'Idol' viewing more maddening than usual

Last week's "American Idol" (7 p.m., Fox) displayed the popular show's most maddening contradictions.

The week before last, Simon Cowell chastised several of the singers for choosing songs that were far too adult for their tender ages. He was inspired by the painful experience of watching the spunky 16-year-old Diana DeGarmo warble her way through the cloying theme to "Titanic." I thought Cowell's point was well-taken and exceptionally constructive. Performers of every vintage should embrace their age and make it work for them.

So, a week after telling the young singers to act their ages, "Idol" saddled them with the Barry Manilow songbook. If any music screams mellow and middle-aged, it's tunes from the guy who writes the songs that make the whole world cringe!

But neither Manilow nor the judges could be blamed for last week's shocking conclusion. America voted and put the three most talented singers, Fantasia, La Toya and Jennifer, at the bottom of the heap. Jennifer got the boot. Stunned, Randy and Paula clearly implied that the rejection of the three "divas" and the retention of the talent-challenged John Stevens had much to do with popularity, gender and race.

Randy said he didn't want "Idol" to become a "popularity contest." Then why allow voters to decide? Everything is a popularity contest. Talent over popular appeal? Didn't Randy ever go to high school? Does he look at the music charts? Or the box-office returns?

Maybe the prospect of John Stevens becoming the next "Idol" will inspire more viewers to participate. If you don't vote, you can't complain about who you get stuck with.

  • "Land of Lost Monsters" (7 p.m., Animal Planet) uses computer animation to re-imagine early man sharing his hunting habitat with giant creatures who considered early, evolving humans an easy snack.

Tonight's other highlights

  • Palmer considers a new, unpalatable demand on "24" (8 p.m., Fox).
  • The case of the baby sitter's slayer on "Judging Amy" (9 p.m., CBS).
  • A 12-year-old homicide case resurfaces on "NYPD Blue" (9 p.m., ABC).

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