Before the credits, we basically fast-forward through the whole season thus far. It always looks so much better that way. The main event starts tonight: 13 finalists singing live for your votes. Ryan really means it when he says, "This… is AMERican Idol."
After the credits, Ryan tells us -- like we don't already know -- that tonight marks the debut of the Top 13. They all come out for a triumphant entrance and have to wend their way through the audience to the big blue couch off to one side, as Ryan rattles off their names. Don't worry, I'll mention them as we go along. Ryan then brings out the judges for their even more triumphant entrance. I'm a little worried about this first week's theme, though; Ryan calls it "This Is Me," meaning that the singers will be performing a song that they feel defines them. Doesn't sound like that'll be much of a stretch for most of them.
The judges talk about song selection and how this offers a chance to get to know the Top 13 better. That actually starts right away, as they have to awkwardly star in a video shoot explaining the new voting methods, which runs as long as a Delta Airlines safety briefing, but isn't as funny. Wisely, every finalist will now have the same number for phone votes all season long. Yes, The X Factor did it first, but they also messed it up by having the wrong numbers onscreen one week. You can now also vote via Google, starting from the beginning of the show until 10:00 AM Pacific tomorrow morning. In other words, people on the East Coast can vote all the way through lunch. I don't know, is that the best way to end up with a viable artist -- making it easier to vote instead of harder? Personally I don't think anyone should be allowed to vote without pre-ordering a copy of the first album by the person they're voting for. That's commitment.<.p>
Another theme tonight is learning five facts about each Idol in twenty seconds. This seems familiar somehow. We're starting with Dexter Roberts, who was ambushed in the men's room but still managed to come up with a fear of spiders, the fact that he removed his own braces with a butter knife, got bucked off a horse at seven, had his first kiss at the top of a slide and broke his finger playing football. The snarky comments the editors add on one side of the screen don't add a great deal of entertainment value, but at least Dexter beat the clock. Now he's about to go out onstage with a Les Paul strapped on to do a song intended to show everybody that he's fun. For some reason Randy Jackson is in a splitscreen window making some obvious remarks, like he will be doing before everyone's performance all evening. Wasn't he supposed to have left? And more urgently, if he's permanently replacing Jimmy Iovine, I may have to do something actionable.