise ship — a cruise ship would be like, “Maybe you should try a singing diner first.” A friend has convinced me that she is benefiting from the Jasmine Trias effect on a few fronts, and if she doesn’t get bounced this week — when she clearly deserves it and hasn’t yet even been in the bottom three — I’ll be 100 percent convinced that she is indeed. I liked how Randy said he wasn’t “mad at” her. How could you be mad at Ramiele? It would be like being mad at your middle cat. Not your old, smelly cat, and not your young, adorable cat. Your regular middle cat who never scratches anyone, but whom you might forget to pick up at the vet for a few days after you get home from a trip.

Jason Castro: What’s tough about this one is that I like the song, and I really wanted to hear Dolly sing it instead. When it’s a really Dolly-ish song, I don’t want to hear anybody else sing it. It was noteworthy that she sang along with him; I did take that as a sign that she was really enjoying it, because that’s what musical types do — they can’t not jump in if it sounds good. I still think the “busking” comment from last week stands, and I totally wouldn’t be shocked to see him in the subway. But I’d give him money, for what that’s worth. Oh, and: you are not a “weary pilgrim,” dick. I don’t hate you, but you are barely post-pubescent, so be careful of the “I have been beaten and battered by life” songs. Because seriously? You’re not selling it, at least to me.

Carly Smithson: I really enjoyed this. I cannot understand what’s up with her high notes, though, because all the punch goes out of them. I thought the arrangement was lovely and brought something new to the song, and she sounded great — except on those higher notes, which sounded like she was squeezing them through a straw. Not just the glory note at the end (which was more like a nice-try note), but some that came earlier. I just feel absolutely certain that she cannot possibly win, but I also think she’s one of the most talented women, and when she stays low, I just love her voice. I don’t know if she needs a coach or needs to drink some tea or what, but there is something up there.

David Archuleta: Yeah, I know. The technique is there. But I have never seen a contestant on this show go so deep into the competition and be so committed to doing exactly the same thing every single week, to the point where you couldn’t tell the difference between the performances with the sound off. He makes the same faces, he makes the same gestures, he begs you with his fist to understand the importance of what he’s saying, and he bores me to death. Talent is a rare thing, and he’s absolutely packed with it, but there’s no artistry to me at all. There’s never any momentum or build to his performances at all; they start off earnest and fully committed and go nowhere. He also hits at least one big bum note every week, as he did this week as soon as he went for the big high melismatic crapola, and he never, ever gets called on it, which is irritating. I know he’s probably going to win — although I no longer believe it’s as entirely inevitable as I once did — but it just does nothing for me. It’s elevator music. Pleasant, but meaningless.

Kristy Lee Cook: She has been rehearsing for this moment since she was three. It looked it. I’m just relieved to know that in addition to America, she also loves her mom.

Syesha Mercado: You knew it was coming, and you knew that she wouldn’t — as she claimed — do a simpler, more Dolly-like version. You knew she would do Whitney, because she couldn’t help herself. If you’re going to turn into a diva cliche, girl, do not actually sit on the piano, as this takes you into the territory of becoming a caricature of yourself. Lots of inappropriate breaths in the middle of phrases, too, and that’s not helped by trying to do a gigantic belting thing while seated on a piano. As one of my pals texted, you could also tell that she totally believed that the judges were going to utterly freak out and that everyone would call it the performance of the decade. You could really, really tell she didn’t like it when that didn’t happen. “Pedestrian” wasn’t what she was expecting, and that’s exactly what it was to me, too.

Michael Johns: THERE you go. I picked this kid at the beginning of the season, and part of my reason was that he’s sexy like an adult instead of sexy like a high-school student, which is the typical Idol kind of sexy, if by “sexy” you mean “cute.” Which Idol almost always does. A show that can make Clay Aiken into a sex symbol could really use a guy who seems like he could actually impregnate someone. Er, not to be indelicate. But most of all, I picked him because I thought he was a good singer, and this was the first night in weeks and weeks that I felt really vindicated. This performance was awesome. Bluesy and restrained; confident and creative. He seems like a natural, like a real musician who’s already a musician, instead of someone who’s trying to convince people he’s a musician. He’s not going to win, and he’s been horribly inconsistent, but I was so glad to see him perform once in the way I was anticipating when I PICKED HIM IN THE POOL.

In the order in which I remember them:

Kristy Lee Cook: When Simon Cowell called the choice of “God Bless The U.S.A.” a “clever” one, what he meant was this: “The only people who would ever vote for you are unsophisticated buffoons with spiritual wall hangings in their bathrooms who haven’t like anything in popular music since Elvis’s gospel phase, and those people will absolutely love this, because they love saying they love America almost as much as they love saying they hate sin.” Whether this is true or not is a different question, but that’s what he meant. Every time I hear this song, it makes me want to burn my passport and move to France, but I admit that her singing was not as painful as anything she did to The Beatles.

David Cook: I can’t really decide what position to take about this kid. I don’t enjoy listening to him at all, just as a leisure activity, but I like the fact that he does such wackadoodle things with songs sometimes. I wasn’t wild about the “Billie Jean” arrangement, but I hadn’t heard it before. I found his reference to his giant head sort of endearing also, but then…I still don’t like listening to him sing.

David Archuleta: Oh my God, seriously? He’s now traveling to foreign lands to find inspirational songs that fit the theme of the week? Nothing from his own birth year about controlling the pet population or recycling aluminum cans? This performance was flat-out wretched. Off-key in places, dull throughout, and just artistically vacuous. I’ve often agreed with Simon, but when he said the words “animated creatures,” I thought to myself, “Oh my God, that is IT EXACTLY.” He is exactly singing in a kids’ show about making the world a better place. As I texted during the show, I felt like I was at the finale of Dora The Explorer On Ice.

Chikezie: I understand that he wants to sing ballads, and also that he has this soul-singer vibe that it really means a lot to him to follow. I don’t want to be all, “Sing happy songs and dance around every week!” But…I really liked him the last two weeks, and I agreed with Simon and Randy that this was just completely boring. I’ve forgotten it already, except that I didn’t like it.

Ramiele Malubay: She started out so strong the first couple of weeks, you know? She looked like a really smart pick by the people I knew who picked her in the pool I’m in. But she’s been on a slide, and I’m afraid this is going to be it for her. Fairly or unfairly, legend has it that Carrie Underwood killed this song, and you have to be careful. You also have to 100 percent have those top notes, and she really only about 75 percent had them. Whether that was because of illness or because of her voice, it didn’t work for me at all. She’s exactly the kind of singer who slips through the cracks really, really easily, and I think Simon was jumping to conclusions (and not counting on Kristy’s appeal to your love of America, YOU PINKO) when he predicted she’d get through this week.

Carly Smithson: This was…fine? I…guess? It…wasn’t bad? I barely noticed it going by on the TV. That can’t be good.

Brooke White: I love Brooke. I love singers like Brooke, and I picked her for the same reason I picked Blake Lewis last year — when all else fails, I sometimes pick a kid who seems to be an actual musician. But she doesn’t get “Every Breath You Take.” That song is creepy, and it’s creepy on purpose, and making it into a breathy, plinky piano song really doesn’t make any creative sense. I totally disagreed with Simon and Randy that she should have continued with the style she used at the beginning — she sounded like she was playing it on a toy piano. This, to me, was a performance that once again proved that she’s a good singer and a good technical musician, but it made me concerned about her musicality, because who doesn’t understand “Every Breath You Take,” other than wedding singers?

Syesha Mercado: I didn’t care about this, and I didn’t understand why they were making such a big deal out of it. I feel like I’ve seen this performance a hundred times from a hundred girls, and it’s always fine, but it’s never really my cup of tea. She’s a little screamy for me, and I never get a lot of subtlety out of her. There’s nothing wrong with this, and she’s more musical than Kristy Lee Cook, but the overexcited talk felt to me like they were trying to get a woman in the race.

Michael Johns: For the second week in a row, he tried to cram way too much song into the 90-second (or whatever) slot they have available. Trying to do “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” made it almost impossible to create any momentum in either segment. There has to be a build, and I think as a bar-band singer (or whatever), he kind of knows that, but he’s ignoring it, because he wants to get to these great Moments, like if he puts together enough Moments, he’ll get somewhere. And he winds up looking like a clip show, is all that happens.

Jason Castro: Man, I had to go look him up this week, so thoroughly did I forget him. The problem with “Fragile” is that it sounded hopelessly pretentious and self-important even when Sting sang it, and he had a history with Amnesty International by then. So when this kid does it, it seems even more ridiculous. But I freely admit that it’s possible that the reason I blocked out this performance was that I was thinking, “OH MY GOD HE WAS BORN THE YEAR THIS SONG CAME OUT.” I mean, there’s good stuff on this record. He was born before Sting became ridiculous. That’s amazing.

Every time I look at American Idol now, people are putting their hands in the air and waving them like they just don’t care. You can’t sing a ballad on this show anymore without the hand-wavers. “We just don’t care!” their hands cry out. “We just don’t CARE!” Okay, I realize that the cigarette-lighter-style wave is different from the hip-hop “He-ey! He-ey!” wave, and maybe it’s the second one that means you just don’t care, but seriously, people: get a hold of yourselves.

I understand that David “Let’s Hear It For The Boy, And By ‘It,’ I Mean ‘Ch-Ching!'” Archuleta’s rendition of “The Long And Winding Road” moved you practically to tears, because you were so happy that he remembered the words this time. And maybe because he sang the actual melody most of the way through once, which is more respect than he showed poor “Imagine,” the melody of which he was kind enough to rewriteyou’re welcome, John Lennon. Please note that in that clip, you can see him practically begging you through the screen: “Do you see? DO YOU?” He thinks a lot about world peace, you can tell. Note also that in that performance, you hand-wavers forgot to show up. Maybe you care. You really care. You also failed to arm-wave when he sang “Another Day In Paradise,” so maybe you know that it’s disrespectful to wave ’em like you just don’t care when he’s singing about homeless people.

At any rate, last night, you just didn’t care when he sang “The Long And Winding Road,” and you just didn’t care again when Chikezie sang the beginning, ballad-y part of his arrangement of “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” So apparently, you don’t care about public works projects or people’s faces. I hope you’re happy.

September 2017
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