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The Magic of Live TV: Paula Abdul Hears Double On "American Idol"
April 30, 2008  | By David Bianculli
america-idol-sang-twice-1.jpgSimon Cowell's assessment, as usual, was right on the money. This time, though, at the end of last night's American Idol,he was judging the program itself: "This is officially," he said with a smile, "the strangest show we've ever done."

In part, it's because the Idol producers tried something new last night that was a horrible idea from the start, and became a train wreck in the middle. The idea was to have the final five contestants sing two songs apiece -- standard for this point in the contest -- but to do it in a one-hour slot, rather than a more leisurely 90 minutes.

Why American Idol, whose weekly results shows have more padding than a mattress factory, suddenly decided to go sleek and streamlined is a mystery. But not a tough mystery. Ratings are off this year, so the producers have vowed to shake things up next season, and clearly are tweaking as they go this year as well.

This season's fall-off could be due to either the writers' strike, which clearly has reduced TV audience levels almost across the board, or the lackluster level of this year's contestants. Last night's performances, by and large, were painful to watch, except for one good performance by David Cook.

But the show's big error last night was to take the judges out of the proceedings until the midway point, after all five contestants had sung their first songs. That's just stupid. Without instant feedback, American Idol becomes a national karaoke bar. Besides, the task of taking, storing and reading notes, and summarizing them quickly, turned out to be much too daunting a task for Paula Abdul.

The dispatch that came from Planet Paula last night was the biggest live TV blunder since Miss Teen USA's South Carolina representative went on and on about "the Iraq." Paula, criticizing the two songs sung by Jason Castro, told him, "The two songs made me feel like you're not trying hard enough to get into the Top Four."

Problem is, at that point in the show, Castro had sung only once. Castro, the other contestants, host Ryan Seacrest -- everyone looked at her in mute, confused disbelief.

"Oh my God, I thought you sang twice!" Abdul said to Castro, when this error was pointed out to her by fellow judge Randy Jackson. "This is hard!"

Yes, and that was ridiculous. And live, so there was no escape. Judge not, lest ye be embarrassed on national television...


Speaking of being embarrassed on national television, tonight is the premiere of CW's Farmer Wants a Wife. It's the sort of show that sounds like it could be fun, but it isn't. This particular variation has been done on TV so many times, from Outback Jack to the spoiled-girls-in-heels-on-a-farm premise of the original The Simple Life, that there's nothing at all unfamiliar or entertaining here.

Yes, one of the young city women, walking across farmland in her high heels, steps in some manure. That's no surprise -- not only because we've seen it all before on other reality shows, but because, on Farmer Wants a Wife, the manure, once you tune in, is inescapable.

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