Note: Lisa de Moraes is in New York covering the broadcast network upfronts, and will return next week. In the meantime, WaPo Team TV’s Emily Yahr recaps the Top 3 Results Night.
“American Idol” really likes to ratchet up the drama on results night, and it always gets a little out of control narrowing the final three to the final two. Hours before the show started, Fox sent out a release boasting that 95 million votes — the most for a non-finale night EVER — had been cast for Scotty McCreery, Lauren Alaina and Haley Reinhart.
Ryan Seacrest mentions this at the top of the show, though of course the results won’t be revealed until the very last possible second. Instead, there’s an hour to kill before the contestants get the news of their lives. Judges Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler appear on stage — they don’t really do anything on results night, so they’re more like props. Props wearing very short shorts (J-Lo) and snakeskin pants (guess who), but props nonetheless.
After mentor Jimmy Iovine makes a fearless prediction that a guy will be in the finale (ya think?) and everyone has been properly introduced, Seacrest kicks off the time-honored tradition of Ways to Waste Our Time on Results Night.
First up is an Idolette trip to the J.J. Abrams factory, also known as production company Bad Robot. Abrams, who just so happens to have a show on Fox (”Fringe”) is also the writer-director of the upcoming supernatural film “Super 8.” J.J. tells the Idolettes (the top three, plus last week’s evictee James Durbin) more than once that they are seeing highly classified material — scenes from the movie — that few others have seen. Until, well, now, when the scenes are played for millions. J.J. equips the Idolettes with old fashioned Super 8 cameras and sends them on their way.
Moving on, time to start the Top 3 hometown visits. Even cynics have to feel their hearts a little warmed as the three contestants head back to their hometowns and are greeted with thousands of screaming fans and hugs from family. Haley starts us off with a trip to Chicago, where she gets bleeped out when she expresses excitement over a giant “Idol”-approved limo, and goes from a parade to her high school. May 14, 2011 is officially marked Haley Reinhart Day in her town, and Haley breaks down in tears more than once. “Thank you for freaking out!” she tells a hysterical fan.
And no results night is really results night until the Ford music video of the week. This time, Haley, Scotty and Lauren are all driving to the beach together while Uncle Kracker’s “Smile” plays in the background. They toss around a football, fly a kite, and play volleyball, which, with only three people on this grand adventure, looks pretty sad.
The first performance of the night is Italian group Il Volo, singing “O Sole Mio,” as Seacrest tells us in a fake Italian accent. Three classy-looking guys in suits sing beautifully against the backdrop of a sky. They appear to be in it to win it, especially because one of them has a sweet pair of red glasses that Randy Jackson will surely covet.
Oh, we are so psychic, because, after the commercial break, Randy is wearing the Il Volo group member’s glasses. We knew it! But enough about that nonsense -- we continue on the hometown visits with Scotty, who heads back to Garner, N.C.
He’s surrounded by hordes of people and young crying girls as he travels to a radio station and to his old workplace, a grocery store. Overwhelmed, Scotty cries in the “Idol”-provided limo, and again when he’s on stage performing in front of thousands. Then, in a genuinely surprising and adorable moment, country singer Josh Turner (artist of the “Baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low” song that made Scotty famous) appears on stage to join Scotty in singing the song, which in real life is called “Your Man.” Scotty is floored and immediately hands the microphone to Turner to finish the song.
Then Nicole Scherzinger arrives on stage, she of the pop music act the Pussycat Dolls and also “The X Factor,” the Simon Cowell singing competition that’s premiering in the fall, and could ruin all the anticipation for “Idol” in the spring. Scherzinger is one of the show’s co-hosts. Saboteur! But no, she’s just there to perform a new single and dance around a lot with 50 Cent, who is featured on the song.
The end is in sight as we see the final trip home, and Lauren Alaina pays a trip to the Tennessee/Georgia border.
She stops by the AT&T store and her high school, also to crowds of screaming fans. But things take a somber turn when she surveys all the damage done by the storms in the south a couple weeks ago, and goes to visit a kid named Tyler who saved his family from the wreckage. Lots of tears from Lauren as she hugs the small child. It is a very heart-wrenching hometown visit.
Finally, Seacrest gathers Lauren, Scotty and Haley on stage for the big moment. First up — to the shock of absolutely no one, Seacrest says Scotty is the first person to make it to the finale. And the person who will compete against him is...Lauren.
Lauren looks shocked. Haley, on the other hand? To say Haley looks displeased is the understatement of the night. There are no tears, no hugs -- Haley just looks really, really annoyed. It’s a refreshing change from the contestants who melt down in tears and say they’re just happy to have been a part of “Idol” at all. Haley really wanted to win this thing.
After digesting this information, Haley gathers herself to tell Seacrest that this season she “rocked it out” and had a blast. “This is only the beginning,” she says confidently, with more than a little disdain. And then, again, rocks out to a performance of “Bennie and the Jets.”
Meanwhile, Seacrest tells us that Lauren and Scotty will compete next Tuesday in a one-hour performance night, and then a winner will be named in a two-hour finale on Wednesday. This may not be the most riveting Top 2 match-up in “Idol” history — but, as Seacrest tells us, with 16-year-old Lauren and 17-year-old Scotty, it will be the youngest.
So there’s that.
Photo Gallery: “American Idol”
Last night’s performances: The top three perform
Last week’s results: Judges’ fave James Durbin out
Live chat: Got a question about TV? Lisa de Moraes will chat at 11 a.m. (note the time change) Friday.