It’s Chair Night, kids. And even if “American Idol” claims to be adding something called a Judge’s Mansion and even if the chairs look more comfortable this year — all plush and red and luxurious, rather than just rickety bridge chairs — the game is still the same: Over two hours, “American Idol” will introduce this season’s Top 36 and this recapper will try to stay awake by blogging every awesome second of it.
This is bound to get long, but let me assure you, it’s nothing compared to the act of endurance required to watch the episode.
[Click through to follow the fun and, bit by bit, learn the identities of the “American Idol” Top 36.]
8 p.m. ET “Dreams will be realized, as others come crashing to the ground… And this year, there’s a twist,” Ryan Seacrest promises. The twist appears to involve a sing-off, which presumably makes the job easier for the judges, gives them a convenient explanation for keeping some people and ditching others when we know that the real answer is always the same: Ratings, baby!
8:02 p.m. “If I lose today, I lose everything,” Tatiana Del Toro tells the camera early on Chair morning. Since she’s already lost her mind, on three or four occasions, it’s hard to know what else she’s got to lose.
8:03 p.m. Up first in the new format is Anoop Desai, already a fan favorite. If he gets out through, it’s hard not to imagine America embracing this folklore grad student. Kara DioGuardi delivers the word. Anoop is in da House! He’s in the Top 36.
8:05 p.m. Von Smith expects rejection. He expects this because he isn’t actually very good and he oversings like crazy, but he emphasizes “This is why I’m alive.” Uh-oh. We flash back to Simon tearing into Von for “indulgent nonsense,” which is really the only time we’ve seen him song. In other footage, we see more of hyper-theatrical Von. And it seems we’re going to see more of it. He’s in the Top 36. His mother is pleased.
8:08 p.m. Time for a Coke. And then maybe I’ll go out and buy a Ford.
8:09 p.m. As a reminder of what these people are competing for, check out HitFix’s Melinda Newman’s interview with Chris Daughtry. Yup. They’re gunning to be shockingly eliminated and lose to Taylor Hicks.
8:12 p.m. We haven’t seen amateur horror filmmaker Cody “Danny Noriega” Sheldon for a while. He’s the first contestant asked to sing for his life. He opts for “Love Remains the Same.” Bad choice, kid. His voice cracks with nervousness and the song does little for him. He’s sent out of the room and Alex Wagner-Trugman is sent in. Naturally, they’re friends, pitted against each other in a battle to the death. Good gracious, this is like Spartacus. Alex makes a lot of funny faces, but his version of Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” is the equivalent of a trident to the skull in the gladiatorial ring. The judges thing that it’s a toss-up. In my mind? Send them both packing. Nope. It’s the end of the line for Cody. And, best of all, the judges have made it impossible for Alex to enjoy his moment.
8:16 p.m. Wait. I missed Team USA’s goal? Stupid “Idol.”
8:18 p.m. Alex and Cody have to go downstairs together, preventing any of the other contestants from knowing how to react. They’re half-happy, half-sad, totally confused.
8:19 p.m. I still don’t understand why Kara thinks that having a musical theater voice means you can’t touch her emotionally. I also don’t understand why Adam Lambert decided to sing Cher for his last solo. Simon Cowell says the question is whether or not Adam can win or be a successful recording artist. “It’s not good news…” Simon teases. “It’s great news.” Add Adam Lambert to the Top 36.
8:25 p.m. Again we’ve delayed the girls. The first singer from the distaff side is 17-year-old Taylor Vaifanua, who appears to have made a lie of Simon’s threat that anybody forgetting the lyrics in the Group Sing would be sent home. Randy offers her The Truth. Fortunately, Taylor can handle The Truth. She’s through. The judges agree that she can sing. You wouldn’t think this would be such a surprise for them. This is a singing show, right?
8:27 p.m. Jasmine Murray, Arianna Afsar, Casey Carlson, Megan Corkrey, Mishavonna Henson and Stevie Wright are all sent through without nerve-wracking clip packages, or the exposure that comes with those clip packages.
8:28 p.m. But Ringer Joanna Pacitti gets clips. She promises that the judges haven’t seen her best. Did the producers of “Annie”? Or the heads of any of her previous record labels? I mean, I’m all for second and third chances, but maybe Joanna’s best isn’t enough? Kudos to Kara for asking when it will actually be Joanna’s time after all of these chances. But the judges think she hasn’t had enough chances yet. She’s in the Top 36 also. I look forward to the judges giving Joanna a shot in the Wild Card round if America doesn’t vote for her the first time around.
8:35 p.m. Could we please break somebody’s heart? The contestants are all too happy. Indeed, the news is bad for T.K. Hash and Chris Chatman and Reggi Beasley. Who? Who? And who?
8:36 p.m. Well, at least we’ve seen Kendall Beard before. “I’m afraid the answer isn’t great,” Paula teases Kendall. “It’s fantastic.” Ha! That’s even funnier the second time.
8:37 p.m. Our second sing-off is between Kristen McNamara and somebody named Jenn Korbee. Have we seen Jenn and her husband before? I sure haven’t. As Jenn sings, Kristen realizes she’s going to be asked to sing also. You’d think this format gives the second person an unfair advantage. You’d think that until you heard Kristen’s bleating, falsetto-heavy blunder through “I Will Always Love You.” Kara’s more disappointed by her costuming choices. Like you don’t own a cut-off blue-jean mini, Kara? The judges are debating about keeping the attractive blonde girl, which is a joke, since both Kristen and Jenn are both attractive blondes.
8:46 p.m. Oh. Jenn was the beautiful girl? What’s wrong with Kristen? Is it the jean-skirt? Oh. She has an identity crisis. They try coaching Kristen on fashion, as Simon roles his eyes. Finally Simon just interupts and says that Kristen made it through. “But I completely disagree with this decision,” Simon declares. I happen to agree.
8:48 p.m. Up next is Alexis Grace, poster-girl for teen motherhood. They don’t tease her for very long. She’s through to the Top 36, which means more babysitting for her dazed-yet-adorable daughter.
8:50 p.m. Being visually impaired has never slowed Scott MacIntyre down. Except for when he goes to corn mazes. Kara raves about Scott’s “relationship with his instrument.” I didn’t think he was so good on his piano last night, but Kara tells him, “We’ll see you again.” Get it? SEE you again? Ugh. Do you see what she did there?
8:51 p.m. Lil Rounds has been the season’s most overrated singer thus far. Every time she’s been shown to us, she’s been shouty and pitchy. She has a big voice, but does she have a good voice? We’ll get to find out. She’s in the Top 36. Do they keep telling people they’re going to Hollywood? That has to be confusing.
8:58 p.m. Felicia Barton. Ashley Hollister. Devon Baldwin. Who? Who? Who? No. No. No. Well that was anti-climactic. Actually, I think I remember liking Felicia in like a two-second appearance on an audition episode? Oh well.
9:00 p.m. Frankie Jordan, who describes herself as “kinda competitive” and “really good at singing” will be pitted against Jesse Langseth. Frankie sings first. She looks nervous. And sounds nervous. “That’s definitely made it easier,” Simon spits. Jesse is much better, which even Frankie recognizes. She’s jazzy and distinctive, but Simon hates the song. Jesse is still safe. “Frankie, if it’s any consolation, you wouldn’t have won anyway,” Simon tells her. Yikes. Then he tells Jesse that she also doesn’t have a chance to win. Frankie doesn’t believe that there are eight girls better than her and challenges Simon.
9:06 p.m. USA! USA! USA!
9:10 p.m. Shera Lawrence isn’t going through. Derik Lavers isn’t either. This is OK, because we’ve never seen either of them before. Everybody in the room seems worked up.
9:11 p.m. Allison Iraheta is up next. I missed San Francisco, so I don’t know who she is. But I ought to, because she’s in the Top 36 and because the judges predict she’s a dark horse.
9:13 p.m. Are we about to break up Danny and Jamar? That would make America cry. Danny’s got the better voice and the better story. Jamar has the thinner, redder tie.
9:14 p.m. Danny Gokey takes The Chair first and declares that given the pressure, he did well, but says he knows he has room for improvement. Like there was ever any doubt? Danny’s in the Top 36.
9:16 p.m. “Nobody deserves this more than this guy,” Jamar says, choking back tears. Oh Jamar, you’re going to make me cry, too.
9:21 p.m. They really kept us waiting on poor Jamar. Kara tells Jamar that he may have taken too many risks. He won’t be staying with the show this season. Paula and Randy encourage him to come back. NOOOOOO!!!! JAMAAAAAAAR!
9:22 p.m. This is what it sounds like when Danny Gokey cries. Boo. And he isn’t the only one. “I’m shocked,” Jamar admits to Ryan. Jamar and Danny do the bouncer-hug.
9:23 p.m. Ricky Braddy makes it through. Who? Matt Giraud makes it through. Ju’Not Joyner. Jorge Nunez. Brent Keith. They all make it through. I know who several of those guys are.
9:24 p.m. Stephen Fowler, he of the superior afro, regrets restarting and quitting on his solo. He needn’t regret a thing. He’s safe and happy.
9:25 p.m. Where is the Judges’ Mansion? And why is Nick “Norman Gentle” Mitchell still allowed to be here? The most prolonged joke in “American Idol” history is playing it completely “straight” tonight, going with his Nick persona. He says he’ll do anything to make it through, “even wear a bikini like Bikini Girl.” Paula tells him that the judges spent more time on him than any other contestant. She seems to imply that the judges don’t want Nick, they want Norman. Kara also misses the schtick. He says that ideally he’d like to do the character. He’s in the Top 36. Ha! Funny “American Idol.”
9:28 p.m. And yes, I’ll acknowledge that real, subdued Nick appeared to be perfectly likable.
9:33 p.m. Insincere actress Jackie Tohn irks me, but Randy raves about her “crazy kinda wild fun energy.” I guess that’s why she’s in the Top 36. She quivers, spazzes,thanks everybody repeatedly, takes off her shoes and sprints out of the room. Grrr…
9:35 p.m. Following Jackie with Tatiana is like following a ham sandwich with an even bigger ham sandwich. Or maybe a ham-and-cheese sandwich? She enters the judging room all a-squeal. Simon urges her to try, for once, not to be annoying. More tears and nervous giggling ensue as Tatiana plugs for Paula’s jewelry and they exchange a hug. The decision wasn’t unanimous. She made it! Boy, I’d like to hear how that vote went down. Could we please get to a potential contestant who doesn’t have emotional issues?
9:39 p.m. Ryan Seacrest says we’re up to an “ironic match-up” between Nathaniel Marshall and Jackie Midkiff. I wouldn’t trust Ryan to understand the meaning of the word “ironic.” Well, I’ve never seen Jackie before and Nathaniel’s bi-polar wailing has been a centerpiece of three straight episodes. Plus, before Nathaniel sings, we get an extended clip package explaining his own personal Afterschool Special. I wonder who’s going through? It’s Nathaniel! Omigod! I’m stunned.
9:48 p.m. Somebody named Jeanine Vailes, who I don’t remember at all, is safe. Kai Kalama, who I only remember losing is voice, is also safe. Anne Marie Boskovich is in. Kris Allen (Who?) is in.
9:50 p.m. The last two contestants are Matt the Welder and Michael the Roughneck. Neither one has any chance of winning this season, but whichever one advances, we’ll hear about his blue collar roots at ever opportunity. And in this Very Special Season of “American Idol,” that’s going to be enough.
9:53 p.m. Welder Matt sings first. Yup. He’s OK. Oilman Michael goes next. Yup. He’s OK. I’d say, “advantage Michael.”
9:54 p.m. Next season, I vote that for the sing-offs, they make the contestants sing simultaneously. Cacophony is the new music.
9:55 p.m. The judges agree that it’s possible that neither Matt nor Michael could really win. And with that in mind, they’re both put through to the Top 36.
9:56 p.m. If they were the last two singers awaiting their results in the holding room, surely somebody was able to do the math and figure out that there were two positions left open?
9:58 p.m. Here is your Top 36. That can only mean one thing… Happy Dance Time.
9:59 p.m. Next week’s singers will be Casey, Stephen, Jackie, Ricky, Anne Marie, Brent, Alexis, Michael, Stevie, Danny, Tatiana and Anoop. That’s a tough group. Want my hunch? Danny, Stevie and Anoop.
UPDATE: 1:25 a.m. ET FOX put out its official press release on the Top 36 at 10:15 p.m. PST. That list included Felicia Barton in the Top 36, not Joanna Pacitti. All the release says is that Pacitti was ruled ineligible. Stay tuned for more information…