'American Idol': Hollywood Week Brings Standouts and Cutthroat Competition

Jax American Idol Audition Still - H 2015
Courtesy of FOX

Jax American Idol Audition Still - H 2015

It’s Hollywood Week on American Idol, and according to Ryan Seacrest, “the road to stardom is about to get tough” for the golden ticket holders, as the judges now have to whittle a group of over 200 talented singers down to the top 24.

The high stakes of Hollywood Week are immediately clear, as the judges gathered the competitors and inform them that they’ll be calling up a select group to jump right up and sing. The contestants picked to sing in this first round don’t know this, but they’ve been chosen because they gave some of the most memorable auditions on the road.

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First up is Jax Cole, who accompanies herself on the piano and sings a slowed-down, soulful version of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” full of a lot of impressive runs. The judges don’t give any direct feedback in this round, but after Jax finishes, Jennifer Lopez says as an aside to the other judges: “That’s how you reinterpret a song without losing the melody.” Jax’s take on “Toxic” is refreshing, solidifying her as an early frontrunner.

Hollywood Anderson has less success with his reimagination of Adele’s “Someone Like You.” His voice is gorgeous, and he definitely makes original choices on the guitar, but the judges all agree that he loses some of the emotion of the song by changing it too much.

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Early nerves get the best of a lot of the competitors. Shannon Berthiaume forgets the words to “She Duke” by Stevie Wonder. In a touching display of support, her fellow contestants all clap along to the beat when she starts back up, but you can see her confidence level drop immediately.

The obvious anxiety in the room leads Keith Urban to ask the contestants to loosen up a bit and relax, prompting Harry Connick Jr. to jokingly tell everyone to get as tense as possible. The mood lightens a bit, but a slew of guitar issues plague several of the performers. Trevor Douglas from the Nashville auditions finally breaks the out-of-tune guitar curse with his rendition of “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran.

Standouts on day one include Tyanna Jones, who at just 16-years-old, has a huge voice that she shows off with “Dance With Me Tonight” by Olly Murs. Blind contestant Garrett Miles exudes a very authentic country-music vibe from his “how y’all doing?” at the top of the performance to his rich sound on “To Make You Feel My Love.” Joey Cook does fine without her “squeeze box”—also known as an accordion—and sings a ukelele version of “Kerosene” by Miranda Lambert.

Amber Kelechi from the Nashville auditions really feels the pressure of Hollywood Week, saying she’s afraid to go home after coming so far in the competition. She sings “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons and gives it her all, but the song choice strains her voice a bit and doesn’t play into her strengths.

But even those who cracked under pressure have another shot, as the judges send all 38 of day one’s performers through to the next round.

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On day two, the remaining 175 contestants have to compete in a cutthroat lightning round. Broken up into groups of 10, the Idol hopefuls get only about 10 seconds to sing for the judges, who then ask some of them to step forward. One line stays; the other goes home. This time, there’s no mystery about any of it: It’s a clear-cut, painfully fast elimination round, sending half of the singers to pack their bags at the end of the day.

Young competitors Reno Anoa’i and Jaq Mackenzie survive the grueling process of day two, along with Erica Washington, who gives a bold performance of “Girl On Fire.” Lopez-lovers Michael Simeon and Big Ron Wilson—who effortlessly hits the high note on Ray Charles’ “A Song For You”—also make it through.

The first installment of Hollywood Week ends on a cliffhanger, as Gabby Zonneveld forgets her words on “Bottom Of The River” by Delta Rae and struggles to recover, despite the judges encouraging her to take a minute. Zonneveld’s fate remains unknown, but based on the harshness of this elimination round, it’s doubtful we’ll be seeing her in the top 48. What do you think? Sound off in the comments.