Watching the "Idol" contestants get whittled down to the final 24 always gives viewers the chance to witness many a fake-out.
You know the fake-out — it's when Simon or Randy or Paula acts very heavy-hearted and makes the person sitting there waiting to hear his or her fate certain that he or she will be returning to the Wal-Mart cash register tomorrow, only to suddenly hear that the judge was only kidding and stardom is imminent.
Rest assured, this whole way of delivering news isn't unique to "Idol": competition shows engage in the fake-out as a way of revealing information often enough. In fact, anyone on the receiving end of "disappointing" news on any reality show should know by now that this is when it's time to jump for joy.
Some people are better at doing the fake-out than others. The number one skill required, of course, is a strong command of the English language — which means that Paula probably should have been kept silent through this particular episode. Instead of putting a muzzle on her, however, producers instead opted to have her talk essentially the entire time.
It's safe to say that when a fake-out leaves a contestant sobbing afterward, it probably went a bit too far. And on Paula's first attempt, when she went on ad infinitum to Carly Smithson — to the point that the girl appeared essentially traumatized — even Simon's suggestion that she simply say yes or no couldn't stop Ms. Abdul.
While Carly acted like the sobbing that continued after she left the judging room was simply a relieved Irish lass shedding tears of joy, I'd estimate that roughly 5 percent of the waterworks display was due to happiness and 95 percent was post-traumatic stress as a result of Paula having taken things a bit too far.
Contestants weren't the only ones getting faked out, however. We viewers, who by now have devoted at least 10 minutes of our lives that we'll never get back to the travails of young Josiah Leming, like to believe that our investments will pay off.
But when the 16-year-old told the camera that he thought he was going to be put through before he even entered the judging room, I had a feeling that Leming was a stock we were going to regret buying.
It was nevertheless slightly shocking when the boy was kicked to the curb — which, by the way, didn't stop the show from slavishly continuing to focus on him (we had a good minute of watching him be hugged and comforted by everyone in the vicinity).
There were even reverse fake-outs — that is, times when contestants were put through only to be told that they probably shouldn't have been. Actually, this only happened once — when Colton Berry made it over perennial tie-wearer Kyle Ensley and Simon essentially informed the two boys that Randy and Paula had screwed up and Kyle should be in and Colton out — but that was more than enough.
Now that we have our semifinalists, however, we can kiss the fake-outs from the judges goodbye. Until, of course, this time next year.
Anna David is a freelance writer. Her novel, "Party Girl," is in stores.