We're in a new stage of the contest, so the pre-credits sequence introduces the top ten and then ends with the tag, "The competition begins now." So what have we been doing for the past two months, then?
After the credits, an announcer bellows, "Ladies and gentlemen, your judges!" More accurately, 75% of them: Keith, Randy and Mariah wander out onto the stage looking lost, probably not sure what to make of the relative lack of fanfare. Ryan enters while they're still drifting aimlessly downstage in the general direction of the judges' table and then takes over Nicki's chair, claiming that she's just stuck in traffic. That's live TV for you. Ryan brings out the top ten and cues the lengthy (and now weekly) clip flogging the American Idol app, then comes back to us from Nicki's chair to tease the other judges about sabotaging Nicki's arrival and says that tonight's theme is the music of American Idol. Wow, how meta. To clarify, the contestants are allowed to sing any song performed by any past winner, whether on the show or otherwise. Finally, maybe I'll get to hear a Lee DeWyze hit.
We're starting with Curtis and like last year, the performances are preceded with clips of Jimmy Iovine mentoring each contestant. Not in the studio, mind you -- just sitting down in armchairs for some general chatting. For instance, he advised Curtis Finch, Jr. to not be quite so retro. Curtis interviews that he's going to be singing "I Believe" by Fantasia tonight, and does a whole faux-humble explanation of what he's going to be trying to do with it -- like making Fantasia proud and touching our hearts. Try to aim a little higher, Curtis. He comes out tonight wearing a red paisley jacket made of whorehouse wallpaper and belts out the song, which I may or may not have heard back in 2004 while I was waiting for that year's 24 season finale to start. Keith warns him against going sharp from all the excitement, but loves the song choice. Randy liked it, but wants to see something new from Curtis, who nods like he can't wait to do exactly that. Mariah liked him doing what he does and says more stuff, but I have to confess that my brain generally just tunes her out when she starts talking. Ryan throws it to ads while leaving the stage, supposedly going to meet the arriving Nicki. "It's live, folks," he reminds us, which explains everything.