There’s an evil science behind the annual rite of passage known as the “group-performance round” of Hollywood Week on American Idol: Take a hundred or more emotionally fragile, sleep-deprived singers, force them to splinter off into small groups to learn sometimes unfamiliar songs under intense deadline pressure, and watch as fascinatingly awful things begin to happen.
That was certainly the case tonight.
The once charming Jordan Dorsey hallucinated that he was auditioning for the role of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Cherubic 15-year-old Jacee Badeaux (pictured, bottom left) found himself getting the Idol equivalent of an atomic wedgie. And Tiffany “Jersey Girl” Rios brought something so awful to the stage that it distracted from her tragically ill-fitting leopard-print skirt. (Spoiler alert: It was her voice.)
Even the judges went a little haywire tonight, repeatedly nixing the dreams of singers who sounded, if not fantastic, at least above average, while enthusiastically endorsing folks who couldn’t remember their lyrics (Corey Levoy), failed to hit a single note (Jacqueline Dunford), and attempted to imitate Adam Lambert with his fingers in a car door (oh, you know who I mean).
But seeing as how “group round” included a whopping 168 singers — and approximately 299 of them were shown singing tonight — I’m not even going to attempt to chronologically rehash everything that happened over the course of the fast-paced, two-hour telecast. Instead, let’s hand out a selection of Hollywood Week Group Round Awards — the Groupies, for short — to the overlooked, the underwhelming, and the (possibly) criminally insane. Without further ado…
The Lauren Alaina Restraining Order Award
This special prize — instant elimination! — is awarded to any contestant caught hitting his or her notes within five feet of Nigel Lythgoe’s pet contestant. Which is really the only way to explain how the judges gave the thumbs-down sign to the three unidentified women who joined Lauren in serenading Steven Tyler with a rendition of “Some Kind of Wonderful.” (One of these ladies, Sarah Ames, must have done something that really offended the folks at Fremantle; they failed to include her name when she nailed Carrie Underwood’s “Last Name” during the San Francisco audition episode, and again opted not to give her a chyron last night. I managed to unearth her identity only with a visit to americanidol.com.) Based on only a short snippet, Sarah was at least as strong as Lauren, as was the blonde woman (Ryan’s voiceover I.D.’d her as Angela Cheslock) who helped fill out their quartet. (Similarly, I was perplexed why the teammates of early favorites Julie Zorrilla and Casey Abrams got cut, despite the fact that all three — especially Lara Johnston — delivered potent, on-pitch renditions of “Get Ready.”)
As for Lauren herself, was anyone perturbed by the sight of the recently turned 16-year-old dancing provocatively for Idol‘s oldest judge? I know, I know, it’s not like she was giving Steven a lap dance, but in her black leather vest and lacy sleeves, it kind of felt like Skipper had raided the part of Barbie’s closet reserved for Friday night bar excursions.
The “I Can’t Believe You Used ‘Sad Coldplay Piano’ to Trick Me Into Crying” Award
Okay, I felt bad for 15-year-old Jacee Badeaux when his initial group (led by Clint Jun Gamboa) tossed him into the recycling bin with a pointed “I’m a stickler for people hitting their notes.” And yeah, I let out an “Awwww!” when the kid said he’d never before heard Duffy’s “Mercy.” But was that really reason enough for the judges to overlook his massacre of the song’s lyrics, and pitiful attempt at improv (“I don’t wanna go home/but this is really fun”)?
You knew there was no way they’d cut him when the heartstring-tugging piano riff from “The Scientist” kicked in, Jacee’s lower lip began to tremble, and J.Lo meaningfully furrowed her brow. Problem is, what happens if Jacee and His Precious Babyface advances to the voting portion of the show, has another meltdown, but gets saved by sympathetic speed-dialers? Can you imagine the weeks of torture for viewers’ ears and Jacee’s psyche? If the judges really had Jacee’s best interests at heart, they’d have sent him home and told him to return to the competition in a few seasons. (I will say, though, that the five-second snippet of Jacee’s teammate Stevie Cain sounded fairly impressive. Let’s hope we hear more from the long-haired beauty tomorrow night!)
The Karma Is Gonna Getcha (if Nigel Lythgoe Can Help It) Award
Anyone else notice how the producers chose a shot of Clint Jun Gamboa applying his ChapStick like a cartoon villain as Jacee told the judges how he’d been unceremoniously dumped by his previous group? Yet while on the surface, Clint certainly didn’t look like the most gracious of competitors, I have to ask: Would we have felt differently about his behavior if he’d booted, say, obnoxious Tiffany Rios from his team instead of an adorable little moppet? Idol contestants ultimately have to live or die by their performances: Just as Jacee’s adorableness shouldn’t shield him against the consequences of not hitting his notes or remembering his lyrics, maybe Clint’s self-preservationist streak shouldn’t lead to his automatic ouster.
Similar Karmic rules may also apply to Jordan Doresy, who decided to take on the “Simon Cowell” role in auditioning and selecting appropriate teammates for his group — until finally settling on a “none of the above” test score, ditching his original teammates, and looking for a new love. I don’t think any contestant in Idol history has made such a fast and furious leap from “charming fella!” to persona non grata.
The “So Good It Almost Made Me Forget Janay Castine/Demi Moore’s Husband” Prize
I’m genetically predisposed to loving any rendition of Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style (Oops)” — with the sole exception of Janay Castine’s hilarious/brutal cover from Idol‘s season four semifinal (watch it here, if you dare!), which sounded like she was performing it from inside the “puree” setting of a powerful blender. But tonight, a loose, riffing rendition by Ashton Jones (pictured, bottom left) was like a candlelight rally to reclaim the song in the Idol pantheon, and (possibly/eventually) redefine her given name in the Mr. Kutcher Era.
The “Somebody Needs to Take Off His Shirt Today” Trophy
And apparently, it wasn’t going to be ship builder Jovany Barretto, who bared his abs back in the New Orleans audition round, but left the Chippendale shtick to teammate Kevin Campos (well, except for Jovany’s hilariously awful side-to-side hip-sway while providing background vocals). In a bit of Hell Week theater that I’m sure was in no way staged by producers, Kevin happened to be running “late” and “unwittingly” answered his hotel-room door wearing only a pair of pants and an unfastened belt. Unfortunately for Kevin, his abs got upstaged by the face J.Lo made (pictured, top left) when fellow “Spanglish” member Jorge Gabriel took a knife to the throat of “Just the Way You Are.” Kevin got booted, too, even though his vocal was arguably stronger than Jovany and fellow hopeful Karen “MySpace auditioner” Rodriguez. I guess punctuality counts in this competition!
The Antonella Barba ‘Pride of New Jersey’ Award
(presented in poetry form to Tiffany Rios)
Was it her skirt — leopard print, too tight?
Or the tragic vest, cast in synthetic white ?
Was it the glitter scattered through her hair?
Or was it her voice? It makes a grown man scared!
Tiffany Rios! (What’s that, you say?)
Hang up the mic, ’cause you’re not Beyoncé
The Tami Gosnell/Jermaine Purifory Memorial Award
Every year, Idol lets us get attached to a handful of singers in the audition rounds who get axed during Hollywood Week without us hearing so much as a note of their performances. This year, unfortunately, the statuette goes to Adrienne Beasley (the lovely black woman who grew up on a farm with her white adoptive parents). Did she forget her lyrics? Did she fall off the melody like a Wipeout contestant getting knocked off the “big red balls” obstacle course? We’ll never know, thanks to the casual indifference of Cecile Frot-Coutaz and her cronies. Hmph!
The “J.Lo Is Meaner Than Paula” Prize
Once upon a time, Paris Tassin’s (pictured, top right) hardscrabble story of raising a special needs daughter may have moved Jenny From the Block to tears, but dammit, her pitch-challenged rendition of “Only Girl in the World” left the new Idol judge feeling icy cold. “Off with her head!” screamed Jennifer, auditioning for the role of the Red Queen in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Okay, not really. But she didn’t say “You look lovely tonight” and arbitrarily advocate for Paris to make it to the next round.
The “J.Lo Is Wiser Than Paula” Prize
Back at the initial auditions, The Lady Lopez told you that two-toned teen Emma Henry and “country boy” Matt Dillard weren’t ready for Hollywood. Maybe next time you’ll listen to her! (Yes, Randy, if you’re reading this recap, my ire is directed right atcha: You are the authentic you in this paragraph!)
The “I Might Have to Consider Reversing My Policy on Rooting Against 15- and 16-Year-Olds” Trophy
In an episode that featured very little heretofore unseen talent, it was a fizzy joy to see Keonna Evans, Jalen Harris, Sarina-Joi Crowe, Felix Ramsey, and Deandre Brackensick go to town on “Somebody to Love.” The kids delivered some choice harmonies, although the audition hit a sour note when their overenthusiastic stage moms were allowed to join their spawn on stage to celebrate their move to the next round. To paraphrase Beyoncé, “To stage left, to stage left…everybody’s parents should retire to stage left.”
The “Your Backstory Isn’t Going to Be Loud Enough to Drown Out Your Vocals” Award
I’m not sure why the judges are so keen on screechy James Durbin, but his vocal acrobatics on “Somebody to Love” proved he’s all shout and no bite. Chris Medina, meanwhile, was so utterly colorless on “Forget You” that I can’t help but sympathize with his teammate Devyn Rush for refusing to leave the building without trying to obtain a second opinion.
The “Maybe You Should’ve Worked With Tiffany Rios” Award
Poor Rob Bolin got so sidetracked by his inability to dance, he couldn’t even remember the name of his song (“Forget You”) seconds before his group-round performance. Maybe he should’ve hired the only (self-proclaimed) “professional choreographer” on site: I’m not sure if would’ve helped him any, but by hiring Tiffany in a behind-the-scenes capacity, he might’ve spared us from the Jersey chick’s disastrous vocalizing. Then again, I’m not sure Rob needed any help in the Idol kitchen, not with his ex-girlfriend Chelsee Oaks in his corner, and their third-wheel pal Jacqueline Dunford threatening to shoot him with a taser. I’m bummed that a guy with such a terrific natural tone crashed and burned so badly, but based on what he delivered to the judges, they did the right thing by giving him the guillotine treatment.
The Search for the Next Pussycat Doll Award
Congratulations, Pia Toscano, Alessandra Guercio, and Brielle Von Hugel. No disrespect intended to the trio of lovely ladies, who were the first contestants shown performing for the judges tonight, but I remember their simple-but-effective choreography a lot more vividly than their rendition of Bruno Mars’s “Grenade.” Pia’s vocals were probably the strongest of the bunch, but she’s got to dial back the vibrato when she’s holding a note.
And on said quavering note, what did you think of Hollywood Week Round 2? Were you impressed again by erstwhile audition crybaby Holly Cavanagh? (I liked her better than the judges seemed to.) How about the powerful quadruple threat of Da’Quela Payne, Jacob Lusk, Matthew Nuss, and Naima Adedapo? Did Scotty McCreary’s tearful apology to Jacee seem genuine to you, or was he salvaging his rep for the cameras?
And finally, what about maniacally dramatic Ashley Sullivan, who went through the five stages of grief (and invented a couple more while she was at it) before doing a halway decent rendition of that Blu Cantrell tune? Did you think she had it in her? Do you have anything at all to say about her antics? I’ll leave you to discuss in the comments, because I’m not even trying to acknowledge her brand of spastic, trainwreck, reality TV entertainment. And for all my Idol news and updates, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!