S11E10: Now that the pressure of makeshift performances on group night and solo night is finally clear, the 70 remaining American Idol contestants are whisked away to Las Vegas to form groups once more. This time, they’ll put together costumes and work with vocal coaches to perform assigned 1950s and 1960s songs. Ryan informs us as dramatically as possible that this time, they’ll get immediate results on stage – as if it’s different than every other episode apart from Solo Night.
The wonderful thing about Vegas performances is that they tend to be colorful, theatrical and fun. We see outfits inspired by USO shows and Elvis performances, but dress-up is more fun when you aren’t sent packing in your fuchsia Diana Ross dress. And while 50s and 60s music seems like an easy task because we all know the words and the notes are clean and simple, but these harmonies and melodies are so tight, it’s terribly obvious when they’re not completely pristine.
Luckily, Idol spares us the uglier performances, delivering only the best of them. We’re also seeing the contestants quickly fall into two groups – even within the ones chosen to stay. There are your average contestants with pretty voices, decent ranges, cute faces, etc., but then you’ve got the people who – as cheesy as it sounds – have music in their souls. The split divides the backstreet boys from the people who seem to view music not as a meal ticket or a means of fame, but as part of their identities.
Cari Quoyeser, Colton Dixon, Chase Likens, Skylar Laine
Before this group takes the stage, Skylar worries her trouble with harmonies will hurt her group – yes, we found an Idol hopeful who’s actually worried about someone other than herself. The group kicks off Day 1 with “Dedicated to the One I Love” and the group was easily split into two groups: the talented ones and the other ones. Colton, despite the praise he gets from the judges time and again, just doesn’t do it for me. He’s a boring combination of 1990s Justin Timberlake and Jason Mraz. Snooze. He’s not bad, he’s just not a stand-out other than the fact that the show continues to highlight him. Chase and Skylar blow their cohorts out of the water despite putting their country voices into unfamiliar territory. Lastly, Cari was a bit “shaky” as Jennifer put it – though I have to agree – and she was the first contestant sent home.
David Leathers, Jr, Gabi Carrubba, Jeremy Rosado, Ariel Sprague
One fourth of the next group, contestant Gabi Carrubba, somehow treads an impossible line between diva and sweetheart, complaining that she doesn’t have a decent enough solo while still maintaining respect for her friends and fellow singers. But when it comes time to sing “Rockin’ Robin” she gets to rock a big note at the end. That sounds like the perfect place to show off if you ask me. As usual, David and Jeremy are incredible – no surprise there. The perfectly average Ariel comes out of the gate with a much bigger game this time – she really does belong up there. Despite their middle school glee club choreography, the judges send them all through – which is good because they’re friends and that could get awkward.
Angie Zeiderman, Erika Van Pelt, Adam Brock, Shelby Tweeten
Another split performance comes from this foursome, who spit out “Great Balls of Fire.” It’s no wonder that Adam shined as he sang and plinked away at the piano and Erika found the overboard sweet spot – the dynamic elements of the song suited her tendency to over perform. Angie is having fun and she’s fully committed, but she’s a little sharp and it’s clear she’s not the same caliber singer as her teammates. Shelby is cute and decent singer, but I’ve yet to find her engaging. They all go through, though Randy leaves poor Angie in limbo for what feels like 45 seconds.
Schyler Dixon, Brielle Von Hugel, Molly Hunt
Colton Dixon’s sister Schyler, didn’t fare as well in her routine as her brother did in his. The girls sang “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” in reimagined (see: skimpy) army costumes and Steven says he used to make out to this song, reminding us just how old he really is. The performance is over the top, and Schyler, especially, slides to and from notes too much. Brielle is obnoxious, but strong. They must have cut out Molly’s solo, because we have no evidence of her “weak” performance before she is cut. Jennifer adds that Molly is such a sweetheart. Yes, it hurts to send home the nice girl while the one who terrifies her own mother gets to continue.
Haley Johnson, Elise Testone, Eben Franckewitz, Reed Grimm
This unlikely quartet has “modernized” their song, “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and while I’m sure they have an official group name, they should probably change it to The Reed Show. Reed dominates the performance, and whether or not you find his personality obnoxious, his clear talent is unavoidable. Elise is fairly solid – though her voice does crack once – and Haley does alright, but her voice is remarkably vanilla. Eben is cute and sweet, but he’s not as remarkable as he once seemed to be, but at the end, he joins the group in scatting and beat boxing, proving that they’re not just singers, they’re truly musical. They carry it, even if their individual voices aren’t that spectacular. All four are moving on.
Richie Law, Jermaine Jones
After MIT kicked Richie out, the two deep-voiced singers couldn’t find groups. But even when they find each other, they have trouble syncing up. Richie once again thinks he’s couldn’t possibly be wrong and blames his vocal coach’s arrangement. Richie’s annoying qualities aside, they managed to pull it together for their performance. Jermaine sings honestly and sweetly and Richie sings like a Kermit the Frog sound-alike who’s watched too many Tim McGraw and Josh Groban videos. The judges love every bit of it – perhaps they were lulled into a happy place but Jermaine’s voice, because Richie sure didn’t have a pleasant effect on me.
Candice Glover, Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick
The trio sings “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” and first up, Jessica, overdoes her performance with overdone vibrato, but she does prove to have a decent set of pipes. Deandre’s falcetto is a little hard to hear at first, but it’s lovely. It would lovelier without that mop, though. Candice is solid and acts as the final piece sending the whole group through to the next round.
But they can’t show every performance, so we learn of a few keepers and departures in rapid fire montaged. Strong singers Hallie Day, Baylie Brown, and Chelsea Sorrell will stick around for another day, while Wayne Wilson, Ashley Robles, Stephanie Renae, Aubrey Deickmeyer, Tonya Torrez, and Janelle Arthur are all sent home. But the Day 1 folks learn that at the end of Day 2, they’ll all be brought in for a second round of sudden cuts. Get ready for tears.
Scott Dangerfield, Clayton Farhat, Adam Lee Decker, Curtis Cray
These guys were a lot of fun, in their matching little “Jailhouse Rock” 50s ne’er-do-well get-ups, but it was obvious that the talent wasn’t even across the board. Clayton had fun by the was a little thin and Scott and Adam are the strongest. Curtis was sharp, Jennifer points out that he didn’t make use of dynamics. Curtis is out and while they’re nice as a group, none of them really stand out, vocally or personality-wise.
Jessica Phillips, Brittnee Kellogg, Courtney Williams
These over-confident ladies don’t practice with the band or vocal coaches because they sing for a living, so they don’t “need” the help. They delve into “Keep Me Hanging On” and immediately, Courtney has irregular switches between falcetto and vibrato. Jessica attempts a similar feat but with less risk. Randy calls it “A little much” – and that’s putting it lightly. The judges say both Courtney and Jessica took risks that didn’t pay off. I think that’s more true for Courtney than Jessica. Brittnee and Courtney make it through by some miracle and Jessica is sent home. I’m sorry but were we listening to the same thing? Courtney should be on the road right now. But Jessica is a poor loser, saying that she’s a real artist and calling out people who aren’t real artists, bashes the TV show saying she doesn’t care about it, she only cares about a recording contract. We loved Jessica and felt for her story, but unsportsmanlike behavior is not helping us feel badly for her.
Lauren Gray, Mathenee Treco, Wendy Taylor
This trio clashes hard with their vocal coach, causing her to make a reference to A League of Their Own which seems to do little more than confuse everyone. Lauren is losing her voice, the vocal coach is merciless, but that’s probably for the best. They sing “Will You Still Love Me” and Lauren does well, though it certainly sounds like she’s sick. Mathenee is good, but why are all of his solos in falcetto? That’s not a good way to show off. They cut Mathenee.
Jairon Jackson, Neco Starr, Phil Phillips, Heejun Han
Some Idol genius paired Heejun with Peggy Blue, but she’s actually sweet with him. Their little tete-a-tete is the best part of the coaching bits. “You were scary last year, what’s up with that?” “You’re sweet.” “You’re sweet too…now.” Isn’t that just adorable? And the reason Peggy was so nice is because the group just clicked. Neco’s performance is lovely. Heejun delivers a nice solo, but lacks his usual fire. And Phil actually has to sing sweetly – something he never really does, but he pulls it off. And it’s likable. Peggy actually gets a shout out – what planet is this? Randy messes with them, calls them forward one by one and then phrases the final verdict as if they’re cut. But duh, they all make it through. My favorite jokester lives to see another day.
Nick Boddington, Jen Hirsch, Creighton Fraker, Aaron Marcellus
The foursome is still coping with the loss of their old teammate, Reed Grimm, but they still whip out a rousing rendition of “Sealed With a Kiss.” And it would see my opinion of Creighton Fraker is pretty sealed. I liked him a bit more after “What a Wonderful World” but this week he’s back to delivering his voice as 10 shades of overkill. Jen Hirsch once again blows our minds – where has that voice been hiding? And Aaron is consistent as always. Nick is the only one who can’t really compare to the others and he’s sent home. And to be fair, if he’s overshadowed here, he’ll be overshadowed in the bigger competition too.
Also making it through are Caleb Johnson, Joshua Sanders, Joshua Ledet and Shannon Magrane.
Finally, they bring all the contestants on stage to humiliate them. They stand with groups and are eliminated or kept right then and there. It’s so cruel, but they need to get to 40 (they only make it to 42, but next week they have to get down to 24). And the major cuts are: Gabi Carrubba, Schyler Dixon (whose brother made it after JLo forced him to audition), Angie Zeiderman, Candice Glover, Johnny Keyser, Jairson Jackson, and Britnee Kellogg. But how they can keep a subpar singer like Richie around, in light of those cuts, is beyond me.
Next week, it’s the last chance before the top 24 are chosen. Who do you think will make it?
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?