American Idol was two entire hours last night, even though only eight songs counted toward the contestants' votes. (Theoretically.) However shall Fox fill the rest of this timeslot? Oh, you know, with perfunctory duets, previews of unaffiliated crud once involving Bret Michaels, and scripted proposals.

They're barely even bothering to spend time on mentoring at this point, and you can sort of see why. Every singer left but one is so technically gifted that the only way a mentor can help is to tweak notes here and there that nobody will notice either way. There's no suspense to anybody's performance. There's almost no chance anyone will seriously choke--and absolutely no chance the judgesh will comment if they do. The only way to drum up excitement is through song choice, but unfortunately every singer left--or every backstage person doing song clearance--is so unimaginative that even with a theme so broad as "songs from California" and "songs you wish you wrote," we got multiple songs done to death on Idol. There was only one surprise. It came from the exact person you wished it wouldn't come from. The rest was just a perfunctory two-hour march, with power notes and convivial hosting crap falling like bricks upon your evening. Remember when Idol respected its audience enough to do 90-minute or even hourlong episodes when there was only an hour's worth of worthwhile material? Do you think it ever really did?


Sigh. That one surprise, incidentally, was most certainly not...


26. The “Proposal”: Ryan got all serious, reached into his jacket, and revealed...a note for girlfriend Julianne Hough to give to co-star Tom Cruise. Cheap drama, gay-baiting and filler; this terrible bit is definitely sleeping on the couch tonight. Just think about it: there was a dress rehearsal for the fake proposal, script-writing meetings for the fake proposal, people getting paid to tinker with every aspect of the fake proposal, planning meetings and brainstorming sessions, all for this. All for absolutely nothing. (That said, really glad Ryan didn’t actually propose to his girlfriend on American Idol.)

25. Ryan Seacrest: calling his girlfriend "the young Julianne Hough," with the slightest whiff of "who screwed whom to get her on this show?"; filling time by reciting the ingredients to dishes at Mexican restaurants (seriously); high-fiving the swaying, shouting, booing folks in...

24. The Crowd That Refuses To STFU, Ever: By the time you've finished this season of Idol, you will have spent at least an hour of your time watching anonymous people shout for minutes on end. Their response to “Who’s gonna be the next American Idol?” was “AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!” (You can vote for AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! at 1-866-IDOLS0AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!)

23. This Quote: “I literally can’t do anything but sing.” Tremendous news, Jessica! You’re totes breathing right now! Drop that “literally,” girl!

22. Jessica Sanchez's Waiststache: Is there a name for this? That floppy half-belt, half-layer she wore with her first outfit that looked... well, it looked exactly like her waist was wearing a mustache. Inexplicable.

21. Duets: OH MY GOD MAKE IT STOP. Does anybody want to see these? Was there such a clamor to see more group numbers? Did the prospect of a Windexed version of Foreigner’s “I’ve Been Waiting For A Girl Like You," arranged like a relay race, entice anybody? Oh, right: Idol doesn't care. If our time be the food of Fox, gobble on.

For Swiffers, Rihanna and the person who should go home, click NEXT.


20. Hollie Cavanagh: It's now impossible to see Hollie as anything other than the singer who took Skylar's spot, or Elise's, or Erika's, or if you want to go back even further, Hallie Day's. (Or Angie Zeiderman's, or Jen Hirsh's...) Even the judges agree, beneath that grinning facade of nothing; notice how, in the process of fawning over someone else, Jennifer said she knew everyone in the top 4 would make it there, "even Hollie." No one else got the qualifier. Look. Hollie's approaching this smartly--the Celines and Hayley Westenras of the world sell, as Simon Cowell's already found out. She's just utterly colorless. I'm trying and failing to think of anyone Call her another Adele, but could Hollie do that cackle at the end of "Rumour Has It," or sing anything cheeky at all? Could you picture her--at all--on something like "Bleeding Love" or "Battlefield," with beats that crunch and metaphors that bleed? Foreigner's "Faithfully" was good until she realized she should be twanging or rocking, neither of which worked. "I Can't Make You Love Me"... you know, it's perfectly normal to want to have written "I Can't Make You Love Me," but this theme means you've got to sing it too. Bonnie Raitt's song is sort of like the Russian winter of the music world: countless people have tried to conquer it, but most have retreated and many have perished. Hollie's personal interpretation: "Sometimes you really love a boy and wish you could say something to them, so you do it in song." Congratulation! You've just produced the Barnum Effect of song meanings, equally applicable to Bonnie Raitt as Carly Rae Jepsen or Ke$ha! And it can result in only one sort of performance: tonally spectacular, totally meaningless.

19. Randy Jackson: His weekly pin was a “YO” pin recycled from a few weeks ago. His weekly blazer was recycled from one of my grandmother’s plaid picnic blankets. And his weekly critique, "a good singer can sing anything," was recycled from who knows when. A+, conservation-wise. F, otherwise.

18. Jennifer Lopez: Hair of Rihanna. Personality of babbling gusher.

17. Steven Tyler: Hair of Swiffer. Personality of squick.

16. Hollie’s Left Earring: Hollie was tugging at that sucker like she was cheating on a quiz.

15. This Quote: Creativity is a very delicate flower, and you can make it bloom by giving it positive affirmations.” - Steven. Cut to Steven in his garden telling his posies how special they are. And how he loves their plump buds.

14. Jason Derulo: Did you think he knew, back when he was on top and sampling Imogen Heap and auditioning for pop-R&B's replacement Chris Brown, that he'd end up here? On American Idol during its decline, hawking bedazzled neck braces and Coca-Cola product placements and asking indifferent watchers to write lyrics they want him to sing or whatever? Oh, how the anonymous have fallen. Next season: Iyaz crashes the show with a telethon for himself.

13. Jason Derulo’s Lyrics So Far: “Whoa-oh-oh-oh-ohhhhhh. Undefeated."

12. Hollie and Jessica's Duet: Perhaps a better thing to ask America is which they'd prefer: Hollie and Jessica getting their "For Good" on with the Bangles' "Eternal Flame," or 30 extra minutes in their evening. That's crowdsourcing I can support.

For swings, swingers and the principle of bromance, click NEXT.


11. Phillip and Joshua's Duet: The Voice is over, and Blake Shelton is no longer present to nudge and wink at Adam Levine or deliver third-wheel narration "You were supposed to duet, not do it!" According to the law of conservation of bromance, all that innuendo's got to go someplace. It went to these two, cavorting on swings, giving careful side hugs and hearing words like "Jillip" or "I love when you do your thing -- (arm thrusts) UH! UH! UH! UH! Uh!" OK, it was more omnidirectional--Phillip sang "I tried my best to feed her appetite" lines squarely at his groupies, and for half the duet, they were separated by a piano like a Great Wall of Heteronormativity. And OK, the duet made no sense; it wasn't the "best song, best duet, best vocal," nor was it like "Usher and Adam Levine." (Great chart prognostication, J. Lo. Also, please find new references.) It still made the most of a contrived situation. So to speak.

10. The Overheated Drummer: Worked in some impressively rhythmic sweat-wipes without missing a beat! The mark of a true professional.

9. Swings: Holly and Jessica performed their duets on a swing. You might call them swingers, perhaps. Steven Tyler did.

8. Adam Shankman: The director of the upcoming Rock of Ages starring Ryan’s girlfriend/fiancee/buddy/fine, girlfriend loves disco dancing, Tom Cruise and saying “assless chaps.” In other words, there’s not a director better suited for Rock of Ages. And, apparently, The Wedding Planner.

7. The Flirtiest Violinist Ever: Winked right into the camera! Talk about working the violin AND heartstrings.

6. Phillip Phillips: I hate this man. His rendition of CCR's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain" was less like a downpour than a cartoon raindrop, and he smirked at the end of every line as if he was one second away from huh-yukking like Goofy. He even got faint praise from the judges: the same Joe Cocker comparison every aspiring Krajciker gets, Steven's Demotivator-like "you are proof that the road to success is always under construction." Then, at the best possible moment, he had to go do Damien Rice's "Volcano," complete with a Lisa Hannigan stand-in, and be wispy and emotive and everything he's stereotypically not. It's one thing to be lazy. It's another thing entirely to be lazy, then flash some until-now withheld brilliance.

For people endorsed by Jennifers, badass sax players and our choice to win, finally, click NEXT.


5. Jessica Sanchez: Jessica is essentially a more talented Thia Megia, which was apparently even before the footage of the rasps in her voice being carved by pageants since birth, before she proudly chirped how she couldn't do anything but sing and before she said she wished she'd have written "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" solely about "one of the most traumatizing moments in [her] life": the judges' save. None of this is necessarily bad--writer Ann Powers compared it to Whitney Houston at the start of her career. It's just a little unsettling; it means that when you hear her sing, you're focusing solely on technical ability, not whether she really wants to sneak out to see her love when her parents are sleeping, or whether she can equal either Jennifer's searing need on her latter song, particularly when she stood so still, seemed uncertain of nothing. (For what it's worth, Holliday was gracious enough.) Sadly, the best thing for her musically, and the only way to make her exciting, would almost guarantee her elimination: to emulate Skylar Laine or P2, tackle something other than a musty diva anthem--hell, even an original--and slay it. After all, Sweet Dreams" taught us that this is only okay for a WGWG.

4. Badass Lady Sax Player With P2: Was approximately a million times cooler and better than P2.

3. Nigel Lythgoe: I would like a GIF of him throwing his head back and laughing. I will employ it often.

2. Jimmy Iovine: JIMMY! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?! With all these caterpillar-butterfly metaphors, the answer to that question might be "hangin’ with Steven." But he was 19 when he was called into a session with James Brown. A good reminder that he’s the shit.

1. Joshua Ledet: Joshua Ledet and Jessica Sanchez is the only good finale configuration. Nothing else is acceptable. And somehow, against all my predictions and possibly a little against my will, I want this guy to win. Here's why: 1) He auditioned last year and, from what we were shown, might not have used the death of his grandmother as a sob story to crack the auditions. Nor did he make this year's upper echelons based on backstory; he came out of nowhere with his voice. Sure, that's as much the producers' doing as his, but it still seems more pure, something like the original point of Idol when it had a point. 2) He did something new with "You Raise Me Up." (Does Groban even count as Californian anymore? Isn't his true citizenship something like the Celtic fantasyland where Hollie Cavanaghs roam?) Knowing he couldn't and shouldn't do the puffy tenor of his fellow Josh, he turned it into a gospel song, which was maybe a leetle too restrained but nevertheless worked. 3) His "It's A Man's Man's Man's World" was so good, you forgot both Elise's earlier rendition, which doesn't even seem worth mentioning here, and the implications of him wishing he wrote that. 4) The farther he goes, the farther the judges will be forced to take their Idolscalation. Last week he was one of the best singers in 50 years. They backed off a little now, but only to "[the best singer] in the history of ANY singing show!" and "I have never heard anything like that in my LIFE!" I will not be satisfied until someone makes a Jesus comparison. Someone needs to do it. Maybe ONTD can do it. They can call him Joshesus Legendet or something. As long as there's a vote attached, I will be happy.