The Show That Keeps Them Hanging On

"Wedding Bells" blues: KaDee Strickland, left, and Sherri Shepherd appear in the new show, whose premiere in its regular time slot took fifth place. (By Carin Baer -- Fox)
By Lisa de Moraes
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"American Idol" is back with its latest batch of 12 finalists -- and so much better this year!

There's Rickey Minor and the Much Bigger Band, with horns and strings, show host Ryan Seacrest tells us.

Plus, they've added actual e-mailed questions from the Little People With Their Humdrum Lives.

And, Ryan and judge Simon Cowell have kicked up the "You're gay!" "No, you're gay!" cross talk to a whole new level.

Like when one of the Humdrum Lifers asks contestant Melinda Doolittle, "What do you consider the hardest part of being an 'Idol' contestant?" She says the tight dresses and the high heels, and Ryan asks Simon, "Any advice on the high heels?" And Simon replies, "You should know, Ryan!" To which Ryan responds, "Stay out of my closet!"

Snappy stuff.

Diana Ross agreed to be mentor this week; apparently she has still not seen "Dreamgirls," starring former "Idol" contestant Jennifer Hudson.

Brandon Rogers kicks things off with the traditional First Contestant on First Night of Finals Stinks performance, this time to the tune of the Ross hit "Can't Hurry Love," which he's updated with a doubled-over-in-pain dance. Simon, still the only judge worth listening to after all these years, tells Brandon, who is a backup singer in real life, he came across as "the background singer for a background singer." Ooh, snap!

Doolittle, this year's other backup singer, wearing a little puffy-sleeved dress and shiny shoes so appropriate for the singing of "Home" from that gawdawful "Wizard of Oz" remake "Wiz," trots out to perform yet another version of her wide-eyed, slack-jawed "Golly, I can't believe this is l'il ol' me up here onstage!" routine that has gotten her so far, um, so far. We are so over this shtick, but hey, at least she has a strategy. And, of course, she's nuts, having explained earlier in the competition that when her left hand touches something cold her right hand had better touch something cold right away for the sake of "equal opportunity." This time she tops herself on the humble-o-meter, shedding actual tears toward the end of her song, which, of course, gets judge Paula Abdul bawling.

"Why are you crying?" Simon asks Melinda.

"I've never heard anything like that for me," Melinda says, in response to the applause.

Chris Sligh and His Lush Locks have taken off their eyeglasses to sing "Endless Love," which winds up sounding like a Christian rock song. The judges don't like it. Simon tells Chris to put the glasses back on. Chris starts yakking about how it's the "Idol" song arranger's fault and if America doesn't vote him off tomorrow night, allowing him to come back next week, "I'll try to do something that's arranged a little bit better."

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