Judges get weird on Idol’s 300th episode, which included an ExxonMobil infomercial

From Paula Abdul’s makeup all over Simon Cowell’s white v-neck t-shirt to Ryan Seacrest’s apology, chipped blue fingernail polish on two of the finalists to an ad for an oil company in the middle of the show, American Idol 8‘s penultimate performance episode–and the show’s 300th episode to date–was kind of nuts.

The singing part was the least noteworthy, although the performances were pretty damn great all around. The consensus among the judges seemed to be that Adam Lambert should make it thorough thanks to his killer versions of U2′s “One” and Aerosmith’s “Cryin’”, although Simon Cowell was careful to basically instruct viewers to vote for him instead of just assuming he is safe. Kris Allen got the most criticism for his judges’ pick song, “Apologize,” but redeemed himself with his second song, an amazing version of Kanye West’s “Heartless”; Danny Gokey received the usual moderate enthusiasm for “Dance Little Sister” and Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful.”

The focus, though, often shifted to the judges, who were in weird form. Randy Jackson, for example, told Adam, “You’re one of the hottest three in this competition.” Um. While Danny was being judged, Simon Cowell put Paula Abdul in a headlock and covered her mouth to prevent her from talking, which Seacrest called “either second base or harassment.” Then he did something strange: “Sorry about that,” Ryan said to Danny. Yes, after 300 episodes of screwing around at the contestants’ expense, he’s now apologizing.

Then Ryan insisted the booth not show Paula and Simon, while Danny encouraged them to show what was going on. We never saw it, but Ryan said, “Paula’s just punched Simon in the left breast.” Then he reminded them, “guys, it’s about the contestants tonight.” Yes, tonight only, apparently.

After Kris Allen’s version of “Apologize,” which Kara and Randy selected for him, Kara criticized the arrangement; when it was his turn to judge, Simon said, “I think, Kara, it’s a cop-out what you said. You can’t choose a song for him and then blame him for doing the song.” That started a shouting match. Kara said, “You’re going to tell me about interpreting songs? Have you ever interpreted songs in your life?” Later, Kara stood behind Simon and held her hands over his mouth, just as he’d done to Paula. And then they all banged each other.

All three finalists received their judges’ choice song via text message while on their home visits, and HD close-ups of both Kris and Adam’s right hands revealed peeling, chipped blue nail polish. Adam had it on all five fingers, and Kris just his thumb. Odd, especially since that wasn’t on the list of make-up the men use.

Finally, instead of Idol Gives Back, which was cancelled this year, we got an infomercial for ExxonMobil’s charity efforts. Carrie Underwood went to Africa to hand out malaria-preventing mosquito nets paid for by the money the show’s charity effort raised last year, but the segment ended with an ExxonMobil logo, and the company was listed in the sponsors section at the end of the show. Just in case we missed that they’d basically bought some goodwill in the middle of the show, Seacrest said, “thanks again to ExxonMobil for making that trip possible.”

Charity is great and all, and it’s a worthy cause, but somehow that product placement was more disturbing than those lame Ford music videos, and those feature people actually driving Fords in 2009.

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.