'American Idol': Down to the Dozen

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Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 14, 2007; 1:00 PM

Post TV columnist Lisa de Moraes was online Wednesday, March 14, at 1 p.m. ET to reports on Tuesday night's two-hour, Diana Ross-themed "American Idol" -- where all 12 contestants and Ross herself are slated to perform -- and previews Wednesday night's results show as Simon, Paula and Randy begin their thinning of the final dozen.

Read the latest TV column: The Show That Keeps Them Hanging On (Post, March 14)| >> More TV Columns | de Moraes on TV blog.

De Moraes has written "The TV Column" for The Post since 1998. She served as the TV editor for the entertainment industry trade publication the "Hollywood Reporter" for almost a decade.

The transcript follows.

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Whale?: I think Simon actually said "hear a wail," meaning Diana Ross was home screaming in reaction to the butchering of her song.

Lisa de Moraes: Hi. Okay,I'm taking this question first so I can answer all those homonym activists out there who are commenting --- and like they mean it to sting -- about my "Whale" versus "Wail" coverage of last night's "American Idol." Yes, I know Simon Cowell told Sanjaya: When he hears the WAIL in Beverly Hills it is the sound of Diana Ross having heard him butchering of one of her songs.... But clearly Ryan Seacrest and, more to the point, sweet little Sanjaya, did not. They thought he meant "whale" -- possibly because Simon said "when you hear the wail/whale.." followed by the sound of crickets for an eternity before he finally continued with his thought. I spelled it "whale" so that Ryan's reference to Simon's odd "marine biology" comment would make sense. Additionally, it is important for you to know I was watching the show from my west-coast home in Santa Monica, CA -- did I mention I'm just nine blocks from the beach? -- where you can hardly hear yourself THINK for all the whales that start wailing in the Pacific every night. It's a nuisance and I wish The Governator would do something about it.... CLEARLY this was one of those Very Special TV Moments that do not translate well to print....and I swear I will never ever again attempt a homonym crack in my coverage of "American Idol" ....clearly TV watching market and the homonym market are vastly different crowds.

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Sterling, Va.: Hi Lisa. Who do you think will be in the bottom three? My guesses are Sanjaya, Brandon and Haley, with Gina and Chris S. also in danger. Do you still not like Chris Daughtry's song "Home"? It's one of the best songs on his album.

Lisa de Moraes: Of course Sanjaya should be booted because he's just not in the same league as even the other not-great singers. But I would so miss his hair! So I'm hoping he pulls through and I'm sure there are lots of little pre-teen girls who feel just as I do. And, of course Haley Scarnato! has the best "shoes" so she won't be booted. Really, it's anyone's guess who goes tonight. And "Home" is no "Bad Day" but it's not terrible as the exit song...

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Waldorf, Md.: I think Blake will win -- he is so talented, and he just doesn't sing ballads like everyone else. He's unique -- I would love to buy his CD.

Lisa de Moraes: I thought his Diana Ross Remix totally died last night. We saw him "working at the computer" to do one of his trademark updates, on Ross's "You Keep Me Hangin' On" but the end result we saw on stage looked like a sad Vegas act.

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Bowie, Md.: The best thing in yesterday's show was definitely not the singing, but one particular exchange between Simon and Ryan. Ryan asked Simon about Melinda's shoe issue; Simon countered with "why are you asking me, you should know"; Ryan then told Simon to stay out of his closet, whereby Simon quickly countered, "you should come out."

Ouch! Do you think that was a bit too over-the-top?

Lisa de Moraes: I am in complete agreement with several people who have blogged across the Web about last night's show, who say Simon and Ryan need to either make out next week or shaddup...

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Simon, simon, simon. : Hey Lisa. So this is how I translated Simon's comments for Haley and Bald Phil. Haley: "That was pretty horrid, but I'd rather look at you than listen to Sanjaya another week." Bald Phil: "That also was very bad, and you're not very pleasant to look at, but you're a hell of a lot better than Sanjaya. Please stick around." Haley looks quite similar to McPhee, doesn't she? But unfortunately not the same voice.

Lisa de Moraes: Translation pretty accurate. And I too thought Simon was wishing Haley Scarnato! had Katharine McPhee's voice.

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Oxford, Miss.: I think Sanjaya needs a mental health professional. Fine, the kid smiles a lot, but since when does that mean someone's all there in the head? Each week he's crazier and crazier. I think people are voting to keep him around just to watch him disintegrate. Oh, my question: was he wearing lipstick?

Lisa de Moraes: Hey, Chris Daughtry wore eyeliner last season and I didn't hear anyone calling him crazy...They're in Hollywood, baby, and the camera makes you look 10 pounds fatter -- can you imagine how skinny that poor Sanjaya must actually be? -- and in bad need of lipstick and eyeliner. That said, I found his Diana Ross hairstyle last night morbidly fascinating. I know the stylist is doing this to him, but can't he Just Say No? He's like a little Yorkie that the stylist is dressing as a different pop diva every week. One week he's Paula, the next week he's Diana Ross....it's brilliant...

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Houston: If it was on less, it'd be better. Seriously -- the networks find something that works and then beat it into the ground, constantly airing and airing and airing it. If "Idol" was on less often, it'd be more of an "event."

Lisa de Moraes: It's only one once a year, and for just half a TV season. How much less can it be on?

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Waldorf, Md.: This is the worst "Idol" season ever. Blake is the only one I really like, and the other guy that is kinda like JT. Don't like none of the girls. This season is actually boring. I can't wait for "Dancing With the Stars"!

Lisa de Moraes: So sorry you don't like any of the chicks but it does explain why you think this is the best season ever since the chicks are so much better than the guys this edition.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Lisa. What are your feelings about the show last night? Which performances stood out (for better of for worse) in your opinion?

Lisa de Moraes: I adored last night's show. There was so much to write about. LaKisha's performance was by far the best; Melinda Doolittle is talented and professional, but she's got her bag of vocal and physical cliches she pulls out every week which I'm pretty over... Sanjaya is the weakest singer but has the best hair and the hair it like its own character on a show...

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McLean, Va.: Hi Lisa -- love love love reading your "Idol" recap, it's a bright spot during the workday! I want to know your thoughts on Haley ... I was soo upset, but not surprised I guess, when she stayed instead of Sabrina Sloan ... what do you think her chances are this week? Do you think Simon's semi-positive comments actually will help her? My roommate thinks it will work as reverse psychology on the voting population because he was so mean to her last week and she stayed anyways, but I'm not so sure. Thanks!

Lisa de Moraes: I think the "shoe" enhancing dress she was wearing last night, which seemed to really wow Simon, will impress male voters.. and I'm glad you're enjoying the recap...

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Fairfax, Va.: Your column just made me realize I was wrong about something I thought I heard on "Idol" last night -- as I was watching Melinda tearing up, I swore she explained her crying with "I never heard something like that from me." So for the past 16 hours or so I've been under the mistaken impression that Melinda really was astonished by her own vocal power. Are you sure she said " for me?" I really was convinced that her own self-adoration finally was coming out...

Lisa de Moraes: No, she's got it WAY too under control to let that happen...it was just more of her "I can't believe that little me is up here on this big stage" shtick...

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Falls Church, Va.: What magic spell does Sanjaya have? Who in the world is voting to keep him on?

Lisa de Moraes: Sigh... listen to me carefully, people. It's The Hair! Be afraid of The Hair!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Lisa -- I notice there's no "We Watch So You Don't Have To" heading on your "American Idol" columns this season. Please tell me that doesn't mean that now I have to watch! Love the columns and the blog anyway!

Lisa de Moraes: I'm sorry to hear that. It was supposed to be there. Last night was the start of We Watch So You Don't Have To in The TV Column...

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To be fair to Ryan:... he got the "wail" reference but was trying to clear it up. He said something like "Simon meant the sound, not the marine biological animal" or something stupid like that. I gotta tell you though, the judges crack me up -- it's clear that they're friends, at least Ryan and Simon (and probably Paula), and Ryan and Simon's banter is so totally scripted. But they crack me up anyway.

Lisa de Moraes: They've been great fun to watch this season, mostly because this year Paula is shockingly lucid...

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It's a fix!: Diana Ross?! How did they expect the boys -- already underdogs -- to shine with Diana Ross songs? Really...

Lisa de Moraes: Yeah, Barry Manilow or Rod Stewart would have been much better....

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Crofton, Md.: Although I didn't vote for him, I thought Nosferatu wasn't that bad...

Lisa de Moraes: LOL...

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Falls Church, Va.: Lisa: I'm going to have to disagree with you -- I thought Blake's arrangement was awesome. I'm 40 years old and can remember when Diana Ross still was producing No. 1 hits. While I like the originals, something fresh and original is good too. I was impressed with Blake's vocals, dancing -- all choreographed nicely with the lighting. Again, I thought he was awesome ... whereas Chris's (re)arrangement fell flat.

Lisa de Moraes: Which Chris? Sligh or Richardson. Actually, both fell flat. The guys did not do well with Diana Ross songs -- go figure...

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Washington: Hey Lisa -- I wanted to say I've enjoyed your column for years. Always very entertaining. I actually have a couple of questions: Who is your favorite contestant this year? And what do you think of Justin Timberlake wannabe Chris Richardson?

Lisa de Moraes: Love LaKisha. And guys who try to imitate Justin Timberlake make me tired. Justin Timberlake makes me tired...

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Washington: Lisa, darling, you really picked up on the Ryan-Simon-gay thing -- wow! What do the two of them say to each other off-camera?

Lisa de Moraes: Don't ask -- don't tell...

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Bowie, Md.: The final twelve contestants are pretty boring/bad, and most of them have little personality or anything that would garner much of a following. Given that, I really think if they follow the tradition and have a tour/concert for the 12 finalists after the season, it might be a huge flop. Agree?

Lisa de Moraes: I think I understand what you are saying. They do seem more in control of their images on stage. Which made Haley Scarnato's! candid cut-down of her own performance so refreshing...

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Washington:"Idol"s were horrible last night! And mad props to Diana Ross, because their disasters showcased her range as an artist. I cannot wait until Bon Jovi week! I bet we'll see bigger disasters than during the auditions.

Lisa de Moraes: I too came away with a deeper understanding of Diana Ross's talent after watching the contestants last night. I no longer subscribe to the "Dream Girls" interpretation of Ross...

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Brandon: I started the season with some serious Brandon love, but he's done nothing but let me down so far -- he's not even doing as well as he did in the first audition. I'm sad that it is only a matter of a week or so before his beauty no longer graces my TV screen.

Lisa de Moraes: Loved Simon's line that Brandon last night sounded like the backup singer to a backup singer. Not sure what it means, but loved it...

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Washington: What a weird show! Simon lost me when he called "Home" a boring song turned around by Melinda. Is he nuts? Has he never heard the Stephanie Mills version? I was bored by Melinda. My prediction: no way do Sanjaya or Haley go home. Supposedly Sanjaya is one of the 12 with the most votes week to week, if you believe DialIdol. I hope for his sake he withdraws -- every week he's on, the chances he will fade into obscurity after the show ends increase.

Lisa de Moraes: But when Ryan asked him if he thought he deserved to be back next week, Sanjaya said "heck yes!" or something to that effect... so self-removal unlikely.

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Mount Ranier, Md.: I think the Simon-Ryan "closet" banter was scripted. I also think that Ryan understood that Simon said "wail", but was trying to be nice to sweet, talentless Sanjaya by making a joke about "whale". Last night was awful. The better Diana Ross songs were, for the most part, sung by the worst singers. Also, the arrangements were consistently terrible across the board. There wasn't a single performance I ever would want to hear again.

Lisa de Moraes: In general they picked some of the worst Diana Ross songs ever. I mean, anything from "Wiz" should never have been cleared...

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Wheaton, Md.: Chris should be eliminated absolutely because he looked so weird without his glasses -- what "Idol" stylist advised him to do that?

Lisa de Moraes: The same one who did Sanjaya's hair to look like Diana Ross, silly....

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Arlington, Va.: What was up with the McPhee clone last night? The boobs, the extensions, sitting while singing ... I think Simon sealed her fate by giving her a compliment. America now thinks she safe. Buh-bye, Haley...

Lisa de Moraes: I'm guessing her self-deprecating "My performance sucked" comments after her performance utterly charmed viewers and she will not be gone.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I read on idolblog that Jennifer Hudson is making a surprise walk-on tonight with Diana -- any truth?

Lisa de Moraes: wouldn't that be great television...

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Crocodile Tears : Would any other grown woman besides Paula cry so darn much?

Lisa de Moraes: Oh Pookie, you're chatting with someone who gets choked up trolling the Washington Humane Society pets-available-for-adoption Web site. Clearly Paula feels about the "Idol" contestants as I do about poor little homeless dogs and cats...it's a girl thing..

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Washington, D.C.: Sanjaya Malakar now has his own Wikipedia entry. Doesn't that already make him an "American Idol"? No matter what, he's a winner!

Lisa de Moraes: god, I love television....

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Centreville, Va.: Last night was actually the first full episode of "Idol" that I've ever seen, though I've felt connected to the show in the past few years through your WWSYDHT updates (yes, I'm usually this late to the Pop Culture Phenomenon party). Is it usually the case, as it was last night, that when they feature the songs of one artist on a night all it does is remind you of how good that artist was -- and how these guys pale in comparison, by and large? Or is Diana Ross an exception?

Lisa de Moraes: Oh no, this is just par for the course. that's why formerly famous pop stars go on this show -- it's terrific for their egos. Plus they usually have a CD that's about to come out. Like Diana Ross..

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Blogville, Md.: Lisa, I don't know what I look forward to more ... new seasons of "Idol" or your column about it. You always nail it and sometimes make me laugh out loud, which I appreciate very much. Thank you, thank you. Don't this year's contestants, with the exception of Melinda and maybe LaKisha, make you realize how great Elliott Yamin is? Maybe he isn't as traditionally handsome or physically appealing as Chris Richardson, but to me Chris is more of a shadow of Elliott than any of the established stars to whom he's been compared.

Lisa de Moraes: We all miss Elliott and I read the other day about Elliott's new teeth -- with pictures! He looks much better, but, like that chick from "Dirty Dancing" so different you don't recognize him, which is a shame...

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Silver Spring, Md.: I understand that Diana Ross is probably considered a fossil to these contestants, but what was the point of her "mentorship"? Absolutely none of them seemed to have listened to her advice, and did it their own way. Was it just me?

Lisa de Moraes: You are correct. They all said to the camera they were absolutely going to put into action her advice and then none of them did. Kids today!

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Anonymous: Hey Pooks -- I really need to see Sanjaya go, not just for the obvious bad hair-/absence of showmanship-/constipated smile-related reasons, but because it makes me uncomfortable when the old smelly lady in my office gets in my face whispering about the "Indian conspiracy theory" that's kept him on this long. This is actually the first year I've watched religiously from the first episode of the season, and I'm definitely emotionally attached ... with the exception of Haley Scarblahto and Sanjaya, I'll be really bummed to see any of 'em go from here on out.

Lisa de Moraes: It's always best not to get too attached. I found out the hard way early on in this franchise..it can bring you down for days when your fave gets the heave-ho, and then when you try to explain to your non-"Idol"-watching friends, you just scare them...

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The World: Paula Abdul 1, "American Idol" viewers 0. Nice one, Paula.

Lisa de Moraes: Is this a reference to when she told one of the contestants not to worry about messing up the lyrics because 99 percent of the time they -- pointing to the audience behind her -- have no idea you've messed up, and so never let them know you made a mistake. That was the best Paula moment this season to date...

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De More Eyes on Da TV Da Better: According the Paula, the American Public is too stupid to know when a singer forgets/messes up the words to songs. As a Lifelong Member of the American Public, I am outraged! Thoughts?

Lisa de Moraes: I'm more philosophical. Maybe she doesn't mean "stupid" -- maybe she means "unfamiliar with the lyrics"...let's be generous -- it's nearly St. Patrick's Day...

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"Idol" look-a-likes: Is it me or does Sanjaya look like Leif Garrett, circa 1978? This may be cruel, but while watching Phil Stacey last night, in my mind I gave him pointy ears, long fingernails and fangs -- and suddenly, I was seeing Nosferatu!

Lisa de Moraes: Hadn't notice the Leif Garrett thing. But many people have commented on the Phil- Nosferatu resemblance...

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All "Idol," all the time: Pookie, "Idol" may only be on for half a season, but it's on at least two nights each week, clocking at least three hours each week -- once it's here, it's total overload. But until America gets tired of it, Fox will beat that horse until it's beyond dead.

Lisa de Moraes: Actually I don't think has been on as many hours a week as NBC was running its screaming- at- briefcases series in the fall...at least on "Idol" the competitors are actually compelled to try to entertain us...

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Springfield, Va.: What week is Annie Lennox appearing? If Sanjaya makes it to then, what will his hair look like?

Lisa de Moraes: I'm panting in anticipation -- head shave!

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Maybe I'm a butthead, but...: Even if LaKisha wins, I think she'll suffer the same fate as Fantasia ... that no matter how damn talented she is, she'll never be wildly successful, because she's just so difficult to look at.

Lisa de Moraes: Yes, you are a butthead. LaKisha is great...

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Washington, D.C.: I hate to admit it, but I miss Antonella. Not that she could sing (she was horrible) but there was a certain level of unspoken tension and drama when she was around -- and frankly now I'm bored with the show.

Lisa de Moraes: It's called Post-Scandal Letdown... common phenomenon among journalists. It will pass...

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Sing, Sing a Song: I miss Taylor Hicks already ... and I don't even like him.

Lisa de Moraes: Wow, you really do hate this season. Missing Taylor Hicks is treading perilously close to pathetic... The Museum of TV & Radio had an "American Idol" night at its annual TV festival last week and they played last season's finale. I was a big Taylor Hicks fan until that night when I heard everyone sing -- the 12 finalists all came back for the finale -- on a huge screen in the Directors Guild of America theater with a great sound system. Turns out, Hicks isn't very good and Chris Daughtry was much better. Ditto K. McPhee...

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New York: Paula Called the American Public stupid? Does she think she's among the pantheon of great academic thinkers in American history? I'll just have to say -- bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye.

Lisa de Moraes: No, she did not call them "stupid"... let's be fair here -- remember, St. Paddy's Day around the corner -- she said the audience usually does not realize when a singer has messed up some lyrics so don't let them know...

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San Antonio, Tex.: I was surprised to learn these kids have to memorize the lyrics to songs they've probably never been exposed to -- I'd thought they sung from teleprompters during the finals and semis. But Paula is right -- the audience ain't listening all that closely to Haley's words, not with those "shoes" staring us in the face. Here's the question, though -- whose songbook would you like to see them tackle for sheer "boy, they really messed that one up" enjoyment?

Lisa de Moraes: Gershwin....

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Washington, D.C.: I really don't like that guy from Chesapeake -- he's like a poor man's Justin Timberlake. And if Blake beatboxes one more time, I might have to injure myself.

Lisa de Moraes: Beatbox is getting pretty old....

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi there. Paula's generally been coherent this year, but did you catch how she told Gina that "Love Child" was supposed to be a "feel-good" song. Has she listened to the lyrics?

Lisa de Moraes: I know, but when they came back from the commercial break, Paula was lucid again, so we decided to give her a pass...

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Washington, D.C.: I really like the Nosferatu reference! In my office, we refer to them as "hair boy" and "hat boy" -- though thankfully the hat was left off last night. And as for "shoes" ... LaKisha has the most impressive mukluks of them all, yet we just keep talking about her singing ability. Go figure.

Lisa de Moraes: That's because LaKisha has not had to turn to her shoes to get her through to the next round. Haley Scarnato! on the other hand....

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Reston, Va.: I heard Melinda say "from me" too. Either way, it's getting a little tiresome. Did Paula stop taking her medicine? She's seemed pretty rational the past few weeks, but last night was another train wreck.

Lisa de Moraes: You mean because she cried? I think it was sympathetic/hysterical crying brought on by Doolittle's crying on stage....she's more to be pitied.

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Paula's advice...: Paula's advice is just basic showmanship 101, so much so that it's almost cliche. Every performer has heard the whole "start strong, finish strong and the audience will never remember what happened in the middle" thing, so people shouldn't be offended by it. The average person isn't going to notice if you forget a few words or miss a note, unless you react to it and then just make things worse.

Lisa de Moraes: Well said!

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I heart Melinda: But how long do you think it will be until naysayers and cynics start crying phony at her "who, me?" reaction to all her praise? And will anyone listen to it?

Lisa de Moraes:.um,, I think we already are...

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Washington wonk: Mediocre singers like Taylor Hicks win because Southerners tend to be tribal more than folks elsewhere, and readily will vote for other Southerners regardless of talent.

Lisa de Moraes: Wow, you must be from Boston....

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Bowie, Md.: None of the "Idol"s sang the way Diana told them to sing the songs, but then again, the judges, namely Simon and Randy, always preach that they have to "make it their own." Recall last week that one of the "Idol"s did a song exactly like Beyonce sang it, and they told her to be herself, not Beyonce.

Lisa de Moraes: But Ross's advice was never "imitate me." It was things like "I think this song would work best if you had a standing mike so both hands are free" and "you need to connect with the audience better" etc.....

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Arlington, Va.: I have to ask -- what is this Mario Vazquez thing about the sexual harassment from Season 4? Do you think it's true?

Lisa de Moraes: I have absolutely no idea if it's true. He did exit the show mysteriously...

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Craggy Island, Ireland: Ok, you've done it twice (at least) today so I have to ask. What does being "nice" or "generous" have to do with the fact that St. Patty's day is Saturday? I could understand if you said "drunk" or "rowdy" ... Besides, Saturday may be the 17th, but tomorrow are the Ides of March. Not the "Idol"s of March

Lisa de Moraes: Aren't we supposed to be kind to each other on all the St. FILL IN THE BLANK days? Or was that only on April Fool's Day? I get the important religious holidays mixed up...

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Bethesda, Md.: Maybe my husband and I also are nitwits (we are watching "Idol", after all) but both of us Ph.Ds thought "whale" before "wail" and it took a moment to figure out he was not somehow trying to insult Diana Ross.

Lisa de Moraes: I Rest My Case!!!

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Arlington,Va.: I remember when Stevie Wonder mentored last year, and the next week a ton of his songs were top downloads on iTunes. After last night, I doubt you'll see Diana Ross's songs being downloaded. It was terrible.

Lisa de Moraes: I hear that happens every week to the music of the person who is the "Idol" mentor. Surely you don't' think they're doing this because they're St. Patrick?

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TVland: I don't get how "shoes" is derived from bosom. Did I not get CCed on that email?

Lisa de Moraes: Well, it's like this: a couple weeks ago, former "Idol" contestant Kellie Pickler came back on "Idol" and sang a song from her new CD. She was dressed up like Marilyn Monroe or Anna Nicole -- the school is still out on that one -- with short-ish bleach blonde hair and sporting enormous what-looked-to-be-new-and-store-bought breasts. After she sang, Ryan Seacrest asked her, in a pointed way, what she'd bought with the money she got from her recording contract. "Shoes" she replied. ...

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New Haven, Conn.: How does a professional like Melinda qualify to be on "Idol"? Isn't there some amateur status that is required? The difference between her and everyone else (including the other background singer) is so clear, but the whole humble thing is getting old.

Lisa de Moraes: I think the rule is that none of the contestants can have a recording contract at the time. But yes, it does give the professional backup singers an advantage. "Which is why," she said sounding like a broken record, "LaKisha's performance relative to Melinda's is so remarkable." I'm out of time. Bye...

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