In the wake of Pia Toscano's non-shocking elimination from American Idol last week, a frequent complaint was raised; Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler so far this season have shown nothing more than their near-uselessness as actual judges, and not as robots endlessly stuck on a loop of smoke-blowing and self-aggrandizing. (There was a period a couple of weeks back where Lopez was actually giving well-reasoned critiques, but that ended abruptly once installed himself next to Jimmy Iovine in the permamentor's chair for the purposes of making incoherent asides about corn and wearing sunglasses.) And, the reasoning goes, the reluctance to critique actually hurt Pia, because if she had heard some real talk about her wooden stage presence and mid-'90s aesthetic she might have actually done something about it. (I get this line of reasoning and I think the judges need to step it up, although in this particular case, the judging might not have stuck, since she didn't exactly take the "stop singing ballads" advice to heart right away.)

You would think that this hailstorm of criticism would result in the judges actually, you know, giving gentle suggestions to the kids, but if you fast-forwarded through the setups and performances last night you would think that last night's Idol was an episode of American Idol All-Stars combined with Top Chef All-Stars combined with the MLB All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. Everyone (with one minor exception) was fantastic while working in their own genre (and weren't the judges brilliant for picking such a wide spectrum of characters?)! Two people basically could have walked off stage and headlined arenas right at that moment! This was definitely not at all the case, and one wonders if the producers are telling the judges to "just be nice" and "let America figure it out" before they head out on stage each night. This dictate, of course, flies in the face of the whole purpose of the show, which is to help mold an actual recording artist, and not elevate someone who merely seems like a more pleasant paint salesman than the other guys working alongside him.

Also, I can't believe people still care about People and its Most Beautiful Person Whose PR Flack We Have Access To In The World hoopla. But then again, last night's show could have easily been an hour long, so filler—in the form of incessantly lauding Jennifer Lopez's ability to handle a photoshoot because she's looked very nice in HD this season—is necessary.

The performances from "Songs That Might Have Been Buried On The Soundtrack Of A Movie Once" night, ranked in the order of my preference:

8. James Durbin. I just can't with this guy. One week he's setting pianos on fire in an effort to make Elton John punk rock, the next he's saying "bring back metal" because he wants to sing Sammy Freakin' Hagar. His over-the-top antics and thoroughy unlikeable personality were on display tonight during his excessively irritating performance of "Heavy Metal," and the producers for some reason decided to bring in Zakk Freakin' Wylde to accompany him on guitar. What, were they nervous that Casey Abrams' upright bass would sway the small, vocal audience of Idol tablature freaks away from James?

7. Haley Reinhart. And speaking of antics, let's talk about Haley, who puts more thought into her last-woman-standing-at-karaoke shimmys and side-eyes to Steven Tyler than she does into working on her, you know, vocals. Yes, Idol isn't a singing competition, but it's also not an annoy-off, and her uncomfortable stage presence and screechy take on "Call Me" added up to a pretty unpleasant package, one that was made even more icky by Steven Tyler not-obliquely thanking her for the view up her dress. She was the only person to receive something resembling critical feedback from the judges, but part of me wonders if that wasn't a tactic to get her fanbase mobilized to thinking that she might be in trouble and heading to the phones.

6. Scotty McCreery. Hey, Scotty almost did something interesting last night! He was on the verge of busting out of his genre and doing a song by Harry Nilsson, which would have at least shown some range. (Sorry, singing Elvis doesn't count as moving that far from Nashville, especially for someone who freaking impersonated Elvis as a kid. Shame on you, everyone who thought so simply because you were told to do so by the Idol powers that be.) And then... he ran back into the safe arms of his genre of choice, even picking a song from a movie called Pure Country and oh my goodness how is this doofus somehow the agreed-upon frontrunner in this competition, what has gone wrong and please send help.

5. Paul McDonald. Dear David Cook: Can you please visit the Idol stage and knock some sense into this quite-likeable guy? Because, I mean, compare and contrast David's take on "Old Time Rock And Roll" with Paul's. OK, one is lipsynced while the other is not, but David also has the disadvantage of toting around a plastic freakin' guitar while trying to sell this particular performance, and he somehow looks less silly than Paul did while bopping around the stage and leavening Bob Seger.

4. Stefano Langone. Stefano's dad > Stefano's performance of "End of the Road" > Stefano's mustache. Not really much else to say.

3. Lauren Alaina. "The Climb" was a great choice for Lauren: Finally, a song that fits Lauren's temperament, vocal range, and youthful persona! And she pulled it off! Her "like me" persona would still be really annoying over the course of a three-minute pop song, though.

2. Casey Abrams. Casey's understated take on "Nature Boy," on which he accompanied himself on bass and committed what has been previously seen as the Idol cardinal sin of scatting, was very lovely. His song choice was definitely better than the overheated Phil Collins song that Iovine and wanted him to do, and the performance he turned in was very anti-Idol, but, hey, what isn't this year. (Although the closeups on his face during moments when it was making intense expressions similar to those he pulled during his "Smells Like Teen Spirit" performance did not help his case in HD; I kept wondering if his stomach ailment was recurring while he was performing, which at the very least might spark a few sympathy votes.) And in another moment of the judges being useless, Randy Jackson told Casey that there had been no other contestants like him ever on the show. Whither Leslie Hunt and Lilly Scott, both of whom had cigarette-plume voices and similarly understated performances on the Idol stage? Oh right. On Idol it's different for dudes. Which means that Casey won't get the boot for singing jazz.

1. Jacob Lusk. Not a perfect performance of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at all, but by the middle bit of the song I wanted to crawl into his voice and tell it to make me feel better. Which should count for something, I think.

WHO I WOULD HAVE VOTED FOR: Team Lusk all the way.

WHO SHOULD GO HOME: If James is so serious about bringing metal back, perhaps he should go buy a 12-pack of cheap beer and the new records by Liturgy and Krallice and zone out back at home with his new purchases, which would have the added benefit of him getting the eff off my TV.

WHO PROBABLY WILL GO HOME: It's anybody's game at this point, but I wonder if Paul—whose performance was just OK, and who had the added disadvantage of being first tonight—will be saying goodbye this evening.

Tonight: Someone gets the boot! Rihanna shows the singers why Pia Toscano's elimination was totally predictable (because like she's going to hit all her notes?)! And, probably, another excuse for to be lurking in the shadows, and more fawning over Jennifer's beauty.

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