Thursday, February 16, 2012

"American Idol" Recap: The Only Thing I Caught Was a Positive Attitude

Last week on American Idol there was vomiting. Fainting. Crying. Trash talk about cowboys. Stage parents. Prejudice toward cops. The so-called "Patient Zero." And virtually no singing.

But Group Day in Hollywood is "the most grueling event ever." For many of the 185 contestants this is "the end of a lifelong dream." (Until they audition again next year.) And of course, "not everyone will survive." (Did I miss the part where they combined Hollywood Week with The Hunger Games?)

The group performances kick off with The Bettys. (Steven wondered why they didn't call themselves "Betty and The Boops." Maybe because they don't know who Betty Boop is?) Anyway, we were reminded of this group's bouts with infighting, vomiting, crying, and sleeplessness as they took to the stage to "sing" Blu Cantrell's Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops). It wasn't pretty. Only Jennifer Malsch and Cari Quoyeser survived the assault on our ears. And then we were treated to extensive footage of eliminated group member Cherie Tucker vomiting and sniffling. WTF? Did we pick up Pepto-Bismol as a sponsor this year? Following someone into the restroom to listen to them vomit is never good television, not even on Fear Factor.

Groove Sauce—composed of Jen Hirsh, Aaron Marcellus, Creighton Fraker, Reed Grimm and the previously unseen Nick Boddington—performed a fantastic rendition of Hold On, I'm Comin'. Seriously, everyone was amazing, but Jen Hirsh was the standout, and not just because she was the only girl in the group. The judges gave the group a standing ovation and Dawg articulated his praise like this: "Yo, I was impressed, yo."

Next up was 679. We were reminded that during rehearsal returning contestant Brielle Von Hugel (I'll now refer to her as Brielle Von Hubris, for her obvious lack of any) bossed her group around, and her equally horrible mother talked smack about Brielle's group member, Kyle Crews, whom she thought would sabotage the entire group's chances. The group members' "parental units" were led in hypocritical prayer by Brielle's mother, who prayed, "Please, Jesus, or I'll have to deal with her when she gets back to the room!" (I'm sure Jesus was thinking, "Like that's the biggest of your problems?")

This group—Kyle, Brielle, Joshua Ledet, Shannon Magrane and someone later identified as "Amber," also sang Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops). To me, Joshua and Shannon were the only standouts, but since the producers love comeuppance more than talent, Brielle and "Amber" also made it through, while Kyle did not. (To which Mrs. Von Hubris remarked, "We love Kyle. He has a good voice." Where was the lightning strike there?)

Make You Believers, the group featuring Amy "Patient Zero from Tent-essee" Braunfield, Dustin Cundiff, Jacquie Cera and Mathenee Treco. We re-lived their angst, with Amy finally finding a group after being ostracized by others because of her illness, but no one else in this group got sick. In fact, Jacquie said, "The only thing I caught was a positive attitude." Oh, really? Then, moments later, Jacquie passed out while applauding for another group. (Sportsmanlike behavior is dangerous, y'all.) But before the quartet became a trio, Jacquie joined her compatriots on stage, to massacre More Than a Feeling. Amy and Dustin forgot their lyrics, everyone sounded horrible, and all but Mathenee were cut, although I thought he seriously shouted through his verse.

We then had our "Don't forget the lyrics montage," which showed some groups forgetting the words altogether, some making up their own lyrics (reminiscent of Season 10 winner Scotty's "nuts of wonder" when he tried singing I Hope You Dance during Group Day last year), and filling in with "oohs" and "ahs."

Troubled group Those Girls and That Guy were up next. In case you forgot, police officer Alisha Bernhardt tried to bully contestants into joining her group, but finally found a home with Christian Lopez, Samantha Novacek and two other unidentified contestants. They promised a "memorable" number (so of course, we got canned footage of the judges and contestants yawning) but didn't impress with Sugarland's Stuck Like Glue. The whole group was cut (I actually thought Christian deserved to stay, but what do I know), and Alisha offered personal security services to any of the judges if they came through Indianapolis.

Jennifer's favorite boytoy, Johnny Keyser (aka Johnny Bravado) and his group, Area 451 were having trouble with the nerves of 17-year-old Imani Handy. She collapsed, was revived, got up again, collapsed again (Johnny Bravado reminded all of us that he saw Imani fainting and caught her in his arms), and yet everyone still thought it was a good idea for her to get on stage and perform, even her mother, who didn't want to stop her from pursuing her dreams. (Okay, I'm all for letting your children pursue their destinies, but if your daughter has fainted twice—and fallen onto hard ground—and she still looks like death warmed over, it's time for you to be a parent and stop the madness. Dr. Phil, out.) But the quartet took the stage, Bryce Garcia forgot the opening lyrics, Kristi Krause was unimpressive, Johnny was his usual smarmy self (and got the flirty smile from J.Lo) and then Imani started singing and...who would have guessed it? She collapsed again. But douchebag Johnny kept singing through the chaos, and even Randy was like, "Stop singing!" Bryce and Kristi were cut, Johnny got the chance to save the day again, and after some uncomfortable begging (and hedging on J.Lo's part), Imani was sent home as well.

The mostly underage Hollywood 5Ariel Sprague (16), Eben Franckewitz (15), David Leathers Jr. (17), Gabi Carrubba (17), and old man Jeremy Rosado (19)—gave a nearly perfect performance of Duffy's Mercy. (I thought Jeremy was the weak link, big time.) All five made it, and their parents came running in for a group hug.

We learned we were saying goodbye to Reese Klockner (who?), last week's dramatic roadkill, Symone Black, and "expectant father" W.T..

And finally...the dramatic-est of the groups, MIT (Most International Team), or Cowboy vs. Asian. The group talked in the confessional about their struggles, but then cowboy Richie Law demanded his own confessional, in which he waxed poetic that, "I'm compromising, but there's no compromise between good and bad," and warning that, "One person in our group is gonna be taken down." Heejun Han shared his fortune cookie wisdom (sorry) that Richie "has a mouth but no ear, he talks but doesn't listen." When they performed, Heejun sounded great ("Beautiful," exclaimed J.Lo), Richie sounded adequate, Jayron Jackson wasn't remarkable, and Philip Phillips gave us his best Taylor Hicks convulsions. All four made it to the next round because the judges "knew how good they were" in previous rounds. And after they celebrated their good news, Heejun offered a totally staged apology to Richie as well as "Mr. and Mrs. Cowboy," because of "all the craps [sic] I said about you on the show."

Since I didn't watch the auditions, is Heejun's English really that bad, or is this an act? And does he need the subtitles?

Also making it through were Erika Van Pelt, Hallie Day, and Elise Testone (all of whom we've barely seen), and Adam "I Have a Huge Black Woman Inside Me" Brock.

The next day (aka "the ultimate litmus test") would be the last opportunity for solo performances, and all contestants would be accompanied by the band, and could play an instrument. While J.Lo went to call her lawyer to make sure the video of her slapping Marc Anthony was pulled from YouTube make a phone call, Steven and Randy had an impromptu jam session with the contestants.

Joshua Ledet was up first, and shared that his anxiety about flying nearly kept him from coming to Hollywood. He sang Christina Perri's Jar of Hearts, and I thought he gave it a great, soulful twist, without treading down the oversinging path so many contestants do. The judges gave him a standing ovation.

Colton Dixon, who came thisclose to making it last year, sang Daughtry's What About Now while accompanying himself on the keyboard. I thought he sounded good, not great, and the two-tone hair does him no favors.

Philip Phillips sang a fantastic, spastic rendition of Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, which wowed the judges nearly as much as his guitar wowed Randy.

Jen Hirsh blew everyone away with Georgia on My Mind, myself included. Honestly, her voice is fantastic, and she has great power but she controls it. While it's certainly premature to label someone the winner after just a few appearances, but if she can endure this type of performance, she absolutely should win, despite the fact that she doesn't fit the typical "winner" mold.

"Starving artist" Creighton Fraker also wowed the crowed and judges with What a Wonderful World. Jayron Jackson and "Amber" didn't deliver on their solos, apparently because of the rain and thunder in Southern California.

Apparently Reed Grimm wanted to sing a cappella, but in the interest of drama was told allegedly an hour before his performance that he needed to sing with the band. Vocal coach Peisha McPhee (Katherine's mom!) tried to knock some sense into Reed, who was hemming and hawing and wanting to talk to his mommy as time was running out. (I know Peisha wanted to smack him and say, "My daughter didn't get the lead role in Marilyn: The Musical because the other actress slept with the director. You think you've got problems?") Assistant musical director Michael Orland came to the rescue, and after another tearful conversation with mom, Reed decided to "do something different": sing Georgia on My Mind while accompanying himself on the drums. ("There's another Casey there," the Dawg proclaimed, because apparently only one person has ever sang that song before.)

Young Shannon Magrane, wearing shorts a little too short for a just-turned-17-year-old, powered through What a Wonderful World. Equally young Skylar Laine, also suffering from the contagion sweeping the contestants, received 3 liters of fluids but powered through The Band Perry's You Lie. ("She reminds me of Reba," J.Lo proclaimed.) Country mama Rachelle Lamb, who brought her young daughter to her audition, hit a Kelly Clarkson-like falsetto note during the contestants' jam session earlier in the day, which appeared to take its toll on her voice when she sang Miranda Lambert's The House That Built Me, even messing up the lyrics.

And then the nearly ubiquitous Adam Brock closed out the (few) solos by proclaiming, "We need a little white chocolate in here," and singing (again) Georgia on My Mind. I love the richness of his voice but find his overall persona a bit grating. Randy asked about the significance of the handkerchief in his back pocket, and Adam explained that it once belonged to his grandfather, who was his biggest fan, and also, "Steven Tyler wiped his brow with it" after the jam session.

Then came another irritating dramatic quirk—the separation into hotel rooms. Room 1 had Creighton, Adam, Jen Hirsh, and Hallie Day; Room 2 had Phil Phillips, Shannon Magrane, Eben, and Skyler; Room 3 had Brittany Kerr, Jennifer Malsch, Rachelle Lamb and Jayrod Gibson; and Room 4 had Stephanie Renee, Baylie Brown, Brittany Kellogg and Angie Zeiderman.

As Room 1 waited for the judges' decision, you saw that the room also had Josh Ledet and Johnny Bravado, so what did you think would happen? Room 1 was saved (and we learned that this room also contained Lauren Gray and Jermaine Jones, whomever that is).

Room 2 also got good news from the judges, and we saw that Reed and Jessica Phillips (whose fiancé had a stroke) also were in that room.

Room 3 started getting restless after hearing cheers from the other room, and after a catfight between Rachelle and hopeful Madison Shanley, the judges shared the bad news that they wouldn't be continuing in the competition. (But not before Randy shared—FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS SEASON—that this season "had the best talent ever!" Already with the hyping? Sigh.)

Room 4, which also contained the feuding-no more Richie and Heejun, and young Gabi Carrubba also heard good news.

Tomorrow night, it's on to Vegas, because why not drag this out a while longer? But we get the return of frightening vocal coach Peggi Blu, so how bad could it be? (My favorite quote in the coming attractions is, "There's no crying in music!")

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