Forget Simon Cowell. Forget Simon Fuller. You know what? Forget Simon and Garfunkel, Simon Bólivar, and Simon de Montfort, too (look him up! And then …forget him)—because Ryan Seacrest is the new mastermind of Idol. Between his continued breaching of Cowell’s desk-area restraining order and his superpersonal questions for the singers, Ryan seems to be taking advantage of this season’s chaos to openly manipulate the contestants, the judges, and especially America. This week, he stoutly defended Teflon Tim’s perpetual good cheer, tried to motivate votes by badgering Didi into crying about her dead friend, told us in no uncertain terms that Mike Lynche equals Ruben Studdard, and pulled the “Vote for My Awesome Mom” card on behalf of Andrew Garcia.
Everything kind of backfired, though. Didi kept it together for the first time in eight weeks, and then everyone else cried when she was sent home. Lapel-mic issues meant that Mama Garcia ended up yelling, “¡¿Que traes?!” at Simon directly into Ryan’s chest, and Michael nearly tossed Ryan into the audience in a demonstration of machismo. (Ryan is tiny—like Napoleon. And for every “sensitive” song Big Mike sings, I think he sends himself to the gym for 50 curls.) But at the end of it all, Silicone Seacrest appeared unruffled.
He’s come so far from the days of Dunkleman; I don’t know where the time’s gone. It’s like we blinked and now Ryan’s in Burberry suits, and Ruben is a vegan, and the guests are artists who’ve had new hits within the last 10 years. Remember when it was all Barry Manilow and Peter Noone? Well, on Wednesday, Diddy did what Diddy does (didn’t he?), which apparently requires a strobe-light warning, to spread the news about an album that won’t even drop till the end of June. That’s right; it’s so current it doesn’t even exist yet.
Oh, and I’ve got an idea for the Idol finale this May. Not Crystal vs. Siobhan; or Crystal vs. Lee; or, God forbid, Crystal vs. Tim—it’ll be Raymond vs. Raymond all the way! Usher, or the “Godson of Soul,” in addition to teaching the Idols how to smolder at the camera like Constantine Maroulis,” was on set to promote his own album, which at first I thought was just called Raymond. (Nice to meet you, Raymond, this is my album Bob.) But, no, there are two Raymonds, because Usher has a “dichotomy.” One side of him is a Lit major?
Actually, I loved him just a little more for unleashing the jargon on Idol, a little more than that for his M.J. moves and bringing along will.i.am (Oh My Gosh!), and even more for getting Lee DeWyze to finally, finally be-Lee-ve in himself the way the judges have been wanting. After a “Treat Her Like a Lady” that happily turned out to be the Cornelius Brothers song and not the Céline Dion one, I am now firmly onboard, DeWyze-wise. So is Ryan, who rejoiced with him at the judges’ praise, shouting, “Dude! Oh, that’s awesome!” while Lee, in a fit of post-performance nerves, disarmingly ate his guitar pick.
Even though this week brought home a decade of changes for me, I was glad the show saved its soul and brought back the Idol I fell in love with. These were songs with titles spelled out in words instead of text-speak—there were choreographed saxes and the fabulous backup singers on the stage—songs that Idol used in the traumatized aughts to remind America where American music came from. Only, that said, they also made it especially obvious that besides Michael Lynche and his gorgeous India.Arie cover, the only black artists singing soul this week were the guests and the backup vocalists.
This sort of inequality used to be a big deal for Idol viewers, sending them rampaging to the forums, but I didn’t see a word there tonight. Back when Ruben Studdard won, an opinion columnist at AfricaHome.com declared that “Ruben, believe it or not, on Wednesday night was, on that very stage, elected the first black president of the United States.” At that moment in 2003, exactly half the (two) winners were singers of color, but in 2010 the score won’t look as stellar if it’s three out of nine. Then again, what do I know about racial identity? I’m no U.S. census. In any case, I’m not going to the “American Idol is racist” place. It’s just that the show used to make an effort to represent—even if it was in the most superficial, token ways—the broadest demographic it could, and I think maybe, along with Big Band Night and Ryan’s frosted tips, we should miss that.
I’ll miss Didi, too, though she never really found her voice. And I missed Alex Lambert a little this week, when the other teen Idol, Aaron, faltered. (Maybe he caught Paige’s cold or Lee’s walking pneumonia?) I think the soul would have agreed with Alex. But we don’t need to fret over Alex or his Gibson, because he’s got a new deal on Simon Fuller’s Web series If I Can Dream. I’ve watched this show, and all I can say is that if Alex had been on it, at least I’d have been able to distinguish one cast member from the others. So good for Alex, and good on Fuller for being savvy enough to recognize a potential round-the-clock audience in Alex’s fans. And thank goodness I don’t have to watch 24 hours of Idol a day.
Next week on Idol, we revisit the Lennon-McCartney songbook, a good choice in Season 7 and a great opportunity for this year’s guitar-centered cast. Casey promised he’d go acoustic, changing it up a bit like Crystal did with her piano skills. Ryan also suggested that Crystal should one-shoulder it with her outfit, and since he’s running the show now, maybe she will. I’m telling you, keep your eye on Ryan. I think he might be the walrus.
Become a fan of Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.