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Ellen Gray: Fasten your seat belts, it's 'Idol' time

AMERICAN IDOL. 9 tonight and 8 p.m. tomorrow. IT'S ALL been done before. Fans of Fox's "American Idol" might want to keep that Barenaked Ladies lyric in mind this week, while some of us can still claim reasonable control over our emotions.

Lil Rounds performed on "American Idol" last night. (AP/Fox)
Lil Rounds performed on "American Idol" last night. (AP/Fox)Read more

AMERICAN IDOL. 9 tonight and 8 p.m.


IT'S ALL been done before.

Fans of Fox's "American Idol" might want to keep that Barenaked Ladies lyric in mind this week, while some of us can still claim reasonable control over our emotions.

As the show assembles its Top 12 for Season 8, it's hard to imagine that a couple of months from now I might be screaming at my TV, rooting for someone's chance to record a song I already know I'm going to hate.

Yet that was me last May, experiencing 48 hours of euphoria after the "Idol"-ization of David Cook. And, yes, I'd been there before: with Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Fantasia Barrino.

Just as there are stages of grief - Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified them as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - there are stages in the less serious "Idol" process.

This one, in which I'm sure I'll never love this way again, is clearly denial.

Other stages include:

Resistance: "Idol" fans like to believe that we, not the judges, decide who goes and who stays - even if few of us spend Tuesday nights hitting redial.

So when it feels as if the judges - particularly one Simon "If I'm Being Honest" Cowell - are trying to shove some too-packaged contestant down our throats, we have been known to take it badly.

Just ask David Archuleta, Katharine McPhee or Carly Smithson.

Discovery: Why do we resist? Because the dream of "American Idol," silly as it might sound, is that "America," not some mouthy Brit, might discover a new star. And truly, it's hard to imagine someone like Simon plucking a Clay Aiken, Jennifer Hudson or Elliott Yamin from obscurity all on his own.

Though we might have gone too far with Taylor Hicks.

Shock: Saying that the best singers always win would be like saying, as the judges insist every year, that this year's singers are the best ever.

There's always a week when a talented singer goes home, leaving less-talented contestants behind, a tradition that started in Season 1 with the untimely exit of Tamyra Gray and probably reached its peak in Season 5, with the expulsion of Chris Daughtry. Who's clearly gotten over it.

Awe: Sometimes it accompanies discovery, and sometimes it follows it, but if you're lucky, there's at least one moment on "Idol" that makes listening to Ryan Seacrest's blather almost seem worth it.

Nothing's yet surpassed Barrino's first "Summertime" in Season 3, but goosebumps popped when Cook sang the Chris Cornell version of "Billie Jean," when Constantine Maroulis actually survived "Bohemian Rhapsody" and when Aiken built that "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

Frustration: Mostly triggered by contestants who linger past their expiration date while seemingly more-worthy contenders get sent home, it's a reminder that democracy is a messy business, particularly when automatic redial, grandmothers and are involved.

Those who should probably have gone missing sooner include Season 4's Scott Savol, Season 6's Sanjaya Malakar and Season 3's John Stevens.

Suspicion: Just about every season, "Idol" serves up at least one tidbit of something fishy. Often involving judge Paula Abdul, whose chief value to "Idol" is that she hugs but never learns, they add to the impression that we're not being told everything.

They also boost ratings.

Remember the allegations that Paula was a bit too close to Season 2's Corey Clark? Or the way she evaluated a Jason Castro performance last season that hadn't yet occurred? Or the frequent suggestions that her lack of coherence might be more than a lack of coherence?

Clearly, Paula survives because we want to keep an eye on her.

Elation: Begins with rolling of credits on finale, ends with release of winner's first single.

Guns and roses

Wondering how "The Bachelor" survives, given that it's clear by now contestants have a better chance of being killed by terrorists than of tying the knot with one of these guys?

Here's one reason: ABC Monday devoted its entire primetime to the whoops-never-mind finale of the series' latest round, and was rewarded by winning the night handily in average total viewers (more than 16.1 million) and among the younger ones advertisers want to reach.

This on a night when terrorists invaded the White House, and finding no "Bachelor" contestants, took the president (Cherry Jones) hostage in a two-hour "24" on Fox.

And though that episode was full of torture and talk of torture - at one point the president's daughter (Sprague Grayden) was faced with loss of eyes, tongue and life, in that order - it wasn't as cruel or unusual as the punishment served up by, to and for so-called real people on ABC Monday night. *

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