IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘American Idol’ bores its way to final 36

The final episode in "American Idol's" Hollywood round just may be the show's dullest one ever -- and for this show, that's saying quite a lot.
/ Source: contributor

The most boring episode ever?: It takes a lot to be an especially boring episode of “American Idol.” There’s always copious filler and quasi-suspenseful buildup about What Will Happen, so the bar is low. All efforts to spice up Wednesday's two-hour episode fell flat, the elimination math worked against them, and the judges used and reused the same techniques to play with the contestants. The result? The most DVR-able episode of all time.

The unsuccessful gimmick: It’s always been true that the show would pair off two girls and two boys for a couple of the final decisions, making it appear that one was chosen directly over the other. This year, “Idol” cranked that up by having “sing-offs” between alleged close calls. As it happened, the first one was between guys who had (totally coincidentally) become friends, and that (totally coincidentally) made it extra-dramatic! The problem, of course, is that the really good singers weren’t involved in these “sing-offs,” so it was usually a fight to the death between the very people viewers cared about the least.

The math problem: “Idol” has always had limited time to spend on everyone pre-semifinals. And in order to maintain suspense by keeping some eventual rejects, they had room for even fewer of the ultimate semifinalists. Some contestants were barely seen before people started voting on their fates. This year brought at least a little screen time to more people: a good thing in that there are fewer near-strangers in the top 36, but a problem in that it made this episode very boring, because almost everyone we’d actually met got “yes” answers from the judges. The fake-out of “The news isn’t good … IT’S GREAT!” was used more than once to make what was mostly a string of “Welcome to season eight!” announcements more exciting, but to no avail.

Some are doomed: Fewer strangers don’t mean the show lacks for cannon fodder. Joanna Pacitti got in — despite messing up the words, frequently falling apart, and carrying the baggage of her previous professional experience, which makes her a “ringer” in the minds of some fans. Adam Lambert, who sang Cher’s “Believe” in Hollywood, doesn’t appear to have any of the warmth it usually takes to go far, and his theatrical style seems destined to sink him. Look for both to struggle in audience voting.

Simon keeps it mean: Even Simon’s sharp tongue seemed more flatly nasty then mischievously witty, particularly when he addressed Frankie Jordan. After throwing her over in favor of Jesse Langseth after complaining that they both performed miserably in their “sing-off,” he said to Frankie, “If it's any consolation, you wouldn't have won anyway. I don't want you to think you've missed the big opportunity of your life.” Next time someone accuses Kara DioGuardi of having “claws,” keep in mind that no one tops Simon Cowell when it comes to gratuitous bloodletting.

Norman and Nick: Nick Mitchell, a.k.a. Norman Gentle, came on strong in his audition, to say the least, but he occasionally showed flashes of genuine talent. He played his time with the judges straight, explaining his attachment to the Norman “character” and his aspiration to mix it in with real singing once he got to the next stage. Despite Simon’s continuing befuddlement, Nick/Norman made it to the top 36, so we will now see whether he’s capable of converting the headband and hilarity into something people want to watch week after week.

The sad story tip-off: Nathaniel Marshall has been controversial all along. He was in a famously drama-filled Hollywood group that fell apart in a mess of weeping and yelling, and there’s plenty about his frequent histrionics to put off an audience. But as he headed for a sing-off with the affable but bland Jackie Midkiff, it was Nathaniel who got a long biographical segment about his history of bouncing from relative to relative. Once his sweet Granny explained how much he needed a break after all his hardships — including his imprisoned mother — it was unlikely that the answer would be, “Sorry your mom's in prison; we’re going with the boring guy.” When we got to the moment of truth, it had already passed.

Two tough guys: The final showdown was between welder Matt Breitzke and oil-rig roughneck Michael Sarver. Only one could go through — or so it seemed, unless you were the kind of obsessive who might keep track of how many guys had already been put through. Because, in fact, 16 guys had been put through out of 18 spots — or, if you like, 34 people out of a final 36. So when they both went through, breaking the sing-off expectations the show had worked to establish, it wasn’t actually terribly surprising to anyone who was watching closely. Or, really, to anyone who has watched this kind of show before.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Washington, D.C.