'American Idol' Hollywood Week, Pt. 2: Sangin' and Cliffhangin'

·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music

When we last left American Idol, it was day two of Hollywood Week, and contestant Gabby Zonneveld had suffered a mini-meltdown onstage. (OK, it’s wasn’t all that mini. It was actually kind of major.) That cliffhanger was quickly resolved within the first three minutes of Thursday’s episode, when Gabby pulled it together and finished her Delta Rae covered as planned. Apparently her show-must-go-on attitude was enough to win over the judges, and she got a pass, despite the fact that she’d just freaked out over “all the cameras.”

Hello… this incident should have been a sign that young Gabby is NOT ready for prime time. Come on, she’s freaking out about cameras now? Well, if she actually makes it to the live shows, she probably won’t be able to handle having a couple of HD cameras (on moving cranes, yet) shoved right up in her face. Yes, the girl has talent, but she should have been sent home.

Thursday’s episode ended with another dramatic cliffhanger, as another young and green contestant, Alexis Grendel, had a backstage panic attack on Group Day (“the most feared day” of Hollywood Week, according to Ryan Seacrest). Alexis made Gabby seem like the epitome of poise and grace by comparison. And then Alexis fainted onstage, before she’d even warbled a note, putting her fate of her fellow group members in jeopardy.

Will Alexis get the same kid-gloved treatment as Gabby? We’ll have to wait until next Wednesday to find out, but frankly, Hollywood Week is supposed to be the process by which the women are separated from the girls, the men from the boys, the pros from the amateurs, the fainters from the non-fainters. Like Gabby, Alexis is talented, but she clearly isn’t ready, either.

There were many singers this Thursday that weren’t ready, to be honest, but thankfully, some of them rose to the occasion and impressed. Below, I list the best, and worst, of the Hollywood hopefuls…

BEST:

Cody Fry – Oh, how I missed Cody on Wednesday’s show. It was awesome to finally see him again, especially he was even better than I remember from his first audition. His cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Lilac Wine” (fantastic song choice) was stunning. He sounded and looked like the long-lost third Everly Brother; there was something about him that made him seem like a matinee idol (no pun intended) from another era… and yet, his whole vibe came across as hip and fresh. Cody is one of the more interesting contestants I’ve seen on the Idol stage in quite some time.

Katherine Winston – Katherine’s earthy performance of “Wild Horses” took the best bits of both the Rolling Stones’ original and the Sundays’ classic cover from 1992. This was gorgeous. Wild horses could not drag me away from a Katherine Winston concert. I want more.

Rayvon Owen – Rayvon’s silky, soulful rendition of John Legend’s “Ordinary People” was anything but ordinary. This guy is truly special.

Alexis Gomez – It was a big risk for this country filly to take on Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” but her natural sexiness and rawness totally worked for the song, and she maybe even made the song a little more badass.

Clark Beckham – I barely remembered this everyman busker from the Nashville auditions, but when he began belting “Let’s Get It On” this Thursday, I immediately took notice. It was on, all right. Holy moly, those high notes! I didn’t know he had that in him. Clark could very well be this season’s dark horse. Or Clark horse, if you will. (Sorry.)

Qaasim Middleton – The former member of Nickelodeon’s Naked Brothers Band, who’s in some sort of showmance with fellow contestant Jax despite being outed by his mom as a virgin, displayed a surprising amount of manliness and sexiness during his smoldering version of Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love.” (Side note: Enough with the Sheeran covers, already!) Qaasim could be a real heartthrob this season, so Jax shouldn’t get her hopes up just yet.

Team Dimples – This Group Day performance definitely made me smile. Jaq Mackenzie, Michael Simeon, Nick Fradiani, and Hunter Larsen worked their magic with Magic’s “Rude” (a song I thought I’d never, ever want to hear again), oozing charisma and chemistry and all-around good vibes. This was one of the few group performances Thursday that worked on all levels. Team Dimples for the win!

Double Stuff – I could live without hearing “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” on any singing competition ever again, but these guys gelled so well, and brought such energy to the stage, I didn’t even mind the played-out song selection. Jesse Cline, Clark Beckham, and J. None all performed to the max (nice James Brown-style split from the latter fellow), but I just happy to see the return of David Oliver Willis. The poor guy got shafted in that weird Vegas round of Season 12, barely got any screentime in Season 13, and wasn’t shown during this season’s audition rounds at all. Judging from how well he did in this group number, I don’t understand why producers keep snubbing him.

WORST:

Andrew Annello – This obnoxious scenery-chewer hit the stage declaring, “I am the diamond in the rough that you have been trying to find!” Well, I suppose the above-mentioned Gabby Zonneveld and Alexis Grendel could learn a thing or two about confidence from Andrew. But his performance of “Valerie” (which, like every contestant ever in the history of singing shows, he frustratingly attributed to Amy Winehouse instead of originators the Zutons) was a lot more rough than diamond. Andrew took the news of his elimination well, so kudos to him for his good attitude, but it really was time for him to go.

Dakota Suarez – Billed as the first drag queen to ever try out for Idol (have producers already forgotten Season 12’s JDA???), Dakota came to Hollywood with a suitcase full of attitude, flashy stage wear, and killer heels, not to mention a very clever song choice, “Natural Woman.” But Dakota’s vocal was unnaturally awful; suffice to say, it had nothing in common with Kelly Clarkson’s starmaking Season 1 version of the Aretha anthem. Dakota admitted that her performance was terrible, and sashayed away. Too bad; I liked Dakota. Maybe she can try out for RuPaul’s Drag Race next year. Contestants lip-synch on that show.

Daniel Seavey – Seeing this pre-pubescent boy sing about true love at age 70, when age 70 seems about 57 years away for him, was a little awkward. His cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” was better than his shaky first audition in San Francisco… but since I’m thinking out loud myself, I’ll say he’s still not ready. The judges should have sent Daniel home and told him to come back in Season 15. But since I’m sure the producers see him as tween-bait, he made it through, of course.

Loren Lott – Like Andrew Annello, Loren’s confidence was totally disproportionate to her actual talent. After promising that she can “make American Idol a lot of money” (“She’s speaking the language,” admitted Jennifer Lopez), Loren squeaked her way through Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” in a voice more suited to cartoon voiceover work than Idol. Seriously, could she have made a more inappropriate song choice? Well, apparently her promises of Idol riches had producers seeing dollar signs, because somehow, Loren advanced to the next round.

Kelley Kime – Nice voice, nice face, nice backstory (she’s the single mom with the adorable little toddler daughter). But nice just ain’t gonna cut it. Kelley’s cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t” was pleasant, but instantly forgettable. This lady just lacks that certain spark. Kelley got through, but I would have rather heard her little girl sing “Let It Go” again.

The Dream Team – This misleadingly named and actually rather nightmarish Group Day ensemble was absolutely not the sum of its parts. Comprising early solo standouts like Maddy Hudson, Tyanna Jones, Reno Anoa’i, and Steffi Ledbetter, this group should have killed it, but instead they almost killed their chances. Their performance of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” was such a disaster, even Tyanna’s mom, cringing in the stage wings, called it “hard to watch.” And Tyanna actually did the best job of the four, according to the judges! Thankfully everyone but the weakest link, Steffi, got another chance. These kids should be grateful that Nicki Minaj isn’t on the panel anymore.

So there you have it. Hollywood Week continues apace next week (the regular seven-day calendar does not apply to Idol!), when we find out what happened to Alexis Grendel and her poor group, Sal’s Gals. Will Alexis wake up and smell the smelling salts in time to perform? Will we hear 18 more Ed Sheeran songs? Will we ever get another glimpse of Rocky Peter or Jess Lamb? Tune in then. Parker out.

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