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Have the producers of American Idol been reading my mind? The promo before tonight’s grueling two-hour Hollywood rounds episode touted that Idol is the only show that “produces real superstars.” Need proof? It was there in the commercial as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, Scotty McCreery, David Cook and Adam Lambert were all name-checked, along with some vital stats. Namely, that the show has amassed 314 No. 1 Hit Singles, nine Grammys, and an Oscar.
Yes, the stakes are high — especially now with shows like NBC’s The Voice breathing down Idol’s neck. Jennifer Lopez said it best when she asked, “Who can we lose? It isn’t just about singers, it’s about stars.”
She’s right, and last night was the night when those few stars in the remaining 185 singers began to shine a little brighter.
When we last left our heroes, the contestants in Hollywood were battling illness, kidney stones, and each other as they each formed groups and readied themselves for what one girl described as “game day.” Were they ready to play?
It didn’t seem like it. They were all exhausted, existing on two hours of sleep, medication, and nerves. Others were in desperate need of last-minute rehearsal.
No group had a tougher night than The Bettys, heavily featured as a warring group dealing with Type A Personalities, illness and drama. Their much-anticipated performance of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style” was, in the words of Randy Jackson, “really bleak.” It turns out Jennifer, the only one in the group that cared about rehearsal, has a last name, Malsch. She and groupmate Cari Quoyeser from Texas are the only ones that made it, while Cheri Tucker is falling apart in the hallway and Brianna Bell, the diva of the group, slunk off the stage. It is obvious that this was the start of a long day.
Up next is “Groove Sauce,” featuring audition favorites Creighton Fraker and Reed Grimm. Jennifer Lopez was clearly anticipating this group, screaming a friendly “hello” before anyone sang a note. Fraker, Reed and Aaron Marcellus totally shine vocally during “Hold On, I’m Coming.” Jen Hirsh (who bears a resemblance to season 10 favorite Pia Toscano) shows some serious vocal chops, and Nick Boddington has the vocals but is missing the stage presence, especially next to Fraker and Grimm. Lopez loved every second of it, as did Jackson and Steven Tyler. After a brief deliberation and high praise from Jackson and Lopez who raved about the background vocals, Tyler noted that the whole routine prompted a standing ovation, and the entire group goes through. This is going to be interesting to watch.
Group “679” followed, featuring Kyle Crews, who has issues with Brielle and her mother. As we were reminded, Brielle Von Hugel was in the “best group” last year (all together now: Pia!) and her mother was praying to Jesus so she wouldn’t have to deal with her daughter. Unfortunately, we had to deal with another version of “Hit ‘Em Up Style.”I have to say, Joshua Ledet has the Jacob Lusk factor going for him. Crews cannot dance, and his awkward moves nearly sink the group until Shannon Magrane (Pia, the sequel) saves the performance with sparkling runs toward the end. Unlike Groove Sauce, the judges needed to deliberate on this one. Von Hugel, Magran, Ledet and a girl named Amber (they didn’t bother showing her singing), all go through, while Crews is sent back to the frat house, as Brielle’s mother tells the cameras that she “loved Kyle” and his voice. This, of course, was hilarious because she was seen bashing him last week behind his back. Brielle consoles him by saying he’ll be back next year. Yeah, she knows something about that. She can remember that later when she’s eliminated in favor of Magrane. As for Crews, who blamed his bad performance on the key of the song, he can sing at the next mixer.
The next group with the awful name the “Make You Believers,” bragged that they survived the flu bug despite Amy “Patient Zero” Brumfield’s diseased presence. However, the dark Idol cloud gathered over their group, creating another mishap. Vocalist Jacquie Cera, just before hitting the stage, took a nasty fall, causing more drama on group day. In truth, the “Make You Believers” were destined for failure from the beginning. Dustin Cundiff forgot the words to “More Than A Feeling,” one of the most played songs on Classic Rock radio. Brumfield must not have a radio in her tent, because she messed up the lyrics as well. Mathanee Treco fared better, but his over emoting was a desperate attempt to overcompensate for the failures of his group. Suffice to say, he is the only one that sailed through. Brumfield will return to the tent in Tennessee, as she lamented that she pushed herself all for “nothing.”
The next groups also manage to blow it, as it is obvious they all ignored the cardinal sin of Idol: don’t forget the words. All of the mumbling, oh-ohs, yay-yays and creative lyric switches (“You’re going to keep on singing because you really want to be here,” and “I really blew my shot some time”) brought truth to Tyler’s comment that it’s all a trainwreck and comedy of errors.
Now, the trainwreck I was waiting for all night was the group featuring Alisha Bernhardt. You remember her from last week — she wanted to do “Joy To The World” but bullied the rest of the group into Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue.” The name of her compatriots is terrible, too: “Those Girls and That Guy.” Is this the best people can do? Puking all night must have affected Christian Lopez’s eyesight, because he did the whole performance with his eyes shut. The whole thing was just awful beyond words. Everyone watching the sideshow looked totally bored, judges included. Jackson was clear almost immediately that none of them were going to stick around, and no amount of glue was going to help. Bernhardt, sadly, will return to the police force. Maybe she can perform at the next Policeman’s Ball.
The group called “Area 451” was practicing their moves in the hallway when another Idol tragedy struck. Imandi Handy passed out due to exhaustion, and the medics tended to her with a blood pressure check. The rest of the group restructured their routine as a trio, as the next group, “Hollywood Five,” prepared to take the stage.
The group — Ariel Sprague, Eben Franckewitz, Gabi Carruba, David Leathers, Jr., Jeremy Rosado — featured the youngest talent in the competition (with the exception of Rosado, the “big toe” of the troupe, so to speak), and they delivered a blazing hot version of Duffy’s “Mercy.” Leathers was particularly impressive, and they were all put through to the next round. Keep an eye on young Eben; he has that Teen Beat thing going for him, and could be a huge vote getter if he makes the final cut.
With their act finally together, “Area 451” hit the stage, but Bryce Garcia was still shaken up by what happened in the hallway, and botched his first lines. Johnny Keyser was composed and handsome on stage, but revealed himself to be a self-involved and seriously horrendous human being when, in a horrifying moment, Handy, just beginning to show her vocal chops, suffered another convulsion on stage and collapsed yet again. Keyser caught her as she fell, but for some reason makes a callous decision to continue the song with his fallen comrade spread out on the floor. Seriously? He may face the ire of the public for that very move. I wouldn’t have put him through, based on principle. However, show biz is a tough gig, as Handy discovered moments later as she was cut for not having the stomach to handle the pressures of stardom.
Others who didn’t make the cut: Symone Black, who famously fell off the stage last week, and W.T. Thompson, the not-so-bright guy from the Savannah auditions who quit his job with a baby on the way for a chance at Idol fame. We were informed that Erika Van Pelt, Elise Testone, and Hallie Day made it through, but I was disappointed I didn’t hear any of them sing.
The highly anticipated performance of M.I.T. (Most International Talent) featuring Jairon Jackson, Heejun Han, Richie Law, and Phillip Phillips was fraught with drama. Before the act hit the stage, the tension between Han and the “Cowboy Kid” was getting worse, as Law went into the confessional room solo to lament about how he has been compromised with his group.
“There’s no compromise between good and bad,” said Law. “It’s either good or bad. One person in our group is probably going to be taken down, and if I stand above my group, it’s not going to be me.” Han countered, “He’s got a mouth, but he doesn’t listen.”
Han began the song with his rich, beautiful Bolton vocals, and the cowboy has some “falsetto” according to Jackson. Phillips growled his way through the lyrics and made the John Mayer faces. Despite the high noon theatrics, they are all moving forward, based on their prior auditions.
After the good news, Han tried to take the high road by saying to the camera, “I talk a lot of crap about Richie and I apologize to his parents,” but his stare at the end told us what he was really thinking. I’ll say it again. Han rules. Period.
After the group round cuts, the remaining vocalists got to jam with Tyler, Jackson and the American Idol band before taking the stage with the next round of solo performances. I always enjoy this part, because the musicians of the group are allowed to perform with the instrument of their choice.
First up is Ledet, and I am further convinced that he is the second incarnation of Jacob Lusk. He has a ridiculous vocal range, steeped in Gospel and emotion. His take on Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” was simply beautiful. He should lose the tie, though. He’s on stage, not in an office cubicle.
Finally, we got another look at Colton Dixon, sporting some serious Vanilla Ice hair and taking a page out of the Scott MacIntyre playbook, performing a Daughtry song, “What About Now?” on piano. Phillip Phillips performed a reworked version of Chris Issak’s “Wicked Game,” and earned admiration from Jackson, who had questions about Phillip’s guitar. Is it wrong for me to point out that every time he scrunches his face into a constipated contortion I get a tad distracted? Hirsh is especially strong as she delivered the first of many performances of Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind.” Standing center stage, Hirsh’s vocals were joyous, understated, and gorgeous. She earned a well-deserved standing ovation.
Fraker’s final shot in Hollywood is the Justin Timberlake version of “What a Wonderful World.” Ok, Timberlake never recorded it as far as I know, but if he did it may sound like what Fraker delivered. His peers applaud him, and Tyler mouths the words, clearly enjoying every second of it. Another standing ovation, just as a thunderstorm gathers overhead, distracting several performers, including Grimm, whose plans to sing a cappella have been nixed. He is forced to meet with vocal coach Peisha McPhee and the band to come up with another arrangement in 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, back in the theatre, Magrane takes on “What A Wonderful World.” She has some pitch problems, but pulls it all together at the end, surprising Lopez who shouts, “What the hell was that?” She earned a standing ovation, as the camera cut back to Grimm who was clearly struggling with his song arrangement and tearfully called his mother for advice.
Grimm made musical director Michael Orland nervous as he announced his grand idea — he was going to be original and get behind the drum kit. It’s not that original. Even Jackson quipped that “we have another Casey here,” referencing Season 10 favorite Casey Abrams. Grimm’s “Georgia on My Mind” impressed Tyler and Jackson, who each deemed the performance as “extraordinary” and “real music.”
Another Idol contestant, Skylar Laine, caught Tent Girl’s flu. She claimed she has been getting sick ever ten minutes, and has been to the hospital and given fluids. Despite her illness, Laine delivers a quirky performance of The Band Perry’s, “You Lie,” which Tyler declares is the best of the night. She is like a young Reba McIntyre-adorable and perky on stage.
Rochelle Lamb, we met her and her cute daughter in auditions, messed up the words to Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me.” But once she regained her composure, she delivered a perfectly lovely version of what Tyler described as a “beautiful song.”
Adam Brock, a heftier version of Danny Gokey who describes himself as “White Chocolate” and sings like Taylor Hicks (there’s a mashup if we ever heard one) does yet another version of “Georgia on My Mind” (can we put a limit on how many times we hear the same song in one night, pretty please?) Frankly, Grimm and Fraker, who performed the tune as well, have a better shot at this competition than Brock, but maybe the magic handkerchief he carries in his back pocket for good luck will help.
With that, the groups are put into the Idol “rooms of doom,” where one lucky group is told whether or not they make it to the next phase. Room No. 1 has Creighton Fraker, Erika Van Pelt, Hallie Day, Johnny Keyser, Jen Hirsch and Adam Brock, Jermaine Jones, Lauren Gray and Joshua Ledet. Wait a minute-did we even see Lauren Gray perform with her group? No matter, this is a no brainer, considering Hirsch is in the room. Indeed, the judges tell this group of hopefuls that they made it through.
Tension is busting out in Room No. 3, as Lamb and Madison Shanley get into a war of words after Lamb, who claims to have been at the doctor that day, has fits of nervous laughter. Shanley accuses Lamb of not being respectful to the other people in the room, and Lamb stares her down. Jackson informs the contestants in this room that this season has the “best talent of any season” he has ever seen. Tyler tried to console by talking about Aerosmith’s early days in the clubs getting booed off the stage. We said goodbye to the room of assorted singers we never saw audition, with the exception of the NBA dancer Brittany Kerr.
Phillip Phillips, Skylar Laine, Shannon Magrane and Eben Franckewitz are in Room No. 2. The producers aren’t even trying to make us guess anymore. Of course the group with Phillips, Magrane and Grimm are going through.
The final people in Room No. 4 contained my beloved Heejun, and I won’t lie. I am so excited that he is still in it. Other singers in the room, Stephanie Renee, Brittany Kellogg and the kooky goodness of Angie Zeiderman rounded out the remaining players receiving the good news that they have survived to sing another day.
So, that’s 70 singers left standing and preparing to do battle one last time in Las Vegas. Will we find a star this season? I’m thinking yes. What say you, Idol Worshipers?
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