After a season of blowing smoke and patting contestants on the head like they were the ninth place finishers in a eight-person third grade decathlon, things finally got really real on "American Idol" on Wednesday night.
When Randy Jackson went all-in on Haley Reinhart after her screechy, hoarse mess of a Michael Jackson cover, the singer hit back with withering stares and some backstage dissing of her own, cranking up the tension on an otherwise vanilla season.
Normally, that kind of sassy backtalk is a prescription for a one-way ticket to Iowa Cattle Fair 2012 Apple Dumpling Stage opening act-ville. But there's a part of me that thinks Haley's rants and eye-rolls might have earned her some support from a fanbase that is so used to seeing nothing but marshmallow kisses and unicorn hugs from the judges that they will be incensed at the slight tinge of negativity.
Don't get it twisted. She was awful, and while her second performance was much better, at this point that's like saying that "Attack of the Clones" was better than "The Phantom Menace," i.e. they both sucked, but one sucked just a bit less.
All that said, I don't think Haley will go home tonight. I think her fans will rally, and it will be Lauren Alaina who gets the boot. Why? She was fine, but her little girl at the prom in a puffy dress and cute smile shtick is so bland and old it might just have lulled her fans into complacency. Most of my expert panel agreed with me.
"I think that thanks to Scotty's 9/11 pandering and James' [Journey] pimpage, Lauren and her shoulder pads are on the way out," opined Village Voice Music Editor Maura Johnston.
"Idol" blogger MJ Santilli said her gut told her that Reinhart was going through my Twitter feed, and the comments on my blog … I'm seeing a huge groundswell of sympathy for Haley."
It's possible the snit fit could bounce her, but Santilli also thinks Lauren may have flown too far under the radar this week. "Lauren was nearly eliminated last week when she wound up in the bottom two, and her demise may be complete this week," she said.
"Between Scotty McCreery's 9/11 pandering and the shameless way the producers pimped James Durbin, (he gets the first AND last performance spot? And once again he's not called out on his inability to stay on pitch?) we're definitely losing a girl this week. I'm going to go out on a limb and say Lauren Alaina will be eliminated this week."
MTV News' own Jim Cantiello saw it differently, though. He said Haley's list of sins included not just sassy backtalk, but picking a "terrible" Michael Jackson song that was "heavy on the growl and light on the melody." He suspected most viewers agree with Randy's comments and that thanks to an odd performance order shift that put Haley first in the second half of the show, a lot of time elapsed between her killing it with her Lieber and Stoller song and the opening of voting lines.
"She sang Jordin Sparks' signature song not as good as Jordin, and her 'rising from the ashes' storyline was one we all just saw last week," he said. Unless … Randy's relentless needling rubbed viewers the wrong way and by constantly harping on her the judges have inspired fans to pick their season 10 underdog.
To recap, here's our prediction for this weeks elimination. Agree with our picks? Let us know your list in the comments below.
» Gil Kaufman/MJ Santilli/Maura Johnston: Lauren Alaina (out)
» Jim Cantiello: Haley Reinhart (out)
Watch our experts debate Haley Reinhart's fate on "Idol Party Live!" And for all things "Idol," check out MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions."