S11E9: It’s time to separate the men from the boys – and a few women from the girls. Perhaps saying this signals a personality issue, but the severe eliminations are generally the most rewarding. Generally, the weaker singers – who’ve hung on despite lacking any real vocal depth – are picked off when it comes time to harmonize on group night or when they get their first shot at performing with the Idol band.
The thought of trimming the fat is a delicious one. Plus, there’s the additional notion that every cut gets us just a little closer to the hallowed Idol stage, where we start forming fabricated bonds with contestants, forming irrational hatred of others, and generally spouting rash, yet steadfast opinions at every turn. That’s why this double episode really got me going. We witnessed not only the sudden death cuts and whiny dynamics of group night, but the brutal four-room split at the end of Solo Night. This brings Hollywood Week to a close, but it certainly didn’t manage to put a lid on my opinions about this year’s crop of singers.
The Betties: Jennifer Malsch, Cherie Tucker, Cari Quoyeser, Gabrielle Casava
Here we find the group that almost broke up last episode, when a few of the girls insisted on staying up all night to practice. Clearly, this idea did not pay off because Cherie and Gabrielle cannot carry their weight or a tune – and that’s in addition to the fact that the group’s routine is generally flat. But the cuts are based on group night and past performance. Jennifer and Cari move forward, though neither one of them seem to have earned it.
Groove Sauce: Reed Grimm, Creighton Fraker, Nick Bodington, Aaron Marcellus, Jen Hirsch
As a whole, this group delivers a rousing performance of “Hold On, I’m Coming” – they get the entire theater on the their feet. They transcend the rinky dink high school piano accompaniment behind them, but the sum is not equal to its parts. Reed Grimm is his jazzy, musical self. Jen Hirsch continues to perform stronger and stronger (though I forgot her when she originally hit the screen). The others, however weren’t so great. Creighton continues his ridiculous over-performance, Nick is a bit of a snooze, and Aaron gets praise from the judges, but his tone just doesn’t do it for me. Still, Randy gives off a big “woooooo” and he sends them all to the next round.
679: Brielle Von Hugel, Kyle Crews, Joshua Ledet, Shannon Magrane
This is the group plagued by the stage mom from hell: Brielle’s mother was supporting her controlling daughter in her vendetta against Kyle Crews. Unfortunately, Kyle proves them right and his run goes into wild territory. It was pretty terrible. Then again, Brielle was fairly flat. Their group mates Joshua and Shannon are strong, but Shannon is slightly off as well. Despite Brielle’s subpar performance, Kyle is the only one sent home. The sad thing is, he’s pretty talented. That’s the danger of sudden death.
Make You Believers: Amy Brumfield , Jacquie Cera, Dustin Cundiff, Mathenee Treco
Amy’s group is the epicenter of the mysterious “Idol Flu” that seems to have overtaken a great portion of the contestants. She’s feeling slightly better, but her teammate Jacquie faints. The team manages to pull it together to get to the stage, but they can’t muster much beyond that. Dustin forgets the lyrics. Amy can’t hit any of the right notes. Jacquie is reaching notes that only dogs can hear. Mathenee is a little sharp, but it’s clear that he’s affected by the cacophony going on behind him. Mathenee is the only one who goes through.
Those Girls and That Guy: Alisha Bernhardt, Christian Lopez, Samantha Novacek, Isabell Gallegos
Ah, Alisha the crazy cop. It seems that between her overbearing nature and Christian’s flu symptoms, the whole group fell apart. Christian sounds pretty decent considering how sick he is, but everyone else is nothing short of terrible. As the producers use shots of sleeping contestants to show us how boring the song is, we find the quick and dirty results: they’re all done.
Hollywood 5: Eben Franckewitz, Jeremy Rosado, Gabi Carubba, Ariel Sprague, David Leathers, Jr.
The set of five sang “Mercy” and while Ariel, Eben, and Gabi are decent singers, they lack the passion or depth of their fellow group members. David is fantastic as always and Jeremy surprises us with a smooth falcetto. They all go through.
Area 451: Imani Handy, Johnny Keyser, Kristi Krause, Bryce Garcia
As seems to be the theme with Hollywood Week this year, another contestant is taken under by a fainting spell. Imani collapses, but insists on performing anyway. After Bryce forgets the whole beginning of the song, Johnny delivers another solid performance, Kristi breaks and is flat, and Imani – despite her solid voice – is overwhelmed and faints again. And Johnny may be cute, but apparently no one taught him that you have to stop singing when someone collapses. The judges seem to think Imani just collapsed from nerves, but it certainly seems like something else. Johnny is the only one they send through.
MIT: Heejun Han, Jairon Jackson, Richie Law, Phil Phillips
The best thing about this dysfunction group is the how often the dynamic prompts Heejun to make one of his now (Idol) famous quips. However, it seems that their bad blood hurts the group dynamic, because the group as a whole experiences some serious pitch problems. Richie is especially bad – he lacks power and range, and his falcetto was just plain painful. Somehow, the judges send all of them through. It was all worth it when Heejun apologized: “I’ve talked a lot of craps about Richie. I’m really sorry to…your parents.” Stay forever, Heejun!
We begin with the annual Ford commercial disguised as the contestants arriving at auditions, and somehow Ford has not asked Idol to switch up this format yet. To welcome the Idol band, Steven and Randy hop up on stage and jam with the contestants who are pushy enough to get up to the front. A few lucky folks get to live out a bit of dream with this impromptu show – and not a moment too soon. This round, the contestants have to deliver a polished performance with the help of the Idol band, and then split into the dreaded four separate results rooms to find out their fates.
While this phase is exciting, it seems that our contestants have a serious case of “Georgia on My Mind” fever. Almost everyone who attempts the song does a fantastic rendition, even the beloved classic can get old.
As he comes out, Steven yells “Heal me. Heal me,” and for some reason, I’ve come to trust Steven’s anticipation more than the other judges. He’s right, and Ledet takes “Jar of Hearts” to new emotional heights. He’s got fantastic range, a strong voice, and he connects with the material.
This young man didn’t want to audition, but the judges begged him to when his sister took her shot. I sort of wish he’d refused. He plays piano and sings “What About Now” and it’s not that he can’t sing, but he’s got a severe case of Timberlake-it is (a condition wherein singers think they sound like Justin, but really they’re just a bit too nasally and borderline unpleasant).
As adorable as Phil is, I worry his charm is wearing off. He plays guitar and sings “Wicked Game,” but he’s sounding a little too Dave Matthews instead of occupying that range of country blues we fell in love with. Still, he’s talented. If he makes it to the top 12, he will undoubtedly be a polarizing contestant.
She’s the first contestant to sing “Georgia on My Mind” and she makes it a tough competition for the rest of the folks who chose the same tune. Where has this been? WHERE. Jen’s performance was truly musical – she sings from the bottom of her soul. She’s not singing “deeply” in a showy way, she really just feels it and you can sense that.
He sings “What a Wonderful World” and believe it or not, this is the one performance of his that I haven’t hated. When he’s not trying to do runs, his tonality is much better. Still, he’s looking to be the season 11 version of James Durbin – the other contestants seem to love him.
Reed is a bit of a problem child. He doesn’t know he can’t sing acapella, so at the last moment, he gets a vocal coach to help him prepare a song to sing, but he’s not serious about it. He says he doesn’t know if this “whole thing” is right. The compromise: he plays drums. Randy says that he’s “another Casey” and that he’s performing “real music.” Normally, Randy’s a bit hyperbolic, but this time, he’s right. Reed’s got a little of the “John Mayer face” going on – he’s actually musical, not just a pretty voice, and you can see it in his face. The only problem: yet another rendition of “Georgia on My Mind.”
Shannon’s version of “What a Wonderful World” certainly wasn’t perfect. She’s not so great on the easy parts of the song, but she can really belt the bigger notes and of course she adds that growl. The 16 year-old has a serious amount of talent, she just needs a little polish to learn how to use it correctly.
The next contestant was taken to the hospital the night before this performance, but that didn’t seem to cause her any problems. She sings “The Way You Lie” and Jennifer says she reminds her of Reba McEntire. Skylar’s cute, and she is an almost vintage style country singer.
This singing mother participated a little too heavy in the early morning jam session with Steven, and her solo performance suffers. The judges give her a mulligan when she flubs the beginning of “The House That Built Me” and it was sweet, but it’s nothing compared to the people before her. We know she’s going home when all Steven can manage is “that’s a great song.”
Again, with “Georgia on My Mind.” Were there only four songs to choose from? Adam is obviously talented, though there’s something irksome about him. Perhaps it’s the fact that he interjects a sob story into Solo Night (the one place we are rid of the heavy-handed back stories), but we’ll have to see what happens during his next performance.
Finally, we have the dreaded four-room split. The three judges – Jennifer in her bathrobe of doom – deliver the news to each of the rooms in the usual drawn-out fashion. I wonder if they realize we’ve learned all their little tricks by now, and if they just keep them around for nostalgia sake. And perhaps it’s the fact that they are suspiciously the largest of the four groups, but everyone in group three seems to understand that their fate isn’t looking so great. Watching them bicker really made it easier to let go of the lesser singers.
Group 1: Including Hallie Day, Creighton Fraker, Erica Van Pelt, Jen Hirsch, Adam Brock, Joshua Ledet, Jonny Keyser, David Leathers Jr, Jermain Jones, Lauren Grey, Colin Dixon.
Conclusion: They’re all safe. (But we knew that – Lauren Grey and Johnny Keyser were in there!)
Group 2: Phil Phillips, Eben Franckewitz, Skylar Laine, Shannon Magrane, Reed Grimm, Jessica Phillips.
Conclusion: They continue in the competition. (Again, you can’t put Reed Grimm and Phil Phillips in a room together and be surprised when they’re a safe group.)
Group 3: Brittanny Kerr, Rachelle Lamb, Jennifer Malch, Jairon Gibson, Sarah Phillips, Madison Shandley.
Conclusion: They get Randy’s “Best Group of Talent Ever” speech before getting the bad news. They’re going home.
Group 4: Stephanie Rene, Brittany Kellogg, Angie Ziederman, Richie Law, Bailey Browne, Heejun Han.
Conclusion: The judges are arguing outside about who’s going to do it, so clearly they all made it. And surprise, they did!
Next week, we’re on to Vegas and things are about to get very emotional. Are you ready?
S10E7: WE DID IT. Sound the little kazoos and whatever those spinning, clicking noisemakers are called because we’ve managed to get through all of the audition shows for American Idol's 10th season. That’s right, tomorrow is the beginning of Hollywood Week. Finally, we’ll get to get down to the cutthroat competition. We’ll get to separate the decent singers from the showboats from the super-talented. But, before we can enjoy all of that, we’ve got to get through the last handful of contestants in San Francisco.
“Just because somebody farts, let them finish singing, okay?” –Contestant
Steven’s goal in San Francisco was to be mean, like really mean. Well, Mr. Tyler, mission accomplished. Maybe he was a bit angry that he had to tone down his candid commentary and decided to take it out on the unsuspecting contestants, but whatever the reason, it was hilarious. I do feel bad for those that endured his “playful” teasing, but thank God the audiences at home had more to grab onto because let’s face it, the audition stretch gets stale by the end of it.
“I did some shower scenes and that type of thing.” –Contestant
Well isn’t this special. Inessa Lee, originally hailing from the Ukraine, is convinced that she’s a pop star. She’s made tons of music videos (apparently with shower scenes, yikes) and she spent her Idol interview comparing herself to every successful pop star ever. Too bad her rendition of “All Out of Love” sounded like a 3rd grader whose parents forced her to try out for the school musical. She was tone deaf, not really singing, and she looked like a bouncy little cartoon character. She also sounded like one when they told her no. I thought she might be faking it, but those elevator tears coupled with her fierce narcissism point to DELUSIONAL.
“He was howlin’. You can relate to that.” –Steven
After that embarrassing display, two decent singers waltzed into the audition room. First up was Stefano Langone singing “Heard it Through the Grapevine.” He marked the first contestant with a saddening backstory (and get ready because there were a few toughies this time around); he survived an accident that by all odds he shouldn’t have and against the odds (again) he recovered in four months with the ability to walk despite his doctor’s predictions. He had a great voice – a no-brainer for Hollywood.
Next up, is Clint Jun Gaboa. He sang “Millionaire” by Bruno Mars and while the judges were all kinds of stoked, jumping up and down over what a great “tone” he had, I was yawning. Yeah, he kind of sounded like Bruno Mars, whose voice I can’t stand and whose voice sounds like a million other singers. The fact is, Gaboa could sing, but he wasn’t anything special or anything to get excited about. Being able to carry a tune well doesn’t mean you should be a pop star.
“Your outfit was slammin’ and I really like your voice….JOKING.” –Steven
Here’s where that mean streak I was talking about started to kick in. Idol treated us to a few little bad singer vignettes, first there was the kid dressed as a monkey, warbling some unrecognizable song about the jungle. Next. Then came the dude who sang one of the most recognizable songs out there, Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” but for the life of me I could not tell what song he was attempting to sing. The judges were so taken aback they couldn’t even speak. Finally, they’ve figured out that sometimes silence speaks louder than a few tired witticisms at a contestant’s expense.
Finally, we were treated to Drew Beaumier, the guy who showed up as an actual TRANSFORMER. I usually get annoyed at these folks who show up in costumes in hopes of getting a few minutes on TV, but the dude made an entire Transformer costume from scratch. I’m not even mad, I’m just impressed. He sang “Born to be Wild,” but who are we kidding? No one cares what the dude was singing; he was a fucking Transformer. Brownie points to that guy.
“I was right. I’m going home.” –JLo
After that slew of baddies, let’s take a little solace with some people who could carry a tune. First we’ve got Julie Zorilla who was gorgeous and sang a beautiful version of “Summertime” – and I agree with Randy here, very few people ever do that song justice, but everyone thinks they can sing it. She got her ticket to Hollywood, but not before we heard her parents’ story of escaping violence in Colombia. Someone needs to slap whoever chooses the music for these bits though because Michael Buble music does not go with a sound-bite of her mother talking about guerillas stealing her money and forcing her out of her own country. Insensitive much?
On the good side, we also saw Emily Anne Reed, whose range wasn’t spectacular, but whose voice was refreshing and a bit old fashioned. She has endured the hardship of watching her house burn down – the second sad story of the hour. The cute-as-a-button singer has a bluesy, Billy Holliday-esque quality to her voice and while some disagree with me, I think she’d be a great eventual member of the top 12. We don’t always choose the musicians we listen to because they can hit the highest notes, we choose them because they bring something interesting to their music, and this girl does that. The judges of course had to have one moment this episode when they put someone in suspense about their trip to Hollywood; this time it was JLo who got to wait those excruciating five seconds (but not really, because we knew what was going to happen) to tell her that she had a golden ticket after all. Thank goodness that's over. Am I right? Yes, I am.
“You oughta be arrested for that voice. Do you have handcuffs?” – Steven
Steven continued his mean streak with Dave Combs, who really couldn’t sing but wasn’t the worst we’ve seen so far. When the dude asked for a chance to sing a different song (a privilege that everyone seems to get on this show whether the judges allow it or not) Steven flat out tells him no over and over until he leaves. Ouch. This continued as three more contestants swept through the audition room. I mean, I was rolling on the floor laughing as this went down but I did immediately feel a tiny bit of remorse for all the crushed dreams in the room…but then I kept watching. Hey, it’s television and it’s the 10th season of this show. If contestants don’t know what they’re in for at this point, their inabilities to sing aren’t their biggest problems.
“You sing from where you’re supposed to sing.” –JLo
Finally, the auditions ended with the sob story to end all Idol sob stories. James Durbin has had an impossibly difficult life leading up to his big break on Idol. His musician father had a drug overdose when he was 9; he was diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome and Asperger’s Disorder, he and his girlfriend accidentally had a child, he has no job, and he can’t even afford diapers. Talk about a sad story. It’s almost unreal. Luckily the dude can sing, reminding me a bit of Adam Lambert, who oddly enough, was also discovered in San Francisco. The episode ended with his smiling face, so at least it wasn’t too depressing in the end.
You did it. Tomorrow is Hollywood Week and I hope you’re as pumped as I am. I look forward to seeing just how critical these judges get when it’s no longer a matter of good versus bad, but instead good versus better. It should be an interesting road – as long as Steven stops trying to use the phrase “melodic sensibilities” because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what that means.