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Idol Watch: Great Legs!

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Michael Becker / FOX

Michael Becker / FOX


Spoilers for the American Idol semifinals, round 2, coming up after the jump:

Last night’s American Idol included what may have been the greatest judge’s critique ever, by Paula Abdul, after Jeanine Vailes’ painfully off-key version of “This Love”: “Great legs. It’s season 8. Simon?”

We’re all familiar by now with Paula’s strategy for avoiding saying something negative—if it’s a girl, tell her how cute she looks—but this was a new pinnacle in avoidance. I can’t wait to see how she tops this next week: “Pretty hair. This is a table. Words!” 

So who else had great legs last night? Nick Mitchell, a.k.a. Norman Gentle. (Update: I know there’s some controversy as to whether it’s “Norman” or “Normund”; I’ll update when I get confirmation.) Nick also had a pretty strong vocal, with a few glitches, and easily the most entertaining and memorable stage performance of the night. Which is becoming a problem for the judges, who did their best to throw cold water on the Gentle juggernaut before it spun out of control.

Or did they? One of the many pleasures of watching American Idol is playing the paranoid reverse-psychology game, in which we try to see if Simon is betting the home audience will vote against him. Maybe they want to keep Stormin’ Norman around?

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, anyway, that they do sincerely want to boot him. (There’s strong evidence for that, namely, the inexplicable praise they heaped on Kris Allen—the first male to get up after Nick—for his dull “Man in the Mirror.”) Well, good luck with that, guys. You created a monster, now you must live with him. 

It’s going to be fascinating if Nick/Norman sticks around, because he is a definitional problem: what kinds of music is American Idol for? So far, he’s doing a fine job at what he does. But what he does—not just comedy music, but a hyper-campy cabaret kind—does not scream commercial potential, though I could see him selling tickets for a stage show. 

However, if the judges are having second thoughts about that, tough cookies. By letting him through in Hollywood, they de facto said that his kind of performance is Idol music. If they hope to boot him for poor singing, that’s one thing. But to suddenly decide that there’s no place for camp on Idol—well, they should have thought of that weeks ago, when it was clear what they were getting. They’ve defined Norman in; now they have to deal with him. 

And look, whether I’d ever buy an album of his or not, strictly as an entertainer, he blew the doors off everyone in group 2. He owned the stage (and the stairs and the floor). He played with the lyrics, and thus justified picking And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going—the most typically clichéd, overused Idol barnburner—by turning the performance into a parody of Idol itself. He gave a shout-out to Doogie! In a season that, so far, has a lot of singers and very few performers, that’s not nothing. 

Bottom line, if Nick gets past this week, he’ll be around for a while. And he will get past this week. Once he’s into the 12, he’ll have a built-in vote base, whether from genuine admirers or Vote for the Worsters; either way, it would be hard to see him going in the first four rounds or so. We’ll have him at least until America gets bored with him, which will depend on whether Norman has any other tricks up his gym socks. 

Predictions? I say we’ll again see two guys go through: the only suspense to me is the order in which Nick and Adam Lambert finish. (Adam’s got a strong voice, and his “Satisfaction” pre-empted any possible “he’s too Broadway” critique, but he didn’t seem to be feeling the song so much as play-acting rock singer, from the Pete Wentz haircut down to the over-the-top Axl Rose high note at the end.)

The women were weaker, which makes for a more suspenseful elimination, but I’m going with Allison, mostly for the song choice: on Idol, singing a Heart power ballad is like broad-jumping with a strong tailwind. Anyone care to differ? And who has a shot at a wild card from this bunch?