They are two words that are music to everyone's ears: Hollywood Week! Yes, friends, the American Idol
auditions are finally over, and that means the majority of the people we hear this week will actually have talent (When I say "most," I'm looking at you Zoanette Johnson
). The stale bread phase of our meal has ended, and now it's time for the appetizers. By the end of next week's shows, we'll be down to our top 20 boys and top 20 girls.
In order to move on, the contestants will have to survive the most intense week of their lives. That is, of course, until the next phase, which will also be the most intense week of their lives. Followed by the next two months, which will be the most intense two months of their lives. It's like every reality show says every year, get ready for the most dramatic, intense season you've ever seen. This ... is American Idol!
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The intro to Hollywood Week reminds me how young most of these kids are, with a montage of parents waking up their children to catch their flights. I guarantee this was not an issue for any of the moms or 29-year-old contestants.
The first batch of potential American Idols line up on stage, and it's all guys. That's because the girls are going next week, so it's all dudes, all the time. I wasn't aware of that dynamic heading in to this, but I'm both disappointed and distraction-free. The singers echo that sentiment.
Does Everyone We Already Met Move On?
The guys are coming out in groups of 10 to sing A Cappella, and they'll be judged on the spot. Micah Johnson, the singer with nerve damage from a botched tonsillectomy, starts things off, and he's moving on with the previously unmet Peter, Mathenee and Devon. Asian Joseph Gordon-Levitt Nate Tao, curly-haired rocker Gabe Brown and the Turbinator Gurpreet Singh Sarin are also advancing, and we're off to a fast start.
The trend comes to a grinding halt when 26-year-old Karl Skinner, who was one of the few highlights out of Oklahoma City, and his crazy dance moves hit the stage. Apparently he's on a caffeine high ("I don't think I'm touching anything but coke today, it's got me rolling" -- and yes, he means soda), and he sings far and away better than anyone in his group. But apparently the judges couldn't agree, and he's our first recognizable elimination. Disagree with that one.
Joining Skinner are Baton Rouge firefighter Dustin Watts and singing Dr. Calvin Peters, who both sing terribly.
A 'Wow' Before the Lunch Break
Cortez Shaw belts out Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," and in addition to it being good for a first attempt, it's also just really, really good. Not perfect, but good. Apparently, the judges "debate" him, specifically because Nicki Minaj was "disgusted" by the performance. She wants no part of him, yet she loves awful singers with personality. I worry I'm going to question her all season now, but I liked her in the beginning.
More First-Round Advancers
All the judges love Curtis Finch, Jr., our Gospel man of the season, and 25-year-old subway performer Frankie Ford is also moving on. The judges just look uncomfortable when stutterer Lazaro Arbos meanders through his intro, but then he sings Robbie Williams' "Angels" (NOT Jessica Simpson's). He's mostly good and really sweaty, but he is going on to the next round. Trevor Blakney, Bryant Tadeo and Charles Allen, who we've never seen before, also get yeses. Nicki tells Bryant that it's a good thing he's tired because they're sending him home, but she's just kidding. It's not Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Nicki. People don't like jokes that serious.
Brian Rittenberry, whose wife is beating cancer, sings Brian McKnight's "Back at One" and somehow gets sent home. He rushed it a bit, but he clearly showed his chops and absolutely should've moved on past this round. He joins half the the male contestants who get sent home on the first day.
Group Round Mania
Group round is always the most tense, stressful part of Hollywood Week, and this year is no different. Some guys formed groups right from the get-go, but this time around, there's a special twist. For the first time ever, the producers are deciding who is in what group. They get to pick a song from a list of 20, then choreograph and learn the words, all in one night.
Lazaro doesn't feel comfortable learning a new song that the rest of his group already knows, while Blakney and a country crooner named Dean clash with their flamboyant diva group members. They want fun and modern "Moves Like Jagger," and back it up by telling their partners they need to leave their comfort zones. Seems like that should work both ways, though.
Finch, Nick Mathis and Charlie Askew started out in a spirit of cooperation, but that quickly dissolves. Other groups pick songs faster, but still struggle for unison. People practice in the bathroom, and we get sneak peeks of various groups working together. But unless there's something worth mentioning, this is all just first-name dropping until the actual performances. We get it. There's tension. Some people stay up late. Some go to bed. Some gel, and some get frustrated. The Army guy has trouble getting along with his "overly-theatrical" teammates. It is what it is.
Something Worth Mentioning
Group day is officially under way, and apparently some of these guys have a really hard time waking up in the morning. It's a theme of this show, cause I'm a bit sleepy at this point.
First up are the MathHeads, with Gabe Brown and disingenuous Mattheus Ferndandes, who they still try to portray as inspiring and struggling despite his success on The Glee Project. He knew he was good before this. It starts off really rough with bad harmonizing, but they eventually pull it together. Both are moving on, along with group members Nick Boddington and Mathenee Treco.
Normal Hills has returning contestant Johnny Keyser, who completely forgets the words to The Four Tops' "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." Group member Kareem Clark is also totally off key. Johnny complains he never heard the song before, which shocks Keith, but Nicki sticks up for him. After all, her first question to him at his audition was whether or not he had a girlfriend, so she has to have his back. Kareem is sent home, but the other three are moving on. It's the conundrum of Hollywood week, because outside of a few singers here and there who were previously featured, we don't know who anyone else is.
Tiny Charlie Askew, who is socially awkward, has a tough time meshing with any group, particularly one made up of two soul singers. He's paired with the much taller and larger Finch and Mathis, who stood by him when he got sick, and they slay Bruno Mars' "The Lazy Song." They're all advancing, and I typed that before the giggling, joyous judges gave them a standing ovation and made their decisions. It has to be the oddest pairing this season, and it could be the trailer for the "Twins" sequel, "Triplets."
The Four Tones are up next, with Micah Johnson. He and Vincent Powell, Marvin Calderon and David Willis are all through, but the unknown Willis is the one who stood out head and shoulders above the rest. The next group of shaggy-haired Zach Birnbaum, Nate Tao, Cortez Shaw and Eiljah Liu also advances. Which do you like better for Nate? Asian Joseph Gordon-Levitt or Nate Manti Tao?
Two groups of nine guys screw up all the words, and they should've all been gone. But Paul Jolley (who we know) and Will White (who we don't) move on.
The Turbinator and his B-Side group butcher "Pay Phone," forgetting the words and being generally bad (with good voices). But Nicki loves them. It was all sorts of terrible, but they're all going through. Randy tells them to "be better next time," and I wonder what the hell is happening. These Hollywood shows are hard enough to cover without sh*t that just doesn't make sense. Even the four guys in the group are confused.
So after letting through four somewhat-talented singers who bombed, the judges decide it's time to get tough. They eliminate the entire "You Don't Know You're Beautiful" group of Jason Jones, Dan Wood, Jessie Lawrence and some dude, who all forgot the words to the catchiest song that's not "Call Me Maybe," and sang off-key, to boot.
Ryan Conners Smith made the decision for his group that they should sing "Pay Phone" A Cappella, against the judge's advice, and it worked out for everyone but him. Devan Jones, some guy named Adrian and Devin Velez (who stole the show) are moving on. Seriously, between Velez and Willis, how did we not see these guys before now? Did we really need to see the lying Iraq vet with the pretend miracle baby? Dude wasn't even in combat or injured by an IED, yet even I wasted article space on him.
Anyone else still have "You Don't Know You're Beautiful" stuck in your head?
Hurricane Katrina-inspired Burnell Taylor and Mo Flow are up next. Burnell had trouble learning the lyrics AND staying awake, and Keith gives him some negative feedback. Still, he and Tony Foster, Jr., move on, while Mario Jose and Darien Moses head home. I thought they both did better than Burnell, but that's why I write from my couch.
Lazaro's group is up next with a Beach Boys' song, but our stuttering friend didn't know the words. His teammate says, "He has a problem with OUR type of music, because he didn't grow up in America." I know he meant nothing by it, but it's hard not take take a "You people? What do you mean, you people?" kind of vibe from it. Josh Stephens totally treats him like he's deaf instead of just a guy who stutters, which is so ignorant it's almost hilarious. Lazaro comments that when people have trouble communicating, others mistake it for being stupid. He's looking at you, Josh, even though you apparently think he can't hear you.
As if to make America feel better, Josh sucks, Scott Fleenor flubs the words and Christian Lopez does well but not great. Lazaro messes up the words, too, but he does it with talent. Josh, who bitched about Lazaro all along, blames the song choice (which he picked). Christian and Lazaro advance, and Christian hugs Lazaro in a cute, appreciative way that makes me love him. Josh is a dick to the end, taking credit for Lazaro moving on. "If anything, like, you might as well be going. I mean, we spent so much time perfecting what you needed to be doing. So, I mean, congratulations," has to be among the most passive-aggressive congrats speeches in history.
Blakney and Country Queen are up next, and it's probably the most aptly named group in 12 seasons of American Idol. The fact that two gay divas and two country boys pulled together is amazing in and of itself. If they blend their voices on "More Than Words" and excel, it'll be worth the price of admission. But no. Oh, no, no, no.
Lee Pritchard struggles, and that's the nicest thing I can say about anyone in this group. JDA forgets the words all while doing Christina Aguilera mic and hand moves, Joel Wayman actually sounds nice before the background vocals crush him, and Trevor Blakney basically quits midway though. He got his song choice and has no excuse to suck so bad. At least if they'd gone gay, he could defer. But not now. He still blames "Queen Cowboy," and it's shameful. Trevor and Lee are going home, but somehow JDA and Joel are moving on. Mariah the diva lays down the law and brings along her brethren.
DKSK has David Leathers, Jr., or "Mr. Steal Your Girl," the sweet-voiced youngster who was the final cut in last year's Vegas round, and Cystic Fibrosis-stricken Kayden Stephenson, whose story apparently "inspired the entire nation." I wish he had been better, and it showed in Hollywood. The dance moves are off, everyone forgets the words and it's just plain horrible. Kevin Quinn's solo is decent, and I know we mentioned Sanni M'Mmairura before, but we don't need to remember him. Leathers moves on, as he should because he is the only one who held it together. Sanni also advances, which is a shame for Quinn, who was better. I called it with Stephenson last week.
Among the other notable cuts were Griffin Peterson (who I dubbed the male Bikini Girl even though Nicki loved him), Clifton Duffin (whose parents had never heard him sing) and Stephenson (who will use this as motivation to
not win next year).
The last group is Frankie Ford and the other members of Oz. Ford doesn't know musical jargon, so he doesn't like traditional roles in a song. They're a mess, and it all comes to a head before they go out on stage. Frankie blames asthma ahead of time, just in case he fails, and it makes his teammates struggle to take things seriously. Frankie breaks down and cries, while his partners try and get him to calm down enough to make it on stage. The harmonies are a catastrophe from the start. Papa Peachez is terrible, Adam Sanders gets some laughs (with his good voice but lack of lyrics), Frankie just makes musical noises, and Charles Allen tries really hard to stand out. It was a train wreck.
Nicki blames Frankie and tells him he fell apart, while Papa Peachez (who Nicki somehow calls one of the best in the competition) calls the group a hot mess. Keith fought hard for Frankie, but not enough to save him. The rest are going through, but Nicki issues a warning to Papa that she will never be able to vouch for him again and he must step up moving forward.
Adam sweetly waits for Frankie until he leaves the stage, which the judges notice. Frankie is bitter, and he spurns the other contestants that try to console him. He swears to God he will win next year, and I hope he's right. I really do. You're good, Frankie. Maybe I'll see you on the subway.
This was my first time covering a Hollywood Week show, and I'd like to thank Sky and America's Choice Lemon-Lime Seltzer for all their help. I'm surprised we didn't see any of Josh Holiday, who was one of my favorites from the audition round. But he will likely pop up when we narrow down the top male singers.
Tune in Thursday for the solo round, where 43 male singers will get one last shot to wow the judges before 23 of them get cut. Who do you think will make the top 20? Did any of your favorites get cut? Do you even remember who your favorites are?
You can watch American Idol Wednesdays and Thursdays on Fox at 8pm
(Image courtesy of FOX)
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