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''American Idol'' Wednesday

By RD Heldenfels Published: March 8, 2006

I am thinking seriously about going back to recording ''Idol'' instead of watching it live, since that way I can fast-forward through the host, judges and cutesy stuff.

It's not just that I don't care that Ace worked odd jobs, Taylor was a mall Easter bunny, Kevin likes Kanye West or that Bucky has a twin brother. It's that I am SO tired of Ryan Seacrest trying to banter with Simon Cowell, especially when Ryan pretends to have the higher moral ground -- for example, when he zipped Simon tonight for not providing ''constructive criticism.''

Sure, Simon can be annoying, and the ''pack your bags'' predictions are almost as tiresome as Ryan's self-righteousness. Still, although it is often forgotten in the context of Paula's raves and Randy's mixed messages, Simon talks like the hard-to-please/give-us-what-we-want music executives the contestants are going to have to reckon with when their ''Idol'' deals run out. And when you consider how many people watch this show, it's telling that so few stars have done well on the charts -- if they have gotten on them at all.

As for Paula, at one point she said that ''all the guys are stepping up.''  No. That was last week. This week the guys were, well, ordinary. Boring. Even one of the singers I kind of like was given an undeserved pass on personality points.

I am talking, of course, about Taylor Hicks, who seemed like an interesting singer at the beginning but has been disappointing me lately. And tonight, even though the judges raved, he was screaming more than singing, and his moves have gone from Joe Cocker to John-Belushi-As-Joe Cocker. It pained me, but I gave him a D, lowest score of the night.

Not that it was a big scoring range, basically from C plus to D, and a lot of the C's felt wishy-washy, with pluses and minuses added and scratched out and added again in my notes. But here's how it went:

Gedeon McKinney, Chris Daughtry, Elliott Yamin and Ace Young all get C pluses, for performances that had interesting parts but did not knock me out in toto. Although the judges loved Ace's show-closing performance, I heard a lot of screech in that falsetto. Gedeon, who opened the show, is getting oddly pigeonholed as an ''old soul'' (Randy's phrase); I wondered if that was a way to pit him against Taylor in viewers' minds, except the judges still love Taylor.

Since I've got four guys there with the same grade, if I had to rank them first to fourth, it would probably go Gedeon, Ace, Chris, Elliott, although even as I type that I am mentally shuffling the names.

C for Bucky Covington. Somewhere between a C and C minus for Kevin Covais, closer to a C minus because he did ''Vincent,'' for crying out loud, and not very well.

C minus for Will Makar. (And, in my latest gripe about the way songs are described, ''Idol'' presented ''How Sweet It Is'' as a James Taylor song. Could we please remember Marvin Gaye?) Will, by the way, was the singer Paula praised when declaring that the guys were stepping up. This after Randy had knocked Will, and before Simon did likewise, and I don't think Paula was the lone voice of reason.

Oh, Randy and mixed messages: When the judges debated Chris's performance, Simon said the song was boring; Randy told Chris, ''It's about you, not the song.'' Should we therefore forget that Randy is Mr. Song Choice, often hammering (and praising) singers for the choice of material?

Then the D for Taylor Hicks. Which, again, kind of kills me because that means that, on my report card, he and Will should go home. I did the like the guy and I think he might have another good performance in him. Which, too, puts me in the same spot as a lot of voting viewers (and the judges) -- considering a performer for more than this week's song, or for things other than the singing.

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