Thursday, February 16, 2012

"American Idol" Recap: It's The Las Vegas, Baby!

"This bus goes towards the Las Vegas," said America's most favorite non-English speaker since Balki Bartokomous, Heejun Han. "I'm on this program called American Idol." (I'm still looking for Ashton Kutcher, because I know this kid is punking us with the pidgin English.)

After the 70 remaining contestants heard the news they were moving on, Steven told them they'd be performing in Las Vegas "on the set of Elvis Presley." Umm, yeah. More like the set of "Viva Elvis," a Cirque du Soleil show at the Aria Hotel. They were divided into groups of three or four, and each group would be singing a song from the 1950s or 1960s. But don't get fooled, Ryan warned us. "Even though these songs make you feel good inside, the cuts will be brutal." Welcome to Pleasantville, folks.

First up, Colton Dixon, Cari Quoyeser, Chase Likens and Skylar Laine, who was struggling with the harmonies on Dedicated to the One I Love. But when it came to performance time, the group blended well together, despite Skylar's outfit and hair. The judges praised Colton, Chase, and Skylar, but said that Cari didn't sound as good, so she was sent packing.

(And speaking of the judges, J.Lo clearly raided the wardrobe closet from Dancing with the Stars, while Steven was wearing an animal print blouse (complete with bow tie) that I swear my Grandma Anne wore during the Jewish holidays. Randy was as dressed up as always, sporting a white argyle sweater.)

Friends Ariel Sprague, David Leathers Jr., Gabi Carrubba and Jeremy Rosado met during the Savannah auditions and performed together during Group Day, along with Eben Franckewitz. The group didn't feel as confident about singing Rockin' Robin, and Gabi (whom David referred to as "a diva") wanted another solo. But at performance time, everyone shone (Ariel more so than anyone else, IMHO) and all made it through, even without Megan Corkrey's "caw, caw."

The next group, composed of Adam "Already Overexposed" Brock, Erika Van Pelt (finally we get to see her sing), Shelby "Cannon Fodder" Tweten, and Angie "Too Wacky for Del Ray Beach" Zeiderman sang Great Balls of Fire, with Adam on the piano. They sounded great, but of course, what would the show be without its manufactured drama? Randy told the group, "Let us deliberate and see what your sentence will be." (Way to go, Judge Crapner.) They told Adam, Erika, and Shelby that they were through, then resorted to the same "deliberations" they do when fakely considering saving a contestant before telling Angie that she, too, made it through. (BTW, Adam, wearing a handkerchief in your back pocket and a clashing one in your vest pocket makes you look like a tool. I know. I was voted "Best Dressed" in high school.)

Dressed as if they were about to sing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, the group of Brielle Von Hubris, Schyler Dixon and Molly Hunt inexplicably sang Why Do Fools Fall in Love? instead. Brielle and Schyler sounded great, but for some reason, we never heard Molly's solo, yet Steven told her that her individual vocals were weak. He also said he remembered making out to this song (gross) before (surprise) cutting Molly.

We also learned we'd be saying goodbye to Wayne Wilson, Ashley Robles, Stephanie Renae, Tina Torres, Janelle Arthur, and Aubree Dieckmeyer, most of whom we didn't see perform.

The next group—Eben, Haley Johnson, Reed Grimm and Elise "Finally, Camera Time" Testone—decided to "jazz up" The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Reed seemed to get the most solo time (surprise), but the entire group sounded fantastic. The judges gave them a standing ovation, praised Elise for her beatboxing the melody and Reed for some augmented and diminished intervals (I love Steven in his moments of lucidity), and the whole group went through.

After entirely too much set up, we learned that outcast cowboy Richie Law and Jermaine Jones would be the only duet. Richie kept talking pompous smack again, including, "I didn't come here to recycle music, I came to make it." Yet, unbelievably, the two baritones sounded fantastic on their duet of Make it Easy on Yourself. Heck, the Dawg even called them "The Brothers Righteous"! Both made it through, although their interactions are still really awkward.

Rather than bother with their group members, we learned that Hallie Day, Baylie Brown and Chelsea Sorrell all made it through to the next round. (Baylie and Chelsea sounded great in their brief snippets of performance.)

The final group of the first day, Jessica Sanchez, Deandre "Neither Milli nor Vanilli" Brackensick, and Candice Glover took on an upbeat version of Buddy Holly's It Doesn't Matter Anymore. They really tore into the song, with Jessica and Deandre's vocals sounding slightly more impressive than Candice's, and the judges gave them a standing ovation. Randy waxed philosophical, saying, "The future's really bright; when I hear you sing, I say, 'yo.'" (I'm so ready for a 365-day calendar with the quotable Randy Jackson, aren't you?)

The contestants got a little bit of bad news at the end of the day: depending on how many contestants make it through on the second day, the judges might have to go back and cut more contestants from Day 1.

Day 2 started with Scott Daingerfield, Clayton Farhat, Adam Lee Decker and Curtis Gray taking on Jailhouse Rock. It was kinda fun, kinda spastic, but since it was all attractive guys, J.Lo was shimmying. However, the judges' reactions weren't as enthusiastic, and J.Lo pretended she knows music, too, telling the guys they were sharp on the "minor third thing." Scott, Clayton, and Adam made it; Curtis did not. But he did get a "We love you, man" from his group, so all was not lost in bro-town.

Caleb Johnson, Joshua Sanders and two people only referred to as "Blair and River" made it through, as did Joshua Ledet and Shannon Magrane. (Curtis Johnson Jr. and "Amber"(we still don't have her last name) didn't make it through.)

(A group anchored by our own Johnny Bravado decided to hang out in the pool rather than stress out about their song. I wonder if J.Lo got to see Johnny shirtless?)

Next up was a group that called themselves "The Neopolitans," Britnee Kellogg, Jessica Phillips and Courtney Williams, who looks like a cross between a drag queen and a slightly more masculine Melinda Doolittle. They didn't rehearse with the band because all three sing professionally, and they "didn't want to waste the band or the vocal coach's time." (Such nice girls.) They took on the never-successful-on-the-show You Keep Me Hangin' On. I thought all three sounded really good; the judges apparently heard a different rendition, because while they praised Britnee, they didn't like the stylings that Jessica and Courtney brought to the song. Britnee and Courtney made it through; Jessica did not. But that's ok, because "they're not looking for real artists, anyway." Stay classy, Jess.

The trio of Lauren Gray, Wendy Taylor and Mathenee "I Survived Patient Zero" Trico had the day's first run-in with "vocal coach from hell" Peggi Blu. (To see that she knows of what she criticizes, check out Peggi's grand championship win on Star Search. Go to the 2:00 minute mark.) Peggi and Lauren weren't seeing eye to eye because Lauren couldn't seem to get the notes or the phrasing of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow right.

"There's no crying in music!," Peggi exclaimed.
"They're tears to help me focus," Lauren explained.
"Are you on Ritalin?," Peggi inquired.
Lauren said she wasn't.
Peggi warned, "Then focus. Wake up and get a grip!"

Lauren and Wendy sounded terrific during their performance, Mathenee not so much, and he was sent home.

The new, drama-free MIT (Heejun, Jairon Jackson, Phil "Or Maybe It's Philip" Phillips and Neco Starr replacing Cowboy Richie) was a little afraid of Peggi Blu. But thanks to the magic of editing, we got to see how wonderful she can be, as it appeared she took a shine to this group, who sang I Only Have Eyes for You. Neco seemed to have the biggest part, Heejun once again demonstrated his grasp of perfect English while singing, Jairon seemed slightly out of place, and at first I thought Phil was having trouble hearing himself or the music, but it turns out it was just more of Cocker-Hicks Syndrome. "What a crowd, what a mob, what a show," Steven non-sequitered, and then sang—and you know you've wanted to all season long—"Hey Jun..." All four got through after some judge-created drama.

The final group—Jen Hirsh, Creighton Fraker (who looks utterly different every time I see him), Aaron Marcellus and Nick "At Least I Get to Tag Along with the Cool Kids" Boddington—saw the reunion of Groove Sauce minus Reed. Now they call themselves "The Lady and The Spectacles" (all the guys are wearing glasses) and they sing a spot-on rendition of Sealed with a Kiss. And have I mentioned how much I love Jen Hirsh? Creighton ain't no slouch, either, although the judges didn't like Nick as much as the other three, and he was sent home.

And then, in firing squad mode, each group came forward and the judges made further cuts. Going home were: Gabi Carrubba, Schyler Dixon (much to Colton's dismay), Angie Zeiderman, Candice Glover, Jairon Jackson, Britnee Kellogg and—shocker of all shockers for me—Johnny Bravado. (Guess Jennifer wasn't impressed with the shirtlessness?)

Forty-two contestants remain. They'll sing again and then find out who makes the top 24. Plus, next week, Steven (shudder) strips down to his underwear and dives in the pool.

Hopefully in the next 7-8 weeks we'll know who's going to the top 24...

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