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'Idol' keeps its 'emotional time bomb' ticking

The show may have been light on drama Thursday night, but once again, Ashley Sullivan delivered plenty of tears.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The Night of the Four Rooms is an “American Idol” tradition, second only to the group performances for its ability to provide both audience entertainment and contestant terror. But season 10’s rendition of this classic was a huge letdown, thanks to the lack of time and drama devoted to it.

As always, the remaining 100 hopefuls were split into four rooms, with two advancing to the next round and two getting kicked to the curb. Unlike in previous seasons, however, we didn’t get to that point until 53 minutes past the hour, after a long slog through clips of the solo performances.

That made the actual reveal of the results feeling rushed and incomplete. Apart from the few singers who were named, it was hard to tell who stayed and who left, since the cameras blew through each room in seconds.

Because of that, the show was light on the drama this time. Most of the singers you’ve heard of are still there, while those who went unnamed and barely noticed throughout the auditions and Hollywood left the show in similar fashion.

'Emotional time bomb' moves on
That's not to say there wasn't any big drama. Far from it.

Ashley Sullivan has been the meltdown queen of Hollywood — host Ryan Seacrest called her an “emotional time bomb” — but her final solo was the first time she had suffered one onstage. Singing Michael Buble’s “Everything” to her boyfriend, she locked here gaze on him the whole time ... and forgot the words. Then she turned to the judges ... and lost it again. “Go to the chorus,” Randy Jackson said mercifully.

After it finally ended, she headed out in tears.

“I’m sorry,” she told her boyfriend.

“No, you did good ... you did good,” he said.

“You’re a liar,” she replied.

Perhaps he was bending the truth, but the judges still saw enough in her to send her to the next round. Either she’s really great when you hear her live, or the judges are curious to see what psychological damage they can do to her when she takes the stage in Las Vegas next week.

Scotty McCreery, despite his inability to learn the words to his own solo, also made it.  Apparently, the judges, like me, are really curious to hear him attempt a Beatles song in the next round.

Abrams takes a risk
Casey Abrams took the biggest risk instrument-wise, bringing a double bass onstage for his solo of “Georgia on My Mind.”

The judges didn’t know what to make of the jazz vibe at first, but Abrams was one of the most memorable of the night. He was fun and confident, but risks like that can easily backfire once the semifinals start if the viewing audience isn’t feeling the same vibe.

Carson Higgins was also memorable, though not always in a great way. With his personality dominating his vocals, he’s more Norman Gentle than Taylor Hicks at this point, which doesn’t bode well for his chances.

Airtime equals advancement (mostly)
When it came to learning who was moving on and who was going home, “Idol” tried to manufacture some drama in the first room by focusing on Sullivan, Brett Loewenstern and Jacee Badeaux. All three were inconsistent and could have gone either way. Then the camera panned the area, and we saw folks such as Abrams, Chris Medina and James Durbin, and could pretty much guess the result before it was officially announced.

That made Room Two a definite loser, which was bad news for Corey Levoy, Brielle Von Hugel and nobody else who was deemed worthy of being named. A DVR and a pause button was needed to figure out who else was out — Frances Coontz, for one, which was no surprise considering she never found the right key during her solo — but it was mostly the extras and people we’d barely heard of.

Room Three suffered the same fate. If you liked Chelsee Oaks, that was a disappointment, but the lead-up did everything but sit the audience down and hold their hands to prepare them for the outcome. Everyone knew at that point that Room Four was in.

So basically, "Idol" showed a whole lot of people singing, and then raced through the decision process. If you liked Deandre Brackensick in the group performances, or Thia Megia, Haley Reinhart or Ashton Jones in the solos, you needed some eagle eyes and a quick trigger on the pause button to figure out their fates.

Understated exit
A surprise: the lack of drama surrounding Jacqueline Dunford’s exit.

Dunford sounded fine in her group performance, but apparently became seriously ill soon afterward. She had to be hospitalized and wound up leaving the competition after getting a “take care of your health first” lecture from the judges.

In other years, that would be a 45-minute story arc, with the ambulance trip alone good for five minutes of video. But on Thursday, it seemed to be mentioned just because it made her pal Oaks sad and (presumably) resulted in a subpar performance that resulted in a ticket home.

Clearly, times and priorities have changed for season 10.

Craig Berman is a writer in Washington. Follow him , where he live tweets each "Idol" show.

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