Despite the fact that the outcome was fairly predictable, you had better believe that the "Idol" producers milked the action for all it was worth.
When Ryan introduced us to the three groups of three, it seemed obvious where they all stood — and, in case it wasn't, the eruption of applause over Jordin, Melinda and LaKisha certainly solidified their status as the top three. Nevertheless, Ryan managed to time each reveal in such a way that it all felt very dramatic.
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The tears started after Haley (who suddenly seems to be deeply committed to wearing either hot pants or short skirts at every juncture), Phil and Gina found out they were in the bottom three.
While Phil grinned the smile of either the overconfident or clueless, the two girls clutched hands as the tears began flowing.
When Ryan announced that first Phil and then Haley was safe, Haley looked so genuinely crushed to see Gina go that even a cynic like me couldn't call her sadness an act.
Then Jordin got in on the action, crying, it seemed, harder than Gina and Haley. By the time Gina launched into an appropriately teary version of "Smile," not only had Melinda joined in on the estrogen-fuled weep-fest, but it also felt like the entire audience was broken up.
Meanwhile, guess whose pretty mug didn't seem to register a hint of despair over the current state of affairs? Sanjaya. The camera seemed to pan from one sobbing mug to another during Gina's performance before focusing on Sanjaya's thoroughly emotionless face.
When you have a universe to run, you probably can't waste your time sympathizing with the competition.
Tony Bennett was a no-show, because he supposedly had the flu. I'm developing a theory that maybe he was simply too ashamed for having praised Sanjaya to show his face on the "Idol" stage.
He was replaced by Michael Buble, who forced Ryan into an awkward exchange by making a joke about voting for Antonella that fell absolutely flat.
Since the "Idol" audience isn't exactly a tough crowd to crack up, I'm going to assume that they didn't laugh because the Sanjaya obsession caused them to forget all about the New Jersey native who liked to pose seductively near World War II memorials.
Who knows? Maybe they were simply busy gearing up for a good cry.
Anna David is a freelance writer. Her first novel, "Party Girl," is coming out in June 2007 from HarperCollins.
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