"This is Hollywood week, and THIS ... is a complete waste of your time."
Okay, that's not exactly how Ryan Seacrest introduced the week's second "American Idol" episode, but it certainly should've been. Those of us who were naive enough to tune in expecting to hear an actual song during this installment were in for a colossal disappointment, as the hour was filled with plague-ridden, sleep-deprived zombies staggering around the rehearsal space throwing up, weeping and uttering obscenities and death wails. What it wasn't filled with, in any discernible quantity, was an actual performance.
We occasionally caught some nice harmonies as the cameras lurched, wobbly-lensed (to emphasize that everyone was dying of blurry vision, I guess?), from one screeching group to the next, but most of the hour was taken up by loud and obnoxious contestants sniping at each other, curled into a fetal position in a corner or searching for someone to team up with. None of these things make for particularly riveting television, in case you weren't aware.
Since "Idol" already wasted an hour of my time with this episode, I don't plan to waste yours by giving you the full run-through of every indistinguishable contestant and their trials and tribulations; the only outcome that really matters in "Group Night" is who eventually makes it through to the top 24. It's always been an episode aimed more squarely at the sadists who just want to watch people have meltdowns on camera and occasionally pass out, and in that sense, it delivered. I'll hit on a few highlights, here, but they were in short supply.
The show seemed far more preoccupied with constructing a narrative for a "Contagion" sequel than it was with showcasing the contestants, since they didn't bother to show anyone's names on-screen or remind us why we should care about them in the first place. One participant you may be wondering about is Symone Black, the bluesy teen who closed out last night's episode by taking a painful looking swan dive off the end of the stage, because apparently the producers decided that such a cliffhanger was not at all exploitative, just completely entertaining.
Group Night picked up right where the last episode left off, with Symone passed out on the floor, surrounded by stagehands and medics. Exhaustion and dehydration were deemed to be the eventual causes for her collapse, which allowed for a handy spot of product placement as one of the concerned medics called out for an emergency supply of the show's sponsoring drink, Coke! The other contestants in Symone's group gathered themselves into a hasty prayer circle, and a shaky Symone was ushered away to hospital with her stage dad in tow. Despite the crash and burn, Symone was still chosen to progress to the next round, as was Jeremy Rosado, but special needs teacher Lauren Mink, and St. Louis' Ethan Jones (whose rocker father was in rehab when Ethan got the golden ticket) were both sent home, thus escaping the impending anarchy of the group round.
When Symone returned, her dad was even more overbearing than before, following her around and making inane comments about how easy it should be to shoehorn Symone into one of the already-formed groups. They eventually found a foursome willing to let her in, before her father mortified her by forcing the four other (young, attractive) girls into a group hug -- without Symone. Steven Tyler, you have some serious competition in the creeper stakes.
The overprotective parents were out in full force this week, as Camille Von Hugel kept a watchful eye on the diva antics coming from her daughter, Brielle. Brielle is another veteran of the competition, having progressed past the group round last year with teammate and finalist Pia Toscano. Because of this, she immediately took charge of her group, choreographing a routine and berating her teammates for being unable to keep up with the moves. Two of those unwitting compatriots were San Diego standout Kyle Crews and Savannah's Shannon Magrane, who seemed intimidated enough to let Brielle steamroll right over them
"Patient Zero" for the "Idol" plague, as Ryan lovingly dubbed her, was tent-dwelling Amy Brumfield, who spent most of the episode looking eerily pale and swaying around. At first, she couldn't find a group, which was mostly because she kept telling everyone she approached that no one wanted to work with her because she was sick. Not a great way to sell yourself. She eventually joined up with a group called the "Make You Believers," who weren't sick when we left them at the end of the episode, but she had apparently contaminated Gabrielle, a girl from a rival group (The Betties), who spent most of the rehearsal time throwing up and sitting with a puke bag as she sang.
The other standout group was MIT (AKA "Most International Team"), which contained Heejun Han and Phillip Phillips, and also a really irritating Scotty McCreery wannabe called Richie, who was basically behaving like Hitler in a cowboy hat. His control freak tendencies were definitely rubbing Heejun the wrong way, giving the New Yorker some of the best deadpan one-liners of the night, including such gems as: "the cowboy kid is crazy," "I don't know how they do it in cowboy town, but this is not how we break it down, man," and "Phillip had a kidney stone, and cowboy had a ... brain stone," when it came to discussing the group's latest setbacks. Richie seemed to have a problem with the concept of harmonizing, seeming to imply that every member of the group should be singing in a different key instead of all sounding "the same," y'know, like regular vocal groups do.
Will they get it together for the performance? Do we care? Do we really have to wait a week to see someone actually perform a number on stage? All these questions will probably be answered next week, because "Idol" is a cruel and capricious mistress.
"American Idol" airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.