(CBS News) The people who run the numbers say that "American Idol" overtook "The Voice" this week--at least among the lucrative, loose-pocketed 18-49 age group.
So it was with a certain hubris that those behind the show decided not to have some anodyne group number ease us in. Instead, though Ryan Seacrest teased the presence of Coldplay, we went straight to the results. And to Jimmy Iovine's post-performance analysis.
Uncle Jimmy had loved Joshua Ledet. "The sky opened," he said. "Steven Van Zandt was floored." He compared Ledet's feat to Randy Jackson winning the Kentucky Derby as a jockey. Which is a picture that might ruin the finest of tasting menus.
A mere seven minutes into the show, Ledet was told he would live to fight another Ledet.
And so, if one could dismiss from one's mind that there was some sort of promotional video for cars, we next had Coldplay. There's something so lovely about Coldplay. Some teenies find them depressing. Which is odd, given how teenies often wallow in that very same condition. This performance was really quite splendid, given the circumstances. And the even lovelier thing was that it appeared they were actually singing.
Next we had Hollie Cavanagh and Phillip Phillips. After last night, Phillips had been embroiled in a faint controversy after Joshua Ledet had seemed to refuse his hug after their duet on Wednesday. Ledet had explained to The Hollywood Reporter that he was, um, nervous when considering Phillips' intentions.
Iovine had appreciated Cavanagh's performances. He'd felt that she hadn't tried to emulate Tina Turner, but had instead paid tribute to her. Uncle Jimmy.
As for Phillips, Iovine again explained that Phillips was truly sick and that weaker men than he would have quit by now. This tribute was followed by the declaration that Phillips' song choices had been "bland." He accused him of "coasting." He should be in the bottom two (quite right), he said, but he suggested that Phillips was so pretty that he could get away with singing pap.
Indeed, it was Cavanagh who was told that she was in trouble. Little girls who dream of a cute, very slightly rough-at-the-edges boy like Phillips seem to have helped him survive yet again.
A genuine "Idol" idol then rolled in. Carrie Underwood, barely visible in a long, white dress enveloped in white smoke, had five guitarists to keep her company, which seemed like suitable diva overkill.
You have to love Underwood. Earlier this week, she said that her hockey player husband, Mike Fisher, is the only man she's never had to worry about.Who is incapable of admiring a woman who actually thinks hockey players can be trusted?
Next into the light-dimmed fray were Skylar Laine and Jessica Sanchez.
It's adorable how the producers play the gushing, fawning wind of the judges before they air Iovine's more sanguine comments.
"She's a fighter. She suits up and shows up every night," said Iovine of Laine. Her first song, he loved. "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" he didn't love at all. He felt there was too much Broadway and Vegas in its ingredients.
Iovine adored "You Are So Beautiful" from Sanchez, but he loathed "Proud Mary." He thought it was "a travesty." He detested her chain mail dress and believed that some viewers would have felt uncomfortable seeing this 16-year-old made to look 36.
"Too mature. Too racy. Just lost the plot," was Iovine's conclusion. He wondered what on earth the stylists were doing. Ah, can we blame Tommy Hilfiger? No, he seems not to have Hilfigered at all here.
Lopez was then wonderfully condescending about Middle America. She claimed that while she and her fellow sophisticates could appreciate Sanchez' one-foot heels, perhaps those in, say, Champaign, Illinois might have struggled. JLo needs to travel more.
In a portent of the pain to come, Sanchez was told she was safe, while Laine--incredibly-- was in the bottom pair.
Coldplay returned to bring some sanity to the rapidly escalating troubles that were plaguing the proceedings. If Laine was one of the two worst performers Wednesday night, then no member of the Rolling Stones has ever taken drugs and May is the next month after November.
The moment of truth (or, perhaps, falsity) had arrived. Ledet held his head in his hands. Phillips managed that subtle expression between worried and bored. The judges muttered on about how this was the greatest Top Five ever. Yes, ever.
There had, allegedly, been 60 million votes, which might have meant that a mere, say, 300,000 people had actually contributed to the demise of Skylar Laine.
Steven Tyler was heard to repeat: "That's so not right." And, for once, he was so right.
There is no knowing what really goes on within the inner sanctum of "American Idol." There's no knowing just how much outside influence meanders into the voting - or at least the deciding - process.
Laine, a highly mature 18, found herself consoling a teary Cavanagh, which was splendidly peculiar.
Laine was remarkably composed. How sad it is that, last year, America allegedly favored the backwoods beige that is Scotty McCreery. Perhaps that somehow factored into this nonsensical verdict.
Laine's farewell performance was so full of kilojoules that she could have powered a small town in Mississippi. She will surely be a significant figure when several of the Final Four will be Fourgotten.
When one looks at the Final Four, one realizes that only Ledet could even come close to moving an audience in this way.
American voters, what were you thinking? Oh, that's right. You're only 6 years old, so you weren't thinking at all.