‘American Idol’ Recap: Paula Abdul Gaffe Throws Off Jason Castro, Turns Off Viewers

Suddenly psychic Abdul criticizes Castro's second song -- before he's even had a chance to perform it.

Like a trailer for a 1950s B-movie, Tuesday night’s harried “American Idol” had chills, thrills and spills at every turn. Unfortunately, they had nothing to do with the top five’s Neil Diamond-(un)inspired performances. They were all thanks to the show’s dysfunctional middle child, Paula Abdul.

It’s hard to write about the contestants’ contributions before addressing the giant (and insane) elephant in the room, so let’s dish about PaulaGate ’08 right off the bat.

A recap for you latecomers: Tuesday’s overwhelmingly chaotic “Idol” had the flustered contestants singing two songs each. (Yay?) Because of the breakneck pace, there was no time for the judges’ critiques until after all five finished the first round of songs. At that point, Randy fired off the usual garbage about David Archuleta being the second coming of Christ before handing it over to Paula, who was visibly nervous and confused about the show’s format switcheroo: “Oh gosh, we’ve never had to write these things down, uh, fast enough!” She had faint praise for Jason’s first song, and then after glancing at some crumpled index cards at her desk, slammed his second performance … which hadn’t happened yet! After Randy, Simon and Ryan freaked out, Paula realized she made a boo-boo and tried covering it up: “This is hard! You know what? I’m looking at your notes, David! You’re fantastic!” But by gushing over David Cook, it was obvious that Paula had previously been reading comments that she (or, God I hope not, a producer) had written about Jason prior to the broadcast.

Do I think Paula’s snafu proved that the show is rigged, as a few leading “Idol” bloggers are suggesting? Hell to the no. Do I think Paula’s snafu proved that she is completely worthless as a judge? You betcha. After all was said (and undone), Abdul’s comment calamity was just one “Gladiator!” away from out-crazying Liz Taylor at the ’01 Golden Globes.

While I’m all for aging eccentric biddies making live TV as exciting as possible, I’m growing tired of Paula’s “Where am I?” shtick. I think it’s time Nigel Lythgoe cast a new nutjob to play the role of Edie Bouvier Beale. On second thought, Paula’s Carnac the Magnificent bit should inspire Lythgoe to find an actual psychic to replace her. Jackie Stallone’s schedule is pretty open. And I think Miss Cleo could use the money. Or better yet, Dionne Warwick. Before she hooked up with an entire network of psychic friends, she was a singer. That’s what I call a crackpot jackpot!

As much as I’d like to devote my entire recap to Paula’s dementia and avoid talking about the snooze-worthy performances, I’m contractually obligated to review the music portion of “Idol.” So dust off your sequined ‘n’ tasseled vests and start remaking movies in blackface, because it’s Neil Diamond night, baby! (Or should I say “mammy“?)

(Read about last week’s “Idol”-related controversy, which ended in Jordin Sparks responding to vocal-cord-damage rumors exclusively to MTV News.)

Jason Castro
Songs: “Forever in Blue Jeans” and “September Morn”
Verdict: Highs and lows

Jason Castro’s “Forever in Blue Jeans” was a decent opener to Neil Diamond night, and a neat bookend to Dread-Man-on-Campus’ first “Idol” performance, the equally boppable “Daydream.” Note that I said “bookend,” because I’m fairly certain that this weed is going to be plucked from the “Idol” garden in the next 24 hours. (Fear not, Castrocopia. As anyone who reads my recaps knows, I’m seldom right with my hasty predictions.)

Even the biggest Castro fan has to admit that JC’s second performance was a total buzzkill. Sitting sans guitar on the dreaded stool (no pun intended, I swear), Jason looked like he didn’t give a flying fuss while croaking through “September Morn.” Paula complained that he wasn’t “fighting” for the top four (and thanks to her newly discovered ESP, she was able to say that comment twice in the night’s broadcast). Jason tried to pull a Brooke White sympathy stunt by sheepishly explaining, “I kinda choked right before [the performance began],” and said he was fighting a frog in his throat the whole song. I wish he had been totally honest and said, “You know what, Simon? Just a few chaotic seconds ago, Paula magically panned my second performance before I sang a note of it. I think it’s understandable if I was a little bit freaked out in round two.”

David Cook
Songs: “I’m Alive” and “All I Really Need Is You”
Verdict: Retro junk

David Cook picked two lumps of coal from the Diamond discography and tried his best to make ‘em sparkle. The first one, “I’m Alive” (no, not the ELO song from the “Xanadu” soundtrack), relied too heavily on David’s disastrous lower register. (Anyone else notice that Cook’s scruffy low tone sounded a lot like Adam Sandler’s singing voice?) Lucky for him, the song felt 40 seconds long, so the torture was over faster than Seacrest could say, “This … is ‘American Idol.’ ”

For attempt number two, Cook swapped out the electric guitar for an acoustic one and rearranged “All I Really Need Is You” as a throwback to late-’80s hair-metal ballads. The judges flipped over it, especially Simon, who purred that it “felt like it was written this year.” What a wacky show. Paula’s living in the future and Simon’s living in 1989, when Bad English’s “When I See You Smile” was on the charts. A sign in the audience may have proclaimed, “Canada loves David Cook,” but to me, Cookies was half-baked and lukewarm Tuesday night.

Brooke White
Songs: “I’m a Believer” and “I Am … I Said”
Verdict: She is … and I hated it

Far be it from me and my Bruce Vilanch-ian wardrobe to complain about the contestants’ sartorial sense, but what in the hell was Brooke wearing Tuesday night? The ruffled top looked like Christian Siriano started designing clothes for the elderly, and the shiny, satiny, tight pants with the flared legs were so inexplicable, I can only think of one word: Hell-bottoms.

Still reeling from last week’s start-and-stop , Brooke seemed especially nervous to perform Tuesday night. “I’m a Believer” began on an odd note (or 12) as the nanny’s brain refused to tell her face that the ditty was supposed to be a happy song. It took her a few measures of looking like a deer in headlights before she snapped back to reality and forced a crooked smile on her mug as she strummed along to the karaoke-like track. Which brings me to my major criticism. Unless you pull a Cook and sing the song like a stalker, there’s no way to attempt “I’m a Believer” without looking like either a drunken businessman or a camp counselor at the summer-ending talent show. (“This one goes out to my girls in Bunk Kumquat! Summer 2008 forever!”) Not surprisingly (except to Brooke), Simon called it a “nightmare.”

During round two, I was appalled to find out that Neil Diamond subscribes to Paula Abdul’s “When in Doubt, Make Sh– Up” newsletter. The guy oddly advised Brooke to change the lyrics to his classic song “I Am … I Said.” Instead of “I’m New York City, born and raised,” he told the Arizona native to swap out his hometown for hers. Problem is, the next line is about being stuck between two shores, and last time I checked, Arizona hadn’t seen a shore since Pauly filmed “In the Army Now” on location there in ’94. What used to be a bicoastal lament was now a weird Southwestern regional whine. No! No! No!

Lyric quibbles aside, the show’s Annie Hall survived “I Am … I Said” without any incident. She even scrawled lyrics on her palm, which made sense considering her history of forgetting, but no sense considering her palms would be facing down towards the piano keys as she was playing them! [Slaps forehead.]

Can you tell I’m over her?

David Archuleta
Songs: “Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)” and “America”
Verdict: U-blah

The good news: ArchuProdigy didn’t sing sappy ballads.

The bad news: ArchuObvious picked sappy sentimental faves instead.

Remember all that stuff I said about “I’m a Believer” being a karaoke kiss of death? Multiply it by 100 for both of Archu’s boring song choices. As much as Rickey Minor tried to gussy up the tracks with lite-FM slap bass, it did not disguise how unremarkable Li’l David’s performances were this week.

“Sweet Caroline” was so bland it wouldn’t be worth talking about, were it not for the too-numerous-to-count flat notes and the embarrassing pimping Randy did to help ensure a David-squared finale .

Since I’m an “Idol” fanatic, I like to think that “America” was a nice tribute to the imported (and unceremoniously ejected) Carly and Michael, but in reality, this was probably dedicated to David’s Honduras-born mother. (It also serves as a subversive jab at Lou Dobbs, who no doubt hears this song in every nightmare.) Plus, “Idol” producers must have been thrilled to get their money’s worth on that flag graphic they purchased back when Kristy Lee Panderer was still around. Big bummer that ArchuGroban didn’t do anything new with the song, though. While I was impressed with a difficult key change, in the end, his performance left me pledging my allegiance to other singers. Consider this exhibit ZZZ in the ongoing investigation I’ve titled “David Archuleta: Aiken 2.0?”

Syesha Mercado
Song: “Hello Again” and “I Thank the Lord for the Night Time”
Verdict: A class act(ress)

Syesha, who somehow replaced Kevin Federline as America’s Most Hated, refuses to go down without a fight. She continued her uphill battle with two solid performances Tuesday night. In fact, she acted like the only performer who hadn’t “checked out” this week. The girl is a hell of an underdog, and with Carly gone, I’m starting to dig it.

First up was “Hello Again” and, at long last, the annoying arm-wavers in the pit finally fit into a performance conceptually, seemingly waving “hello” back at Syesha as she sang. Amusement level: 100. Distraction level: 1,000.

She wrapped the show with an upbeat clap-your-hands-say-yeah number called “I Thank the Lord for the Night Time.” I don’t blame producers for giving her the cushy closing spot this week. She earned it big time, and I’m not just talking about how she allowed Neil Diamond to hug her. Icky!

Now, having said all those nice things about Miss Syesha, I still can’t picture her anywhere but a Broadway stage. In fact, the one bad thing I can say about her performances is that they felt like they were in the middle of a Neil Diamond/ Twyla Tharp jukebox musical called “Gitchy Goomy.”

Randy agreed, but used the B word as a positive, indicating that the judges have done a 180 when it comes to theatrical performers on the “Idol” stage. Simon still has it out for her, though, and he went out of his way to tell her he thinks she’s in trouble. Considering she was the only consistently decent singer this week, I think Syesha had every right to sass back with a “Can I ask you why?” Just like landing the pimp spot in the lineup, she earned it.

Hasty Predictions

It’s another hard week to predict, folks. Thanks to the ridiculously rushed pace (the show was tighter than Neil Diamond’s face! Rimshot!), the singers seemed to be way off their game. Despite that, David Cook got the highest praise from the judges, so he shouldn’t worry. Brooke and Jason were equally abysmal at times, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the bottom two — unless America rallies behind Jason after Paula’s double-whammy takedown. Biggest shocker would be a David Archuleta bottom-three setup. I’m endlessly curious to see how he (and his dad ) would react if put in that position. Correction: The biggest shocker would be if America finally warmed up to Syesha Mercado (or, as Paula called her, “Brooke!”) and rewarded the evening’s most professional showing with a “go to the safe couch!” Conversely, the night’s worst performance should earn a viewing of the Ruben Studdard slo-mo montage.

So start packing your bags, Paula. Your “Idol” journey needs to end.

What did you think of Paula’s gaffe? Why were the top five so … so-so? Are you hoping the final four will finally get to sing modern songs next week? And how much you wanna bet the woman in the audience holding the “My Husband Has a Man-Crush on Seacrest” sign was Kelly Preston?

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