American Idol’s semi-finals end as men improve and Kara devolves into Paula

Let’s pause for a moment and appreciate American Idol‘s two performance episodes this week: no clip packages, no time overruns, and a lot of weirdness. The singing, overall: meh. But especially because tonight is the final Thursday results show, it’s been a decent week.

On Tuesday, the judges annoyingly anointed Crystal Bowersox as the inevitable winner; Simon Cowell told her, “you are the one everyone has to beat. It’s yours to lose.” The real problem is that besides Crystal, Lilly Scott, and Siobhan Magnus, there’s just no one that stands out–I still don’t know half their names.

The problem is less pronounced on the men’s side, but while the guys are better as a group, they all blend together. As Stephen Fishbach tweeted (and yes, I’m quoting a Survivor runner-up in an Idol recap), “I am so sick of all these guys sitting on a stool and strumming their guitars. I need an Adam Lambert prancing around the stage please.”

He’s right: No one has the theatricality or just the sense of performance and stage presence that Adam did (never mind, you know, raw talent), nor is anyone giving us something new and innovative like he did. Of course, during last year’s semi-finals, he performed once, so we got to know him during the finals. Inevitably, someone or some people will grow and improve, and Crystal will go home fifth, and everyone will be shocked. But this semi-final format, which I continue to hate (last year’s was so superior), forces us to watch them stumble around for weeks.

Among the men, there was a hint of growth and change. Tim Urban, for example, did a really great job on “Hallelujah,” though he could have farted it and the judges would have been impressed by his improvement. After he sang, Ellen said, “I have to do this right now,” and left the judges stand and went to hug Ellen. “That was fantastic!” And that was weird.

Speaking of weird, I have always been a fan of Kara DioGuardi as a judge and don’t quite understand the hate, but she is changing and getting worse. As Eric Deggans’ headline put it, “Michael Lynche turns teary Kara DioGuardi into Paula Abdul.”

After Michael Lynche sang–and he was good, though not amazing–Ellen told him, “It feels like the show just began now. You are the one to beat now.” Kara, teary, praised him, and then turned into a blubbering version of herself, even leaning on Simon Cowell for support. If you closed your eyes, it was like Paula Abdul was back–and that’s tragic, because Kara has the potential to give a lot more than stereotypical comments about clothes and swooning/blubbering over contestants.

But Kara’s Paulishness started even during the opening, when she was all over Simon, like Ellen was Tuesday (though at least that was funny, because we all know Ellen is married to Portia de Rossi). I’m completely over Ryan and the judges playing around by pretending to flirt with each other, and I was also going to complain about Seacrest’s increasingly ridiculous cold opens. But after his awkward naming of every guy at the start of tonight’s show, I realized that in order to keep coming up with new ways of opening the show that top his previous attempts, he’ll be, say, licking their faces in three weeks.

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.