Los Angeles – Maybe Mario Vazquez suspected the “American Idol” judges would be in a foul mood this week.
On Tuesday night’s show, Randy Jackson managed to be as dismissive as Simon Cowell, who remained true to form. And even Paula Abdul – yes, sweetie pie Paula – turned a bit sour.
“That was very safe and boring,” she said of Carrie Underwood’s performance of “When Will I Be Loved,” inflicting serious wounds, or at least paper cuts.
Jackson employed a scalpel.
“That definitely sounded like I was in a bad hotel,” he said of Anthony Fedorov’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”
That echoed Cowell’s welcome back for Nikko Smith, who returned Tuesday to fill the spot created when Vazquez mysteriously withdrew for undisclosed reasons.
“Nikko, forgive me, because I thought you sounded horrible,” Cowell told the 22-year-old from St. Louis, son of baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.
Strike one, although the singer scored a hit with Jackson and Abdul with his version of “I Want You Back,” the Jackson 5 song (a tribute to beleaguered Michael Jackson – Or maybe a tin ear for subtext).
His performance capped a night of ’60s pop songs that, more than not, fizzled for the judges. Although their role of winnowing down contestants is over, their comments undoubtedly influence audience voting.
Teenager Mikalah Gordon’s take on “Son of a Preacher Man” was ruled sinful.
“I don’t know what’s going on. That was rough for me,” said Jackson.
“I think your confidence exceeded your ability tonight,” said Cowell, adding that those in the theater apparently agreed because the criticism drew scant boos.
“Well, the audience all looks really fabulous,” said a defiantly perky Gordon, 17, simultaneously channeling Barbra Streisand, Fanny Brice and the unsinkable Molly Brown.
Some contestants found unanimous favor, including rocker Bo Bice (“fearless,” Jackson said of his “Spinning Wheel”) and willowy Nadia Turner with “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me”: “In a competition full of hamburgers, you are a steak,” Cowell told her.