"The agony and the ecstasy" of the group rounds, as Ryan Seacrest put it in his typically hyperbolic and reverb-drenched manner, continued on Thursday's "American Idol" Hollywood Week episode, complete with fumbled/mumbled lyrics, one very sick contestant, one shocking resignation, and one overbearing stage mother who surprisingly didn't go by the last name Percario. And many of the remaining 104 hopefuls experienced much more agony than ecstasy, as they were eliminated over the course of the long day.
[Related: Full Wednesday "American Idol" Recap]
First up were Tony Foster Jr., David Oliver Willis, and Sarina Joi Crowe, aka Three Mo' Days. I'm not sure what their group name meant — surely these kids, all veterans of past "Idol" seasons, aspired to stick around for much longer than just half a week. But one of them wasn't even destined to stick around for three mo' hours, sadly. While the trio's cover of Alex Clare's "Too Close" showcased some impressive harmonies, and their a cappella outro was especially awesome (Jennifer Lopez called it "super-beautiful"), the judges weren't impressed with their lack of stage presence. Harry Connick Jr. was especially disappointed that Tony spent "85 percent" of the performance staring at the floor, and the panel decided to let him go. But class-act Tony appreciated Harry's honest feedback, saying, "I can leave knowing that I got an explanation, and that's really all I wanted." More proof that Harry is a fantastic judge.
Next up were the amusingly named Backstreet Cowboys — comprising early fan-favorites Casey Thrasher, Ben Briley, and Dexter Roberts — actually daring to take on the real Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way." There was an element of novelty to the song choice, of course, but this was not a throwaway performance; the trio took it seriously, and everything actually gelled. "Very entertaining. I love seeing three Southern guys doing a song that has nothing to do with them musically, and making it work," said Keith Urban. "Has there ever been a boy band in country?" asked J.Lo, indicating that she never watched "The X Factor" last year. (Either that, or she's already totally forgotten about Restless Road.) While it's unlikely that Casey, Ben, and Dexter will form a permanent boy band, they're staying together in some way for now, as all three advanced.
Neco Starr, another "Idol" veteran (from Seasons 9 and 11), sang next with George Lovett and Sandie Lee (who?). And he was STILL covering Bruno Mars. This time the song choice was "Treasure," and while Neco crushed it and was the star of his group, I am starting to worry that he might pigeonhole himself with two Bruno tunes in just two days. But he got through, of course, along with his groupmates, despite their comparative lack of screentime.
Two girl groups — one including Paula Hunt and Andrina Brogden doing the Band Perry's "Done," another with M.K. Nobilette and Briana Oakley doing Lorde's "Royals" (a song I predict I will soon tire of, judging by the number of times it's already been covered this season) — went next. And while I thought Paula sort of tanked and M.K.'s laid-back, androgynous swag was a complete mismatch for Briana's Jordin Sparksian baby-diva act, all of them made it through. Andrina was actually the one who impressed me the most; I thought she'd seemed timid and tentative at her first audition, but this time, she exhibited some dark-horse star quality.
Next up was Spencer Lloyd's co-ed group. Spencer has easily established himself as a Season 13 heartthrob, but this Thursday, he proved he's actually not so smooth with the ladies. Selfishly picking a group-performance song that only he knew well (Gavin DeGraw's "Best I Ever Had"), then refusing to rehearse with his group once he had his parts memorized, he totally let Megan Miller and Alyssa Siebken down and ended up looking like a jerk on national TV. Megan forgot her verse and broke into tears; Alyssa did her best to keep up; Spencer didn't try to help them out at all. J.Lo scolded them, saying they should have had a plan in place on how to back each other up in case of an onstage crisis. Suffice to say, this was not the best performance "Idol" ever had. But Spencer just stood there smugly, as a very peeved Alyssa was shown the Dolby Theatre door.
Others cut at this point included raspy cheerleader Stephanie Petronelli and ponytailed hippie bro Adam Roth, both of whom probably didn't deserve to make it this far, anyway. So no surprise, there. More surprising were the eliminations of Austin Percario, who was shipped back home to his momager, and Keith London, who received a ton of attention this week when he came out via a performance of "If I Were a Boy"/"Same Love." Well, on the plus side, this leaves Austin free to stage an inTENsity reunion with his old "X Factor" cronies Ellona Santiago and Arin Ray. And as for Keith, he made his mark in his own way, with the small amount of screentime he had, so good for him.
But the most surprising exit of all came when Tiquila Wilson, a church girl who at her first audition had insisted she was completely comfortable singing secular music, had a change of heart and decided to quit the competition. Boo. The people inside the Dolby Theatre applauded her conviction, and some even gave her a standing ovation. But I thought this was total BS. Come on, Tiquila knew what she was getting into when she signed up for "Idol," a show that's been around for more than a decade. She knew she'd have to sing Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars songs. And besides, past winners like Ruben Studdard and Fantasia have proven that there's room for gospel singers on "Idol." The way I see it, Tiquila took a spot away from someone else when she accepted her golden ticket. Boo. (Plus, she was fun and I'm going to miss her.)
Moving on. The next group (singing another song I will soon never want to hear again, "Too Close") hit the stage, and they sounded like they'd been hitting the bottle. That's how badly they botched this. Tyler Ahlgren didn't even try to sing any of the song's actual lyrics, replacing the first verse with: "I don't know the words/Because I forgot them/But I'm gonna keep singing." Matthew Hamel was weak; perhaps his ex-groupmate Jessica Meuse was wise to ditch him earlier. Even the usually awesome C.J. Harris floundered. Only tenacious, Tenacious D-like rocker Caleb Johnson stood out, owning/salvaging the entire performance. Tyler was unsurprisingly cut and took the news well, but the also-eliminated Matthew called the judges' decision "bullcrap" and delusionally claimed he was the "probably the best in that group." [Insert Michael Orland-style eyeroll here.]
Finally another group with an actual name, the (Zedd-inspired?) Clarity, took the stage. Sikenya Thompson immediately issued a disclaimer, announcing that she'd been ill all week and unable to rehearse or barely even talk, which Harry thought seemed like a copout. But Harry's number-one fan and Sikenya's groupmate, Munfarid Zaidi, stood up for Sikenya (something Spencer Lloyd should take notice of), and her fellow team members Jena Asciutto and Allie Odom also cheered her on. Sikenya sounded terrible, but not that bad considering how sick (and weepy) she was, and somehow she got a reprieve. Allie, who had a clean bill of health and therefore no excuse, got the boot instead.
Oh, and then there was another performance of "Royals." (Lorde does have other songs, you know. I guess Fremantle couldn't get "Tennis Court" or "Team" cleared?) Anyway, Savion Wright gave the song the royal treatment, but John Fox, someone I'd pegged a frontrunner before, choked onstage and ended up getting cut. This was a shock, but no one was more surprised or upset than John's buddy Savion, who was already coping with his brother's recent death and felt like he'd lost his whole "Idol" support system.
One contestant who didn't really have a support system to start with was aggressive, chip-shouldered badass Jessica Meuse, who, after losing her entire group the night before, ended up into a new combo with Nica Neshae, Stephanie Hanvey, and Cara Watson. And she had to sing "Single Ladies." Ugh. Jessica didn't like it and didn't seem to want to put a ring on it, judging by her surly onstage demeanor, but it was Jersey girl Stephanie who ultimately got cut, not Jessica. And Stephanie's mouthy mother was NOT happy about this, blaming Jessica's bad attitude for her daughter's downfall. "You are so rude," Jessica snapped back, correctly. "America's not gonna pick her," Mama Hanvey told Stephanie, also correctly. Jessica didn't deserve that attack from Stephanie's mom, but Mrs. Hanvey will get her revenge, because with the edit Jessica has received so far, there's no way she'll be popular with the public. All this group-round drama has basically turned her into this season's Clint Gamboa.
Next, it was Love's Angels' turn to botch a Beyoncé song. Terrica Curry, Carmen Delgina, and Emmanuel Zidor covered Destiny's Child's "Say My Name," but only the awesome Emmanuel did the somewhat repetitive tune any justice, so the judges only said his name when it came time to reveal who'd advance. The girls were toast. But that was for the best; a showboater like Emmanuel needs to be a solo act. Terrica and Carmen were just the LaTavia Roberson and LeToya Luckett to Emmanuel's Beyoncé.
And finally, we had the aptly named Loud & Fierce. Christina Collins, Olivia Diamond, Queen Bulls, and Malaya Watson had spent their entire rehearsal screaming at each other like Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj in a TMZ video, but they put their differences aside once they got onstage; their performance of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back" wasn't all that awful, surprisingly. Adorable Malaya was the only girl I was really rooting for, but all four made it through to the next round.
And so, now only 77 singers remain. (Side note: Are David Luning, C.J. Jones, or Ryan Nisbett among them? WHERE ARE THEY?) Next week we'll find out which contestants made the top 30 — or, as spoilers out there indicate, the top 31 — and then it's off to demoted judge/Jimmy Iovine replacement Randy Jackson's intensive "Idol" workshop! See you then, dawg.