The singers on "American Idol" obviously want to hear good comments from every judge. But there's no question whose opinion means the most to them: Simon Cowell's. He may not be universally liked, but he's like the tough teacher feared by all the students. His respect is hard to earn, and it's worth all the more because of it. Paula will always find something nice to say, and Randy will usually join her, but hear a good word from Simon and the "Idols" know in their hearts that they've done well.
So what does it mean for two singers that Simon Cowell has simply refused to comment on their performances any more?
Simon pretty much gave up on Sanjaya Malakar last week, when the teen wore a fake Mohawk while singing No Doubt's "Bathwater." After half-heartedly attempting to address the hair, Simon said "I don't think it matters any more what we say, I genuinely don't. You are in your own universe and if people like you, good luck."
It seemed like this was just a one-off comment from Simon. But then this week, Sanjaya ditched the faux-hawk for slicked back hair and a white suit to sing old-time ballad "Cheek to Cheek." From his first note, he seemed off-key, but he gamely played his performance for all he was worth, even slow-dancing with Paula Abdul at the judges' table.
After he sang, it seemed that none of the judges wanted to discuss his singing. Randy Jackson said "I can't even comment on the vocals," refusing to explain why, and went on to praise Sanjaya for turning into a performer. Paula Abdul at least attempted to address the song, saying "the vocals were a little off at the beginning," but she, too, seemed at a loss for words and quickly retreated to thanking Sanjaya for dancing with her.
All eyes, now, were on Simon, and he seemed completely at a loss for words. "Let's try a different tactic this week: INCREDIBLE!" he said. He left it up to the viewers to determine whether he meant "incredibly bad," "incredible that you're still in this contest," or "I'm trying to make it sound like I'm praising you in hopes that reverse psychology will work its magic, here."
But now the other judges had decided that they'd found a new way to comment without really saying anything at all. Haley Scarnato, who's also struggled in the competition, was up next with a chanteusey performance of "Ain't Misbehaving" while wearing a tight, short green dress. Her performance, too, was weak vocally, but the judges still weren't willing to be honest. Randy Jackson did something he almost never does, which is immediately tried to pass the buck to Paula. Paula fell back on her "I'm the judge who always has something nice to say" schtick and praised Haley's dress.
At this point, Simon looked exasperated, though he really shouldn't have. At first he tried to scold the other judges, saying "That's rude, you should say what you think of the performance." But he started it, after all, by refusing to offer constructive criticism on Sanjaya's performance, and now he was reaping what he had sowed. He praised Haley's legs, as if he was trying to demonstrate how silly it was of Paula to praise her dress, but he just came off looking like a dirty old man. Finally he muttered something about Haley's performance being "pageanty."
The judges can refuse to comment on the singing if they want, despite Simon continually beating the drum about how "Idol" is a "singing competition." But as they sit there and mutter no-comments or compliment the Idols on their looks, they should remember one thing.
Sanjaya, Haley, all of them, were put through to the final 24 by Simon, Paula, and Randy's judgement alone. The viewers, whose opinions Simon has so roundly criticized these days, had nothing to do with it. The choice of the semifinalists was all on the judges' shoulders, and they need to face up to that now and take responsibility. Even if, as Simon's worst nightmare would seem to be, Sanjaya wins. Just remember: Simon put him there.