Last week's "American Idol" Hollywood episodes were heavy on fighting and vomiting and shockingly light on any actual singing, and were about as interesting as watching paint dry (or watching stomach-flu-stricken singers dry-heave). The only relief of any kind was the comic relief of deadpan contestant Heejun Han and his "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-style show commentary. But this week, there was thankfully plenty of singing--and more Heejun!
Sure, some of what Ryan Seacrest always calls the "dreaded Group Round" auditions were bad enough to still have me reaching for my own barf bag. But "Idol" was at least back to being about the music, as the remaining 185 Hollywood Week hopefuls performed for a spot in the top 24--first in groups, later with solos. Of course, there was the usual Hollywood Week sleep-depriving, stage-mom-meddling, lyric-forgetting, Blu-Cantrell-covering trainwreckiness--and yes, there was more hurling and more fainting. But at least Wednesday's "Idol" episode was entertaining, for the most part.
The group performances started off particularly trainwreckily, if that is indeed a word, with the Bettys, aka Jennifer Malish, Cherie Tucker, Cari Quoyeser, Gabi Cavassa, and Brianna Bell. After an epic bickering/bawling/barfing session the night before, these "type A" girls took the stage and sullied the good name of Betty everywhere. (Any woman named Betty should consider suing Fox for defamation.) The Bettys' under-rehearsed, scattershot "Hit 'Em Up Style" was NOT a hit, and the camera operators frequently cut to reaction shots of the judges and other contestants wincing in what appeared to be aural pain. "That was really weak," Randy Jackson told them. I was genuinely surprised that any Bettys got through after that, but Cari and Jennifer made the cut. Cherie then fled to weep in the ladies' room and blame her sickly performance on the Idol Bug.
Next up was the unfortunately-named-but-otherwise-pretty-great Groove Sauce, consisting of Nick Boddington, Reed Grimm, Aaron Marcellus, Creighton Fraker, and Jen Hirsh--a strong group for sure, and one that definitely didn't suffer from the practice-session troubles that plagued the Bettys. Sassy outsiders Reed and Creighton were the standouts for me during this "Hold On, I'm Coming" audition, but everyone was on point. It was amazing how much the energy in the auditorium elevated, with fellow contestants grooving to Groove Sauce in aisles, and the judges grinning ear-to-ear and eventually giving Groove Sauce a standing ovation. "That's the way it's supposed to be done," raved Steven Tyler. Randy even said Groove Sauce "set the bar" for the other groups. Unsurprisingly, and deservedly, all of them made it through.
Mama Von Hugel & friends
The aggressively stage-parented group 679 were next, once again doing that damned Blu Cantrell song. Young Brielle Von Hugel's overbearing mother, who was seen leading a group prayer for her daughter in the aisles, clearly annoyed frat boy Kyle Crews, but I guess that prayer worked, because 679's Brielle, along with Amber Caparas, Joshua Ledet, and Shannon Magrane, all made it to the next round--while 679 member Kyle, who was once told by the judges that he possessed one of the best male voices of Season 11, was cut. To be fair, Kyle's booty-dance choreography was pretty lame.
Jacquie Cera takes a fall
Up next were the Make You Believers, featuring Amy "Patient Zero/Tent Girl" Brumfield, who was still bearing much of the blame for spreading the Idol Flu to the other 184 contestants. Ailing fellow Believer Jacquie Cera passed out before their performance and almost couldn't participate at all, but she was determined for the show to go on. Honestly...she should have sat this one out. This group's "More Than A Feeling" was, um, less than awesome. Both fodder contestant Dustin Cundiff and Amy messed up the lyrics (how can you forget the words to "More Than A Feeling"???), Jacquie of course struggled, and basically the Make You Believers gave a performance no one could believe in. They totally sucked all the triumph out of this beloved arena-rock anthem. Only powerhouse Mathenee Treco, who got all the lyrics right and seemed to be making a real effort, made it through. So it was back to the forest for Tent Girl.
Those Girls & That Guy
Those Girls & That Boy performed next, led by policewoman Alisha Bernhardt--who, ironically, almost seemed drunk during her awkward performance. She should have arrested herself for her crimes against music after this. TG&TB's cover of Sugarland's "Stuck On You" hit many sour notes, and all the girls and that one boy were unsurprisingly eliminated.
The Hollywood Five
The Hollywood Five--young David Leathers Jr., Eben Franckewitz, Gabi Carubba, Ariel Sprague, and Jeremy Rosado--were one of the stronger groups of the day. Apparently stage-parenting works! Their high-energy performance of Duffy's "Mercy" was impressive, and all five singers were advanced to the next round.
Imani Handy faints again
Area 451 were a mess, and their epic-fail performance couldn't solely be blamed on poor group member Imani Handy fainting like THREE times but insisting on still going onstage. Verbal-amnesia-stricken Bryce Garcia sounded like he just woke up, Kristi Krause was pitchy, and then Imani passed out for a fourth time. Only heartthrob Johnny Keyser was good, although he lost points with me personally for continuing to sing while Imani lay limply onstage surrounded by concerned crew members. However, Johnny was the only Area 451 member who didn't get the axe, so I guess the judges weren't offended.
M.I.T. (aka "Most International Team") marked the wonderful return of the dry-witted Heejun Han...and the less-wonderful return of bossy psycho-cowboy Richie Law, who asked for one-on-one time with the cameras just so he could secretly bad-mouth his teammates. But Richie and Heejun, along with Jairon Jackson and early favorite Phillip Phillips, all made it through--and after that, suddenly M.I.T. were getting along. "I talked a lot of craps about Richie," Heejun confessed, warning Richie of what he would see when this season eventually aired. Richie, however, gave Heejun no such warning.
With the "dreaded "Group Round" now out of the way, the surviving contestants went on to sing solos, and this time they got to play instruments and show what they're really all about. There were a lot of standouts during this segment, including previously little-seen soul singer Joshua Ledet earning a standing ovation for his passionate performance of "Jar Of Hearts"; returning heartthrob Colton Dixon (you know, the guy who came to the auditions just to give his sister Schyler moral support, and was "forced" to try out again by the judges) playing piano during "What About Love"; Phillip Phillips wailing on "Wicked Game"; Jen Hirsh belting out another overdone song, "Georgia On My Mind," but doing a fabulous job; Amazonian teen Shannon Magrane doing a lovely "What A Wonderful World"; preacherman-type Adam "White Chocolate" Brock also doing "Georgia"; and country girl Skylar Laine killing it on the Band Perry's "You Lie," despite being yet another victim of the Idol Flu.
Reed Grimm bangs the drums
But my personal favorite solos of the night were by eccentric street musician Creighton Fraker, whose unhinged "What A Wonderful World" was a revelation, and Reed Grimm, who was told at the last minute that he wouldn't be able to perform a cappella as planned and decided to drum with the live band during his performance instead; it was a huge risk, but one that paid off, and his "Georgia" performance had a real Casey Abrams jazzbo vibe to it. Reed was previously known for his gimmicky theme-song covers, but with this performance, he earned some real cred.
Finally, at the end of the episode, the contestants were divided into four rooms, where they were presumably deprived of solid food and water while they awaited their fate for hours, thus risking further fainting incidents. Making the cut were some of my personal faves--Creighton Fraker, Reed Grimm, Colton Dixon, Phillip Phillips, Angie Zeiderman, Jessica Phillips, AND HEEJUN HAN--along with David Leathers Jr., Adam Brock, Johnny Keyser, Hallie Day, Jermaine Jones, Lauren Gray, Joshua Ledet, Baylie Brown, Shannon Magrane, Skylar Laine, Gabi Carubba, and Jairon Jackson.
Among those going home were country-crooning mom Rachelle Lamb, expectant dad W.T. Thomson (you know, the one who quit his job to audition for "Idol," bizarrely with his pregnant wife's support), Symone Black (the 16-year-old who fell off the stage last week), real-life glee kid Reis Kloeckener (aw, too bad, I liked him), and NBA cheerleader Brittany Kerr.
So Thursday, the 60 or so contestants who did make the cut move on to Vegas, baby, Vegas--where the lure of gambling, showgirls, open bars for the over-21s, and windowless 24-hour casinos will surely lead to more sleepless nights and--if the editing of the last couple episodes is anything to judge by--more fainting spells. But hopefully, there will be many great performances as well.