American Idol Hollywood Week (Night 1) Recap: Can You Feel It Coming to the Airport Tonight?

american-idol-hollywood-or-home-season-13American Idol fans are verrry familiar with (and rather fond of) the phrase “thrown under the bus” — a phenomenon in which the production and judges turn against a particular contestant (see: Castro, Jason) in order to help achieve a pre-ordained outcome.

But thanks to new, exciting and possibly European techniques in psychological torture brought to us by incoming producer Per Blankens, certain Season 13 evictees will forever shudder at the expression “thrown onto the bus.”

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Yes indeed, the “Hollywood or Home” portion of the competition found all 212 of Season 13’s Golden Ticket recipients arriving at Los Angeles International Airport and — instead of heading to their hotel rooms, as per usual — being whisked off to an airplane hangar where 52 of the perceived weakest links had to give sudden-death performances for Harry, Keith and J.Lo.

Voices broke like wine glasses knocked off of countertops. The judges winced repeatedly, as if someone kept telling them  that Nicki Minaj would be sitting in with them for the rest of the season. And finally, in the cruelest twist of all, the 52 scrutinized singers were split into two busses marked like a Missing Persons song title: “Destination Unknown.”

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Then, Bus 1 went back to the “departures” gate — where 32 rejected vocalists were presumably placed in sealed wooden crates, stuffed into cargo planes and sent back via two-day delivery to their hometowns. [Cue sad trombone.]

And that was only the episode’s first half-hour!

OK, sure, “Hollywood or Home” was the same wheat-from-chaff exercise that’s been a hallmark of Idol since the days of Nikki McKibbin — whose son Tristen Langley was a Bus 1 passenger (here’s hoping we see that nice boy in Season 19 or so!) — simply dressed up in fancier packaging. Nevertheless, it provided a nice little amuse-bouche leading into the standard Hollywood Week first course: You know the drill — “10 singers stand in a line, sing one at a time, then advance to Group Rounds or get cut.”

Let’s cut right to the highlights (and lowlights) of the two-hour installment:

3) MICHAEL ORLAND’S EYE ROLLS | Yes, the Group Rounds are a cacophonous clang of ego and exhaustion and emotion and exasperation, but watching vocal coach Michael Orland throw his side-eye at contestants’ failed rehearsal harmonies — and inability to listen to constructive feedback — never gets old.

2) AUDITION FAVES REAFFIRM THEIR AWESOMENESS | Majesty Rose’s sublime Feist cover, Sam Woolf’s sweet, affecting “Waiting on the World to Change,” Briana Oakley’s booming “Mama Do” and Dexter Roberts’ “Dead Man Walking” “Barton Hollow” allowed the quartet of standout auditioners to further cement their status heading into the voting portion of the competition. Don’t choke in Groups, guys!

1) NEW FRONTRUNNERS EMERGE | I’ll admit I didn’t dig Kenzie Hall’s audition, but her swift, acoustic spin on Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” was the highlight of the solo rounds. Meanwhile, Tiquila Wilson’s Gospel-ized “The Climb” and Jena Asciuto’s supple upgrade of “Video Games” pegged them as ones to watch, too.

3) A HARD-WORKING WOMAN GETS VILLAINIZED BY GROUP SHENANIGANS, WHILE A NICE FELLA DOESN’T GET A CHANCE TO FULLY EXPLAIN HIS SONG CHOICE | Jessica Meuse might very well be a drama queen — as tonight’s Group Rounds edit pegged her. But if we’re being really real, I don’t think it’s asking a lot that she wanted her initial singing partner to correctly hit his harmonies, nor that she wasn’t overly enthused with being choregographed into submission by a teenage cohort’s stage mom. The fact that she’s female, though, makes me worry her reactions won’t play as well for voters as Phillip Phillips and Heejun Han’s Hollywood Week snarkiness back in Season 11. Meanwhile, why exactly did Harry and J.Lo have such a conniption about Keith London’s choice of “If I Were a Boy”? There are multiple possible ways to interpret (or even look past) simple things like pronoun choices — and I kinda expected them to be mature enough to keep their ears (and their minds) open when contestants are singing. (I know, I’m crazy that way.)

2) RYAN SEACREST BEING FORCED TO DO ANOTHER VARIATION ON THE “DAD WORKING TO MAKE A BETTER LIFE FOR HIS FAMILY” VOICEOVER | I fully appreciate the pressure that Maurice Townsend and Casey Thrasher must feel being away from their kids — and trying to put food in their mouths. But it still makes me cringe a little when Idol overplays the idea that a reality singing competition is somehow a guarantee of a better life for the wee ones at home. Ultimately, the Idol journey is a massive gamble — one with (from a fiscal perspective) more losers than winners. Maybe staying at home and not quitting your day job is the wiser move? And while we’re on the subject, isn’t it possible that single, childless contestants want better lives, too?

1) FANTASTIC AUDITIONERS GET CUT WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A (MUSICAL) NOTE OF EXPLANATION | Look, maybe Jade Lathan (whose “You Know I’m No Good” was my No. 1 audition of the entire season) choked like a teacup poodle devouring a t-bone steak, but as an invested viewing audience, the producers owe us at least a few bars of failure to help us understand the judges decision. Otherwise, it’s just another excuse for the Idoloonie Nation to stop getting invested in the early weeks of the show, and just start tuning in for the live rounds.

A few other thoughts and observations…

* Quick poll: Keith’s Jennifer Lawrence-esque hair: Love or loathe?

* Caitlin Johnson (the teen Harry thought looked like a 30something Manhattanite) blamed nerves for her hangar-round collapse, but honestly, who would pick “Only Girl in the World” for an a capella performance (or any performance whatsoever)? Have we leanred nothing from Tatynisa Wilson?

* I liked seeing J.Lo in high dudgeon over some disagreements with Harry and Keith — passion’s a good thing in a judge! I just wish she hadn’t been arguing on behalf of subpar sound healer Adam Roth.

* How did Morgan Deplitch survive the airplane hangar after what she did to Sara Bareilles’ “Brave”? Ditto for Neco Starr, whose cover of Bruno Mars’ “Gorilla” had more unpleasant runs than a pair of pantyhose in a paper shredder.

* I’m not sure I love-loved what Brandy Neelly did to the melody of “Stars,” but at least it was…interesting?

* It’s official: I have Spencer Lloyd hair envy.

* Lyric that most expressed what I was feeling about a performance: Bria Anai’s calamitous “everything inside me screams ‘no no no.'”

* Best Rearrangement: Kenzi’s aforementioned “Can’t Hold Us.”

* Worst Rearrangement: Alex Preston’s whiny, nasal rendition of “Scream and Shout.”

* Worst Rearrangement (Runner-Up): Caleb Johnson’s utterly unmelodic “Sympathy for the Devil.” In this case, I had sympathy for “Sympathy for the Devil.”

* Voice I Don’t Think I’m Going to “Get” This Season: Briston Maroney. Uff da. (Please, someone, tell me I am not alone.)

* Contestant Who Needs a Crash Course in Dymanics: Malaya Watson

* Contestant I Kept Seeing But Alas, Not Hearing: Megan Miller

* Voices I Definitely Didn’t Get Enough Of: Keri Lynn Roche, Jessie Roach, Ethan Thompson

* Part of the Show I Don’t Feel Like Writing About Because We’ll Have to Rehash It Tomorrow Anyway: Group Rounds

And with that, I turn it over to you. What did you think of Night 1 of Season 13 Hollywood Week? Which singers stood out for you? Which moments made you cringe? And what did you think of the Aiport Hangar/Busses of Cruelty round? Sound off below!