Season 3: Trying to Get That Feeling Again

"Alright, let's do it again, America! You're in control!" Ryan Sleazebag says as the camera focuses on the Seven standing on the stage. At the light of what happens at the end of the Results Show and the media outrage that result subsequently, I really wish he hasn't said that.

Anyway, as the credits roll and then abruptly cuts into the first commercial break, let me get on my soapbox for a while.

Am I bitter that Rank Sinatra remains but J Hu gets the cut? Maybe I would be, if this is the first time I am watching this stupid show. I have seen Tamyra got cut in the first season while Nugget McKibblets shouldered on and then last season Carmurp and Josh Don't Tell came onboard and spoiled everything. This season there's Rank Sinatra. What else is new?

Every season there is at least one contestant that gets all kind of unwarranted support for all the wrong reasons, from Stupid Little Girls and their Mothers everywhere to bizarre right-wing crackpots that for some reason tune into American Idol to assuage their moral superiority over everybody. I especially don't know whether to laugh or shudder at the crackpot types - the same types that tell people that a vote for Josh Don't Tell is a vote against the terrorists, a vote for sweet little virginal Carmurp and Rank Sinatra is a vote for the White Christian God and his angels, and a vote for Fantasia, the Evil Harlot Single Mother, is a vote for Satan and his Bastard Colored Kids everywhere.

But that's American Idol - where racism, religious territoriality, blind zealous teenybopperdom, crass commercialism, hypocrasy, ersatz manufactured toothless jailbait sexuality, geographical feuds, natural disasters, and a few rare talents here and there exist in one vulgar, overly glittered stage. God, Satan, Real Coke, and the Almighty Dollar live in beautiful harmony on this Event Horizon. If the music isn't so bad, I would be tempted to love this show even more than I love Nip/Tuck.

Back to the show, Ryan "Pretty Fly For A D-Grade Celebrity" Sleazebag comes onboard wearing a dark suit jacket over a black T-shirt. Hipness does not live in the same house as Sleazebag. Boy, it's good to be back bashing him and everything else about this show. He calls himself an "MC" now, and I don't think he means "Married to Cowell", so settle down at the back of the train with the Clocke and Dijohn 'Shippers, you Rymon 'Shippers you. He announces that it's Barry Manilow Week now, yay, because Barry Manilow is really what American Idol is all about. From Tarantino to Manilow. I'm at loss as to explain how this show can get from that to this.

Because America may find it hard to choose as the numbers are whittled down to Seven, Sleazebag says - and funny how hindsight reveals how Sleazebag's words seem to be darkly prophetic and ironic; are the writers psychic or is this show really fixed? - anyway, he introduces the judges as the people to help America choose. Oh heavens, the show has to be fixed. They couldn't script this show any better than it already is. Sleazebag reveals that King Tut's name used to be Lola and he used to be a showgirl, and King Tut has a "I can't believe he's saying this crap!" look on his face before he gives Sleazebag a really fake and condescending laugh. Sleazebag says that we can't smile without Miss Paula. We smile, Sleazebag, because otherwise we'd cry. Sleazebag says that Randy Randy probably plays bass on a song that makes the whole world sing. Or scream "Shut up, dawg!"

"If you haven't made out, made up, broken up, or gotten down to one of his tunes, then you've missed out on the very essence of life itself!" Sleazebag now announces before introducing a bizarre walking wax statue, which probably came from the same museum as Siegfried and Roy two episodes ago, dressed up in an outfit that makes people who were conceived with Copacabana playing from the car radio want to kill themselves ten times over out of shame. I can see the suicide note now: "Damn you, Mom and Dad, for not shagging in the backseat to the Rolling Stones instead! I hate you!" This walking wax statue turns out to be Barry Manilow, whose DNA Sleazebag cleverly says is used to create Kewpie. Horrified Kewpie fans storm Sleazebag's house and erect a burning auto-tan machine in his garden for Sleazebag even daring to insinuate that Kewpie's mom had an affair with DaddyKewpie here.

DaddyKewpie says that he's a fan of the show. Well, he can be, as his schedule isn't so busy that he can't stay at home and spend two hours dialling non-stop for his favorites, I guess. He and Sleazebag banter pathetically while the crowd gives a subdued cheer. DaddyKewpie tries very hard to come off as contemptuous of the judges but very happy to be on this show. These washed-up has-beens always behave the same way, how predictable. Sleazebag then announces the tribute montage to the "undisputed Number One Adult Contemporary Artist in America", which has more cheese than the entire continent of Europe. "Singer, songwriter, producer" DaddyKewpie also has a compilation CD out in 2004.

Then the video turns into a DaddyKewpie and the Seven "Me Against The Music" moment. DaddyKewpie sits on a chair and tells the Seven that if they have no idea who he is, just think of him as what Kewpie will look like in thirty years time. He announces that he's going to be working with the Seven to update the sound of his music, or to carry out a "plastic surgery" on them (as he puts it), just in time for the new wave of elevators and Baby Boomer lounges that will hit town later this year. He has rearranged the songs to fit the Seven's individual styles, he explains, and he's impressed at how hard the Seven works. He explains that the Seven learned the songs on Saturday, and today, on Tuesday, they are singing the songs as if they have been singing them forever. Now that's a scary fate, having to sing DaddyKewpie's songs for all eternity. Whoever wins the show deserves to do so, he says. He tells the Seven to join him for lunch as a reward for their hard work.

DaddyKewpie sits between Randy Randy and Miss Paula. It's like a before and after photo comparison moment in a plastic surgery PSA. "Before, I look like Randy Randy. After, I look like DaddyKewpie," sobs an abuser of nips and tucks. "I wish I've seen this PSA back in 1984," sobs Michael Jackson.

Because this show hasn't started yet unless it has bombarded me with enough rubbish filler moments until I choke, it's now time for Sleazebag to solicitate the Seven's opinion on having DaddyKewpie perform liposuction, nips, and tucks on his songs before their very eyes. Fantasia says that she hates that ugly son of a cheesestick and she is this close to kicking that mofo's ass. Piggy Di Guano says that she just tunes out that boring old coot's voice and dreams of getting down with 50 Cents instead. Hey, want to see her new piercing? No, seriously, they all love working with DaddyKewpie, of course they do. They will be loving it even if Ronald McDonald shows up to make them work on their songs for Jingles Week. ("Jingles Week? Is that any different from Barry Manilow Week?" snickers the truly evil hubby.)

In a bizarre detour into Non-Sequitor Land, Sleazebag asks them which of them spends the longest time in the bathroom before every show. Everyone points to Huff Granddaddy. Sleazebag says that he always sees Huff Granddaddy in the bathroom before the show.

"What are you doing with him in the bathroom?" King Tut yells in a "during the commercial break" moment.

"Huff is fifty-eight years old and he has incontinence," Sleazebag tells him smoothly.

Finally, the show starts. How do you do, Piggy Di Guano? In the introductory clip, DaddyKewpie puts a "Hollywood intro" into the arrangement for her song, which as far as I can see, or rather, hear, sounds like everything else on this show - cheap and canned. Piggy Di Guano is singing One Voice, which to DaddyKewpie is a perfect choice because Piggy Di Guano is innocent and sweet and he has always imagined the song to be sung by someone like her. Does that mean that DaddyKewpie always wants to be an innocent little girl too? Piggy Di Guano hopes that DaddyKewpie will like her version.

She starts off very soft and her pitch is very unsteady. In fact, upon closer listen to her performance mp3, I believe that she goes out of tune during the build-up to the high-pitch scream-friendly section. She does recover when she's belting out the last few lines of the song, and sometimes screaming and belting at the top of your voice is enough to be considered a "good singer", especially if you're on American Idol.

Randy Randy thinks that the performance is "alright", which predictably leads to him calling it "shaky" and "pitchy" although he feels that she ended the performance "strong". See what I mean? Hit a high note and they'll forgive you for everything else. He says that Piggy Di Guano really impresses him because she's the most ambitious sixteen-year old for tackling songs that require her to hit high notes again and again. Funny, I thought that's what everybody on this show is supposed to do. DaddyKewpie says that the song came to him in a dream and he has always imagined someone like Piggy Di Guano singing that song in his dream. Or something. Oh my, someone is holding hands with Miss Paula in the garden of pink butterflies as we speak. Miss Paula says that Piggy Di Guano has every reason to be happy and she deserves "it" - whatever "it" is. King Tut calls out Piggy's name. Piggy stands at attention and says, "Yes, sir!" He tells her that the performance was "unquestionably" her best in the competition. There you go: who cares about the tune, hit 'em with a high E, baby!

Sleazebag and Piggy hold hands, try to be cute, act giddy, and he tells America how to vote for her. He dances with her after he's announced the commercial break and promises "more Manilow" after the break. The camera pans to Randy Randy turning towards DaddyKewpie while DaddyKewpie wrings his hands like some little girl, Miss Paula and King Tut are actually discussing something - wow - and then it's finally the commercial break.

Back to the show, Sleazebag leans over to DaddyKewpie and introduces Huff Granddaddy. Special Huff meets DaddyKewpie and touches DaddyKewpie with his "brilliant" "Special Instincts"! DaddyKewpie teaches Special Huff to forget the tune and hit the high notes to give everybody the chills and goosebumps! Special Huff promises to give the song lots of jazzy influences!

Trying To Get That Feeling Again is his song. And, oh my. Special Huff has no tune! He is trying too hard to pack many unnecessary melismas and other vocal ornamentations in his voice but the result is him coming off like he's singing through a cotton ball clogging up his throat. Never mind that the song is about him heading towards break up territory with someone, he's smiling creepily. That slow Toilet Ladle dance he's doing may be appropriate this one instance, though. Flush - there goes the tune-free song!

Randy Randy likes the song but he dislikes what Huff Granddaddy tried to do with it. "Too many riffs and runs," he describes the performance. DaddyKewpie interrupts and tries to justify the riffs and runs - aha, now I know who is responsible for Huff Granddaddy's uncharacteristically awful "Warbling on the Toilet Bowl through a Bad Bout of Constipation" performance. Miss Paula insists that she loves the performance because Huff Granddaddy manages to perform all the riffs and runs DaddyKewpie asked him to. Well, what can I say? Look at her career - she should be the one to commend people for jumping through the producers' hoops because she did enough of such jumping during her pop career. King Tut stares at Miss Paula and gives her a rude smirk before telling Huff Granddaddy that Huff is lucky that he has some strong performances in the past to make up for this off-night. He then turns to DaddyKewpie and tells him that King Tut loves the song but the arrangement for this particular performance is "too fast". He points out that the audience isn't booing him because they agree with him. Some jokers from the Land of Below Average Intelligence catch Uncle Nigel's frantic handwaving from the sidelines and proceed to boo King Tut.

Sleazebag and Huff Granddaddy commiserate. Get a bathroom, you two.

Ah, it's J Hu's swan song next. She says that it is a dream come true for her to work with DaddyKewpie. I am inclined to believe that she is ousted because of that statement. DaddyKewpie says that his "catalogue requires you to have range", which is why his songs are never found on the setlists of karaoke bars everywhere. Hey, wait a minute. He then says that nobody can sings his songs the way J Hu can. J Hu is excited because this performance will finally give her a chance to show off her high notes. Really, that's what she said. Maybe she'll perform a supersonic screech tonight and shatter all the windows in the Northern Hemisphere.

She sings Weekend In New England, and she will be singing it very well if she isn't trying too hard to oversing the song the death. The performance is uneven, with her either dipping too low or hitting too high with very little in-between the two extremes. The second half of the song sees her in pure belting mode and she unexpectedly does better here. But on the whole, it feels as if she's singing two different songs tonight spliced together haphazardly. She can sing, but she oversings too much, and what is essentially a good performance is ruined by too much out-of-place ornamentations.

Randy Randy loves her performance and thinks that she gets better every week. DaddyKewpie has nothing to say other than to agree with Randy Randy. J Hu took it all the way, he adds despite saying just seconds ago that he has nothing to say. Miss Paula says that J Hu "stayed on a path" and "took it back" - she makes it sound as if J Hu did a good job taking out Miss Paula's trash. King Tut is happy that J Hu has finally "gotten her act" together and he believes that this show is going to see something never seen before - the Battle of the Divas. Funny, I always thought that the Battle of the Diva takes place every week on this show - between he and Sleazebag. He tries to get J Hu to say that she, Latoya, and Fantasia hate each other and asks J Hu how she feels that she is doing. She says that she's finally feeling like the real J Hu. He asks her whether she thinks that she can win. She says that it's her world now.

Sleazebag tries to get DaddyKewpie to say "alright" the way Randy Randy says it. "What language is this?" DaddyKewpie finally says in exasperation. "It's Jacksonspeak!" Sleazebag tells him. He then announces Princess Jasmelisma waiting for her turn before announcing a commercial break. I swear, this show is getting longer every week.

Back from the break, Sleazebag patrols the audience and spots Gargoyle Sebastian, the Australian Idol winner. Gee, his Hot Boy Radar is not functioning properly this week.

It is winners like Gargoyle Sebastian that expose the Pop Idol franchise for what it is: a badly flawed franchise overrun by teenyboppers, aided by pranksters wasting money voting for whom they find the worst of the weekly bunch as well as by people with bizarre agendas that never include music, that ends up crowning only marginally-talented male performers that are good-looking only in the world of the Idol franchise but ugly dolts in the outside world. In short, Pop Idol franchise winners are "pop stars" only within the sphere of the franchise. Right now American Idol is still watched by enough people to make the products of the winners profitable enough for the overlords at RCA and 19E - in other words, enough people are watching and buying the merchandise - but once the franchise's popularity fades, the winners will have nowhere to go. The only tragedy here, if you ask me, is that contestants with a decent chance at a career will end up saddled with the former contestant label that hangs like an albatross around their neck.

Oh, where am I? Oh yes, the show. Sleazebag also spots three members of the really gruesome show The Swan, a show where idiots look for self-esteem at the end of a scalpel instead of within themselves. One of them loves J Hu, maybe because J Hu can still make facial expressions while this "Swan" can only speak through an over-Botoxed face and she misses at least that part of her old life. You can see these idiot women in all their glory in next month's Reveal, if you like that sort of thing.

Sleazebag is pushing King Tut's chair with his free hand (the one that isn't holding the microphone) while King Tut pulls at his fingers everytime Sleazebag tries to take his hand away. King Tut has a really wide devilish grin on his face all this while, which makes me wonder what kind of games they get into during their Barbados vacation last year. Isn't it cute, these two so obviously in love with each other? Awwww.

In her introductory clip, Princess Jasmelisma tries to pretend that she loves working with DaddyKewpie only to expose her insincerity when she says that DaddyKewpie is "such a genius with, er, like music and everything." She is also "stumped" when he asks her for opinions on the song she is performing, because you know how she is: she doesn't know anything unrelated to Hawaii so she just does what she is told, hee-hee. Seriously, what does America see in such hideously insincere Barbie dolls like Jasmelisma and Piggy Di Guano?

She sings another ballad. Yes, another ballad! I'll Never Love This Way Again is the song and she sings it the way she always does: lifeless, dull, with all the high notes predictably injected in the usual places towards the end of the song. Take Norah Jones' sleeping pill factor, blend out any semblence of humanity, add in Celine Dion's higher register, garnish with R Kelly's favorite Mickey Mouse Club token minority member and voila, she stands on the stage, singing that she will never love this way again. Or that way. If she knows what she is singing about in the first place.

Randy Randy likes the performance and thinks that Jasmelisma is "coming back" because she shrieks a bad but high note for ten seconds so that is One! Great! Performance! alright. DaddyKewpie thinks that Jasmelisma can give Dionne Warwick a run for her money. The fact that at this time Jasmelisma can certainly give DaddyKewpie more royalty when she releases a Mandy single than Dionne Warwick has nothing to do with his immeasurably stupid comparison, I'm sure. Miss Paula thinks that everyone should do a DaddyKewpie Greatest Hits CD. Uncle Nigel writes that down - it's still April and if they hurry, that CD can be released by the first week of June. King Tut is happy that Jasmelisma has gotten rid of the flower. She points out that it's on her jacket now. King Tut asks DaddyKewpie what he had done to the "girls" because he made them all sound great now. "Yeah, I did!" DaddyKewpie shamefully says as he puffs up at the compliment from his biggest fanboy on the show.

What kind of show is this, where DaddyKewpie is celebrated as All That Is Good About Music? A travesty, that's what!

After the commercial break, Sleazebag leans against a... printer, I think, in the control room and asks everyone to check out the official website for grooming tips on how to look like the contestants. Yes, I'm heading over there after this to learn how I can look just like Princess Jasmelisma, only I'll replace the flower with a Venus Flytrap, and learn how to dance like Huff Granddaddy. There's also a "How I Joined This Show Even If I Can't Sing And How I Lost My Virginity To Some Really Embarrassing Plain Jane Powerdialling Girls With Self-Esteem Issues Who Love Me Because They Think That I'm That Cute Boy Next Door Who Will Love Them Forever And Ever If Only I Know They Exist" how-to motivational page by Rank Sinatra if you look hard enough.

Latoya finally comes out to sing. In her clip, she and DaddyKewpie are all praises for each other, with DaddyKewpie saying that Latoya sings "the truth", whatever that means. He probably sees dollar signs spewing from her mouth the day when she sings All The Time on a single ala Kewpie's Solitaire and the RCA overlords release it as a single.

And so she sings. And... er, I don't remember anything about this very safe, technically polished high-notes-at-all-the-usual-places performance because it's utterly, utterly dull. Why can't these contestants choose something that doesn't resemble elevator muzak? Oh wait, it's DaddyKewpie's music we are talking about, where the range is wide, from the top floor to the basement thirty-nine stories below. The judges all love her though because she delivers at least twenty high notes in her performance. King Tut asks her whether she thinks that she can win the competition. She nods and gives that small self-satisfied smile of hers before saying that she thinks so, yes. When Trenyce assumed that poise last season, people are quick to lambast her for being arrogant, but when Latoya does it, she's all "class". How amusing. Anyway, King Tut says that her confidence is starting to show. He's really hoping for a diva showdown. If this is Survivor, something bad will happen, because that's how it always is on Survivor. How nice that this show is learning a few tricks from Burnetto!

Sleazebag and Latoya try to be cute as he tells people how to vote for her. He then announces that Rank Sinatra is next, but that's after the commercial break. Yeah, prolong my pain some more, you jerk.

Back from the break, Sleazebag stands between the judges, between Miss Paula and Randy Randy, and asks America to feast their eyes on the "sexy" DaddyKewpie and Rank Sinatra, whom he describes as "also popular with the ladies". I honestly don't know what to say to that, because it is most likely true and you have no idea how much that depresses me.

In his introductory clip, Rankie is in awe with DaddyKewpie because DaddyKewpie knows what to do about the songs. Of course he does - they are his composition, Rankie you dolt. DaddyKewpie says that once he's convinced Rankie to stop worrying about his performance, the performance feels more "natural".

If "natural" means "shaking his head at the camera to convey personality", that is. What works once for Country Week comes off as hopelessly limited range as Rank Sinatra pretty much duplicates his stage motions for Mandy. I hate that song, I find this performance tedious as well as monotonous and flat, and I find myself missing Westlife's wretched version of that song. That part where Rankie ends the song by stretching his hand and showing the camera his palm is especially creepy. It's like The Ring III: Sinatra Kills.

Randy Randy feels that the performance started out strong and ended on a flat note. DaddyKewpie believes that Rankie's inexperience with life and sex with women that aren't desperate, emotionally needy stalkerish fans is preventing Rankie from bringing out the most from that song. Because Mandy is such a painful song about love and life, after all. Miss Paula thinks that the middle of the performance is the weakest. King Tut thinks that Mandy fell asleep listening to Rank Sinatra because the performance was "mechanical". He doesn't think that Rank Sinatra is even close to being one of the best performers on the contest. He also realizes whom Rank Sinatra reminds him of. Miss Paula groans. "Stan Laurel," King Tut says. Silence. "Of Laurel And Hardy," he elaborates. It becomes obvious that Rank Sinatra may use music from decades past as an excuse to hide his lack of range but he doesn't watch shows from the previous decades, and Sleazebag walks out to fill in the awkward moment.

Closing the show is Fantasia. In her introductory clip, she decides to be different a little so she and DaddyKewpie rearranged It's A Miracle to reflect her gospel roots. DaddyKewpie of course says that he has always wanted to hear the song sung that way. Fantasia says that DaddyKewpie gave her plenty of good advice and she intends to "take and run" with it.

I don't know. I really enjoy watching her work the crowd and bring down the house, but what is with all that scenes of her holding her daughter and watching her performance on TV? I wince when the show does that because this can only backfire on her. Fantasia doesn't need the pimping, especially not when it's pimping done with the subtlety of lit dynamites shoved down my throat. The song is rushed, frenetic, and is actually much better than it comes off on TV, but the whole performance also feels staged and reeks of propaganda, which is unappealing. If they have just showed Fantasia performing, that would have been good enough.

Randy Randy loves the energy she brings to the show and he feels as if he's in a church revival. He feels the spirit of Fantasia, he crows. DaddyKewpie suggests that Fantasia opens her concerts with that performance. I bet Fantasia is thinking, "Not on your life! Ain't no Manilow on my shows - you want my audience to jeer me off the stage?" but she is too polite to say it aloud. King Tut says that he is glad that Fantasia is on this show. He feels that she is "important" to the show because she brings excitement as well as a sense of danger into the show by not taking the safe route. Hence, she stops this show from becoming too sugary.

Sleazebag brings out Baby Fantasia, whose name is Zion, to pimp her out some more to the audience. But the show forgets that the backlash can be really cruel, if many of the articles and criticisms from Fantasia's detractors, many of whom are on fan boards as well as on right wing online media outlets, are anything to go by. While I do believe that giving poor Zion his name is quite misguided (he'll never live that down unless he somehow grows up to be a Japanese anime hero), I wince at some of the cruel things said about Fantasia's supposed lack of morals and especially at some of the names flung towards Zion. He's just a kid, for goodness sake!

Then Sleazebag is done, recaps the show, thanks everyone, announces that he's still out, kisses Latoya's cheek as the credits roll, boogie with the Seven, and then the show is done. DaddyKewpie is done. And I? I need a drink.

Results show. There is no pre-credit talks today because everyone is too busy hugging himself or herself in glee in anticipation of the Scandal that will result and the extra publicity the show will get. Sleazebag spends an extra fifteen minutes in the bathroom to celebrate. See the credits? That's a blurred-out blue-tinted King Tut coming out from the second cubicle with a big smile on his face.

Ryan "I've Never Been To Me" Sleazebag walks onto the stage wearing a pastel-colored collared T-shirt with vertical stripes under his jacket suit. What happened to those tacky T-shirts and tight pants of last season? I blame it on Madonna - just because tacky sleazeballs are now settled down they think they have the right to get boring on everybody now. Next thing I know, he and King Tut will be writing a series of kiddie books for everybody.

Welcome, he greets everyone, and says, "Here we go again!" He says that his job means that for one more time it is the end of the line for one of the contestants. He doesn't add that his D-list celebrity status is at the end of the line without this job, but that goes without saying. At this point of the competition, the fall from grace for one of the Seven will be very hard, Sleazebag says. See? This show is rigged, it has to be, or he won't be saying so many scripted foreshadowing nonsense. Never mind, he reassures the Seven and the audience facetiously, the judges are here to offer the Seven support and advice. Meet King Tut! King Tut actually winks at Sleazebag. I'm not making this up. Love is really in the air. Thank heavens for bathrooms. Miss Paula is holding the hands of both Randy Randy and King Tut. See? Foreshadowings! Everyone knows! Randy Randy has time to yeah-yeah however and there's a sign behind him that says "Do You Feel It, Dawg?"

Sleazebag recaps the night before, emphasizing the Battle of the Diva thing between the three ladies, because African-American women that can sing are now automatically declared a separate subspecies of human beings called "divas" now. And after that, a commercial break.

Back to the show, Sleazebag is now at the control room. Since he's always there, I'm starting to suspect that the room is actually the bathroom cleverly disguised to look like a control room. Where's that hot sounds guy? I want to see some hot guys on this show, because if this show is going to drag me down the crapper, the least it can do is to show me really hot guys instead of the asexual Cute Non-Sexually Threatening Boys like the Pen Salesman. Sleazebag announces that DaddyKewpie is back to perform with the Seven. Since it is now fashionable to support peace instead of war, DaddyKewpie and the Seven will be singing in the key of left today instead of the usual Proud To Be American nonsense. So it's Let Freedom Ring today instead, a song that Sleazebag helpfully points out comes from DaddyKewpie's new CD Two Nights.

The Seven come out and stand on stage, looking very serious because they are the Bearers of the Message of Peace and Humanity, don't you know. They start warbling My Country 'Tis Of Thee in a very shaky harmony before moving aside with their hands at their back to let DaddyKewpie walk on stage like the Chief Bearer of Good Tidings, a heretic Moses parting the Red Sea of Suck, as he starts singing a Very Important Song filled with insightful lyrics like "Let freedom ring! Let it celebrate sweet liberty! That is keeping us strong and free!" What is he yammering about? Of course sweet freedom and liberty will keep us free - because freedom and liberty are pretty much synonyms and guess what, bonehead, we are free if we have freedom. Duh. That's like saying I am wet if I'm in the water. I'd expect him to be a little less obtuse in his songwriting if he's going to cash in on the latest fad of anti-patriotism. How long did it take for him to write this song? I bet it probably takes him longer to grab for the toilet roll. Maybe he should get Tamyra to write some songs for him in the future.

The Seven join him in telling people that we all need freedom if we want to be free. "Dream to fill the heart and pass it on and on and ONNNNNN! Let freedom ring!" they all shriek Very Importantly. In the background, the screen is alight with the image of a fluttering American flag. Jasmelisma, Piggy Di Guano, and Latoya are way louder than everyone else, although Fantasia gets to add some "yeah yeah yeah" here and there. All that is missing is someone releasing some doves to fly all around the place and the free complimentary razorblades for every member of the audience who is right now waving glow sticks to the meaningless stream of vapidity spewing from the Seven and DaddyKewpie on stage.

A standing ovation from the audience is in order once the performance ends and then it's time for a commercial break. There's nothing like honest crass commercialism to restore my faith in humanity after that mawkish and overwrought, insincere, and brain-free Tribute to Freedom nonsense. Sleazebag promises that the show will get even better after this - he will announce the results next.

"Welcome back!" he greets everyone after the break and then comes another commercial, albeit one delivered by Sleazebag himself. Do you know that the American Idol CD, the Greatest Soul Hits thingie, is out now? If you can't get your hands on your nephew or niece's grade school concert performance tapes, this CD will be a great substitute because you'll really feel like you're listening to a cheaply produced amateur talent time performance! Oh, and don't forget to visit the official website, Sleazebag reminds everyone. The follow-up to Rank Sinatra's scintillating tell-all, entitled "How The Mothers Of Those Fangirls Of Mine Want A Piece Of My Non-Existant Buttocks Too!", is up now.

Sleazebag now divides the Seven into groups of two. Fantasia, J Hu, and Latoya are in Group A. Piggy Di Guano, Rank Sinatra, and Princess Jasmelisma of Hawaii are in Group B. This leaves Huff Granddaddy hanging as to whether he is in Group A or B. One of these groups is the Upper Three, the other the Bottom Three. Some Huff Granddaddy fans in the audience starts chanting, "A! A! A!" as Sleazebag announces this week's obligatory Ford clip and the subsequent commercial break.

Woo, the Seven go to Mars this week. A robot stares at the Ford bearing the Seven (Rankie is driving) towards him, but his reunion with his long-long sister Piggy Di Guano is cut short when he steals their Ford and leaves the Seven chasing after the Ford.

Back to the show, Huff Granddaddy is showing an assortment of plastic funny faces he borrowed from Kewpie. He's safe, after all. I guess Sleazebag announcing that Group A and B are safe and he's the one with the lowest votes must have sent the fear of Dorothy into him... that is, if I'm sure that he can think that far and isn't just making those faces because he's one big fake queen that will weep in joy when he gets AOL complimentary CDs in the mailbox because dude, they love him, they really do! Sleazebag asks him to join the highest getter group and instead of asking which group that will be, he walks and stands beside Group A. It's not just him, though - Latoya and J Hu are gesturing at him to come over to them. Sleazebag gleefully asks him what he is doing - it turns out that Group B is the group with the highest votes. Yes, Group A is the Bottom Three today. So much for the Battle of the Divas.

Everyone in the audience gasps while Fantasia starts laughing in that "Damn, you people got me good, heh!" manner that, to me, feels like the first real show of emotion from everyone in this episode or the one the next before. At least she's amused by the proceedings. J Hu isn't - she's shell-shocked, maybe because she's well-aware that she'll be the one leaving as she's always been the third forgotten member of the Diva Triad. The two princesses have the courtesy to cheer and squeal while Huff Granddaddy and Rank Sinatra look stricken. Sleazebag joyously announces that the studio and America are shocked. Why should America be shocked? They are the ones who vote this way, didn't they?

Randy Randy is outraged and starts lecturing everybody to choose talent over personality, because we all want an American Idol that we can be proud of. Right? Miss Paula agrees with him, openly wondering whether the Pen Salesman's fans have rallied behind Rank Sinatra. She reiterates what Randy Randy said: this show is not a popularity contest, it's a talent contest. King Tut says that his "tongue is on the floor" but he doesn't want to say anything as Piggy Di Guano and Princess Jasmelisma did well last night. Piggy Di Guano nods furiously at this because it hurts to have two of the three judges openly saying that she and the rest of Group B don't deserve to be the ones with the highest votes.

You know what I think? As much as I think J Hu does not deserve to go, Randy Randy is talking nonsense. Firstly, this show is a popularity contest - any contest that determines the winner by the amount of votes from the audience is a popularity contest no matter how much he'd like to pretend otherwise. The show is lucky for the first two seasons to have popular contestants that can sing winning the whole thing. Rank Sinatra and Kewpie are very similar when it comes to commanding overzealous fan support, with the only difference being that Kewpie can fortunately sing while Rank Sinatra has the star quality of a pea shell.

If the judges, Uncle Nigel, and the other people behind the show are upset that their Battle of the Diva schtick isn't working, they should also take a good look at themselves. They are the ones that cut out talent in favor of gimmicks in the Top 32. Rank Sinatra has been showed doing nothing but flubbing his lines during the Pasadena auditions - so why did they put him in and let the audience vote for him? Why do they cut out people who can sing like Lisa Looshawoo but keep in people whom they criticized - like the Pen Salesman - to participate in the Wild Cards show and get into the Finals?

Now they are crying because the contestants are too young and hence boring. Boo hoo hoo, but they are the ones who fix the age limit to accommodate those American Idol Junior refugees. They don't want Rank Sinatra or the two Pretty Pink Princesses to win, but oh my, they are the ones to let them pass through the gates of Pasadena into the Top 32. So tell me, how is this a talent contest and not a popularity contest again, when the Top 32 are selected on the basis of gender, gimmicks, and ratings as much as - or maybe more than - talent?

Let's look at the other Pop Idol franchises anyway. For the last few years, how many winners are actually talented and not voted a winner for all the wrong reasons? There's a very good reason why these winners cannot sustain a career one minute past their Pop Idol triumph - they are not chosen by the audience for their music talent. Once second UK Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus has won and the teenaged girls are satisfied that they have made some sort of statement that Curvy Lasses Are Okay, these girls promptly forget about her. Michelle's second single and her subsequent CD sink like a cruise ship in a sea of icebergs.

If Randy Randy and the others are genuine about wanting American Idol to be about talent, they need to revamp the whole format and reevaluate their own decisions and actions. But I'm not holding my breath - this show is all about making money anyway, and if RCA has to suffer when several careers crash and burn, 19E and Fox are still making enough money from the show to keep things as they are.

Anyway, back to the show, Latoya is announced to be safe. She blows a silent thank-you to the camera as she walks back to the seats. Fantasia and J Hu clap politely and then hold hands together as Sleazebag points out that many anticipate those two ladies to be in the Final Two but alas, tonight one of them will leave while the other narrowly dodges the bullet. It is a very close vote, he points out. The person leaving received the highest number of votes the previous week, he adds, adding salt to the injuries on poor J Hu's wounded ego. Yes, J Hu is leaving.

Fantasia starts weeping as they embrace and J Hu tearfully wishes her good luck. No, King Tut, they really don't hate each other - at least, Fantasia and J Hu don't. Fantasia announces loudly that J Hu is her American Idol. Meanwhile, Huff Granddaddy is weeping, which is understandable as J Hu and he are good friends during and after the show. But I don't know why Piggy Di Guano is also crying and deliberately shoving her face onto Huff's camera view by putting her head on Huff's shoulders. Does she want J Hu to storm over and rip her hair out?

Sleazebag introduces the Eulogy video, where J Hu recalls her "journey" to get where she is, how she is all real on stage, and how honored she is that she has a chance to be here. As she receives a standing ovation, Sleazebag comes over to her side and asks America to vote for talent so that talents like J Hu will not slip through the cracks. Nicely done, Sleazebag, especially in the implication that the four safe members of the Seven are not talented and hence not worthy. Has he forgotten that America has sent J Hu down the cracks twice before the finals and to the Seats of Shame a few times since? I like J Hu a lot, but I am never under the illusion that the majority of America that watch this show share my opinion of her. Her departure is unjust, but let's not forget that Creepy Rickey was ousted at the very same seventh spot during the last season when he was a more talented singer than Josh Don't Tell, Kimborlee, and Carmurp. The history of this show is littered with unjust ousters and unworthy high-spot finishers.

J Hu sings, but they cut her off two lines into her performance. So much for respecting talent, I tell you.