With weeks of auditions now in the rearview mirror, the time has come for American Idol's season 12 to dive into the always dramatic Hollywood Week.
What of those contestants who audiences have been cheering for the last month? Some familiar hopefuls who got scads of face time -- like ginger soul singer Karl Skinner -- were quickly eliminated in the first ten minutes, as were many, many other Golden Ticket recipients deemed not compelling enough to make it through an edit.
Indeed, half of the 277 male contestants were shown the door after singing in group lines of ten -- then director Ken Warwick and executive producer Nigel Lythgoe emerged to inform the contestants that the producers will be deciding each group's members. And once that group was chosen, they were not allowed to change.
While some of these experiments worked quite well, others crashed and burned in glorious Idol style. Thankfully, this year's group was spared the flu bug that crushed the hopes and dreams of Idol contenders from season 11.
And still, this was an interesting twist to Hollywood Week, typically the most stressful, sleep-deprived, and ego-driven part of the competition -- effectively separating the men from the boys, as it were. And even though contestants are forced to join forces as an act, each singer still has to outshine the other just to stay in the game.
“Everyone has to be a star, even if you’re in a group,” explained judge Randy Jackson. Idol contender Curtis Finch put it best just before his group lit into a cover of “The Lazy Song” by Bruno Mars when he said “If all else fails, I'll just worry about myself so I can be on American Idol and not American Airlines.” Ha!
Still, Hollywood Week has its share of head scratching moments -- notably that not a single Idol contestant seemed to know the lyrics to “What Makes You Beautiful” by OneDirection or “Payphone” by Maroon 5. Realizing full well that both songs are affiliated with competing singing shows -- Fox's X Factor and NBC's The Voice, respectively -- but on a show where you're auditioning to be a pop star, would it kill to have some pop music sung?
Or maybe study up on classics that every Idol group rounds competition has served up before? We’re looking at you, season 11 survivor Johnny Keyser. Keyser was lucky to make it back after being cut in Hollywood last season after a particularly creepy incident where he kept singing following the collapse of one of his group members, but whom did he have to blame for forgetting the lyrics to “Reach Out, I’ll Be There?”
Keith Urban wasn’t having it -- especially some of the lame explanations for the parade of botched lyrics. “What planet are you on?” he asked Keyser’s group after the aforementioned travesty done to memory of The Four Tops.
He was particularly hard on Nicki Minaj’s favorite group-B Side, featuring Gurpreet Singh Sarin, AKA, The Turbanator, who spaced on the lyrics to “Payphone” by Maroon 5.
“Adam Levine is still alive, and he’s already spinning in his grave,” Urban said in one of his increasingly awesome quips.
Jackson was equally hilarious in his assessments, offering insights like, “Wow, I am so glad that is over!” and “STOP! STOP! STOP!”
Mariah Carey seems to be enjoying her time behind the table, but is still coming off a bit too quiet. She does wake up once in a while, like when she judged contestants Josh “JDA” Davila and Joel Wayman -- part of the flamboyant group “Country Queen,” who forgot the words, ironically, to Extreme’s “More Than Words.” She seemed giddy when she told the remaining three of the group they would be continuing to “take this stroll” together as she gave another one of her Zsa Zsa Gabor type “dahling” critiques.
Once again, we must pay homage to Minaj, who week after week has emerged as the judge to watch. Her advice, her critiques, her dedication to the mission of finding a star was never more evident than it was Wednesday night. Even with the curious decision to put through “B Side” despite completely botching the words, Minaj advocated for them on performance points alone. She particularly shined with comments aimed at the group featuring Papa Peachez, Adam Sanders, Charles Allen and Frankie Ford.
After a very odd performance of “American Boy,” Peachez, who described his group as “a hot mess,” blamed the musical stew of different keys and pitches on “big personalities.” Minaj countered that the big personalities were what got them through the door in the first place, and took extra time explaining how that comes into play in the real world. She also lamented that Ford lost her with his flubbed performance, and warned Peachez that he was becoming too “complacent.”
“You need to step up, so you can step back,” she said.
Boom! All at once, she was not just a judge, but a mentor with an investment in the future careers of these boys. Anyone who says they are not watching Idol because of her is missing out on one of the best judges in the series' history.
So which acts stood out from the messes?
The Math Heads, featuring size-challenged vocalist Mattheus Fernandes (relax, Worshippers -- yours truly is exactly the exact same height), rocker Gabe Brown, Mathenee Treco and Nick Boddington. Despite Fernandes emerging as the squeaky wheel in the group, the performance of “Somebody to Love” by Queen gelled quite nicely, with Brown scoring points thanks to the song being completely in his wheelhouse. All four were sent through, after Minaj had some fun making Brown step forward last.
Lazaro Arbos, who already gained goodwill from the judges and viewers due to his stuttering condition, was nearly thrown under the bus by his group, Super 55, who blamed their awful performance of The Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” on his ignorance of pop music. “Sometimes when you can’t communicate well, people think you aren’t smart,” said Arbos. What couldn’t be denied was his voice, which was the best part of the whole song.
Additional standouts: Harry Styles lookalike Zach Birnbaum, who needs to cut his bangs so we can see his eyes, and his group mates Nate Tao and Elijah Liu shone during their performance of “Some Kind of Wonderful.” David Leathers Jr., inexplicably cut last season, sailed through to the next round, and the powerful vocals of Charlie Askew and Cortez Shaw look like forces to be reckoned with. Dual Devins -- Devin Jones and Devin Velez -- had strong, a capella performances as well. Micah Johnson, who was so surprising in auditions with his powerful story of suffering from a speech impediment after surgery, was stronger in the earlier part of the show, but made the grade despite forgetting lyrics.
Which acts will be missed?
We said goodbye to Kayden Stephenson, who inspired audiences with his story of struggling with cystic fibrosis. He had a sweet singing voice, but it simply didn’t hold up next to Leathers' on “The Longest Time” by Billy Joel. Also cut: Clifton Duffin, whose parents had never heard him sing until he auditioned for Idol, hot fireman Dustin Watts, and eye candy Griffin Peterson, who Minaj and Carey put through so the females could ogle him another day. He got roughly five seconds more of airtime.
Who were the biggest drama queens of the night? That’s a tie. Josh Stephens should be ashamed of himself for vocalizing his disdain after being paired with Arbos. His backhanded compliment that he deserved to go through because of all the work he did to help him was so unnecessary. Frankie Ford also had a near meltdown on camera, vowing to return next season.
On Thursday, 43 remaining hopefuls will get cut to 20 semifinalists.
What do you think, Worshippers? Were the right acts sent home?