At last, after wandering for weeks in the desolate wasteland known as "American Idol's" audition rounds, we have emerged into the deafening, hyperbole-ridden circus known as "Hollywood Week." This is not actually an improvement, because it seems as though we're actually hearing less singing now than we did in previous installments, which makes it somewhat difficult to judge the singers. Since we're lucky to hear 20 seconds of actual vocal demonstration from any of the hopefuls, my previous method of choosing the episode's five most memorable moments has been rendered obsolete. Thus, I'll be doing a straight rundown of the episode's highlights during this section of the competition.
In this week's episodes, we'll see 309 golden ticket holders summarily whittled down to a more manageable number, before the contestants are shoehorned into groups for next week's
mass slaughter further elimination process. There will be tears, there will be tantrums, and there will certainly be those whiners who won't take no for an answer and will beg for another song. There will also be a girl who straight up passes out and falls off the stage, which seemed pretty terrifying for all involved, but heaven forbid that the "Idol" producers let real human suffering get in the way of ending the episode with a good cliffhanger.
Gird your loins, we're going in.
We kicked off with the familiar faces of Johnny Keyser (one of the CW types from St. Louis) and Heejun Han, who have entirely opposing attitudes to the competition. Johnny, having been genetically blessed with a perfect face and smooth, soulful tone, was feeling confident about his chances of continuing in the competition. Heejun was far more pessimistic, thinking that his sojourn in Hollywood wouldn't last long, and lamenting that "everyone else is so tall and pretty," it's making him question what he eats, since these hair-tossing Abercrombie wannabes obviously live on a diet of unicorn juice and pure sunshine, and there's no way he can compete with that. (I may be paraphrasing.)
Johnny tackled "Dreaming" by Amos Lee, and he was every bit as charismatic and melodic as he was during his first audition. He tossed in a few too many extraneous runs just for the sake of showing off, and I don't find his arrogance particularly endearing, but his talent is undeniable. As Jennifer Lopez told him in St. Louis, he's going to be a star one way or the other, and he seems commercial enough to connect with young female voters, which is pretty much the only qualification needed to win this show. When Heejun's turn came, he chose "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" and he demonstrated a sweet tone and an interesting huskiness at the bottom of his notes. His nerves came through and he lost the tune a couple of times, but the judges had no hesitation about sending both guys through to the next round. I don't think Heejun's strong enough, emotionally, to survive this ordeal -- the judges always seem to urge contestants to believe in themselves, and don't think Heejun will overcome that hurdle in time to keep him around for the live competition, but we'll see.
Next, we saw a supposedly familiar trio of girls -- although I don't actually remember Elise Testone -- including Baylie Brown (the Texas native who made it to the Top 50 back in season 6) and Hallie Day (one of the auditionees from Pittsburgh who told us that she dropped out of high school and once attempted suicide). All three were attractive and confident, and easily earned the judges' approval.
Fidgety Jen Hirsch, from the Galveston auditions, seemed to be worried about her penchant for touching her hair and was all nerves as she took her spot in front of the judges. She broke out an impressive rendition of Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain" -- sans fidgeting -- although I didn't find her sweet-but-bland tone particularly unique until she started belting the song towards the end. She and overdramatic Lauren Gray -- who got so caught up in the music that she completely missed Randy's repeated attempts to stop her -- both progressed to the next stage without much difficulty.
Following a montage of suck, we saw another set of recognizable guys: the memorably named Phillip Phillips, the superheroic Reed Grimm and sob-story Travis Orlando, whose mother walked out on his family and relegated them to a life of poverty. Phillip -- who auditioned with a stand-out, if affected, version of "Thriller" -- was up first, with a so-so take on "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Without his guitar to distract from his strange key shifts and improvisational rhythm, it mostly sounded like a self-conscious mess to me, but the judges put him through. Reed tackled "I Got a Golden Ticket" from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," which was an ... interesting choice; he has a lovely range, but the scatting didn't seem appropriate in an a capella situation, and the song itself didn't do much to demonstrate his talent. The other contestants ate the performance up, even if it was hammy, and the judges chose to keep him around too. Travis played it much safer with "All I Do," which sounded soulful and controlled, but for some reason, the judges found him to be the one who was lacking out of the trio, and sent him home. The producers chose to twist the knife a little with Travis' devastated exit interview, in which he pointed out that he had to go back to "nothing, nothing at all." Ouch.
We also said goodbye to Ramiro Garcia, the miracle man who was born without ears, and the delightfully macho mechanic "Wolf" Hamlin -- both were far more upbeat about it than Travis. Jenny Schick, the girl who got a kiss on the lips from Steven Tyler in Aspen (and now probably only has three months to live) was also sent home.
After Ryan Seacrest breezily revealed that 68 contestants had been cut on the first day -- so many broken dreams! -- we rolled right into day two, which saw Adam Brock, who was discovered in Pittsburgh (off-camera, I think) tackle "Walking in Memphis." He has a delicious Marc Broussard sound with an impressive belt and a controlled lower register, so I was glad to see him put through.
Next came Jane Carrey, who was mostly memorable for being Jim Carrey's daughter back in San Diego. She was overconfident in her opening video, which should've been a warning sign, since the judges risked the wrath of the lunatic who played "The Mask" and chose not to put her through. Sadly, the "Idol" producers apparently couldn't get Daddy Carrey on the phone on-camera to offer his commiserations (you know, like we've totally seen every other non-famous parent do after their kid is eliminated in this episode), but they did force Jane to tell them what his sage advice was after she'd spoken to him. Apparently, Jim Carrey has faced much rejection in his life, too, and Jane shouldn't give up on her dreams. Million dollar wisdom, no?
After another montage of the depressing people who tried to argue or cajole the judges into giving them another chance to sing, we caught up with David Leathers, a confident 17-year-old who looks more like he's 12. He blew the judges and the other contestants away with a fearless rendition of Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me," hitting high notes that Justin Bieber could never dream of. I just hope his voice has already settled, because it would be a real shame to lose such an incredible range. The judges eagerly put him through.
Next up was Shannon Magraine, whose father, Joe, played in the 1987 World Series. Her audition was mostly memorable for the fact that Steven Tyler creepily hit on the 15-year-old in front of said father, which was all kinds of awkward. For Hollywood Week, she chose one of the most overused and frequently butchered audition songs, Alicia Keys' "Falling," but she actually did a serviceable job of it, with a richness and control that prevented the tune from going off the rails. Both she and Jessica Phillips, the woman whose boyfriend suffered a tragic stroke last year, made it through to the next round. Jessica was a little too prone to tossing in unnecessary runs, and the start of the song was a little shaky, but she has a beautiful upper register and I think some of us are just rooting for her to succeed because of her commitment to her man.
We trotted through Erika Van Pelt (a bland but competent rock chick), Aaron Marcellus (an unremarkable but controlled R&B singer) and quirky Creighton Fraker (a hipster with the courage to tackle Queen) in short order, and all three were deemed safe from elimination. We also saw sweet Lauren Mink, who cares for adults with learning disabilities, but who kind of mangled Heart's "Alone" with strange key changes and odd phrasing. Also in her group was Jeremy Rosado, a germaphobe who somehow manages to work at a clinic that handles infectious diseases. His take on Luther Vandross' "Superstar" was fairly forgettable, but he at least had a good grasp of melody. But before we could find out how they did, we had one last audition for the night: Symone Black, a sweet 16-year-old who has an overbearing (or "supportive") stage dad. As the judges asked her why she chose Otis Redding's "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay," she started to sway and stagger, before finally collapsing off the edge of the stage with a resounding crash.
I'm fairly sure even the "Idol" producers wouldn't have milked such a painful moment with a shameless cliffhanger if she'd actually been critically injured, but it still seemed tacky in the extreme to end the episode at that point, don't you think? Tune in tomorrow to see whether she broke her neck, y'all!
'American Idol' airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.
Were you disappointed with who the judges sent home? Is there anyone you think they made a mistake on? Weigh in below.
Follow Laura Prudom on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lauinLA