Tearful meltdowns. Blind rage. Physical collapse. These are the hallmarks of American Idol‘s Hollywood Week Group Rounds.
But every member of the Idoloonie Nation knows that amidst the badly botched lyrics, the “is something sprained?” choreography and the violent assaults on harmony, there’s a far more important ritual that occurs when wannabe Kelly Clarksons come together. Sometimes, right in front of our eyes, a star emerges.
Think back to Kris Allen and Matt Giraud’s Season 8 cover of “I Want You Back.” Or Candice Glover serving classic face, voice and attitude on “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops) in Season 12. Or even Frenchie Davis and Kimberley Locke’s legendary Season 2 “Band of Gold.”
Yes, sure, it’s the rancor and disappointment that the show’s producers like to highlight, but — as it always is with Idol — it’s the powerhouse singing that sticks in the memory like a stubborn tumeric stain on an off-white dishtowel.
And so, while an overinvested stage mom, a flu-addled girl with a speaking voice like Fantasia Barrino and a semi-talented chick railing against the judges’ agenda got the bulk of the screentime during tonight’s one-hour installment, I’m gonna choose to instead focus this recap on five contestants whose stellar group performances signaled genuine Top 10 potential:
FIVE STANDOUTS OF SEASON 13 GROUP NIGHT
5. Nica Nashae | Not only did the booming-voiced diva sweetly help teammate Jessica Meuse with her lyrics, but she deftly handled Beyoncé’s rapid “Single Ladies” wordplay and showcased a rich, distinctive tone in the process. Yes I liked it and I wanna throw some votes at it.
4. Paula Hunt | The Air Force singer’s unforgettable audition — a slow, deeply felt Etta James cover — couldn’t have been more different than her sassy, funked-up cover of The Band Perry’s “Done.” That’s the kind of genre-spanning versatility that can transform a terrific vocalist into a serious Idol contender.
3. David Oliver Willis and Sarina Joi Crowe | The night’s opening performance featured these two Hollywood Week vets (along with fellow returning contestant Tony Crowe) tackling “Too Close” with so much feeling and charisma that it obliterated any memories of Alex Clare’s original. That twist of a capella harmony at the end provided an additional upgrade — as did the judges taking a moment to explain to Tony why he was the one who didn’t advance to the next round. Class and maturity during Hollywood week? Now I’ve seen it all!
2. Briana Oakley | How many times have you gone back and replayed the Season 12 Hollywood Week evictee’s muscular, playful riffing on “Royals”? (I’ve got her wicked high note on “I’ll ruuuuuuuuuule” on repeat loop in my brain as I write this sentence. And it ruuuuuuuuules.)
1. Jena Asciutto | I don’t really care about the tale of Sikenya Thompson and her flu-induced, hotel-room hibernation. What matters is Jena’s tone — rich and heartburn-inducing as expensive paté — and the unique cadence she brought to “Too Close.” (Errrbody loves “Too Close,” eh?) Sure, I wish we’d heard more than 11 seconds of Jena’s singing, but it was enough to catapult her to the upper echelon of my Season 13 list.
A few additional observations…
* I’m liking the tougher, more direct J.Lo. But then again, we’re still in the edited portion of the season, so forgive me if I don’t start a slow clap till she’s proven herself into the live rounds.
* I’m also liking Per Blankens’ heavier focus on music and positivity. But that said, I’d have liked maybe 25% more actual singing in this installment. (I’m not crazy, am I?)
* Yeah, it was painful when Megan Miller blanked on the lyrics to “Best I Ever Had,” but that final run of glory notes dug her right out that hole, while Alyssa Siebkin’s defeated facial expressions and slouched body language assured her six-feet-under fate. Group member Spencer Lloyd, meanwhile, didn’t really stand out vocally, did he? [Bonus points to Megan for admitting on camera: "Thank you, Jesus. I didn't deserve that."]
* Oh, Tiquila! [Sniffle.] I’ll look for you on the Gospel charts!
* I wonder if Keith London got cut for freaking out the judges with a rendition of “I Kissed a Girl” (the Jill Sobule jam, not the Katy Perry one, obvs). Either way, wouldn’t it have been nice to get 30 seconds of footage to justify his exit?
* Not sad to see the sound healer get the boot.
* I know John Fox was an early fave from the auditions, but his cover of “Royals” had less flow than a stagnant goldfish bowl.
* I truly hope that if Jessica Meuse makes the voting rounds, that she’s judged solely on the strength of her performances — and not on the rantings and complaints of Stephanie Hanvey’s mom.
* If Harry Connick Jr. thinks “Say My Name” isn’t a good vocal showcase, then clealry he didn’t watch Alex & Sierra’s rendition on Season 3 of The X Factor. (Blasphemous, right?)
With that, let me turn things over to you.
What did you think of Night 2 of Season 13 Hollywood Week? Which singers stood out for you? Which moments made you cringe? And have you already got a favorite heading into the Live Rounds? Sound off below!