"Countless dreams will be tested [read: crushed] as we start this epic journey known as Hollywood Week," Ryan Seacrest gravely intoned in the cold open of Thursday's "American Idol" episode. Yep, forget about Shark Week. When it comes to manufactured reality-TV calendar events, Hollywood Week is the one that always brings the drama. And so far, Season 10 appears to be no different.
See, every season, after sitting through weeks of auditions, "Idol" viewers are rewarded for their patience with the real juicy stuff during Hollywood Week--when the great are separated from the merely good, and when many of the golden-ticket-holders who only a couple episodes ago were jumping up and down shrieking "I'm going to Hollywood!" in Ryan Seacrest's ear learn that Hollywood really isn't all that fun. Well, not fun for them, anyway. For us viewers, though? Oh, it's awesome.
"It will be the toughest week of their lives," Ryan continued in his best movie-trailer voice. Well, I imagine that sob-story contestants like Chris Medina (girlfriend-with-brain-damage guy), James Durbin (Tourettes/Asperger's guy), and Paris Tassin (mother of a special-needs daughter) have experienced much, much tougher weeks. But that aside, the stakes were high here. With the double the number of usual Hollywood Week contenders (the likely result of Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez's overly lenient golden-ticket distribution), and half of those contestants being axed the first day, the pressure was on. Many hopefuls would only get to sing once, in the a cappella "sudden death" round. They wouldn't even have a chance to unpack their bags before getting back on the Greyhound bus to the Nowheresville from whence they came.
By the hour-long episode's end, contestants were throwing up, forgetting lyrics, voice-cracking like Peter "Time To Change" Brady, and being pep-talked, somewhat unsuccessfully, by a well-meaning Steven. And a few familiar faces from the audition rounds were gone. But thankfully, most of my personal favorites made it through--among them many talented teens who surprisingly exhibited more composure and poise than some of the contestants nearly twice their age:
Brett Loewenstern - Huzzah! My favorite frizzy-haired redhead is still in the running. After belting out a stellar version of the Beatles' "Let It Be," this 16-year-old seemingly fragile spirit proved he has the confidence to compete.
Lauren Alaina - The 15-year-old powerhouse already anointed "The One" by Tyler didn't disappoint with her take on Simon Cowell's favorite song, "Unchained Melody." Simon himself would have been impressed.
Hollie Cavanagh - This 17-year-old bundle of nerves totally crumbled in the Austin audition room. But contrary to Randy Jackson's prediction, Hollie did NOT get "eaten alive" in Hollywood. Instead she rose to the challenge and sang her little heart out. Who knew she had it in her?
Robbie Rosen - I don't care if Robbie used to be in a wheelchair. What I care about is whether or not this 16-year-old has the goods to compete with the big boys. His sudden death performance proved he definitely does.
Casey Abrams - The 19-year-old melodica wunderkind delivered another fiery blues performance; it was a no-brainer that he move on. And proving he's a true Idol, he spent the rest of Hollywood Week's day one nobly consoling contestants less fortunate than himself. Aw.
Scotty McCreery - The 16-year-old country boy with the deep voice of a 50-year-old pack-a-day smoker sailed through, albeit by singing the same song he performed at his audition. He better learn a new song if he wants to make it past day two, but so far, so good.
Chris Medina - Chris was good, not great, but no one had the heart to crush his dreams just yet. Before he even sang, Steven was asking about the health of Chris's disabled fiancée, Juliana. "She's getting better every day and she's an inspiration to me," Chris said, glowing. Man. There's no way this guy isn't making the top 20.
James Durbin - Yet another sob story sailed through. (A song that needs to be retired from "Idol," by the way: the Beatles' "Oh Darling," which James sang this evening.) His hair and Bret Michaels bandanna looked stupid--someone get the "Idol" stylists working on him, stat, because his face is cute--and he oversang some notes, but he delivered an overall good performance.
Chelsee Oaks & Rob Bolin - It's going to be hard for Rob to get over his ex-girlfriend when she's in his face 24/7. Both advanced, and they're rooming next door to each other in Hollywood. How much you wanna bet they'll be forced to sing together in the Group Round, too?
Tiffany Rios - The spray-tanned Snooki of Season 10, until now more famous for wearing "jujubes on her ooh-ooh-bees," immediately turned everyone off by announcing, "I'm going to be honest, I'm tired of seeing people try to do what I know I can." (In a pot-calling-kettle-black moment, Jennifer Lopez then declared Tiffany "unlikable.") But the Jersey girl put her money where her big mouth is and sang her pouf off. However, I have a feeling she won't get past the Group Round with that 'tude of hers.
Clint Jun Gamboa - After his wonderfully entertaining San Francisco audition, this wacky dive-bar karaoke host disappointingly got very little screentime Wednesday. I'm glad he's sticking around, because I need a whole lot more Gamboa goodness in my life.
Rachel Zevita - A young soprano who made it through in Season 6 before being cut on the first day of Hollywood Week, Rachel fared better this time around. Will she make it past day two this season? We'll find out next week. I do suggest she not sing "Summertime" again, though. That song belongs to Fantasia and also needs to be retired.
So who didn't make it? Belly-dancer Heidi Khzam, "disturbingly great" awkward accountant Steve Beghun, geek-girl blogger Sarah Sellers (that one really bummed me out), cloying and annoying pageant princess Victoria Huggins (I wasn't so bummed about that one), and, in what was probably the most surprising elimination of the night, Bronx shelter kid Travis Orlando.
Nick Fink, who auditioned with his lovey-dovey girlfriend Jacqueline Dunford, also got axed, and embarrassed both himself and Jacqueline by refusing to take no for an answer and begging for a second chance. Jacqueline, who did make it through, seemed upset, but according to TMZ they're a fake couple anyway, so I'm sure she'll get over it soon enough.
So next week the intensity gets upped another notch, during what Ryan Seacrest likes to call the "dreaded Group Round." I, however, am not dreading it one bit. Bring. It. On.