‘American Idol’ Moves on With Top 11 Sans Jermaine Jones

Joshua Ledet on American Idol (FOX)

American Idol” wasted no time tonight addressing the elimination of Jermaine Jones (well, except for that hour they wasted alluding to more information). Ryan Seacrest opened the show saying that with the help of law enforcement, one contestant was eliminated, and isn’t live television unpredictable? Without even saying Jermaine’s name, “Idol” twisted the controversy into a self-congratulatory bit of promotion for itself. As embarrassed as they may be, producers have got to be hoping Jermaine’s transgressions will boost slagging ratings.

After the usual digitally rendered sparkly spotlight and synthesizer theme song, Ryan said there’d be more info about this mysterious unnamed contestant later. And with that, we headed into a night that was unpredictable in one other way: for the first time this season, the judges’ reactions were not across-the-board compliments. They were critical, at times uninhibitedly harsh. Finally.

And they had every reason to be a little mean. It was a pretty bad night overall, as contestants insulted the music of the ’90s by choosing the most boring and tired ballads they could find from the years they were born.

Even Jessica Sanchez, who it seemed could do no wrong after last week, got some bad news from judges—especially Randy Jackson, who felt that her vibrato was too big for the punctuation in “Turn the Beat Around.” Jessica rebuffed by saying there wasn’t much to choose from in a list of songs from 1995. What? A year that saw the release of “Waterfalls,” “Kiss From a Rose,” “Take a Bow,” and even a remake of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” did not entice Jessica Sanchez? (By the way: “Turn the Beat Around” came out in 1994.)

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Also soliciting the judges’ wrath was another former favorite, Deandre Brackensick. Jimmy Iovine and guest mentor will.i.am convinced Deandre to switch from boring ballad “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” to boring ballad “Endless Love” and the judges laid into him for it. “Way too boring,” said Randy, disagreeing with Jimmy’s guidance.

Heejun Han didn’t fare much better. Randy said Heejun’s version of “Right Here Waiting” sounded pitchy and out of breath. He recalled a time in the not too distant past when Heejun was sort of cool, and had some “urban R&B swag.” But now, he seems to aspire to nothing beyond landing on the Lite music station. Hey, Randy, it worked for Josh Groban.

Of course, there were still several contestants who were just awful but got great praise from the judges, like the two young girls who both insist on singing enormous songs that require some sense of life experience they don’t seem to have. Last week, Shannon Magrane bombed on “I Have Nothing,” and rather than rethink her position on monster ballads, did “One Sweet Day.” Though the judges admitted to being terrified of hearing Shannon even attempt the song, they were all irrationally impressed.

The other culprit was Hollie Cavanagh, singing Celine Dion’s “Power of Love.” The deepest connection she seemed to make with the song was her happiness at hitting its high notes. But she was in the coveted last slot of the night, and got lots of “saved the best for last” acclaim from the judges. Don’t keep encouraging her to sing such age-inappropriate music!

The best of the night have been the best each week thus far: Phillip Phillips -recovering from kidney stone surgery, no less — singing “Hard to Handle” by Black Crowes; Skylar Laine, energetic and full of confidence on “Love Sneakin’ Up On You” by Bonnie Raitt; and Joshua Ledet, who received a giant bucket of crawfish courtesy of New Orleans.

Joshua was absolutely the night’s winner, singing “When a Man Loves a Woman” (supposedly the 1992 remake, but we know it was the original) like the pastor’s son that he is. The judges stood up halfway through, and were dumbstruck by the end. Steven Tyler told him, “God came through your eyes.” Jennifer Lopez couldn’t stop saying “wow.” And Randy told him that he provided the “moment” the night was missing.

Elise also came back strong tonight on “Let’s Stay Together,” and Erika Van Pelt scored points for improving her look.

An hour in, we finally returned to the issue of Jermaine. Ryan rehashed most of what TMZ told us yesterday about Jermaine’s run-ins with the law. Then we actually got to witness the moment he was fired. All on camera, executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick sat Jermaine down and confronted him about his four, yes, four outstanding warrants. Jermaine said he never got into a fight, but fell down the stairs and somehow the cops showed up. He explained that the reason he didn’t tell producers about his past was because he was afraid they wouldn’t let him on the show. Obviously, Jermaine, that worked out for you.

And because there’s this rule that the producers themselves made up (On the spot? Who knows?) that no one with outstanding warrants can be on the show, Jermaine got to hear one of “Idol”s favorite clichés as if he were any other eliminated contestant: “It’s the end of the road.”

Then to rub salt in his wounds, they played footage from Jermaine’s dress rehearsal yesterday, which the producers said was his “best song yet.” It was “Somewhere Out There,” and it was like Jermaine was singing for his own funeral as they showed an unmarked van drive him away while he bellowed, “somewhere out there, out where dreams come true.” Ryan followed up by saying that they’ll “miss his talent” and they “wish him the best.”

By the way, click here for a look back at all the slew of contestants who have been disqualified from “American Idol.”

The way “Idol” handled Jermaine’s exit was certainly interesting. That level of transparency, no matter how rehearsed, felt unusual and sort of sincere for such a big production. And they were surprisingly sympathetic, complimenting his voice and wishing him well, rather than condemning him. Certainly that works better for them than addressing the real problem, their major blunder for not fully vetting their contestants. Now that Jermaine’s gone, there remains an even bigger question: what will “Idol” do with the extra week of competition?

One final thought: Ryan Seacrest was not a cute baby.

Almost everyone ends up in the bottom three when there are only five or six of each gender playing. But Shannon and Hollie won’t be there because they have that pale blonde teen pageanty thing going for them. Even though Jessica had a bad week, she is soaring on her early front-runner status and also won’t land in the bottom. For girls, that leaves Erika Van Pelt, Elise Testone and Skylar Laine. My prediction is that Erika gets the fewest votes.

For boys, Phillip and Joshua should be the highest ranking. By default, then, the bottom three are Colton, Deandre and Heejun. After a few rough weeks, this could be the “end of the road” for Heejun.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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