American Idol: How Low Can the Mile High City Go?

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Honestly, I found it hard to concentrate on American Idol knowing I was just an hour away from the return of Lost. Admittedly, sometimes it's hard to concentrate on the show under ordinary circumstances, so this was doubly trying. But I did my best, and I did it for you.

By now, you know all the stats: Another 10,000 or so people showed up, this time to Denver's Invesco Field for a cattle call in July and a two-day callback in August 2009. I'm grateful that the wide-open audition phase of the show is almost over, because I am running out of ways to explain how pat this is or how unsurprising any of the action is. Except for a few brief moments, last night's American Idol was as predictable as every other episode so far this year. If a singer is introduced with bouncy or cartoonish music, they're likely to fail; if they're introduced with somber tones and a taped biography using baby photos or whatever, they're probably going to win. This rule works about 99% of the time. It can be trusted.

The first singer of the night was one of those rare surprises: Despite coming across awkward and being given enough rope to hang himself by the judges, he gave a decent rendition of Squeeze's "Tempted" and got the green light to go to Hollywood. It was a surprise not because he did well but because he hadn't been sold to the viewer as someone who would do well. There was no telltale taped remote or sober narration of diseases conquered and hardships overcome. So his winning was twice as interesting. The same went for the goofy and arrogant football player who sang later in the hour. There was footage of him in the gym and on the field, but he was so cocky he forgot to sing well, and as a result the judges turned him away. Really, this was the only remotely "dramatic" moment of the night because it took a contestant who'd been set up as a winner and made him a loser. If the show did this more often, it might actually become engaging.

The guest judge was, inexplicably, Victoria Beckham again. My guess is that she's the least busy of the guest judges that were brought in; while, for instance, Neil Patrick Harris probably had to get back to set, Beckham didn't need to be anywhere in particular to earn royalties on Spice Girls songs. She was relentlessly upbeat for even the worst singers, though whether that lessened the sting of their loss wasn't evident.
Even the 26 winners and hundreds of losers seemed familiar by this point. There was a kid who sang terribly but refused to leave when rejected, opting to start song after song until the judges finally yelled at him to leave. There was the nervous guy with the jittery laugh, and the Evanescence-inspired girl who burst into tears when she lost. One girl who won with a John Mayer song was born in 1993, which I guess makes Mayer classic rock for her. There were single moms galore, all with strong voices, and some b-roll of a guy skiing that I swear was from Aspen Extreme. It's too early to pick who'll be around for the long haul, and there's no point in remembering anyone else.

The preview for Wednesday's episode seemed to betray a sense of boredom with the audition process, since it's apparently just clips of other winners from all the cities that have already been seen. Even as filler goes, that's lazy. But Ellen DeGeneres joins next week, and the singers will have to start upping their game. Here's hoping the show keeps up.


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