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Betsy Block


Pop. Corn.

Pop. Corn.

American Idol is beyond pop-corn -- it's almost pop-porn.

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New post up every Wednesday.

So, here we are. Almost at the end.

It's been months, though in a way it feels like it's been forever. (And yet in another way it's gone by much too fast.) When it started last winter, we smugly laughed at the embarrassing antics of people willing to go a little too far to get on TV. But we're not laughing now. Not anymore.

That's because, while it's nothing to brag about, TV has sucked us in; now it's about to spit us back out again. Yes, sadly, along with millions of other Americans, BD and I have grown addicted to American Idol. We too have become armchair critics; these days we're disgusted with a populace that would send home a Mandisa, a Paris and a Chris before, say, a Taylor. And how, may I ask, did Bucky last as long as he did? It's incomprehensible, though naturally we don't care enough to vote. Besides, BD and I are used to having our favorite candidates lose.

And so, while we're not even interested in the finale anymore, it's simply too late to quit. Besides, 10-year-old E wouldn't hear of it. Poor kid. At first we didn't even let him watch the show, in part because we weren't thrilled about him seeing a bevy of adults behaving badly (or just oddly - Paula). Then we realized that with its nasty asides, mean jokes and infighting among the judges (whether real or fake), preteens and the perennially immature are obviously the target audience. However, we admit that we also find it compelling: It's inspiring to watch people chase their dreams; horrifying (in a fascinating way) when they're verbally drawn and quartered by the execrable yet spot-on Simon Cowell; moving when they sing well ... And frankly, watching these young singers get excoriated in front of millions of people makes our bad days look a little better in comparison. No, I can't say I'd call it wholesome family time, but in fact it is family time for millions of us.

Or has been, anyway, because the end is nigh. Both this week and next we'll watch with equal parts annoyance and interest as the final three are winnowed down to The One. In our house we'll still be shaking our heads at a public that didn't keep our people in the competition, although the truth is that this makes for an easier goodbye. And come to think of it, we'll also be relieved not to see the contestants sell their very souls in yet another truly sickening car commercial (if you look very carefully, you can actually see the devil laughing in the back seat). And now we won't have to come up with fake reasons to leave the room just as another group number comes on (haven't seen one yet!). Then there's the thought that we won't have to watch certain singers running frantically around the stage - or embarrassingly kneeling and swaying, as the case may be ...

I get it now. There's a deep lesson to be learned from American Idol: To everything there is a season. Now it's time to turn, turn, turn off the TV.

These recipes for next week's finals transform a perfectly healthy snack into something unnecessarily rich and decadent. Now that's American.

We start with Alton Brown's brilliant microwave recipe sans pesky hidden carcinogens:

One brown paper bag

cup popcorn

2 tsp. olive oil

Put the popcorn and olive oil in the bag, seal with a piece of tape, microwave on high for three minutes.

The Super Sweet Version

1 batch of popcorn

stick of unsalted butter with

cup brown sugar

Slowly pour the butter mixture over the popcorn, tossing as you go. Add a dash of salt to take the edge off the cloying sweetness.

The Slightly Spicy, or Should We Say "Soulful" Version (even though after tonight there won't be any spicy or soulful singers left standing -- or sitting)

1 batch of popcorn

stick of unsalted butter with a few shakes each of:

garlic powder
onion powder
mustard powder
and lots of salt

And in case neither of them is your pick, how about

The Cheesy Version

1 batch of popcorn

stick of unsalted butter

1/4 to  cup cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar, American, etc.)

Coat all the popcorn with the melted butter then bit by bit, toss in the cheese. Add salt as needed.

Or if you're not in a do-it-yourself mood, my friend Ethan says this is amazing.