This week's "American Idol" had a lot of lost time to make up for, after dedicating one full episode to watching the contestants systematically succumbing to some kind of plague and passing out all over the hotel last Thursday. As entertaining as it might be to watch the star-less sequel to "Contagion" play out among emotionally volatile reality contestants (i.e. not entertaining in the slightest), I believe we all signed up for this show to watch some actual singing, and thankfully, that was in ready supply this week.
The episode opened where last Thursday's left off (thus irritating everyone), with the first team about to perform. But since no one really gives a damn about bickering groups or the faceless hopefuls that they're comprised of, only two of the group performances earn a spot in my top five moments of the episode -- the other three slots go to the stand-out vocalists of the episode, because that's what this whole shebang is supposedly about. So forget the hyperventilating, the tantrums and the tears, here are our five most memorable auditions from the final night of Hollywood Week.
1. Area 451
While performing a last-minute rehearsal before their turn on the stage, Area 451 -- which was composed of Abercrombie-esque pretty boy Johnny Keyser and three other hopefuls that I don't actually remember from the audition rounds -- suddenly found themselves struck with the "Idol" death virus at the most inopportune moment; Imani Handy passed out mid-verse, right there in the hallway. Luckily her mom and the overworked medics were on hand to offer fluids, while her teammates decided it was probably smart to rejigger their arrangement for a trio instead of a quartet. After weighing her options backstage, a clearly shaky Imani decided that she wanted to sing with her group despite her condition, which was admirable, if entirely masochistic. It was a rough start, with the group's other male vocalist, Bryce Garcia, completely forgetting the lyrics to James Morrison's "Broken Strings" when the music started, though he actually managed to pull out a decent tune when he got back on track. Kristi Krause, on the other hand, was pitchy and screechy. When the four harmonized, it actually sounded pretty good, but poor Imani barely made it through her solo before the exertion caught up to her and she passed out again.
Thankfully, she didn't do a nosedive off the stage as Symone Black did last week, but it still looked painful. Perhaps the most shocking moment, though, was when the mercenary Johnny Keyser actually kept singing while Imani was sprawled in a heap on the stage, stepping past her like she was roadkill until Randy Jackson called for him to stop. Yikes. Sadly, Johnny was the only one rewarded for the trainwreck performance, with Kristi, Bryce and poor Imani being shown the door. I still have a nasty suspicion that Johnny's going to make it into the Top 5, at least, because he's commercial and easy on the eyes, but I'm really hoping America doesn't reward him for acting like such a self-centered douche the past couple of weeks.
Last week's only memorable group contained the deadpan Heejun Han and his archnemesis, The Cowboy (a.k.a. Richie Law). Heejun spent most of Thursday's episode sniping about The Cowboy and his inability to listen, compromise or sing in key, while The Cowboy spent most of Thursday's episode talking like a dictator and insisting that democracy only works if everyone accepts that he's right all the time. Naturally, it was not a particularly agreeable work environment for anyone involved. This week, the sniping continued, with The Cowboy choosing to stay in the confessional room to conduct a solo interview after his teammates left, mostly to assure the audience that he had no intention of being the one eliminated from his group. They also tackled "Broken Strings," and Heejun's soft, tender rendition was undoubtedly the strongest in the group. Jairon Jackson was solid, if unremarkable, while Phillip Phillips' quirky, gravelly tone didn't quite fit in a group setting. Despite his arrogance, Richie was by far the weakest, doing just as he'd threatened last week and changing key for his solo, which completely jarred with the harmony the other three were producing. He pushed himself into a bizarre, whiny falsetto that did him no favors, and yet the judges bafflingly let all four through to the next round. Buoyed by their unexpected success, Heejun even apologized to Richie for all the mean things he'd been saying about The Cowboy on-camera as soon as they got out of the room, and the two awkwardly hugged it out. I don't expect them to be inviting each other over for Thanksgiving or anything, but it was an interesting moment.
3. Jen Hirsch
The California native (a repeat offender who was cut during Hollywood Week in Season 9) gave an exquisite performance of "Georgia On My Mind," starting soft and sultry before building into a beautiful belt that demonstrated excellent vocal control. She has a natural, bluesy tone that seems effortless, and between this and her standout solo in her earlier group number ("Hold On, I'm Coming") it's no surprise that she was chosen to progress to the next round.
4. Creighton Fraker
This self-proclaimed starving artist is a little too affected for my taste, but his sound is exactly the kind of music that always draws me in, and his voice has a delicious Adam Levine/Gavin DeGraw quality that tells me he's going to cut some great records someday. He impressed the judges with his scatting back in Pittsburgh, but his twist on "What a Wonderful World" was a standout this week. It had a low, soulful quality at the start, before he opened up to really show off his range, belting the last lines like he was already playing for a sold out arena.
5. Adam Brock
There was clearly something magical about "Georgia On My Mind" this week, since many contestants nailed the challenging song (Reed Grimm gave another great version). But perhaps the most impassioned was new father Adam, who completely owned the performance with a rich, husky tone and an impressive vocal maturity. His belting was robust and confident, his stage presence was magnetic, and overall, he sounded like he could record a hit album right now. It also helped that he seems like a genuinely nice guy, carrying his grandfather's handkerchief with him for good luck and seeming genuinely gracious in the wake of the judges' approval.
While we lost some memorable faces -- like Symone Black, single mom Rachelle Lamb, Jairon Gibson and cheerleader Brittany Kerr -- many of our favorites survived the night and earned a ticket to Las Vegas for the next round, including Erika Van Pelt, baseball legacy Shannon Magrane, Joshua Ledet, Gabi Carrubba, Skylar Laine, Angie Zeiderman, Baylie Brown, Hallie Day, Colton Dixon and Jeremy Rosado. And if, like me, those names basically mean nothing to you until we get to the live rounds, rest safe in the knowledge that we only have to wait until Feb. 28 (yes, still two weeks away) for it all to start mattering.
Tomorrow night, we hit Vegas for more dreaded group numbers in the "Performance Challenge." Which was your favorite performance during the last night of Hollywood Week?
"American Idol" airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. EST on Fox.