Sure, we watch "American Idol" to see strong performances, hear what potentially shocking things Simon might say and witness how superstars like Mariah Carey (this week's mentor) work with the kids.
But "Idol" connoisseurs know that the deepest pleasure can actually come from observing how our Idols change. Some thrive under the spotlight, while others wilt; some become more extroverted while others retreat deeper into themselves. And there are, of course, those who seem to stay exactly the same.
The most notable transformation has been in David Archuleta. When the season started, he was that precious little muffin with cheeks just begging to be squeezed, the adorable boy with the blessed life and the voice to match. But sometime around when word leaked out that he had a stage dad forcing him into singing those random songs no one had ever heard of, he seemed to evolve into this terrified little thing.
Oddly, his increasingly petrified personality hasn't affected his singing ability whatsoever. But there's no doubt about it: these days, I feel like I want to have some sort of an ambulance or life coach or masseuse on call next to him in case he has some sort of fear implosion. I mean, did you catch the random bit of Ryan-delivered trivia that the poor boy can't even eat on performance nights?
Brooke White, meanwhile, has transitioned from a sweet little lady who'd never seen an R-rated movie into a sassy gal who doesn't ever stop yammering on when the judges are talking to her. While she doesn't give them attitude, it feels a bit like Brooke was told how likable she was a few (or few hundred) too many times and now she's playing up all that used to be subtly appealing about her.
Yet most surprising of all is the change in Carly Smithson — she of the tattooed-faced husband, the bar job and the failed album. Is anyone else noticing the fact that Miss I'm-Clearly-Coming-Out-of-a-Dark-Period is suddenly Miss Sunshine 2008?
She positively glowed throughout her version of "Without You" and managed to keep that cheery demeanor going throughout Randy's less-than-articulate musings ("The beginning was not quite loosey goosey for me" — I swear) and Simon's harsh words. (Paula, after a brief visit to criticism in the past few weeks, is back to offering universal praise for everyone at all times.)
Jason Castro should also, perhaps, be taking home some award for Most Enthusiastic In the Face of Adversity. When Randy offered up the fact that Castro's performance made him feel like he was at a luau, The Dreadlocked One essentially just laughed in his face.
While Castro was never what anyone could call a depressive type, remember how goofy and uncomfortable he used to be? Who is this kid who seems to be floating through the competition with about as much concern as your typical high schooler might have about a school talent show?
While Syesha Mercado and Kristy Lee Cook haven't made such radical transformations — they are both, in fact, exactly the same as they were in the beginning — David Cook has also undergone a change, in that he acts far more humble than he did in the early days. Then again, it's probably a whole lot easier to do that when you're constantly being hailed as the Second Coming.
Over on "Dancing With the Stars," it was the fact that Priscilla Presley hadn't evolved much — her skills seem to be right on par with what they were when the show started — that got her booted off. While she gave the usual swan-song speech about how much the show had changed her life, perhaps a little more change would have done her good.
Anna David is a freelance writer. Her novel, "Party Girl," is in stores.