It was "the most important audition of their life," as Ryan Seacrest said in his charming mix of singular and plural tenses. But hey, what does grammar matter when a major-label record deal, an "American Idol" title, and a top 40 Vegas road trip to perform at the Cirque Du Soleil Beatles show are at stake?
Yes, on Thursday Season 10's survivors continued their Hollywood Week, or Hell Week, or let's just call it Hellywood Week, and this was their one final shot to make an impression before the judges started tossing their Polaroids into the trashbin like so many soiled Steven Tyler scarves. And with the added elements of musical instruments (which they were finally allowed to play for the first time this season) and live band accompaniment, the pressure was on like Donkey Kong.
Some of the singers, including some we hadn't seen much of before, really killed it. Others just seemed to die a slow proverbial death on that sad audition stage. So without further ado, let's take a look at the highest highlights and lowest lowlights, shall we?
Casey Abrams - The bushy-haired blues boy was one of the episode's biggest standouts, trading in his melodica for a standup bass (an "Idol" first!) and delivering a nuanced jazz performance of "Georgia On My Mind" that totally belied his goofy frat-boy persona. Man, Casey Abrams is a true original, and if he doesn't make the top 10, J.Lo and company darn well better whip out the Judges' Save and correct that injustice. This guy needs to be on this show, and more importantly, this show needs him.
Jacob Lusk - We got a little inkling of what this powerhouse belter with the elastic tongue 'n' lungs can do on Wednesday, but on Thursday Jacob took "God Bless The Child" to church and made everyone in that audition auditorium a believer. (He even received a standing ovation.) He also left everything on that stage, so much so that he collapsed into body-wracking, Ashley Sullivan-esque sobs when he was finished. But I am fairly certain those were happy tears. He had to have known he did good up there.
Carson Higgins - The wild-eyed Southern California boy chose to cover Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative," a tune also coincidentally (or not) performed by the more sedate Chris Medina. Now, I know Chris is the sympathetic favorite this season, but it's MY prerogative to say that Carson's boisterous, party-hardy rendition totally trounced Chris's strummy, Andrew Garcia-ish version. Carson had the entire audience up and dancing, and you know, when he sang that opening "they say I'm crazy" line, he was quite believable. Crazy like a fox, that is!
Ashthon Jones - Diva alert! It's been a while since we've seen the likes of Ashthon on "Idol"--you'd have to go back to diva-heavy Season 6 with Melinda Doolittle and LaKisha Jones, or even Season 3's Fantasia Barrino/Jennifer Hudson/LaToya London trifecta. So when Ashthon, a contestant who'd gotten very little screentime until now, belted out the advanced-master-class "Dreamgirls" staple "And I Am Telling You"--and nailed it--it was a nice blast from the "Idol" past. This girl can sing, people. Let's hope we hear more from her soon. She's too good to be relegated to 15 fleeting seconds in some mid-episode audition montage.
John Wayne Schulz - Kudos to this country boy for covering Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide"--one of classic rock's all-time finest goosebump-raisers, and a song that translates nicely to the country genre, too (note the Dixie Chicks' version). But did J.Lo really have to sing over him? When Steven Tyler croons with the contestants, it's awesome. But unless Jennifer has her Auto-Tune 5000 machine at the ready, she should leave the singing to the semi-professionals like JWS.
Clint Jun Gamboa - I really don't WANT to like Clint. After his bullying of 15-year-old fan favorite Jacee Badeaux during the Group Round, he has quickly become the villain of Season 10. But I can't deny that his own take on "Georgia" was white-hawt. Plus, he'll always get bonus points from me for being associated with the so-awful-it's-awesome cult flick The Room. Still, the dude could sing like a hybrid of Josh Groban, Luciano Pavarotti, and Adam Lambert and he'd still be screwed, since "Idol" is a popularity contest, and Clint is "Idol's" enemy number one right now. He'll probably never be able to live down the whole Jacee scandal--not when producers insist on running it in grainy flashbacks before each of his performances--so if he's smart, he'll come crawling on his hands and knees begging Jacee for forgiveness, preferably when "Idol" camera crews are nearby to capture the touching moment. That's Clint's only hope for redemption, lest he be voted off on the very first live show.
Thia Megia - This former "America's Got Talent" semifinalist always impresses, as she did with Thursday's classy cabaret version of "What A Wonderful World," performing with a poise well beyond her 15 years. As Randy Jackson said tonight, "When you got it, you got it, no matter what your age." But you know, sometimes Thia is just a little TOO poised. She's almost like a singing robot. Couldn't she flub the lyrics or trip over her shoelaces or get spinach in her teeth or something, just to prove she's human and a normal, relatable kid?
Sophia Shorai - I don't ever recall seeing this girl on "Idol" before. Why is "Idol" keeping all the great singers under wraps, huh? With her marquee-worthy, somewhat anagrammish name and soulful, sultry vocals, Sophia stunned this evening. One minor complaint, though: Can "Idol" declare a moratorium on "Georgia On My Mind" already? Surely the producers can clear a few more songs other than "Georgia," "Forget You," and the Bruno Mars catalog.
Robbie Rosen - His whole "I used to be in a wheelchair but now I'm not and I conveniently have no photographic evidence of that period in my life" backstory bothered me at first, but this 16-year-old has been slowly winning me over with his solid, falsetto-laden performances. Seeing him play keyboard during his cover of Sara Bareilles's "Gravity" on Thursday further earned my respect.
Colton Dixon - He rocks the best "Idol" fauxhawk since Sanjaya, but I suspect there may be more to this conspicuously coiffed Southern boy than just fabulous follicles. His piano performance kind of raised the hairs on the back of my own neck. I want to hear and see more from this guy.
Ashley Sullivan - Aptly described by Ryan Seacrest as an "emotional time bomb," Ashley's brash Broadway facade has already cracked a couple times during this competition. She sobbed when she got her golden ticket, she sobbed when the stress of the Group Round almost made her quit the show, and this evening she sobbed again at the very sight of her boyfriend, who clearly is a saint (or at least a very patient, mellow, tolerant fellow). I'm not exactly sure why Ashley's boyfriend was there--other than the minors accompanied by their legal guardians, no one else seemed to have friends or family with them in Hollywood--but she might've been better off if he'd stayed at home. When a practically hyperventilating Ashley tried to serenade him with Michael Buble's "Everything," a romantic song loaded with meaning and memories for her ("I scream it out loud to him all the time!"), she lost whatever small amount of composure she had left, repeatedly forgetting the words and begging the judges for a do-over. She left the stage in tears, again, and when her boyfriend tried to convince her that she'd done all right, she howled, "You're lying! You're lying!" Well, at least Ashley was on-the-ball enough to know she'd blown it. Or had she? Incredibly, she actually made it through to the top 60 at the end of the episode. I'm kind of skerred to know what will happen if this girl is let loose in Vegas, or on live television, and I'm equally worried about how she'll react if she gets cut. But I'm sure it will make for good TV, however things go down.
Chelsee Oaks - Chelsee was a bundle of nerves after her BFF in the competition, Jacqueline Dunford, shockingly quit the show due to illness, and her ex-boyfriend Rob Bolin went down in flames during their earlier disastrous group performance. I don't really think Chelsee was THAT sad about Rob's elimination, to be honest--I was totally Team Rob when it came to their feud--but anyway, she used that as an excuse for a truly lousy, lyric-flubbing performance. And it didn't help matters that she tried to tackle a tough song by the almighty O.I. (Original Idol), Kelly Clarkson. So Oaks got chopped. Hey, now that she's gone, can we start a petition to reinstate Rob?
Scotty McCreery - The 16-year-old country crooner with the superlow Satchmo voice seemingly knows only one song. That song is Josh Turner's "Your Man," which he breaks into at every audition and probably while singing in the shower as well. The problem Thursday was..."Your Man" wasn't on the cleared song list. And since Scotty obviously didn't feel comfortable singing "Grenade" or "Forget You," he opted to go with a country classic, "I Hope You Dance." Trouble is, he didn't know the words to that song, either. So his mush-mouthed performance was a not-so-hot mess (producers even added subtitles, just to emphasize just how badly he bungled it), and Scotty was the first to admit this. "Right now I think I deserve to get cut," he said, flat-out. "I'm pissed at myself." Oddly, the judges disagreed with him, and Scotty made it to the next round. I bet there are a bunch of viewers, myself included, who are pissed about that.
So by the end of the show, only 60 remained--among them all of the "best" performers listed above, the somewhat undeserving Ashley and Scotty, and clearcut faves like James Durbin, Lauren Alaina, Brett Loewenstern, Jacee Badeaux, Clint Medina, Naima Adedapo, Julie Zorrilla, Jovany Barreto, Stefano Langone, Caleb Hawley, and Rachel Zevita. Among the notable eliminated contestants were Briell Von Hugel, Corey Levoy, the lone remaining Gutierrez brother, the other Caleb, Chelsee, and ailing dropout Jacqueline.
So, which of the remaining contestants will make it to Vegas, baby, Vegas? We'll find out next week. Parker out.