James was sent home. The final three is Haley, Lauren, Scotty. This says so much about who is dominating the vote. I can't entirely blame it on the show, which did give James some great showcases -- although it has certainly built up Haley in recent weeks (the Lady Gaga gift, the backpedaling from criticism last night), and I don't think they wanted a fourpeat of young-white-guy winners. But, as I said last night, we have reached the point where the audience has made up its mind and performances probably don't mean much -- instead, the driving force is the need to embrace and protect the contestants that voters have adopted. So Haley's snotty attitude notwithstanding, her fans rose up to head off any threat that might have arisen because of the judges. And Scotty and Lauren are liked, even in the face of so-so performances, and that is carrying them past Lauren's unevenness and Scotty's blend of the bland and the goofy.
I could go into a longer rant about why we have ended up in this place, including the way the judges' validation of much mediocrity provided no guidance to the audience and made even the mildest criticism seem harsh. But it doesn't matter. We're headed yet again toward a marginally interesting winner who likely won't sell much -- prompting a round of hand-wringing leading into the same-old same-old.