April 01, 2004 03:50 PM

It had to be insult to injury for colorful contestant Amy Adams. The magenta-haired singer was sent back to Bakersfield, Calif., Wednesday night following her performance on “American Idol,” after which judge Simon Cowell said the 24-year-old Adams reminded him of “Jay Leno’s sister.”

The decision pared the list of finalists to nine, but it came after an evening for which many of the performances did not seem particularly strong.

Tuesday night’s show was a tribute to Motown, and legendary songwriting team (Nick) Ashford & (Valerie) Simpson joined the judges. But several lackluster performances into the show, it seemed as if Simon was losing his cool. He found weaknesses with one performer after another, stooping so far as the Adams-Leno comparison and to criticize La Toya London’s hairdo, which he said looked “like you have a cat on your head.”

Civility was not the name of the game, with judge Randy Jackson getting in on the contestant-bashing as well.

It wasn’t until the impressive performance of the night’s final contestant, George Huff, whom Cowell had previously characterized as “a background Motown singer,” that Simon had to eat his words and make a rare on-air apology to co-judge Paula Abdul.

But in Tuesday night’s elimination round many of the contestants looked especially nervous, particularly 16-year-old crooner John Stevens, whose Motown rendition revealed a shallow and shaky grasp of the genre. The camera settled on Stevens a number of times, who looked genuinely surprised to find that he had escaped being voted in the bottom three.

Of the remaining “American Idol” contestants, the women outnumber the men two to one.

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