American Idol unplugged: just singing, judging, pimping, and Seacrest being a jerk

What happened three minutes into American Idol 8 was so abrupt and shocking I couldn’t quite believe it: Ryan Seacrest introduced Lil Rounds and she started singing. Just like that. No mentor, no documentary about the mentor, no clip package with the contestant babbling about something. Just singing. As it turned out, Idol unplugged was still entertaining, thanks to both the performances and the judges.

They did bring back the Coca-Cola pimp chair interview for Kris Allen and Adam Lambert, but otherwise there was no filler. As a result, the show finished on time, within its allotted 61 minutes. Correcting its screw-ups would be more a impressive feat if the show hadn’t already been on for seven previous seasons and wasn’t the single most-popular and most-expensive show on the air.

My skepticism over disco night was pretty much erased since the contestants nearly all did rather incredible, new, modern versions of disco songs that were, in some cases, totally radio-ready. Ryan Seacrest called it “unconventional.” In other words, it wasn’t really disco except that the lyrics were from songs best known as disco songs. Adam Lambert, Kris Allen, and Allison Iraheta got nearly universal praise, while Danny Gokey wasn’t exactly criticized, he wasn’t heralded like Adam was. Perhaps most notably, Kris made a run for Danny’s spot in the final two with his version of “She Works Hard for the Money.”

Not everyone succeeded. Lil Rounds is history; Simon Cowell pretty much dispatched her and discouraged (or encouraged, I suppose) people from voting by saying, “I’m glad you had fun because I think think this is the last week we’re going to see you.”

The other person going home will likely be Matt Giraud or Anoop Desai. Simon Cowell criticized both while the other judges gave both moderate praise. Matt Giraud was in full on Justin Timberlake mode, and although Simon called his performance of “Stayin’ Alive” “a bit desperate,” he seemed to come down harder on Anoop, saying his “Dim All the Lights” was his “worst performance by a mile.”

During Kris’ judging, there was some Paula/Simon banter that left Kris awkwardly standing on stage while Paula said that Kris is “known to shop in the women’s department.” Simon asked, “Are you saying he buys ladies’ underwear?” And Paula, because she can’t resist not answering a question, said, “No, I’m saying you do.” And they kept this up because it was apparently funny to them.

Another contestant’s appearance also drew attention, but in an even more mean-spirited way. After Anoop was judged, Ryan Seacrest turned into a dick all of a sudden and said Anoop was like “Groucho Marx with the eyebrows.”

Damn, Ryan, you don’t have to get hostile just because someone isn’t as obsessed with tweezing their eyebrows as you are.

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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.