Tuned In

The Morning After: Paula's Damage Control

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Spoilers on the American Idol elimination—and the latest on Paulagate—coming up… after the break!

I really hoped Syesha would be going home last night. Not that I have anything against her, mind you, but because it would have meant that I would have defeated dialidol.com’s robo-prognostications, man vs. machine, like John Henry outracing the steam drill. Then I could gladly have laid down and died with my remote control in my hand, Lord, Lord.

Instead, Brooke was defenstrated, as dialidol.com predicted. The website did, however, have Syesha as the top vote getter when in fact she ended up in the bottom two, so I’ll take that as a moral victory. I’ll miss Brooke, but I can’t say she deserved to stay: after a strong first few weeks, something got the better of her—nerves, self-doubt—and we hardly really saw the throwback Carole King-style singer she showed us early on. Instead, she seemed to get more fragile and jittery each week, and as she left—sobbing, and forgetting the lyrics once again for old times’ sake—it was sad and also a relief.

But it seems like nobody cares about the vote this week so much as Paula Abdul’s colossal blunder Tuesday night, when she critiqued Jason Castro’s second performance before she he actually delivered it. Is this actually a scandal? I’ve had as much fun with this as anyone, but I have a hard time buying the breathless coverage that treats this like some sort of dire threat to the Idol franchise. Like the New York Times’ follow-up this morning, which says that Paula’s admission—that she had seen the rehearsals and was reading from her notes on them—”raises questions about the credibility of the show.”

Does it really? The Times builds the argument that the judges stress every week that everything rides on the live performance, and the possibility that they are influenced by rehearsals that home viewers don’t see lessens the drama. But come on. Maybe the ideal situation is for the judges to see the live performances only and render judgment on that only. But rehearsals or no, the judges are always going to bring in extraneous considerations into their judging, such as the contestants’ previous performances. Idol’s ratings were already dropping off, but uninteresting finalists, a stale format and overly bloated episodes are a far bigger threat to Idol than yet another Paula embarrassment.

More to the point, whether Paula saw a rehearsal or not is simply not the big question here. The real question is: What the hell is going on with Paula that she sat in front of a live stage and didn’t notice that each contestant had only sung once? I can understand the Times wanting to skirt the issue—because it’s the kind of question that makes your in-house lawyers nervous if you attempt to answer it—but at least acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Regardless, Idol’s producers apparently do think the rehearsal controversy could be damaging, judging by how they chose not to offer any explanation of it last night. Instead, Ryan made a cryptic reference to “rumors” that arose after the judges were thrown a “curve ball” and said the rumors—whatever they were—were not true, that Paula “is a part of our family, and we love her.”

By the way, I personally don’t think Paula is in any danger of losing her job, but that kind of weird, vague denial is probably about the best way in the world of making it seem as if she’s out the door. If she were a Cabinet official, that’s the kind of statement that would be followed within 24 hours by Paula standing at a podium and telling us she needs to spend more time with her family.

Anyway, I’ll turn it over to the Idol fans here. Am I too jaded? Is the rehearsal thing a bigger crisis than I think? Oh, and what do you think about that elimination?