American Idol: Casey Strikes Out

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Last night's elimination episode of American Idol felt like the last day of school: Everyone knew what would happen, and there wasn't much action in the first place, so everything just kind of floated along until the inevitable final moments. A few weeks back, Mike started slipping a bit while Lee began to make a serious comeback and get out of his shell, and the likelihood of a Lee-Crystal showdown in the finals became a certainty long before now. Still, even for all its padding, and the appearance of some truly noxious people, it was a surprisingly enjoyable filler episode.

The only thing to do last night was watch videos of the contestants as they spent a day in their respective hometowns playing concerts and riding in parades. These video packages, manipulative though they were, still managed to capture some of the most genuine moments of the entire season as Lee, Crystal, and Casey by turns broke into tears when they began to realize just how much hometown goodwill was being sent their way. It was a nice reminder that these are young stars who still thrill at performing and find it almost unbelievable that they can draw a crowd. Lee turned into a weepy mess when he went back to the Chicago paint shop where he used to work, but it felt completely authentic.

The studio performances, though, were remarkably bad, especially for this late in the game. Someone named Travis Garland performed, and I knew I wouldn't like him -- would, in fact, probably hate him -- when Ryan walked over to Perez Hilton to let him do the intro honors. For the blessedly ignorant, Perez Hilton is a gossip blogger and generally trashy human being who gets paid a hurtful amount of money to draw semen on pictures with MS Paint. Sure enough, Garland, whom Perez "discovered," sang with a voice that sounded like a cat being assaulted in an alley. I'm pretty sure he just repeated the word "believe" for three and a half minutes in lieu of actual lyrics.

The other performance came from Justin Bieber, whose bowl cut and puppy dog eyes worked their magic on a room full of girls who will totally tell you that he's like really good at singing and way different from like every bubblegum guy invented ever like Donny Osmond or Taylor Hanson or whatever because Justin's like totally new. His medley was utterly forgettable.

Finally, with maybe 9 minutes of actual showtime left, Ryan got to the eliminations. After a drawing out the announcement that Lee was the first one safe, he moved pretty quickly to tell Crystal she was safe, too. So quickly, actually, that she barely understood what was happening. Casey did, though. You could tell by his eyes. He launched into his thank-you speech before the cheers died down and gamely performed "Daughters" while walking around and hugging people. He barely batted an eye while watching his farewell montage, too. The writing's been on the wall for a week now. He knew he was lucky to make it this far, and you could tell from the vibe in the room that no one expected him to get farther. Still, he seems like a nice enough guy, and he had a good ride.

So now it's down to Lee and Crystal. From the outset, it was clear that Idol wanted an instrumentalist this year, preferably a rootsier one, so it's no surprise that the competition has come down to a pair of pop-folk artists. I've been pulling for Crystal for a while now, and would still like to see her win it, but I'm not nearly as opposed to Lee as I used to be. And their fan bases are so built up that it feels like anyone's game. Whatever. Just one more week, and our long national nightmare is over.

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