Idol Season 9: Auditions -- Finale

04/06/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The auditions finale for American Idol was both the most entertaining and enjoyable show so far...and the lowest rated at just 20.8 million viewers. It's been a weird season ratings-wise with one week inexplicably jumping 30% over last year and now last night's show hitting a season low. Why was the show so enjoyable? Because it focused on the auditions and good singers instead of sob stories. In fact they may have set a record by going 36 minutes before a sad back story took center stage. I, for one, was relieved. But with ratings down, producers will rightly decide those stories are exactly what compel viewers during the auditions.

Wednesday was a grab bag of auditions from throughout the season, with our first look at some of the best singers yet.

JESSICA FURNEY -- Sang the Simon Cowell-penned tune (with others) "Footprints in the Sand," (a fact which amazed Victoria Beckham no end). Jessica auditioned before. This time she had a better audition and a better look. Definitely improved.

AMANDA SHECTMAN -- Sang "Good Morning, Heartache." She was the actress who claims she finds it difficult to connect with an audience (odd, since that's exactly what Broadway performers do all the time; there's no rule that during singing they have to ignore the audience). Simon had a lot of fun teasing her high drama but her performance was fine and mellow and she deservedly got through.

LEE DEWYZE -- Sang "Ain't No Sunshine" while CRYSTAL BOWERSOX -- sang "Piece Of My Heart." Both were very brief clips, with Lee seeming a bit mannered and Crystal giving a nice laidback spin. Both got through but all I could think was, "Choose less obvious songs!" If you've heard it performed on Idol before -- skip it!

LACEY BROWN -- Sang "Somewhere Over The Rainbow." Lacey made it to Hollywood in the past and made it again, even though I thought she slipped into a new key during her audition. Still, pretty subtle singing.

RACHEL HUBBARD and THADDEUS JOHNSON and GENESIS MOORE -- All 16 and all gone through via a montage where we just heard seconds of each.

MICHAEL LYNCHE -- Sang "Unchained Melody" by the Righteous Brothers. A personal trainer, Michael could obviously bench-press the competition with ease. Solid performance, though he's as memorable for his formidable size as for his singing.

DIDI BENAMI -- Sang "Hey Jude" by the Beatles. The first sad story of the night came 36 minutes in when Didi talked about her best friend dying some four years ago. Happily, she delivered a very good performance of the song before emotions overcame her. Interesting possibility.

AARON KELLY -- Sang "The Climb" by Miley Cyrus. This 16-year-old kid had parents who couldn't hold it together. He was going to be sucked up into the foster care system when his aunt and uncle adopted him. Quiet kid a la Clay Aiken and with good vocals like him too. Perhaps too young and shy? Or maybe that will help him remain within himself and not get caught up in the drama.

HOPE JOHNSON -- Sang "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack. The back stories are coming fast and furious now, with Hope growing up so poor she went hungry sometimes and took food home from her school lunch so she could share it with her little brother. Decent performance though a bit thin when she went high and every line faded out, as Randy made clear.

So more than 100,000 people auditioned and 181 are going to Hollywood. We didn't see half of them and Idol still bizarrely refuses to post video of each and every winning audition. Why not? Sheer stupidity. It would drive traffic to their site and give every contestant a fan base -- not just the ones who got air time. Imagine finding out that an audition that never aired was suddenly garnering the most views on the Idol website, which would pull in people to check it out. They're missing a very obvious opportunity to exploit the web.

Ellen Degeneres joins the show permanently next week, and I, for one, am excited. Yes, they never should have dumped Paula, but Ellen is a great addition. If they'd chosen her over Kara, this could be a very different and better Idol today. So what did you think of tonight's crop of singers? Did you agree with the judges or were you puzzled why some of them weren't sent home? And do you agree with me that Ellen is someone to look forward to or do you agree with Marc Berman of Mediaweek who believes she is a bad choice?