The top twenty are all crammed into a tiny room with Ryan, until he leaves that room, walking down a long, narrow hallway like a birth canal, explaining that ten of them will walk this way. I should say they'll all walk in this direction; nobody can walk as suavely as Ryan. As he goes, he says that the contestants, judges, and families are all in the dark; "Only I have the results." Just the way he likes it. And I shouldn't even be surprised that to all his other gigs, Ryan has now added "accountant." By now he's climbing a narrow flight of steps to directly backstage, behind the giant upstage projection screen -- which from this angle looks like a wall of droid guts -- and it opens to admit Ryan to the stage, where the crowd cheers and he explains that each top ten finalist will get to sing a victory song from this stage. Which is why this is going to take forever.
After the credits, Ryan brings out the judges, who come out holding hands and have to be guided down the long, winding path to the judges' table that will be their purgatory for the next two months and change. Then Ryan says they don't have anything to do tonight anyway, because it's all about the votes: ten million more than at this time last year, Ryan claims. Ryan claims that's because of the dynamic group of finalists, but I'm thinking it's the 50-vote-machine app they've been pushing all week. Whatever the case, Ryan goes on to explain that the top 20 are still divided by gender, and five guys and five girls will be cut. Are we sure it's too late to change the rules on that?
Then, because nobody's in any hurry, there's a long montage of the top twenty's biggest moments so far, from getting their golden tickets at auditions to succeeding in the Hollywood and Vegas rounds. It's all designed to make us forget that half of them are doomed so their elimination hits that much harder. Does that sound cynical? Wait until I tell you that the backing track for the montage is Mariah's new single from the new Oz movie, opening tomorrow. See, you only thought I was the cynical one.
Ryan tells us that we're starting tonight with the guys, because no one cares about them this year. We're starting with another clip package of last night's male performers. Which I guess is my fault for saying at the start of last night that I didn't remember any of them. It looks a little weird without any names or phone numbers on the screen, but there it is. Ryan leads us back to the tiny room, which has been cleared of women, and says he'll be reading the names in no particular order. He makes them wait for it before announcing the name of the first finalist, and the last one anybody expected: Paul Jolley. Ryan leads him up to the stage, where Paul's victory song turns out to be that well-known pop-country standard, "Alone" by Heart. At least one of the lyrics is apropos for the occasion: "And the night goes by so very slow." I think the victory song cuts are even longer than the competition songs. After the song, Ryan asks Paul to describe his reaction when he heard the news, and Paul says his ears were numb. Which explains some of the notes in that performance just now.