American Idol: Okay, We Miss Paula

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Before we discuss which young women the nation is likely to send home this week, let’s take a moment to remember the woman who was sent home from American Idol with no vote at all: Paula Abdul.

Does anyone else miss her?

The former judge has disappeared from the Idol universe with a completeness previously reserved for first-season co-host Brian Dunkleman and early departing finalists like Lakisha Jones. (Anyone? Anyone?) Indeed, the only shred of Paula we've seen this season season came when contestant Andrew Garcia performed an acoustic version of her hit song “Straight Up.” And while the imminent loss of Simon Cowell will be a far bigger exit than Paula's, now seems like a perfect time to asses the impact her departure has had on the show.

What I Miss About Paula:

... Her Chemistry with Simon and Randy
The original three-headed judging panel seemed to work the best; Paula, Simon, and Randy had a certain ease with each other. Paula's approach was so different from the guys' that we didn’t have to deal with nearly as much repetition in commentary. Except for the use of the term “pitchy” of course. All three judges knew their roles.

... Her Unpredictability
Like the cousin at a wedding who you knew would have one too many—even if you didn’t know exactly what the "one" in one too many was—Paula always injected spontaneity into the show. Idol needs that. Sometimes it feels too edited and controlled. Paula even once managed to offer commentary on a song that hadn’t been performed yet. Now that’s insight.

... Her Dancing
Oh sure, it may not have been the most objective or professional thing to do. After all, you wouldn’t want Ruth Bader Ginsburg to get up in the middle of oral arguments at the Supreme Court and start doing the “Hippy Hippy Shake.” But when Paula shook her groove thing, it was almost always a clear sign that a performance was working. Or that the one too many had finally kicked in.

... Her Beautiful Mind
Ellen DeGeneres has tried, at times, to employ the topsy-turvy speech and thought patterns she employed as Dory in Finding Nemo. But there’s always the sense that she's simply a skilled and veteran performer working the room for laughs. When Paula launched into her assessments, it was like embarking on a fantastic journey into her brain; she left us in awe of her ability to reconjure the English language into something entirely new. Did it always make sense? Hardly. But a lot of free-form jazz is hard to figure out, too.

As for the remaining lady contestants...

Here’s how things shaped up last night. Although Paula would have found a reason to love everybody.

Solid Ground

Crystal Bowersox: She’s good, she’s in. ’Nuff said.

Siobhan Magnus: What a great vocal on “The House of the Rising Sun,” a song that would have eaten almost anyone else in the competition alive. No “wow moment” for Simon? I have to say the a cappella opening qualified.

Lilly Scott: Reaching back into the Patsy Cline songbook may have been risky at this stage, but she’s a stylist and confident in what she can do. It showed.

Didi Benami: She really worked with her strengths on “Rhiannon” and changed it up enough to make the song her own. Her skills may be too subtle for big success on Idol, but last night probably carried her into the final 12.

I Feel The Earth Move Under Their Feet

Katelyn Epperly: Speaking of the earth moving, it didn't budge when she sang the Carole King classic. That was about a 3.1 on the Richter scale. I'm sure Paula would've loved her hair, though.

Paige Miles: Can it be? An Idol without a big-voiced belter? But she didn’t help herself with a version of “Smile” that sounded tired and like a mash-up of arrangements.

Lacey Brown: She finally had a good night and showcased her originality, but this is a tough field and there are others who can do what she does, only better.

Katie Stevens: In her heart, she’s Rachel on Glee. But because she’s 17 the judges want her to be Miley Cyrus, probably so they can tell her that she’s unsure of herself as an artist. The song started too low and she never recovered.

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