Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday's 'American Idol' let the tears flow in epic proportions

Contestants gather for Thursday's episode of 'American Idol' from Hollywood.

With Steven Tyler on his good behavior and no real way for us viewers to sort out our scorecards yet, the star of Thursday's "American Idol" was the salty teardrop.

In the absence of contestants or singing that we really know or care about yet, the cameras turned to television's proven Plan B: crying. Buckets, rivers and oceans of crying.

Winners cried. Losers cried. They cried on stage. They cried to Ryan Seacrest. They cried to each other. They cried in the middle of the room. They cried in hallways. They called home to cry.

You'd think we were watching an audition for Speaker of the House.

Now people always cry on "Idol." But usually there's also some singing. Thursday, the singing seemed to last just long enough for the tear ducts to reload.

To be fair, though, "Idol" doesn't have a lot of choice. These early weeks are tough, because the show has to keep its audience interested between the initial burst of curiosity about the new judges and the point at which the contestant lineup has shrunk enough to feel manageable.

When you're cutting the field from 363 contestants to 168 in 41 minutes of airtime, as "Idol" did, you're not creating bonds or lingering on poignant stories.

You're clearing out bodies.

That's why Seacrest spent most of the night insisting that no, really, seriously, honestly, all of America has bonded with this guy from Milwaukee or this woman from New Jersey.

Couldn't be tighter if we'd been slapping high-fives with elephant glue.

The idea, obviously, is that Seacrest says it enough times, that will make it true.

Idle thought: Does he believe it himself?

No matter.

True, Tyler asked contestant Chris Medina about his fiancĂ©. True, that's a poignant story. True also: If Chris had been eliminated – spoiler alert: he wasn't – America would not have been clinging to his ankles as he left the building.

As with almost any production like "Idol," the size of the superlatives is a good gauge for just how much extra hype the producers think the night needs.

Randy Jackson tells us this year's talent crop is the best ever. Ryan tells us the pressure is "enormous" as the show starts and escalates it to "colossal" at the halfway mark.

A week or three from now, when the adjectives recede, we'll decide how serious to get about this season.

Thursday, "Idol" was still speed-dating, not taking long walks on the beach.

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