Enthusiasm for ‘American Idol’

The best way to think about the auditions portion of “American Idol” might be to compare it to a scripted improv show, like “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” For the HBO comedy, Larry David sketches out an outline with certain story beats he wants to get to.

The challenge and the fun are in how David’s cast improvises their way from A to B. Similarly, the producers of “Idol” aim to hit certain beats — the rural hayseeds who can sing, the physically unhealthy with a heart of gold who can’t, the montage of truly egregious performers compelled to butcher the same song — on their way to the final celebration of those who made it to Hollywood. But you never know exactly how they’re going to get there.

For the first two nights of “Idol” in 2008, the quality of the scenes in this sketch musical-dramedy was refreshingly strong. Within the show’s familiar formula, the unscripted interaction between the contestants and the judges has been not trite but entertaining. The truly cringeworthy moments, such as Wednesday’s session with the fingernail fetishist, have been kept in check. The fate of the endearing smalltown singer, Drew Poppelreiter, evoked genuine suspense.

Brother_2And the concluding scene with this year’s William Hung, Renaldo Lapuz, actually evolved into a tour de force moment by “Idol” standards — a multidimensional homage to all that is great and grotesque about the show. This week, “Idol” displayed a — dare I say it — certain sophistication. The cast and crew seem less driven to be nasty and more willing to just enjoy the good and the bad of the show. The feeling is a bit contagious. This may not elevate “Idol” to more than guilty pleasure, but at least the pleasure is there.

— Jon Weisman