‘American Idol’ Goes To Hollywood: Boys’ Town

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks (New)

Hollywood Week kicked off this Wednesday on "American Idol." (Well, technically the contestants were shipped to Northridge, a quiet San Fernando Valley suburb...but I guess "Northridge Week" just didn't have as nice a ring to it.) This meant, of course, that the focus shifted from the fussing and feuding between the judges, and back to the usual drama between the contestants. However, while this week's inter-contestant Hollywood Week tension was typical of any "Idol" season, there was a twist this year: This was the week that didn't just figuratively separate the men from the boys, but also literally separated the girls from the boys, with the show's male and female contestants sequestered in different groups--thus taking the series' gender-quota rules to an entirely new extreme.

So this week, it was the boys' turn to compete for coveted spots in Season 12's top 40; viewers will have to wait until next week to see any of the female hopefuls sing. "I kind of wish the girls were here," muttered one disappointed contestant. And I kind of did too. And I wondered why the show's producers had decided to divvy up the ladies and gentlemen like this. Was it all part of a longer-term master plan to give the girls an edge, for once, so that the show could finally crown a female champion this season? Who knows; the mind of "Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe works in mysterious ways. But, probably, yes.

Thankfully, one contestant brought a little bit of feminine energy, or at least androgyny, to this Wednesday's otherwise testosterone-soaked proceedings. Josh "JDA" Davila, a slinky sylph all decked out with guylinered Adam Lambert eyes, pomade-slicked Bow Wow Wow/Dead Or Alive hair, Miss Jay stilettos, and a "Single Ladies"-style unitard, definitely stole the show, even though he didn't receive nearly enough screentime. (Viewers never even got to see his first audition, which I imagine must have been fab-u-lous.) This guy seriously made last week's Steven Tyler-in-drag look positively plain. Excitingly, JDA and his fellow "resident diva," flamboyantly chrome-domed rocker Joel Wayman (whose first audition also tragically never aired), were put together for the group rounds--and if their group, amusingly christened Country Queen, had been just a dynamic duo, it surely would have been awesome.

But of course, nasty Nigel got sneaky and forced JDA 'n' Joel to join forces with conservative Army sergeant Trevor Blakney and everyman equipment operator Lee Pritchard. (In another new Season 12 twist, to generate even more TV drama, the contestants weren't allowed to choose their own teams for the group round--nor were they free to switch group assignments if rehearsals weren't working out.) Unsurprisingly, Trevor was less than thrilled with his abfab/prefab group, griping that JDA and Joel were too preoccupied with "Solid Gold"-worthy choreography and theatricality to concentrate on any actual singing. ("Why not just put dresses on all of us?" Trevor grunted. Well, that definitely would've made for some interesting television...)

When Country Queen finally hit the stage, it was JDA and Joel who stood out, natch. Well, that was no surprise--JDA was resplendent in sausage-casing-snug silver leggings and Joel was rocking a fun-fur caveman vest, while the schlubbier Trevor and Lee looked like they'd just finished their shifts at a nearby Northridge construction site. However, considering that Trevor had complained about JDA and Joel's alleged lack of emphasis on singing technique, I would have expected Trevor to nail it vocally. Instead, it was ironically Trevor and Lee who forgot most of the words to Extreme's "More Than Words." It was more like "Less Than Words," or "No Words," and the judges appeared downright baffled. (Perhaps less surprisingly, Trevor and Lee didn't do so well with the choreography, either.) And so, the two regular Joes got sent home, and the two fearless freaks prevailed.

While I was tickled glittery-pink to see JDA and Joel move on to the next round, overall, I was disappointed by Wednesday's episode. I don't think I'd ever seen a Hollywood Week episode featuring so many singers whose first auditions were never even shown, and this made it difficult for me to root for (or at least recognize) anyone. And then many of these nameless, faceless singers, finally getting a chance to make a first impression on me and the rest of America, so horrifically messed up their lyrics (to well-known karaoke staples like "I'll Be There" and "What Makes You Beautiful," yet), they made Trevor and Lee look like consummate professionals.

Thankfully, there were a few genuinely good guy groups this Wednesday--like the Mathheads, featuring pint-sized "Glee Project" alum Matheus Fernandes, wild-eyed rock belter Gabe Brown, and two returning contestants from last season, Mathenee Treco and Nick Boddington. ("Idol" diehards may remember Nick as the only member of last year's fantastic group Groove Sauce who didn't make it to the live semifinals.) Taking on Queen's "Somebody To Love," all four Mathheads really stood out: Matheus nailed the falsetto, Gabe captured the anthem's feisty rock 'n' roll spirit, and Nick and Mathenee performed like "Idol" vets. It should be noted that these guys actually got along during their rehearsal, and their teamwork truly seemed to pay off. All four singers easily sailed through to this Thursday's solo round.

Another, much odder grouping that I didn't expect to work was the Couch Potatoes, which teamed jazz-handy ginger hippie-nerd Charlie Askew (my favorite Season 12 boy so far) with gospel showboater Curtis Finch Jr. This combo seemed like a disaster in the making (especially when Curtis didn't show much sympathy after Charlie fell ill), but somehow it all came together onstage, and the Couch Potatoes' not-at-all-lazy cover of Bruno Mars's "Lazy Song" earned a standing ovation from the hooting judges.

Another standout group was the Four Tones, led by botched-tonsillectomy survivor Micah Johnson and underdog gospel/soul singer Vincent Powell; their smokin' cover of Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'" was definitely a Hollywood Week highlight. Young Love, a group comprising likable fellows Nate Tao and Elijah Liu, blowhard Cortez Shaw, and some adorable floppy-haired boy named Zach Birnbaum, also charmed with a soulfully on-point cover of "Some Kind Of Wonderful."

Unfortunately, the list of Wednesday's good groups ended pretty much there; most of the episode actually consisted of one lyric-flubbing "hot mess" after another, with some of the contestants sounding so hot-messy, in fact, it was astounding that they'd ever made it to Hollywood (er, Northridge) in the first place.

Among the many groups that didn't fare so well was one with a most unfortunate moniker, Normal Hills. Led by the cocky and vaguely unlikable Johnny Keyser, another returning contestant from last year, the foursome performed the Four Tops' "I'll Be There" at Johnny's insistence--and then they floundered onstage when Johnny, after a "nightless sleep," forgot all the words and admitted, embarrassingly, that he'd never even heard the song in his life. (This confession seemed to disgust judge Keith Urban, understandably.) No, this wasn't as egregious an error as Johnny's mistake last year, when he callously ignored his groupmate's fainting spell and kept on singing while she was knocked out cold on the stage floor. And yes, Johnny was hardly the only contestant to mess up his words this week. But still, it was not a good look. However, bizarrely, Johnny actually survived this round; it was his poor groupmate Kareem Clark, who wasn't all that spectacular but at least remembered all his lyrics, who took the fall instead.

And then there was Super 55, who weren't so super at all. While members of the group rudely complained during rehearsal that Lazaro Arbos, a severe stutterer and Cuban immigrant unfamiliar with many popular American tunes, was "holding them back," Lazaro really couldn't be blamed when everyone else in Super 55 totally forgot the words to the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice" as well. Lazaro and another contestant who seemed to show some promise, Christian Lopez, survived, but the struggles that poor Lazaro experienced during Hollywood Week didn't bode well for his chances moving forward.

But then there were other epic group fails that made Normal Hills and Super 55 seem as harmonious as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Among the worst of the groups was Last Minute (a bunch of previously unseen fodder contestants like Jason Jones, Dan Wood, and Jessie Lawrence), who really were aptly named, since they didn't seem like they'd spent any time rehearsing at all. Last Minute's last-minute attempt to butter up lady judges Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj by dedicating One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful" to them totally backfired, because in order for a romantic song dedication to work, the singers MUST GET THE WORDS RIGHT. And Last Minute barely got even a syllable right. "The song is by One Direction, but it was like four directions. You were all equally bad," Nicki grumbled. In the end, the only direction these guys were headed in was straight home.

One group I had high hopes for was DKSK, the youngest team on the show, featuring David Leathers Jr., a standout top 40 contestant from last season who narrowly missed making the live semifinals, and Sanni M'mairura, who gave one of the best auditions of Season 12. However, paired with Kayden Stephenson and some also-ran kid named Kevin Quinn, they instantly unraveled. David and Sanni proved themselves enough to squeak by (they pretty much carried the entire group), but really, this quartet's cover of Billy Joel's "The Longest Time" was so unbearable, it felt like it went on for, well, the longest time. Yes, it did break my heart to see 16-year-old Kayden get cut, and it seemed to break the judges' hearts, too--as a cystic fibrosis sufferer, Kayden isn't expected to live past age 35, and his life's dream has been to make it big on "Idol." Yet even Kayden seemed to realize that his performance hadn't been quite up to snuff.

But it got worse. Much, much worse.

A group called B-Side seemed to have potential, as its ranks included the lovable Turbanator (aka "Keith Turban"), a bandanna-swathed Justin Guarini type simply named Chris, a shaggy Beck-ish boy simply known as Peter, and a scruffy rocker dude named Mark LaDuke who was a dead ringer for "Project Runway's" Seth Aaron. I was intrigued. But once B-Side got through destroying Maroon 5's "Payphone"--surely the best revenge against "The Voice" that Nigel could come up with--the only thing that intrigued me was the fact that the hysterically laughing judges PUT ALL FOUR SINGERS THROUGH to the solo round. "Adam Levine's alive, and he's already turning in this grave," joked Keith. Crazy Nicki called B-Side her "favorite group." Mark actually almost fainted (it's a good thing Johnny Keyser wasn't around), and I rewound my DVR a couple of times, just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Then I almost fainted, too. How did this happen?

But "Idol" saved the worst group for last. They were called Oz, but not even the Wizard could have saved them. Subway singer Frankie Ford, flamboyant divos Adam Sanders and Papa Peachez, and soul belter Charles Allen were butting heads from the moment they were forced to rehearse together, and most of the drama seemed to center on Frankie, the least experienced and most emotionally fragile member of the group. When they finally got onstage to perform Estelle's "American Boy," they rendered the song nearly unrecognizable. Interestingly, Charles, the contestant that up until this point had received the least screentime, was the one who nailed his vocal part best. Papa didn't even seem to be trying, as he shrugged and claimed that he was amused by the "hot mess" unfolding around him. (Oh, if only Papa and Adam had been in Country Queen with JDA and Joel instead. Now that would have been a dream team.) Frankie got the boot despite Keith fighting to keep him, and he dramatically stormed off the set in tears, vowing to come back and win in Season 13. (Let's hope for Frankie's sake that there actually is a Season 13.) Nicki's fight was more persuasive, apparently, as she whined and cajoled until she swayed one of the dissenting judges to vote for Papa. Adam, the second-strongest singer in Oz, also made it through. Papa and Adam should consider themselves very lucky that they'll have chances to redeem themselves in the solo round this Thursday.

As for the other eliminations of Wednesday's two-hour episode, the more surprising cuts were hunky country-singing fireman Dustin Watts, who I thought had a real shot at winning the entire competition; another handsome man with a sexy profession, Dr. Calvin Peters; and Griffin Peterson, the pinup-perfect heartthrob who wooed Nicki and Mariah at the Chicago auditions. The fact that such potentially female-demographic-courting contestants all exited the show so early only backed up my above-mentioned theory: that "Idol" really, really wants a girl to win this year, and the show's powers-that-be will do anything to improve the odds of that actually happening.

So, will the ladies have more luck (or receive a kinder edit) next week? Quite possibly. The conspiracy theorist in me suspects that maybe, just maybe, Nigel subjected this season's boys to an especially brutal edit, to make the girls look that much better--and thus ensure the female victory that Fox and 19 Entertainment have clearly been hoping for since 2008. All I know is, judging from the mish-mash of underwhelming talent that I saw among the boys this Wednesday, it looks like Nigel may get his wish this season.

But right now, I'm sort of hoping for a JDA-versus-Joel finale. Parker out.

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