Well, I have now caught up on the first three hours of ''American Idol.'' So, as Al Franken would say, what have we learned?
-- That the show is still a very, very big hit.
-- That the audition rounds are great fun, both when you discover the good singers and you experience the bad.
-- That the show's background checks are of their usual high quality. (See here, and an addendum below.)
-- That there are actually twins in the world who can sing -- more than one set, for that matter. (Although, again, see here.)
-- That the audition rounds are the best showcase for Paula Abdul, because she is far more willing to tell contestants that they're not good enough, even to laugh at some terrible ones. I much prefer the auditon-round Abdul to her later presentation as the contestants' surrogate mom, giving all her children a big ole hug and overlooking their (many) faults.
-- That no amount of press and suspected scandal can keep Abdul from getting mushy in the presence of a good-looking, younger man.
-- That Simon still hates big women.
-- That the show isn't as spontaneous as it likes to appear. I knew that anyway from attending the Cleveland auditions in '04, and it was pretty evident in the people running up and down streets celebrating their Hollywood trips. It looked a smidge staged, didn't it? And witness the way that at least one singer who had already auditioned was featured again in that ''Lady Marmalade'' sequence. DId she get a second chance? Were all the contestants asked to sing ''Lady Marmalade'' just so the show could edit the footage together? And, as at least one Web site has asked, were the judges in the room for those performances?
-- That some singers have no idea what they sound like. Or, if they do hear their own voices, they have no clue what good singing is.
-- That being a good singer is not enough for ''Idol.'' One guy got through more on personality than singing ability, because you could tell the judges knew the little girls (and not-so-little women) in the audience would be delighted. And one absolute nut got through, because the show still wants personalities and this wacko is sure to make things difficult for the more serious singers in the Hollywood round. (And I am sure there were plenty of good singers from that round who believe this guy got a spot that might have been theirs.)
-- STILL, the BIGGEST thing we have learned is that it is finally all right to like Ryan Seacrest. After years of playing the Contestants' Best Friend in auditions and beyond, it looks as if he has enough money banked from non-''Idol'' deals to be sure this isn't his only meal ticket. He is therefore free to be more mocking about really bad auditions and eccentric auditioners. Which not only makes him much more in tune with the viewing audience, it gives him a chance to be loose and funny. Thumbs up, Ryan.
ADDENDUM. ''Extra'' sent out the following announcement today: Only Extra sits down with “American Idol’s” Simon Cowell to hear his reaction to recent reports that a pair of “Going to Hollywood” twins (Terrell & Derrell Brittenum) have been charged with forgery, theft by deception and financial identity fraud.
Cowell tells Extra, “I like them, we put them through. This might be history, nothing surprises me on the show. It happens.” On whether or not the twins should be able to compete in the next round, he comments, “It depends on what they’ve done. If it’s serious, it’s a problem. It happens every year. FOX will take a view on it.” Cowell turns to the camera and states, “Come clean guys, tell us what you’ve done!”
Extra’s interview with Simon Cowell airs tonight, Thursday, January 19.