American Idol Hypes and Hopes

I was so excited to see this week's American Idol because we are finally out of the audition rounds. Hooray for Hollywood!

And while I wasn't disappointed, per se, I have a little gripe. Throughout the show, Ryan Seacrest kept making the most extreme promises. The MOST TALENTED contestants ever. The MOST INTENSE auditions in the history of Idol. The MOST EXTREME eliminations ever seen on the show.

Give it a rest, Ryan. The only reasons you can get away with saying stuff like that are: a.) It's completely subjective; b.) Nobody remembers past seasons well enough to compare them; and c.) Idol desperately needs to hang on to a dwindling audience.

Whether it was Ryan's puffed-up promises, or just viewers ecstatic to finally be done with ad-infinauseum auditions, it worked: American Idol posted its best ratings since the season premiere. And I have to give Idol producers credit for making some format changes that spiced up the show a bit.

For starters, this year contestants could play instruments. In a recent rant, I wrote about

how professional singers who can play an instrument too, like Sheryl Crow and Dave Matthews, are more talented than singers who just... well, sing. But the key is, you actually

have to be able to do both, which is why it worked for some contestants, but not for most.

The first performer of the night, Brooke White, did a nice job on the keyboards and singing. Simon liked her Carole King vibe. And Josiah Leming, the homeless kid who's not really homeless, kicked ass playing the keyboards and singing "Grace Kelly." But for almost everyone else, the instruments were nothing but trouble. The best example was a kid named Jack who thought it would be a good idea to play the drums. It reminded me of Kevin on The Office playing drums in his Police cover band.

Time out for a quick question: Did anyone else notice Carly Smithson's blue tongue? I thought I was seeing things, until the very next singer, David Cook, also came out with a blue

tongue. Were they sucking blue lollypops backstage or something?

Another big change was that everyone got a second chance. Contestants who performed well in the first round on Day 1 were automatically sent to the Day 3 finals. The rest

weren't eliminated, but got to come back for a second opportunity. On Day 2, they lined them up in groups of ten and let everyone sing a few seconds a cappella, then told the group who

could stay and who could go.

I'll admit, some of these eliminations were pretty brutal. It can't be easy when you're called out of line by name and then told to hit the road. Of course, Idol spiced it up by

reminding us how desperate and pitiful some of the contestants were, before showing us their humiliation and disgrace. Like Angela Martin whose daughter is handicapped and we found out her father was killed just before Hollywood week. Or Perrie Cataldo, trying to raise his child as a single father. Sorry gang, sob stories aren't enough to keep you around.

The other big change this year -- no group number. I think a lot of people will be disappointed by this, since it was always a good source of entertainment and drama.

Time out for a quick question: Have contestants always been able to bring voice coaches along? I don't remember it from years past, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention.

Amy Flynn, the 16-year-old who preaches abstinence to her classmates (at least those that will listen), brought a former Idol contestant named Angel as her voice coach. Ummm, I didn't remember Angel at all, which might be a good indicator that an Idol loser isn't the best person for a coach. Of course, they say, "Those who can't do, teach."

Not-homeless Josiah Leming had a voice coach too, who helped him through his little meltdown the night before his final performance. Speaking of which... why did he get three

yeses from the judges on that "Stand By Me" debacle? Especially after he petulantly kicked the band off stage. Someone needs to learn to play with others.

In all, more than 100 contestants got their walking papers Tuesday night. Wednesday night we find out the exalted Top 24. Now things can really get cooking.

Ethan Morris: "Not always right, but never in doubt." Go ahead and write me.