Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"American Idol" Recap: (Fallin' off) The Front of the Stage...

Yes, I know, I shouldn't make fun of "the most shocking thing ever to happen in Hollywood week," but I felt the way the producers teased this was truly more shocking than most of this episode.

But more on the fallin' (and yes, there's some Alicia Keys for you, too) later. It's Hollywood Week, y'all!

Can someone please watch the opening animation on the next episode frame by frame and tell me if they show Taylor Hicks' picture along with the other winners? I see Kelly, Ruben, Fantasia, Carrie, Jordin, David, Kris, Lee, and "The Body," but I swear I didn't see Taylor. Hmm.

As we watch footage of contestants being awoken from their beds to head to Hollywood (some have never even been on a flying machine before), we learn that 309 of "the nation's elite" will try their luck to become Nigel Lythgoe's America's chosen one. Like he does every year, Ryan "It's Not Time for the Suit Just Yet" Seacrest explains that the group will be divided in half, and for many, today is the first—and last—day in Hollywood.

The judges gather to share words of wisdom with the contestants, and Steven is ready with the crazy first thing in the morning, giving us his best Wizard of Oz:
What makes the dawn rise with thunder,
What makes the Sphinx the seventh wonder?
What makes the hottentot so hot?
Who put the "ape" in apricot?
What have they got that I ain't got?
Jennifer, all librarian hair and scads of purple eyeshadow, went the Paula Abdul route, telling the contestants not to let their nerves get the best of them and that she loves them. (Boy, I'm already really cynical.) And the Dawg, unable to be anything but the Dawg, simply yells, "Season 11 is ON!" (Truly the articulate one, no?)

Note to the producers: The little "record" sign in the corner of the screen sometimes doesn't fool me into thinking someone recorded the segment on their iPhone or Flip camera. Just thought you should know...

First up to sing for his life, Johnny Keyser from the St. Louis auditions. Johnny Keyser during whose audition Jennifer couldn't stop shouting "You're a star!" and "I love you!" Johnny Keyser who already believes he's head and shoulders above everyone else out there. (I can tell by the cocky half-grin. Trust me, the non-confident can smell the overly confident a mile away.)

He chooses to sing Dreamin' by Amos Lee (great song choice) much in the style of his audition, with more vocal gymnastics than Nastia Liukin and both Hamm twins could throw into a floor routine. I think if Kara DioGuardi hadn't gotten so much heat for objectifying Casey James in Season 9, J.Lo would totally have Johnny take off his shirt. But instead she just kept yelling "Johnny" and "We love Johnny" while he was singing. Way to keep him humble.

Johnny Bravado (I'm totally trademarking that if he makes it into the finals, so back off, Michael Slezak) was juxtaposed with the non-confident Heejun Han, who shared that he was overwhelmed by how beautiful and tall everyone else was. "Even the guys are beautiful," he self-deprecatingly commented. "What do they eat?"

Heejun trotted out his audition song, Michael Bolton's(!) How Am I Supposed to Live Without You. I like the tone of his voice, although I think he strained a bit, but the judges were impressed.

Both Johnny and Heejun, along with nameless others, made it through.

We then were treated to a quick montage of three other successful contestants: Elise Testone, with a bluesy, scratchy (in a good way) version of Jamiroquai's Virtual Insanity; Season 6 returnee Baylie Brown, who sounded somewhat beautiful and somewhat unremarkable; and Hallie Day, with the old chestnut, Natural Woman.

Next up was Galveston auditioner Jen Hirsh, who needed to overcome her fidgety nervousness. She sang Patty Griffin's Up to the Mountain, which would have been Crystal Bowersox's first single had she not been sacrificed not lost to Lee Dewyze. Jen sounded great, and I hope we'll see more of her.

Lauren Gray brought lots of raspy soul to her song (One and Only, same as her audition), and got so into her performance that Randy had to wave for a minute or two before she noticed he wanted her to stop. (No, Randy, you're not irrelevant. Not at all...) Both Jen and Lauren made it through.

After a montage of unsuccessful auditions from Heather Youmans, Sascha Julian, and Candice Russell, complete with lots of begging for second chances, Steven went backstage to give the contestants a pep talk. He said he wanted to see "snapping, yelling, and freaking out."

That auspicious intro led us to Phil Phillips, whom we first met in Savannah. (Never flown on plane except to jump out of it, folks.) Phil, of the super-cool acoustic Thriller audition, had to be onstage without his guitar. Would he survive? Nearly miming playing the guitar, he sang an interesting rendition of Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, which left the judges a little perplexed.

Next up, Pittsburgh auditioner Reed Grimm, who has been onstage since he was two. He destroyed sang I've Got a Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, throwing in lots of scatting and hammy playing to the audience. ("I've got a golden ticket...and so do all of us here!") There's always one over-the-top contestant I hate (cough, Jacob Lusk, cough) every season. It will be interesting to see if this season's model is Reed Grimm or Johnny Bravado.

Travis Orlando, who was cut during Round 1 of Hollywood week last season, feels he knows what he needs to do now. Plus, his mother walked out on their family. He sang All I Do, and although I thought vocally it was better than the overdone auditions of several others, the judges chose to send Travis back to reality again. Poor kid.

Apparently we also said goodbye to "early favorites" Ramiro Garcia, Wolf Hamlin, and Jenni Schick. Sixty-eight people were cut the first day.

Leading off Day 2 was Adam Brock, who belted Stormy Weather during his Pittsburgh audition, and told the camera that there is a large black woman inside of him. He lamented about being away from his baby daughter for possibly a long while, but knew it was for the good of all of them, blah blah blah. He chose to sing Walking in Memphis, because Jennifer said during his audition that his voice reminded him of Marc Cohn's. I thought he oversang it—a lot—but he has a great voice, so, we'll see.

Mr. Popper's Daughter (aka Jane Carrey) was up next. She did some overconfident prattling before her performance, which you knew spelled doom or you've never watched a Hollywood episode before. Her quirky rendition of CCR's Looking out My Back Door wasn't overly impressive (it ended with a "squee" I thought at first was microphone reverb), and she was sent packing. But she got a pep talk from Dad, apparently, so it wasn't all bad.

The very tall (and young) Shannon Magrane sang a robust version of Fallin', and she reminds me of Ayla Brown from Season 5. Maybe because they were both tall. Whatever.

David Leathers, Jr., whom we all loved in Savannah, is apparently quite the ladies' man, despite the fact that his voice hasn't changed yet and the producers thought he needed subtitles at one point. He sang Celine Dion's Because You Loved Me, and hit a lot of impressive notes, but what happens when his voice gets all Peter Brady in A Time to Change?

(Believe me, I've been there. When I was 11 and in a summer camp performance of The Sound of Music, I had a higher voice than the girl who played Liesl, and I had to sing some of her high notes. Now she performs on Broadway and I'm here recapping television shows. Yeah, life's fair.)

Jessica Phillips, who auditioned in Portland and shared the story of her fiancé, Angelo, who suffered a stroke, sang All The Man I Need, quite well, as Angelo watched from the audience. Shannon, David, and Jessica all made it through, along with Angie Zeiderman and "NBA cheerleader" Brittany Kerr, who apparently didn't even merit a montage.

Also making it through were "mobile DJ" Erika Van Pelt, who has a great bluesy voice; Creighton Fraker (awesome name but ditch the hat), who sang Queen's Somebody to Love; and Aaron Marcellus, who boasted, "this is for Jennifer and the ladies," and then sang (I think) Barbra Streisand's Starting Here, Starting Now. (I don't know because he caterwauled without a lyric through the middle portion of the clip we saw.)

Lauren Mink, who runs a program for adults with disabilities, was in the last group. She appears to be the rare contestant who feels blessed no matter what happens, and sang Heart's Alone, but apparently changed keys several times. Self-proclaimed germophobe Jeremy Rosado told J. Lo she was breathtaking and then sang Superstar a little too breathlessly for my taste, as was his continuous patter with the judges. (Although apparently it gave J.Lo goosebumps, or she was checking her self-tanner.)

Our final performer of the night was 16-year-old Symone Zaire Black, she of the afore-mentioned rendition of (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay. She has a terrific voice and great stage presence. After singing, while answering a question from the judges, she somehow tripped and fell off the stage, hitting her head. And then the credits rolled.

Will Symone be ok? Will there be drama when the contestants start the group numbers? Will J.Lo cry?

I'll say yes to all three. Back at you tomorrow with another recap!

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