"Welcome to Southern California, ladies and gents, where the pizza sucks but at least there's no snow!"
That was the first line of the American Idol
welcome-to-Hollywood recaps in both seasons 14 and 15. And lo and behold, it is every bit as applicable today. The main difference? Both those recaps were written in January.
It's nearly April and already spring, and yet the northeast is still reeling after getting walloped by four Nor'easters in three weeks. But, yeah, enjoy your sunshine, California.
Helping with the thaw, though, is the fact that the American Idol reboot is finally heating up after a mixed bag of auditions. And that's because after five episodes spanning just two and a half weeks, the make-or-break frenzy that is Hollywood Week has arrived.
It's wagons west for the lucky golden ticket recipients, a group consisting of potential stars, unknowns who got no air time and a chunk of singers I can't believe the new judges sent through.
Put Up or Shut Up
It's time to find out who has the mettle to deal with the highs, lows and dreaded group organizations that will determine their collective futures. Is the next Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson in this bunch? The real competition begins now.
American Idol returns to the Dolby Theatre, where singers will first hit the stage in a capella lines of 10, with the dreaded step forward/step back snap decisions. Then it's the group round, followed by solo performances, as Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan gaze on with that judgy parental look in their eyes.
Dreams are about to be made and shattered. Let's get to it.
Layla Spring is the Kentucky gal with the adorable little sister Dyxie, and she doesn't understand the concept of dogs in purses. But what the 16-year-old does know is that she's not ready to go home, and she crushes her country version of "Last Kiss."
Still honoring her pops, Alyssa Raghu tackles Bette Midler's "Wing Beneath My Wings," and there's tears and goosebumps on a song that's especially tough without music.
Nan couldn't make the trip to support goat farmer grandson Trevor McBane, who does fine on Needtobreathe's "Washed By the Water."
Tailor-made country star Caleb Lee Hutchinson did a Luke Bryan impression during his audition, and he sounds like he's recording an album with Noel Sanger's "One More Time."
Verdict: Trevor, Alyssa, Layla and Caleb are through. The six nobodies are headed home.
Alpaca enthusiast Noah Davis was on the same page as Katy with his "wig" reference, and his rendition of Jessie J's "Mama Knows Best" is supremely over the top but solid.
Bruno Mars clones Milo and Julian Sposada both forget that microphones exist and scream their songs for no apparent reason. Milo screeches through Labrinth's "Jealous," while Julian attacks Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today." Yeah, guys, we can hear you.
Verdict: Noah and Milo are through, along with some gal named Juliana, who happens to be standing next to Julian. He steps forward even though he's out, and that's just cruel placement.
Separately -- and I can't be sure that they're all in the same group -- but I-sang-with-Carrie-Underwood-but-shouldn't-have-gone-to-Hollywood Kenedee Rittenhouse, guy-whose-audition-we-didn't-see Joshua Ward and square dance-inspiring Kristyn Harris are all going home.
Weirdo hippie fembot Catie Turner believes she should be the next American Idol because she gives great hugs, and after the judges test that claim, she 100% wows with The Beatles' "Come Together." She stands out with her mix of talent and quirkiness, and that means she's one to keep your eye on.
Her BFF Zach D'Onofrio has Harry Potter glasses and an affinity for socks, and he danced with Katy during his Frank Sinatra audition. This time, it's Michael Buble's "Cry Me a River." His singing voice is sooooo different from his meek and timid talking voice, and it's so unexpected that it's kinda cool. But I'm still not sure I like it.
Verdict: Catie's through but not Zach, who seems genuinely surprised.
Maddie Poppe auditioned with a guitar rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," and her take on Brandi Carlile's "Dreams" is one of the best of the day. She's another long-haul standout.
Newbie Cade Foehner was a rodeo champion until he broke his leg and transitioned from the bull to the guitar, and his gritty rocker vibe is on full display during B.B. King's "The Thrill is Gone."
Verdict: Both are through, along with six other people we've never seen before.
College student Jonny Brenns auditioned in secret, and his mom only now believes that the post-golden ticket phone call from the judges was real. She and his sister are along for the ride, but Dad didn't make the trip because he doesn't support his son's choice of dreams. He's here to prove that he should be taken seriously, and his keyboard take on The 1975's "Somebody Else" is a point taken.
Lesbian Army wife Jurnee successfully wrangles all the possible notes out of Demi Lovato's "You Don't Do It for Me Anymore," as does Dennis Lorenzo on Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud." He's the guy who closed out the premiere with the first contender-worthy performance of the season, and he's since gotten married to the love of his life. Kudos to him.
Katy's crush, Trevor Holmes, does well enough on Vance Joy's "Riptide," but it wouldn't kill him to enunciate more. His girlfriend tells Katy, "I'm watching you," to which she responds, "Well, it's not your fiance." He was working construction two weeks ago, and now he's in a love triangle with Katy Perry.
All are through, as are Effie Passero with the extra volume dial, drag queen Ada Vox, Marcus' best friend Maddie Zahm, raising-his-sister's-baby Marcio Donaldson, bayou heartthrob Laine Hardy, nana-love Garrett Lee Jacobs and America's Got Talent Top 10 alum Mara Justine.
Better Luck Next Time
David Francisco was the guy who got hit by a car after moving to Nashville, and he was paralyzed until his now-fiancee helped him get walking again. He tosses his crutches as he saunters on stage, then delivers a pitchy "Sunday Morning" by Maroon 5.
It's not his best, and it's the end of the line.
Also out are 15-year-old Griffin Tucker, kid version of Jason Mraz Cameron Theodis and "chubby Asian" country singer Daniel Ethridge, who auditioned with an original song dedicated to his sister believing in him.
On to the Group Round
With the official activities of day one in the books, the survivors now huddle into groups to test the meaning of the word "exhaustion." There's no sleep, with precious little time to prepare for performances that reveal everything from talent to character, and the judges are looking for individuality within a group setting. That means you gotta stand out like Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake.
The first group is God's Diversity, whose five members run out of steam early in the morning but hope to set the bar high. Likable Philly guy Michael J. Woodard kicks off Clean Bandit's "Rather Be," and he's okay but doesn't shine.
Thaddeus Johnson (who lost more than 100 pounds since competing in season 9) doesn't impress until the big notes, while Shannon O'Hara (who works as a nanny to help out after her dad lost his job) is just meh. Kourtney Smith, whose audition we didn't see, is the power superstar of the group.
It's spirited and gets the crowd jumping, and they're all through except the fifth girl, Emmi B.
Who Needs Words?
Gurope, which includes Marcio Donaldson and Maddie Zahm, can't stop butchering the lyrics to the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive." Maddie is particularly rattled, and Marcio does everything in his power to keep the group together.
Come stage time, it's an absolute mess. Marcio is solid, and unseen audition Cesley Parrish is the bright spot with her funky hippie vibe. Maddie makes up lyrics on the spot about not remembering the lyrics, and unseen Samuel James literally has no words and is the only one going home.
The group Taco consists of Catie Turner, Alyssa Raghu, Idol baby Victoria McQueen and an unseen auditioner by the name of Kyah Robinson. Have you connected the dots yet? Yeah, it's everyone but Kyah moving on. Oh, and Catie Turner can beatbox. Is there anything this unique wonder can't do?
Then fatigue sets in, andd it's adios to Johnny White (the kid with vocal coach Ms. Finley), Rissa Watson (whose mom owns a furniture store) and Samuel Swanson (the Alabama farm boy who moved to Harlem and pronounces his name Sam-well).
Save the Drama for Your Mama
The award for best group name goes to Superdope Hotness, but the efforts of the quintet are overshadowed by 17-year-old surviving twin Milo Sposada. He brought along his mom, who hates the song and isn't afraid to share her opinion, even though Milo joined late after the other four had already agreed on everything.
He takes matters into his own hands and alters the arrangement at the last minute, to the point where he's shouting out new directions as they're hitting the stage. Aname Rose and Deonte Baker do fine with Justin Bieber's "Love Yourself," but they lack the spark that comes courtesy of Dennis Lorenzo.
William Casanova keeps the quality mediocrity going before they "make it sexy for Milo," who goes a capella and saunters down the runway to sing directly to the judges. The harmonies are good, but it's a terrible take on the song that's all over the place and definitely not a group effort.
So, naturally, they're all going through, and I did not see that coming.
Let's Keep It Moving
Group DNA is led by Ada Vox, who shows off the full range and can also beatbox, and unseen auditioner Kay Kay, who looks like a star. All four are moving on, but they do it the mean way of splitting them up, telling the front that they're through and -- oh yeah -- the back is through too.
Gabby Barrett, whose country audition songs were rejected until she sang about Jesus, and Christina Jones, who sand Gladys Knight with braces and rubber bands, advance out of their group. Jurnee, Alabama legal secretary Dominique and Samothias with the weird little dreads stand out as their entire foursome continues onward.
The Soul 4's are Laine Hardy and three girls who identify as Beliebers and insist on "Love Yourself" even though he's never heard it before. Kaitlann Runnels crushes, while Laine mostly talks his back-up lyrics with an evident "f*** this" look on his face.
He manages the best he can and advances with Kaitlann, while Mia Desaris and Juliana Madrid are sent packing. So as quickly as those names pop up, you can forget them (though I think Mia is quite good).
Throwing Yourself on the Grenade
The final quartet of the day is Don't Touch, made up of karaoke queen Crystal Alicea, vocal coach wildcard Britney Holmes, braided "Zoom" lover Lee Vasi and 30-days-to-become-a-star Gabbii Jones.
They've picked Rixton's "Me and My Broken Heart." But Crystal breaks down in tears, struggling as the only inexperienced member. She doesn't quite know how to harmonize, and her lack of confidence hampers the group.
Still, they reassure her and come together, and they manage to put on a decent show as Crystal does her best to mask the insecurities. Then Katy plays the meanest trick ever, telling them that there's only room for three and that one of them will have to volunteer to be eliminated.
Crystal steps up and bows out. But -- hardy har har -- it's all a joke and they're all through. And it's not even April Fools' Day yet.
Stop This Train
Whew, what a whirlwind that was! I could be wrong, but I can't recall a time where they crammed the first two days of Hollywood Week into one two-hour show. It was a lot of names coming at us fast and furious. And, honestly, who can remember them all? Oh, wait ... me.
Amid all the chaos, the ones who stood out most were Catie Turner, Maddie Poppe, newcomer Cade Foehner and Jonny Brenns in round one; and Kourtney Smith, Marcio Donaldson, Dennis Lorenzo, Ada Vox and Kay Kay in the group portion.
There's also Milo Sposada, who was memorable for all the wrong reasons, like we're actually watching The Bachelor. Also noteworthy was the absence of singers with spectacular auditions like Carly Moffa and Amalia Watty. I guess they're saving them for later.
Next time, Hollywood Week will continue with the solo round and eventually the judgment room, where the field will be narrowed down to the Top 24. Will there be egregious errors? Of course! There always are, and we'll find out who makes the cut soon enough.
Who were your favorites and did the volume of singers make the standouts that much more relevant? Who will you remember from this rapid-fire episode and who do you have high hopes for moving forward? Is the next American Idol starting to emerge? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
(Image and videos courtesy of ABC)