Simon turns on Ryan, Paula acts weird during an actually palatable Idol audition episode

Last night’s American Idol 7 auditions in Omaha were surprising: They were almost entirely watchable and unoffensive, full of genuine behavior and lacking any obvious attention whore freaks. They even had some meta humor and–finally!–a bit of Paula Abdul loopiness.

Paula Abdul seemed to be back to her old wacky ways. She didn’t show up on time, and although Ryan Seacrest blamed that on a delayed flight, it was followed by her oddest behavior to date. For the previous two weeks, she’s been nearly invisible, but last night, she at first seemed to be working really hard to sit still and focus, reminding me of the way drunk people work too hard to convince you that they’re not drunk.

Later, she did bizarre things like bending herself over the table (“Paula, what are you doing?” Simon asked) and jumped up and screamed “Touchdown!” after a contestant performed. “Haven’t done that in a long time. I like himmmm,” she said, coming thisclose to slurring. Perhaps the best moment was when she let out an extremely loud hiccup while someone sang, and Simon Cowell turned to her and said, “You disgusting little pig.”

Simon was particularly bitchy to Paula and Ryan Seacrest, but not, for the most part, to the contestants. After a joke of a contestant performed, Simon said, “I like you, I love the bribes, the presents, the sucking-up, but the singing wasn’t good enough. That’s the truth, Chris. Don’t be upset about it, because you’re a nice guy. You have something [Randy] hasn’t got: warmth and a personality.”

Later, when Ryan Seacrest poked his head into the judging room, Simon Cowell let loose with perhaps his most hysterical and pointed criticism of the entire season. Simon told him, “Come and judge the show,” and then told Paula, “You go do Ryan’s job. You go be insincere for five minutes. Ryan can be a judge. Just pretend to like the contestants. Pretend you’re interested, pretend to care.”

Ryan had his own perfectly bitchy response. “How do I pretend to be overpaid for doing no work?” he asked as he sat down. Later, he said, “it actually would be horrible, judging this with Ryan.”

But the best laugh of the night came from a contestant, who, leaving the auditions, declared that she was going “to prove Simon wrong that I am America’s Next Top Model!” When she realized what she said, she cracked up, but that was still a lot of funnier than anyone in a stupid costume. Finally, the auditions have reached their potential.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.