A strange thought came over me during "American Idol" last night. Yes, everyone has been saying for a while that the show is a phenomenon, a pop cultural landmark, a blockbuster, etc. But as Ryan showed footage of him and Simon visiting Africa, as he and the judges bantered easily by playing off their "characters" just like people on a sitcom or perhaps more accurately "The View," as they discussed plans for a benefit concert/telethon, as Ryan went into the streets and chatted up people about their favorites a la Jay Leno's walkabouts and as the talent show aspect of the show faded further and further into the background, I just got the feeling that "American Idol" can do anything, be anything. If they suddenly staged a scene from, say, Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet," I don't think anyone would blink an eye. I think Paula or Randy or Simon will retire in a decade or two but the show will go on. Seriously, it's an institution like "The Ed Sullivan Show," which ran for 23 years.
Anyway, lots of teasing of Sanjaya last night, with Sanjaya soaking it up and enjoying it, as he should. The judges are really getting along this year and Randy and Paula continue to offer more pointed criticism than in the past. The group sing-along at the beginning was awful, with terrible choreography and presentation, with Sanjaya whispering "Te Quiero" and Blake going into hyperdrive over his new-found sultriness. (Don't get ahead of the hype, Blake.)
AKON -- Sang "Don't Matter." Why in heaven's name was he on the show, performing? Was it a make-good for showing up and signing basically a line or two with Gwen Stefani? Was it to give the Idol kids encouragement by showing you don't have to have a decent voice at all in order to achieve pop stardom. Lots of people critique the talent on "Idol" -- are these the best eight kids they could find, etc.? Well, I'd rather listen to Melinda, LaKisha and Jordin than Michael Buble and Akon any day. It's not a matter of taste, it's a matter of talent.
SCHOOL IN A BOX -- Simon's banter with the schoolgirls in Africa was genuinely amusing, first with Simon staying true to form by snapping, "Pay attention, girls" and then that girl's drawing of him with breasts. Will Simon sing on stage? Maybe if they raise, say, $50 million. Will that be the jump the shark moment?
REWIND -- among the new footage from the performance night, we say Haley walking backstage after Simon's comment about her outfit when she said "Guess I'm going to put a robe on." She justified wearing shorts because it was Latin night? Uh, she wore shorts the week before. The outfits weren't sleazy but she has been wearing much skimpier outfits throughout the competition. To get offended by Simon's comments is absurd. If you don't want people singling out your appearance,don't wear short shorts repeatedly. If you are gonna dress sexy and fun, don't be uptight about it. Just say, "I'm just dressing fun; it's nothing you wouldn't see walking down a street." uh yeah, but the high heels don't help.
BOTTOM THREE -- Phil, Haley and Chris. I don't deserve any points for picking perennial bottom two-ers Phil and Haley so all I deserve is disdain for picking Jordin instead of Chris. I thought his performance was pretty weak but got distracted by the judge's nice comments. Clearly, Blake is sucking up all the "cute boy/Tiger Beat" votes and Chris's days are numbered. When Chris was added to the bottom three, he stood a little to the side of Phil and Haley. He wanted no part of their mojo.
J-LO -- Jennifer Lopez sang a song from her first full Spanish-language album, demonstrating how you really don't have to move that much if you make the backup singers do all the work. But the best part of it was the video of Sanjaya saying maybe he could get J-Lo's number and they could get together and keep it a secret from Marc Anthony. Happily, he wasn't trying to play straight; he was just being silly and broke into a big grin. I also liked J-Lo saying she came from the Paula Abdul school of criticism.
GOING HOME -- Haley. I lose another point here, but hey, it just means I'll be right next week when Phil goes home and the bottom three includes him, Chris and Sanjaya. All three men? Could be -- especially since it's country week. I liked Blake and Chris dancing next to Haley as she sang and Blake's very Hollywood kissing of his palm and waving it at Haley at the end of her song. And here's a note to Melinda and LaKisha -- when you're tackling country, think Ray Charles.