"American Idol" gets down to the business at hand: giving 24 kids sudden fame, making them instantly insufferable, and breaking the spirit of the other 26

We open with a shameless plug — featuring Ryan Seacrest, Hayden Christensen and some special effects — for 20th Century Fox’s “Jumper” (which opens tomorrow at a theater near you!) The lame bit ends with Seacrest basically asking Hayden back to his place to see his etchings. Hayden and I, and America, collectively squirm with embarassment.

Then the 50 contestants get fattened up for the kill with a buffet breakfast while the judges continue to argue about who is going to make  the cut. We’re told all the judges had to sacrifice a favorite contestant and Simon makes it pretty clear later on whom he sacrificed.

Then we get right down to the business at hand: giving 24 kids sudden fame, making them instantly insufferable, and breaking the spirit of the other 26.

Each kid takes a scary looking elevator up to a cavernous room where they walk about a mile to the judges’ table and essentially face the firing squad. Then they have to walk a mile back in tears. Yes, they’re all in tears, win or lose, but for the losers it’s the walk of shame. Yup folks, it’s the part of the series we particularly hate. Contestants are made to flounder in a folding chair while each judge proves to American audiences that they can not only judge kids singing Barry Manilow, but they can act too. After the wannabe settles into his or her seat one of three things happens:

1) Randy Jackson gets right to it and tells them “yes” or “no,” followed by “good lookin’ out.” Seven years in and I still don’t know what that means.

2) Simon Cowell either tells them they are through and takes credit for it or tells them they are through but he’s not happy about it or just says “the road ends for you here” followed by an insincere “sorry.”

3) Paula Adbul babbles incoherently and or plays word games for several minutes until the poor kid starts to have a mental breakdown and either Simon or Randy has to step in and tell them their fate and then scold Paula. The promise Paula showed in the video for “Rush” comes to fruition as she hones in on her acting chops in order to humiliate would-be Idols.

(NOTE: I think they need to add stretching portraits to the elevator ride, a la Haunted Mansion. They can use fallen “Idols” to drive home the point. Like Justin Guarini, where the short image shows him smiling at the camera, but the long image has him working at behind the counter at Long John Silvers. Just a thought.)

And your top 24 are:

Hooray Brooke White, the conservative nanny, with the winning personality.

Michael Johns, the saucy Aussie. But, uh oh, is that a ring on his finger? And was he kissing a blonde? Oh dear. Erin is bereft. Michael Johns has fallen from grace.

Sorry, honey. It just won’t work out between us. I know, I know. But you apparently have a very hot wife. But hey, we’ll always be friends. Friends with restraining orders.

Danny Noriega. Love him. Just love him. Great singing voice and a perfect Emo haircut all wrapped up in an adorable package. There is something very ’70s about him. I could easily picture him living in the same apartment building as a teenage Valerie Bertinelli, gathering helpful dating tips from time to time from Schneider.

Carly Smithson, the Irish import. We are all for the lovely lass from Ireland for winning. U2, leprechauns, Guinness… nothing bad ever comes out of Ireland except for the occasional potato famine.

Asia’h Epperson, who we will forever love for her for her first audition.

Joanne Borgella, the plus-sized model that we adore. I would love for her to win, but if you play the “American Idol” odds, it’s not very likely. However, her chances of winning an Oscar have increased tenfold since making it to the top 24.

And thanks, Fox, we both missed the Joanne announcement because the show ran long and our Tivos cut it off.

David Archuleta. Another adorable young ‘un. Modest, good skin and an a lovely pair of pipes. A definite candidate for the Top 4.

Ramiele Malubay. Great big singing voice in an itty bitty package. If she makes it far, there will probably be reference to her height on the signs audience members carry: “Good things come in small packages,” “Small Wonder”…

Amanda Overmyer, the Harley riding nurse I really do enjoy her song stylings, but I can’t see her lasting past salsa week.

Kristy Lee Cook, the cage fighter/horse trainer

Chikezie Eze. We don’t remember his audition but we love that name

Eh, we’re not on board yet:

Syesha Mercado, Too perky with no interesting backstory other than a few meager daddy issues.

David Hernandez (who Simon made clear was not his choice) Yes, he did well in the Hollywood round. But there are coffee tables out there with more personality.

Who are these people and where did they come from?!:

Kady Malloy Amy Davis, Alaina Whitaker, Jason Castro, Alexandrea Lushington, David Cook (interesting hair cut makes Erin like him)

Luke Menard Garrett Haley (This boy is a dead ringer for Leif Garrett. Not the recent mug-shot sporting version, but the ballad-singing pretty boy of the Me Generation.)

Jason Yeager Colton Berry. Blah. He’s like a Pinkberry serving with no toppings.

Surprise elimination (also, yay!):

Josiah Leming got a much needed dose of humility by getting the boot. Perhaps he’ll consider going back to school now. He’s now officially had more airtime than any other non-finalist in the history of the show.

Note from Erin: I am sad that Josiah didn’t make it. Not because I agreed with his diva antics at his last audition or because I feel he has a powerhouse voice, which he kind of doesn’t. But because now I am on friggin’ Joshiah Watch 2008 making sure his car isn’t parked outside my digs, which offers few parking opportunities as it is. Thanks, Simon. FYI, Josiah: I will happily tow your car if it means I don’t have to run six blocks to my apartment at 2:00 am. Nobody walks in L.A., kid.

And in the most painful moment of the night, when we get down to the final two boys Simon manages to make both of them feel horrible. It was down to Kyle Ensley, perhaps the nicest boy in the whole wide world, or Colton Berry. And the nod goes to Berry, but not before Simon lets the poor kid know he’s not happy about it, not one little bit. Which makes poor Kyle feel like crap because he’s empathetic and has feelings. Very nice, Simon.

'American Idol': Time to pick your favorite

Fox, Tues., Feb. 12, 8 p.m.

Production

Taped in Los Angeles by 19 Prods. Executive producers, Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Simon Fuller; director, Bruce Gowers.

Crew

RUNNING TIME: 1 HOUR
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