Pity poor Jennifer Lopez. American Idol‘s Season 11 Hollywood Week proved so grueling for the Gigli star that she was forced to abandon her standard-operating spangled culottes and midriff-baring blouse and don a fluffy gray bathrobe for the annual “Holding Rooms of Doom” portion of the competition. Was J.Lo feverish, the latest victim of human petri dish Amy “Tent Dweller” Brumfield? Did she swaddle herself in cushy fabric to soothe her aching joints from the full-scale assault of hollering and caterwauling that occurred during Hollywood’s final solo round? Or was she simply trying to prepare us all for the day she shows up to one of the live performance telecasts in a fashion-forward, sequined Snuggie. (They are on trend this season, you know.)
Whatever the case may be, J.Lo, Steven Tyler, and some dude in a varsity letter jacket from High School for the Limited Vocabulary spent the first hour of the telecast listening to the 185 remaining singers, who’d separated themselves into 42 groups, and somewhat arbitrarily whittling them down to a more manageable 98 soloists. The groups seemed to fall into one of four categories, so let’s get started recapping ’em:
Person/Persons Pushed to the Brink of Collapse/Death | Meet Area 451, a quartet led by Italian restaurant waiter Johnny Keyser and car-dealership wind puppet Imani Handy, who repeatedly rises and collapses during rehearsal, but keeps insisting she’s ready for her big moment. Turns out she’s right, but her big moment involves seizing up, turning into human jello, and fainting once more with feeling in the middle of James Morrison’s “Broken Strings.” Yikes. And Imani’s humiliation isn’t quite done, either. As Ryan Seacrest blurts out an expletive and rushes onto the stage with Imani’s mom, Johnny continues his performance because, well, blowing his audition isn’t going to bring Imani back to life, is it? (For the record, the judges put him through to the next round.) The Idol medics get Imani propped up in a chair, but she’s not worried about life or death — only getting through to the next round. “They’re going to hate me,” she cries, but you know the judges have to give a sympathy pass to a girl who keeps pleading her case even though she’s not strong enough to stand on her own two feet. Bzzzzt! Think again. “Baby, I’m sorry. You’re going home. Don’t worry,” coos J.Lo, who’s not about to spend another second in an enclosed space with this potential contagion.
Person/Persons in Need of a Nationally Televised Takedown | Hey, it’s that obnoxious cop lady from last week’s Hollywood telecast. She’s still cursing and blathering and desperately trying to be catnip for the camera cats, but can she sing? Eh, not really. “Any of you guys need personal security, I’m your girl,” cop lady says as she exits the auditorium, leaving J.Lo to wonder what gave the emboldened commoner the impression that she was still allowed to speak.
Talented People Singing | Hollywood Five is everything Simon Cowell hoped The X Factor‘s InTENsity would be — only with half the number of vocalists and up to seven times as much ability. On their rendition of Duffy’s “Mercy,” Jeremy Rosado steals the set with his killer falsetto, Gabi Carrubba shows off a muscular vocal, and Ariel Sprague, Eben Franckewitz, and David Leathers Jr. all display solid-enough chops to make the judges’ decision an easy one: You’re all advancing to the next round! (Their synchronized lean on the word “please” probably didn’t hurt either, right?)
Utter Chaos | As in years past, the Group Rounds include some decisions that seem wildly arbitrary. Jennifer Malsch’s quavery tone sounds like she’s performing “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops)” atop the spin cycle of her washing machine, but she’s rewarded (for staying up all night and providing “dramatic” footage?) while three of her equally questionable teammates from The Bettys sail through. (I won’t dispute the judges’ “yes” vote on fifth member Cari Quoyeser, who was clearly the cream of the crap.)
Other group round highlights:
* A member of the Bettys asking “What’s ‘Type A’?” and in the process proving that some children did in fact get left behind.
* Creighton Fracker, Reed Grimm, and Aaron Marcellus bringing Los Angeles right up to the precipice of a major earthquake with their combined histrionics on Sam and Dave’s “Hold On! I’m Comin’.” Luckily, Jen Hirsh saves the day with some fine hollerating of her own, and in defense of the entire quintet (which also includes Nick Boddington), their final breakdown and rousing finish sound pretty terrific.
* Brielle von Hugel’s mother continuing to use her harpie tongue to sabotage her daughter’s chances at winning America’s hearts. “Please, Jesus,” prays Mommie Dearest as her daughter takes the stage, “I have to deal with her when she comes back to the room.”
* Joshua Ledet unleashing a monster vocal on “Hit ‘Em Up Style” — where has Uncle Nigel been hiding him?
* Heejun Han, who’s clearly aware of the value of his spaced-out sound bites, admitting to his groupmate/nemesis Richie Law: “I talk a lot of craps about Richie. I’m really sorry to your parents.”
* Also getting ousted on the Conveyor Belt of the Feverish, Forgetful, Pitch-Challenged, and Unsteady: the aforementioned Tent Girl, her group mate Jacquie “fainting spell” Cera, frat guy Kyle Crews, vomiting guy Christian Lopez, W.T. “I quit my job as a prison guard for this” Thompspon, Symone “stage fall” Black, and Reis “yeah I forgot about him, too” Kloeckener.
With the field winnowed down to 98, it’s time for the final solos from Hollywood — backed by the Idol band, and with contestants allowed to play instruments if they wish — but unfortunately, we only get to see snippets of 10 performances because we have to devote a good 10 minutes to watching Reed Grimm haranguing the Idol vocal coaches and crying to his mommy. Let’s rank the contenders from least to most promising:
10) Reed Grimm: Okay, so maybe Reed’s perfectly fine vocal on “Georgia on My Mind” wasn’t the worst of the episode, but how to separate it from all the shenanigans that came before it? Granted, it had to be stressful to have Nigel Lythgoe informing him 30 minutes before his audition thay he couldn’t perform a capella — and needed to come up with a full band arrangement. But once vocal coach Peisha McPhee rushed in to help Reed, you’d think he’d have heeded her exasperated “let’s keep focusing” instead of spouting new-age nonsense and running around barefoot and asking for permission to call his mother. “That’s another Casey there,” said Randy, referencing Season 10’s resident jazzman Casey Abrams. But seeing how Randy is wrong 99% of the time about 99% of topics, chances are Reed is actually not Casey.
9) Creighton Fracker: I see faces pulled/ Hear overblown notes/ If he makes the live shows/ Will he get any votes?/ And I think to myself/ Could it get any wacker/ Yes, I think to myself/ It must be Creighton Fracker.
8) Rachelle Lamb: Eh, she got sent home in the Holding Rooms of Doom, do we really have to discuss her pedestrian, false-started cover of “The House That Built Me”?
7) Adam Brock: Dude not only swallowed “Georgia on My Mind” in one giant gulp, he licked the plate clean when he was done. Needs to learn the power of vocal restraint — stat!
6) Shannon Magrane: Almost went off the rails on the big notes, but to her credit she held on and finished her rendition of
“Georgia on My Mind” “What a Wonderful World” on pitch. I just wish there was more soul, or something that made me feel like Shannon wasn’t produced on the same assembly line as Ayla Brown and Katie Stevens.
5) Colton Dixon: He’s got a rock-solid rocker voice, but I wonder if his version of Daughtry’s “What About Now” would’ve been as impressive without the skinny jeans and cresting wave of two-toned hair. (That’s just a question, not a judgment.)
4) Phillip Phillips: On the plus side, I appreciated the way he took liberties with the melody and tempo of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” and very much enjoyed the whispered and moody ending, too. But conversely, when Phillip pushes his voice, it can occasionally sound like he’s singing through a repressed burp, if that makes any sense. I’m on the fence till we get to the live shows. (Side note: Why does Ryan keep calling him Phil when the chyron identifies him as Phillip?)
3) Skylar Laine: Her conversational style on The Band Perry’s “You Lie” was filled with a sense of fun and good humor that the sometimes too-serious contestants of Idol could learn from. Plus, I liked Skylar’s positive attitude about taking the stage in the face of nausea and fever that had sent her to the hospital for 3 liters of fluids: “It’s only a minute.” And a very good minute indeed.
2) Jen Hirsh: If there’s such a thing as giving a reiki massage to a song, then that’s what Jen did to “Georgia on My Mind.” The intro was so tender and mellow and, to be honest, seductive, you could see Steven Tyler wake from his usual open-eyed nap and grin with naughty delight. And while Jen’s tone got just a bit screamy right toward the end, she showed great control and tone when she was belting, too.
1) Joshua Ledet: There were a couple overblown seconds where I got an “oh no, it’s Jacob Lusk 2.0” vibe from Joshua, but for the most part, his “Jar of Hearts” was stirring and sensational, and worthy of the judges’ standing O. I loved the grit in Joshua’s voice almost as much as I hated Randy hammily pointing skyward (see accompanying image, and J.Lo’s restraint in not choking him out) when Joshua went for the glory note.
Also among those moving on to Vegas: David Leathers Jr., Hallie Day, Erika Van Pelt, Lauren Gray, Elise Testone, Jeremy Rosado, Baylie Brown, Angie Zeiderman, Heejun Han, Britnee Kellogg, and possibly Cortez Shaw (who I think I spotted in Holding Room 1).
What did you think of the group rounds and final solos? Has anyone struck you yet as a potential winner? Sound off below, and for all my Idol news, views, and recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!