You may have noticed I've been absent from the "American Idol" space for a few weeks. Sorry, I've been too busy watching "The X Factor."
What's that you say? "The X Factor" isn't on yet? Well then it must be wishful thinking. Simon Cowell's return can't come soon enough. Bring on the Brit. Because the new "American Idol" judges, as funny and engaging as they are, are coming close to doing this venerable brand in -- the only question is whether they are doing it intentionally or not.
Let me begin by saying I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't believe Elvis is alive and well, toiling in Bangor, Maine, as a forklift operator, or that little green men are right now having a poker party in Area 51. I've even missed a few episodes of "Fringe." So forgive me for going all Oliver Stone here, but last night convinced me the fix was in when metal-loving James Durbin, the contestant I honestly believed was x-traordinary enough to go all the way, was sung off into obscurity.
This shocking turn of events was somewhat less than shocking considering it seemed to be a setup. All season long, seldom was heard a discouraging word toward any contestant by the judges, but on Wednesday the cloudburst came as two panelists, J. Lo and Randy Jackson, x-coriated Haley Reinhart. From behind their brand-spanking new Coke cups -- a design duly pointed out by host Ryan Seacrest -- the pair ripped apart her version of Michael Jackson's "Earth Song." And suddenly grizzly-bear-riff Haley rocketed from tepid popularity to an entirely sympathetic and put-upon poor soul visibly indignant at their wrath.
During the second round, a furious Haley nailed it, bringing the now x-uberant judges to their collective feet in vindication as the crowd stomped, cheered and wept. J. Lo explained, in teary tough-love fashion, that the judges were operating under the Hellman's theory -- by being hard on her, they were actually bringing out her best: "Look what you are capable of !"
Chalk up one for the underdog -- or rather the producers. Far be it from me to say they coached that reaction out of the J. Lo and co., but even if they didn't, the show is equally guilty for not insisting on honest appraisals. There were some x-cruciating performances this season, but it seemed like for the judges, it was all one big Kumbaya moment brought to you by Ford and Coca-Cola. Of course the rules of the show dictate that this Kumbaya must eventually end in a come-to-Jesus moment, in this case for James Durbin. Either way, the judges do the contestants absolutely no favor by x-alting everything they do.
All that said, the show is still entertaining as, well, hell: Lady Gaga freaking out innocent country boy Scotty McCreery by dirty dancing against him wearing what seemed to be panties and a ruffled Bozo blouse (didn't her mother tell her that stripes -- in her hair -- and polka dots -- on her cheeks -- don't match?). Steven Tyler commenting that a performance "made Ga Ga's ya ya go la la," and Scotty performing "Young Blood" in a manner reminiscent of Alfred E. Neumann turned serial killer. At that moment -- I couldn't help myself -- I heard Simon say, "Scotty, you've just blown it."
But instead we got lots of love and, later, an x-tremely blatant Ford Mustang integration into a Steven Tyler video. (Note to Steven: Dude, I'm diggin' the Tom Petty hat).
The week's "American Idol" theme was inspirational songs. But what it really inspired me to do was look for "X Factor" this fall. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I might have posited that was Fox's plan all along.
But since I'm not, all I can say is this: Simon, don't disappoint me.