There were some important Idol moments on television this past week—Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, and Randy Jackson in "We Are the World 25 For Haiti"; Nikki Yanofsky's Clarkson-esque, melisma-laden Canadian anthem in Vancouver. But this week's American Idol, with all of its intrigue, psychological torture, and inexplicably arbitrary timestamps, felt like a subliminal plug for another Fox show. And now, on (Top) 24: The following takes place between 6:00 p.m. and sometime last month when these decisions were actually filmed: 71 contestants are divided into three rooms (that's 23.666 singers per room, which explains how the judges dealt with all of Mary Powers' personalities) where they cry and hold hands like they are waiting out a hostage situation. The Russians have the uranium at this point, I think. 11:00 p.m.: They are still crying and holding hands five hours later when Ellen lets Room 1 know its fate, when at 11:30 Room 2 gets let down easy and Room 3 runs out into the hallway to be free and belatedly celebrate the end of the Cold War or something.
Then at 7:00 the next morning we get down to business, which Ryan announces apocalyptically as "the final judgment." After much shaky fidgeting in slow-mo and thousand-yard-staring in profile, the contestants are called to the Kodak stage for interrogation. I mean, selection? No, that doesn't really sound any better. It is the first time The Chair has been done there, and the occasion is marked with this season's featured and superliteral neon logo outlined by a map of the United States. Patriotism, or Russian political mind games? The contestants blink weepily under the suddenly bright lights, and I half expect Simon's voice to come, disembodied, from behind a two-way mirror. Anyway, "Big Mike" Lynche hears good news immediately, followed by Didi Benami at 10:00. (What were the judges doing for the three intervening hours? Saying goodbye to their Vitaminwater cups?) Moving forward between 2:00 p.m. and, I guess, "a little after 6:00 p.m." when Wednesday's episode begins, are Katleyn Epperly, Casey James, Aaron Kelly—a nod to the Archuleta and Justin Bieber demographics—the hitherto unseen Lee Dewyze, who has a demeanor a bit like Elliott Yamin but insists he's very confident, plus Todrick Hall. While the rest of the semifinalists are slowly—one could say torturously—revealed, we watch flashbacks of the day's events. We see Alex Lambert play the ukulele (I knew someone would have one!); we see Jermaine Sellers hold Michael Orland responsible for his weak performance (never blame the pianist, Jermaine. You'd better take a look at the Man In the Mirror and watch your back on Wednesday); while Jessica Furney completely loses her mind and is mysteriously allowed to say "ass" without getting censored. That is altogether two hours of TV time. Yeah, it's just like 24, only less efficient.
About Todrick: On Tuesday's broadcast he was all personably joking around with some girls at the mansion, marveling that he's never had a voice lesson, and calling his mom amazing, generally seeming sweet enough. But off-screen, there's been a Broadway style scandal brewing, which has music man Todrick painted alternately as a saint, a talented naif, or a scheming Harold Hill who has scammed dozens of children out of their parents' money. I certainly don't have enough information to judge, but whatever he did or did not do during the course of the ill-fated Oz: The Musical tour, people are very worked up about it. While Todrick's past is getting to be old news at this point (three whole weeks!), it's resurfacing like crazy on the americanidol.com forums, and I do wonder how it might affect the upcoming vote. Idol producers manufactured their own controversy this week, too, letting Shelby Dressel and Angela Martin go in spite of their strong voices and genuinely compelling back stories. Even Simon shook his head at the decision to send Shelby home—but I guess he has to let the producers practice making their own decisions now—and poor Angela just cannot get a break. I am telling you, karma, she had better win the lottery or something this month. Twice. I'm not angry, Idol, just disappointed. And I miss the wild-card round.
But back to real time: Wednesday's episode starts with the 6:00 p.m. victory of Janell Wheeler, and sometime after 9:30 the cameras follows Thaddeus into the men's room (with hismother) to sadistically document his "unprecedented" floods of tears as Andrew Garcia takes the last spot in the Top 24. Among those we'll see next week, I'm particularly happy about Andrew, and Casey James, Haeley Vaughn, Ashley Rodriguez, and Tyler Grady, the drummer with the mop top from Hairand the '70srocker moves. They're all unusual Idol fare, voices both rougher and smoother than we're used to, throwbacks to older blues, arena, and garage genres or well-versed in the latest studio sounds. Overall, though, we are left in a strangely familiar place, with Marque Lynche's brother, the silver hair of Taylor Hicks on Lilly Scott, Jason Castro's dreads on Crystal Bowersox (another potential favorite of mine—Mama Sox!), and we even have a Lambert.
Next week we'll endure four hours of show across three days to get to the Top 12. Tuesday we'll see the girls (and more of their utterly enormous earrings), Wednesday it's the guys, and Thursday we'll find out the results of the season's first vote. The pressure is on us now; we're deciding the future of music here, people! Damn it! Vote with all your might and all your phones! Vote like the wind, and maybe things will move a little faster next week. (Also, maybe after Jack Bauer is finished chasing the Russians, he can talk to Fox about a new mission filling in for Simon in Hollywood!) Until then, it's 5:00 somewhere, my name is Katherine Meizel, and this was the longest day of my life.