It’s become quite common this season on "American Idol" to make the show all about the judges.

And why not – with the premature departures of Lilly, Alex Lambert and Katelyn Epperly, there’s not really a whole lot of contestants that are worth discussing.  Plus, with the new addition of Ellen and Simon’s impending departure – the judges are ripe for discussing.  Nothing surprising about the discourse, what is surprising is the prevailing opinion.

This has nothing to do with Ellen (correctly pegged as worthless) or Randy (what is there really left to say about him?), but with the way critics have warmed to Kara and cooled on Simon.

Kara comes off as an egomaniac bent on making the show all about her.  Simon is an egomaniac who wants to make the show all about him.  Weirdly, it seems better to be the smug one than come off as it. Plus, Kara says some of the most dementedly half-brained things ever uttered.  She actually told Aaron once that he couldn’t sing a song because he didn’t know what it was like to have kids.  And her pop psychology, like crying to Mike about how his life has changed and how she as a woman without children was affected, is like watching Dr. Phil on absinthe – nothing at all makes sense.

Meanwhile, Simon’s been as sharp as ever.  Notice how many times he disagrees with the other three judges, who love nothing more than to parrot one another.  He’s the only one left who’s actuallyjudging.  While Randy just yells a comment, Ellen says nothing, and Kara says things that draw attention to herself, Simon is actually criticizing the performance, and remains the only one left to whom it’s worth listening.

So that’s the real story on the judges.  And with that – it’s time find out how they performed last night.  Oh, and I suppose there were some singers as well.

Random Thoughts Waiting for the Actual Show To Start:

The judges’ discussion is back, leading off with Randy emphasizing how important tonight is – as the next person cut will miss the tour.  That’s true, and, if Normund Gentle from last season is to believed when he was on the Wendy Williams, they also miss out on $100,000.  Something that Simon hinted at when he said they’d, “Be missing out on a lot of money”.  Oh how “Idol’s” dirty little secrets are coming out.

Then, of course, there’s Ellen.  She reminded America to vote, because their favorite may go home.  Something that’s happened to me twice with the departures of Lilly and Lacey on consecutive weeks.  But I must remain impartial.  Right?

Finally, there’s the critical darling, Kara, telling us about songs are telling stories or some bit of nonsense.  Why exactly are people loving her?

Miley Cyrus creeps me out: There’s no reason a 17-year-old should be that mature, professional and so comfortable on TV.  Some day we’re going to discover that in some evil plot, Disney executives took the personality and mind of a 30-year-old, removed them, and were able to implant them into this young girl. Which means somewhere around LA there’s a 30-year-old bopping around like they’re a teenager.  Wait, they’ll never be able to narrow that down.  I suppose the conspiracy will live on.

And. . .On with the show!

Lee Dewyze Sang “The Letter” by The Box Tops

Miley Said: He has a great voice, but not much stage presence.

Randy Said: You knocked it out of the box.

Ellen Said: My favorite pen is back.  (I swear to God it almost made sense when she explained it.)

Kara Said: The progress you’re showing is tremendous.

Simon Said: That was not a recording performance – it was a bit corny.

The Verdict:

First of all, he’s dressed like a retired investment banker at a casino on Fremont Street at two-in-the-afternoon.  Second of all, I have no idea what exactly he was doing with his left hand the entire song, it was like he was trying to make a point the entire time – as though he were explaining something.  Third of all, he absolutely nailed the vocal, turning this one-off rock song into a Sam & Dave big soul number. Normally he has a few stray notes, but those weren’t here tonight.  Perhaps not having to worry about his guitar allowed him to really hone in on the vocals.  He may have still looked a bit uncomfortable onstage, but he proved he has a winner’s voice.

Grade: A-

Prediction: Simon’s words won’t help him, but everyone else in the building (including the other three judges) appeared blown away.  He’s got a big fan base – even in the first slot he’s safe.

Paige Miles Sang “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins

Miley Said: As long as she watches her pitch she’ll be really great.

Randy Said: Yo, man, yo, wow. Honestly. That was terrible.

Ellen Said: You look great, but I’m going to turn over the music critique to Kara and Simon. (Why are you there again?)

Kara Said: The worst vocal I’ve ever heard from you and possibly of the season.

Simon Said: It was like there were five of you singing that song and it got progressively worse with each song.

The Verdict:

 I wish there were a way to bet on which songs the Idols would sing after Seacrest reveals the artist, because I would have bet $10,000 that Paige was going with this one when I heard she was singing Phil Collins.

The beginning was unbelievably dismal.  If you took someone off the street and showed them the two performance and asked which week Paige had laryngitis they certainly would have said this week after that strangely soft and warbly off-key first verse to this song.  She connects on some big notes when she began to belt, but those moments were incredibly seldom.  Mostly she settled into a pitchy wreck of a voice that almost sounded frightened.  Major disappointment.

Grade: F

Prediction: Sympathy votes are her only hope – and that’s a scant hope at best.  She’s almost certainly gone.

Tim Urban Sang “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen

 Miley Said: I don’t think he’s boring at all.

Randy Said: The dopest thing you did was the slide – the vocals were so boring.  It was like bad karaoke.

Ellen Said: It was corny and it was pushed too hard. (Yes, the gloves finally come off a bit!)

Kara Said: You have a lot of work to do.

Simon Said: I don’t think the sliding around was the problem because it distracted from the song – so I understand why you did that.  It was absolutely pointless and silly.  You are not taking part in this competition.  You’ve got zero chance of winning right now.  You need to take some singing lessons.  (Wow, Simon is lame this year?  I don’t think so!)

The Verdict:

 Let’s see.  What can we say about this crime against music and stage performing?  Hmm.  Do we start with the weird deckhand shirt he was wearing?  No, that’s too easy.  Do we start with that baseball slide that nearly plunged him off the edge of the stage?  No, not that either.  Do we start with when he actually left the stage and gave the weirdest nod an underage girl has ever received since Roman Polanski stopped joining them in hot tubs?  No.  Not there either.  Let’s focus on the vocal.  While it wasn’t abhorrent, it just wasn’t good at all.  It was absolutely nothing more than a karaoke performance.  This was the type of vocal that is usually accompanied by a keg stand and four other drunken frat boys removing their shirts before jumping off a roof into a pool.  And the really sad thing?  It was still markedly better than Paige.  Can’t we use a retroactive judges’ save on Lilly?  Please?

Grade: D-

Prediction: Tim is this year’s Sanjaya, so he’s not going anywhere.

Aaron Kelly Sang “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith

Miley Said: I was surprised at how good he is.

Randy Said: Thank God you came on the stage and started singing.  I’m a fan.

Ellen Said: You are so good.  That was amazing.

Kara Said: Good attempt due to the circumstances.

Simon Said: For your age you’re making yourself a bit old-fashioned, but there’s zero chance you’re going home.

The Verdict:

 Okay, so Aaron’s crush on Miley was pretty much awesome. It’s strange to think that she’s actually something of a sex symbol to a certain demographic, but there’s Aaron gushing drool and confirming that.

The performance wasn’t quite as awesome as Aaron’s lovey dovey moment, but it was at least approaching that.  He didn’t do anything whatsoever with the song, but he sang it very well, perfectly bringing his voice around the notes.  He’s got that excellent country twang working in spades and he worked it out well on this side despite the fact that his throat is apparently as disease-ridden as the monkeys in “Outbreak”.

Grade: B

Prediction: The sympathy for his vote, the fun moment with his crush, and the young girl factor all coupled with a great vocal mean he’s certain to be back next week.

Crystal Bowersox Sang “Me and my Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin

Miley Said: I really love the Gospel sound in her voice.

Randy Said: That’s what is called being a star.

Ellen Said: We’re missing a bit of personality – there’s something between you and us in the audience.

Kara Said: I want to see you let go completely.

Simon Said: I wouldn’t change anything.  That was as good as Pink’s version of that song. (I swear to God that was a compliment)

The Verdict:

Surprise, surprise – Aljanis Jorisette takes on a Janis classic.  I can’t wait to see her on Big Band week.

Strangely, this was more Joni Mitchell than it was Janis – very restrained and a little more lilting than it was gritty.  It worked well for Bowersox who found the blues and brass in a country travelogue.  She missed a few high notes and in the break out at the end she fell into her trademark moment of being a girl pretending to have soul rather than actually having soul.  But for the most part, this was very solid – one of her best.

Grade: B+

Prediction: Crystal said she has big plans for next week.  I’m certain we’ll see them coming to fruition.

Big Mike Sang “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge

Miley Said: I think his voice is incredible and he sang that song too me the entire time.

Randy Said: I don’t think it was your best vocal, but I loved it.

Ellen Said: This woman loves that man.

Kara Said: I felt it was a bit boring and loungey at times.  Too many riffs.

Simon Said: It was almost too much.  A bit old-fashioned.

The Verdict:

They say the year Barry White hit big the birth rate went up 2%.  If Big Mike records an album with performance similar to the one he just gave, the birth rate may enjoy a similar spike.  That was as close to aphrodisiac soul as you’re ever going to see on this show.  Complete with a velvet jacket.  And he didn’t miss a note the entire way.  Masterful.

Grade: A

Prediction: The judges weren’t overwhelming in their support, but I have a feeling America will.  He’s safe.

Andrew Garcia Sang “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye

Miley Said: He needed to put his guitar down because it was blocking his connection to the song.

Randy Said: It wasn’t good, man. 

Ellen Said: That was not enough to get a whole bunch of people on board.

Kara Said: You don’t know what do up there.  It didn’t feel like Andrew, I don’t know who that was.

Simon Said: You sucked the soul out of that song, tortured it, and ruined one of the best pop songs of all time. You made yourself really really corny.  Any artist in seven days with that broad amount of choice should be able to nail that performance.  (This last point is exactly what I’ve always been on about with this show.  Why is it so hard for these contestants to choose the right song?  That should be the easiest part.  If you have any musical clue whatsoever when the selection is as vast as “Billboard Number Ones”, it should be so simple to choose the right song.  Yet week after week we see horrible song choices like this one and performances that aren’t just poorly executed – they’re poorly conceived.  With so much time to prepare, it should be easy enough to at least come up with a good idea of a performance.)

The Verdict:

This was very bad karaoke.  Nothing really more to say.  His voice isn’t great – he was flat the whole way and didn’t really hit any notes.  He did nothing new with the song at all, and he just kind of walked around the stage like somebody in Koreatown on a Saturday night.  By the end, it was just insufferable and I was wondering nothing more than when it would be over.  What happened to this guy?

Grade: F

Prediction: I think this might be the end of the line for Andrew, he’s had enough time to

Katie Stevens Sang “Big Girls Don’t Cry” by Fergie

Miley Said: Remember who you are as a musician.  If she takes the song and makes it her own she’ll do great.

Randy Said: I’m liking that you got younger.

Ellen Said: Your best performance so far.

Kara Said: This is the lane for you – pop with R&B leanings.  This is where you belong.

Simon Said: I’m not sure you’re believable in this area, but it was a good performance.

The Verdict:

I thought “Big Girls Don’t Cry” was by the Four Seasons.  I guess not.

It’s the same thing every single week with Katie: She’s got an excellent voice but she looks like she’s five-year-old.  This was another one of those performances, especially as she sings about being a big girl when she looks like she isn’t one yet.  A solid vocal, but really not much else to get excited about.  Pretty forgettable.

Grade: C+

Prediction: The judges seemed to really like that one – and I have a feeling America will as well.  She’s safe.

Casey James Sang “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News

Miley Said: If you make eye contact with the audience it makes the song much more personal.

Randy Said: I wasn’t a fan of the song choice but you did it well.

Ellen Said: I think it was the best vocal of the night. (What!?)

Kara Said: We just saw another level.  You’re ready to make an album.  It’s all there.  (Again, she’s a great judge!?  What!?)

Simon Said: It was like watching and listening to an 80s cover band.  There was no effort and no originality.

The Verdict:

This is one of those performances that you can’t say much bad about, but you can’t say anything really good either.  He sang it well, but the vocal was nothing astonishing.  He wasn’t bad onstage, but he didn’t really bring any charisma or personality to the stage.  The guitar was fine, but not at its normal excellent level.  It was all just kind of there.

Grade: C

Prediction: I heard the same thing Simon did.  Maybe America’s ears were more in line with the first three judges.  Either way, Casey is still good enough to survive and advance.

DiDi Benami Sang “You’re No Good” by Linda Ronstadt

Miley: Go bigger and don’t be nervous.

Randy Said: It never quite caught.

Ellen Said: I didn’t think it was the right song choice for you.

Kara Said: It felt like you were playing a character.

Simon Said: There was a certain irony of you screeching out “You’re no good” over and over again.

The Verdict:

Didi has a phenomenal tone, and it really helps her out on most songs, but here it just made this seem like a cabaret performance.  I half-expected cigarette smoke to waft up from the first couple rows – it just had that barfly vibe.  It’s not that it was terrible – she sang it well, but it just came off like something out of a David Lynch dream sequence rather than somebody singing on a pop music show.

Grade: D+

Prediction: Whoops, DiDi just decided to talk back to Simon.  That’s never a good move if you want to stick around.  She’s in real trouble.

Siobahn Magnus Sang “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder

Miley Cyrus: Your voice has swagger to it.

Randy Said: I never thought you’d sing that song, but I’m happy you did.  You should inspire all of these kids.

Ellen Said: To quote Oliver, “More, please.”

Kara Said: I think you’re more comfortable onstage than you are anywhere else in your life. (She closes out with some creepy pop psychology).

Simon Said: The singing with the screaming at the end is becoming a bit repetitive.  You have to start pushing yourself. (Honestly, I have no idea what he’s talking about here, maybe the detractors are right. Siobahn is so much better than Crystal it’s almost unfair).

The Verdict:

So she may have worn Sanjaya’s hair, but the comparisons between the two contestants end there.  She’s just got a dynamite voice, and she knows how to pick the right song for it.  It’s strange, because not only does she seem to transform each week, but her voice moves all around just within the song.  At one point it’s jazzy, then something out of an 80s pop song, then soulful, then something you’d see on VH1 Divas.  It’s just remarkable.  Not only that, but she commands the stage better than anyone else by a longshot.  It just looks like this is what she should be doing.

Grade: A

Prediction: This year’s Curse of Andrew Payne’s Favorites is in play, but if anyone can survive it, it’s Siobahn.

Final Thoughts:

While Simon may have been as wrong about Siobahn as he’s ever been about anybody on this show, he was very right about one thing – tonight was pretty terrible.

It goes back to what I mentioned above – why is it when the song selection option is so wide open that nobody can pick a half-decent song or give a half-decent performance?  There were only four (Lee, Crystal, Big Mike, and Siobahn) who even seemed like they should be on the show at this point.  The rest ranged from pretty good to absolutely miserable, and it was mostly due to song choice.  There have been several hundred songs that hit number one on the Billboard Chart, and each contestant seemed to find the worst ones tonight.  And it showed in some very lackluster performances.

That makes the prediction section of this column extra difficult tonight.  There were just so many poor or forgettable performances that singling one out is extremely difficult.

Still, it shouldn’t be impossible.  It will likely come from this four: DiDi, Tim, Andrew, and Paige.

Tim is safe because of Vote For The Worst and whatever strange legion of lobotomized tweens his built up apparently knows how to work the telephone.

That leaves the likely bottom three: DiDi, Andrew and Paige.  Each has a great reason to go home.  DiDi for her backtalk, Andrew because he was terrible, and Paige because she was terrible and went so early that nobody’s likely to remember her.

When in doubt, go with the performer who went earliest – they always seem to receive the fewest votes.  So it’s Paige’s turn this week, though neither of those bottom three would be anything close to a surprise.