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'American Idol' Recap: Hollywood Week Adds a Shocking Twist

Some contestants never made it past LAX, as the crucial week began.

American Idol Hollywood or Home L
Michael Becker / Fox

After seven cities of auditions, the best and brightest of American Idol hopefuls are ready to face the dreaded rigors of Hollywood Week.

However, in a new twist, the show introduced a wrinkle with a new round: competitors that received shaky Golden Tickets to Hollywood were shuttled straight to an abandoned airplane hangar not long after arriving at LAX.

Shortly after all 212 finalists stepped off the plane, some contestants got the shock of a lifetime--and no, it wasn’t Keith Urban’s new haircut. They had to wow the panel in the airport hangar--or be turned around immediately and flown home without a chance to even see the Hollywood sign.

 “You don’t have another chance,” said a perturbed Harry Connick Jr. “It has to be great.”

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The episode was separated into three rounds--Hollywood or Home, solo auditions and the dreaded group day. Before the second day was over, 104 vocalists were sent packing--but who?

The vocalists selected to sing in the airplane hangar were the “people we were on the fence about,” explained Connick. This was not good news for vocalists like Caitlyn Johnson who choked on Rihanna’s “Only Girl in the World,” with Connick actually saying “I don’t know what we saw in her," while spiritual yoga boy Adam Roth’s take on “Radioactive” irritated the guys, with Connick rolling right over to Urban and asking “how hard is it to learn those changes?”

Second generation Idol Tristen Langley, son of first season alum Nikki McKibbin, once more strapped on a guitar and gave it his all despite nerves and went in a more country rock direction. Morgan Deplitch tried “Brave” by Sara Bareillis, but Connick was unimpressed, calling her performance “extraordinarily weak.” Eric Wood, however, saved himself with a heartfelt version of “She Talks to Angels” by the Black Crowes, Alyssa Sibken hung on despite wearing a flannel shirt she probably had no intention of wearing in Hollywood, and Neco Starr killed with “Gorilla” by Bruno Mars while rocking the Pharrell Williams hat.

At this point, anyone who did not sing was dismissed, while the final 52 contestants were given stressful news: one group would be escorted to a hotel, the other home. The doomed bus number one sent home Johnson and Langley, while bus number two escorted 20 survivors to the hotel to sing another day.

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Day two of Hollywood week took place in the Dolby Theatre, where it was back to the traditional solo auditions and several standouts, including Majesty York, who kicked things off with her dreams of leaving a good mark on the world and a cool selection of Feist.   John Fox also threw down the gauntlet with strong vocals, as did Brandy Neely, who went for broke with several high notes. Austin Wolfe made a bold choice with Adele’s “Take it All,”  and Bira Anai rocked some glittery lipstick. Twin Selena Moreno tried to impress the panel, but blew the lyrics as her nerves got the best of her. She went home, while Anai, Wolfe, and Jessica Meuse went through.

The next group brought out the heavy artillery, including Sam Woolf, who impressed with John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change,” Keri Lynn Roche, whose bluesy riffs resonated in the theater, and Ayla Stackhouse whose bid for stardom fell short. Audition favorite C.J. Harris, with his sunny smile and genial personality, owned his moment in the spotlight with Ray Lamontagne’s “Trouble” and a standing ovation by Lopez.

Self described “band nerd” and Jon Cryer (Duckie period) lookalike Alex Preston, who turned Will i. Am and Britney Spears’ “Scream and Shout” into a jazzy rave-up, and Jessie Roche both advanced, while Sydney Arterbridge and football player Brian Watt were both sent home.

Kenzie Hall had an extremely cool tone, as if Ingrid Michaelson were singing Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Can’t Hold Us,” and was the only one in her group to advance to Hollywood. Others advancing: burley Ben Briley, Briston Maroney, and Dexter Roberts. One observation: there are an awful lot of capos in Hollywood this week, but Urban doesn’t need one, as he handled the action on Roberts’ guitar with no sweat.

Rachel Rolleri represented for the ladies with the classic “Angels  from Montgomery,” while fathers Casey Thrasher and Maurice Townsend both impressed the judges in different ways-one was triumphant and uplifting while the other was  simply heartbreaking.

Munfarid Zaidi, who was cradled like a baby by Connick, got lucky the second time around with a humorous Heejun Han like approach to “Proud Mary”. Ethan Thompson had a more serious audition, as did Austin Percario, and sailed through. Caleb Johnson has somehow morphed into Meatloaf since his last trip to Hollywood--and that’s also a good thing, as he went through as well.  Briana Oakley, who possessed poise and pipes to match, went through, as did Jesse Cline, who sang a capella even though he strapped on a guitar.

Keith London confused the judges with Beyonce’s “If I were a Boy” and an out of tune guitar. He pushed harder with Macklemore’s “Same Love,” and survived another day. Malaya Watson was cut off by Connick, but Lopez insisted she keep singing-a good sign. Jena Asciutto covered "Video Games" by Lana Del Ray,  and Savion Wright showcased not only his vocal talent, but his songwriting chops, earning easy access to the group rounds. Also ones to watch: Spencer Lloyd, who showed enormous control and charisma behind the keyboard with his take on "Say Something" by A Great Big World, and Kristen O'Conner, who impressed with an impassioned "Nobody's Perfect" by Jessie J.

 “Group Night?" contestant Emmanual Zidor said. “They should call it Hell Night.”

It is always heartbreaking watching people look for groups. It’s like being picked last in gym class. Still, it must be done, and power guitar trio, Briley, Roberts and Thrasher teamed up immediately, while Savion Wright, Ryan Clark, John Fox and Madelyn Patterson already apparently grouped up in Austin.

Poor Jessica Meuse was stuck in a group with a sick partner, while the group Loud and Fierce are already sniping at each other and battling in front of poor Michael Orland.  Before the night is over, Meuse splits with her group, and Jillian Jensen finally got some screen time-being shown sleeping on the floor.

Tomorrow the real fun begins-as the tired and cranky groups take the stage. Are you ready, Idol Worshippers?

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile