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Idol Beat: Your Top 24...Finally

Last night's American Idol was a transitional episode in more ways than one. Yes, it featured the latest winnowing of contestants as the four judges (and likely some unseen producers) consulted on how best to trim the 71 singers down to 24 semifinalists, 12 men and 12 women. But it was really the night that the show became The Show, and when a talent contest began to morph into the lumbering grand master of modern reality TV. It took two hours to reveal seven semifinalists, and the rest of the ep was devoted to needless montages about the fake friendships the contestants had formed and such drawn-out elimination proceedings that I started to wonder if the whole thing was a joke. I never figured out the answer, either.

Tuesday's episode was the beginning of the end for Hollywood Week, though it began after all 71 contestants had sung a final time and been split into three groups and sequestered in adjoining rooms in the hotel next to the Kodak Theatre. (Or anyway I'm guessing it was the hotel, since carpet that tacky is intrinsic to the hospitality industry.) From there the episode flashed back to the beginning of that day, as the contestants had taken the stage one by one to give their final shot. I was actually impressed at the level of narrative structure at first, but after the dozenth shift between pre- and post-auditions I just got worn out. There's tension, and then there's just running in circles.

Randy, Simon, Ellen, and Kara went to each room and told the inhabitants if their group would be moving on. Two rooms won through to the next round while one was cut, and the losers included Mary the garbage person from last week as well as Houston's own Christian Spear. (Drag, but she's also like 17, so she'll be back.) However, the remaining two rooms of contestants comprised 46 people, meaning the judges had to watch more tape and cut again just to start getting it down to the "final" 24, who will then later be narrowed to 12, 11, and on and on through the summer and maybe the rest of my life.

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The next day -- which I think would be the Friday of that Hollywood Week, though honestly I can't remember -- the 46 singers gathered in a holding pen and marched into the Kodak one at a time to have a final sit-down with the judges and hear their fates. Among the losers was Shelby, the cute girl with the facial palsy that just didn't have what the judges were looking for. Also out was a brunette named Jessica who used her time to plead for mercy and then blame her loss on a sore throat (which plagued like half the singers by this point, including those who won) and some kind of general conspiracy perpetrated by the other contestants. It's hard to say, since I fast-forwarded through the bad parts of it. I do remember that Ellen tried to console her by saying this wasn't the end of her career, just a setback, to which she pissily replied, "How do you know?" Ellen probably thought, "Well, because I came out and lost my sitcom and became a late-night punchline before getting my own daytime talk show and becoming universally liked. So suck it, teen."

The winners included Big Mike, the new father; Didi, the blonde that sang Kara's song; some generic blonde named Katelyn; the model and blues singer Casey James; a slender kid named Aaron who's an unfortunate ringer for Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry and who seems to have a healthy collection of puka shell necklaces you stopped buying in 1998; Todrick Hall, who's got a good soul voice; and Lee Dewyze, who is like the vice president Jack Johnson, meaning if the real Johnson gets shot, this kid grabs his beret and steps up.

But that's only seven of 24, and Wednesday's episode is only an hour. Maybe that means the remaining 17 will be introduced with a modicum of efficiency. A guy can dream, right?

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