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Paul F. Tompkins Recaps American Idol’s Group Night

So, it’s group night, which means the contestants are forced to form groups so they can all sing and dance together, you know, like you always see David Cook and Carrie Underwood doing all the time these days. And some people are ahead of the game and have formed their groups already. Smart! BUT HOLD ON, STUPIDS, because some producer-y guy is saying that those groups are invalid! Now every group must include members culled from both days one and two! I have seen every episode since the season started three weeks ago, and I have no idea what “days one and two” refers to. But here’s what I do know: This new rule has been created solely to make the contestants uncomfortable and start fighting with each other for our benefit. There’s no other point — it’s not in any way enriching the contestants. “Look, this is what the music biz is like, kids. Every successful artist has been forced to stay up all night learning songs, making up choreography, and singing with four other people they just met. Ask any successful recording artist and they’ll tell you the same. Anyone who doesn’t is a liar! Yes, I’m including Billy Bragg!”

Now what happens next is an extremely frustrating (to watch) scramble by all the contestants to affirmative-actionize their groups with day oners or twoers as needed. People are rejecting people; people are “auditioning” for other people; it goes on forever and is just an assault on the viewer. Well, the viewer who is taking notes. The viewer who is me. Mostly because it’s intentionally chaotic and hard to follow and it doesn’t have anything to do with anything except to make these kids even more tired than they would have been had this rule not been suddenly imposed. Why are they really doing this, I wonder? Is American Idol broke, and they’re subcontracting sleep-deprivation studies? Have all the producers already sold their blood, semen, and comic books?

The group stuff goes on and on. It includes the unpleasant Tiffany Rios searching for even one person who will sing within 30 yards of her, roly-poly Jacee Badeaux being kicked out of a group by Clint Jun Gamboa and his irritating glasses, future Walter White victim Ashley Sullivan on the verge of a nervous leaving-the-competition-down, and Rob Bolin struggling to learn a song. It goes on and on and on. I expect it will happen when I close my eyes from now on.

After a break, the judges finally arrive. J.Lo is dressed like an Arabian princess and I am in love with her. I am a human being and I will not be judged.

Then more group drama. WHO CARES. Not me, is the answer.

Eventually, it’s time for some actual performances. Why not, we’re only five hours in. We thankfully dispense with Tiffany right away, as she at one point forgets to point the microphone at her mouth while she’s singing. Her sole group member, Jessica Yantz, gets the boot, too. We then discover that Jessica only hooked up with Tiffany because Jessica felt bad for her. No good deed goes unpunished, Jess. Next time, before you align yourself with someone who behaves like a monster, first ask, “Could this person be a monster?”

Kevin Campos overslept and is missing his group number, so everyone is punished by Steven Tyler getting onstage and playing the drums. Finally this kid gets his shirt on and his group performs. Aaaaand they stink. Then there is a bit of confusion as Steven Tyler passes judgment; at first, he only crushes one kid’s heart, then J.Lo points out that he forgot to crush the sleepy kid’s heart, too. Steven figures it out, and Sleepy’s heart is sleepily crushed as well. The whole time, that “something funny is happening” music from Grey’s Anatomy plays so that we know this is funny and not sad. Never forget that this show hates its contestants. It hates them.

Next, a group of gals takes the stage and invites Steven Tyler up to be sung to! Everybody seems to be having a great time with this except me! After all the laughs and cheering, three out of the four of them are sent home. Worth it, girls! Totally! Lauren Alaina is the sole survivor, and as the other three hug/secretly hate her, “Crying” by Aerosmith plays. All RIGHT. How much Steven Tyler do we NEED?

Ashley Sullivan has gotten it together enough to return to her team. They do pretty well, although Ashley herself coaxes out the first “pitchy” of the season from Randy Jackson. During the critiques, her face is a fascinating gallery of micro-expressions. She makes it through and does the most unself-conscious victory spasm I’ve ever seen and it actually gets to me a little. A little lump in my throat. What is going on.

Then there’s a terrible rendition of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” featuring James Durbin, the guy with the various conditions and the faux-hawk and the scarf-tails. He gets through. So far his plan of buying food and diapers for his baby by winning a TV singing contest is working, so I guess I’m the dumb one. Emma Henry is let go, and we flash back to J.Lo pronouncing, “She’s gonna get eaten up in this competition.” It is as J.Lo predicted! Heed the words of the J.Loracle!

More terrible performances. One dude is called out for cheating and he is insanely obvious about reading lyrics from his hand. But tiny former crybaby Hollie Cavanagh makes it through with dry eyes; she seems to have developed a hard candy shell. Corey Levoy, who sings horribly, makes it through and correctly asks why. Randy Jackson yells at him to get off the stage, clearly angry at being asked to explain how time is killed on television.

Jacee finds a group and makes it through, despite his betrayal at the hands of that four-eyed Judas, Clint Jun. Clint Jun and his group make it through as well. Scotty confesses he feels guilty for not sticking up for Jacee, declaring him the best kid in this whole competition. Offstage, Scotty weeps over his cowardice, as St. Peter wept after denying Our Lord. “Jacee”? J.C.? Did I just freak you out?

After teasing Rob’s troubles with their number for the last two hours, it’s finally time to see him perform with Jacqueline and Chelsee. They do the evening’s eighth or tenth rendition of Cee Lo’s “[Forget] You.” Jacqueline does the non-radio version of the song for a second, and Rob forgets all the words and freestyles some lyrics about how he’ll try real hard next time. It seems impossible to me that he doesn’t know any of the words to this song. Who on earth doesn’t know every word to this song? Even people who aren’t trying to learn this song know it by heart. Rob gets sent home. And you know what? Good. As stupid as it is that a guy like Rob needs to know choreography, and as cruel as it is to make these kids do all of this extraneous nonsense on minutes of sleep, all Rob needed to do was learn a song and sing it. He would have done a good job with it, too. Cheslee and Jacqueline were both extremely weak and Jacqueline said the word shit, but they’re both through. See that, Rob? Randy Jackson himself probably could’ve forgiven you the N-word if it meant you were singing some actual lyrics.

More tomorrow. I am both telling you and whining to myself.

Photo: Michael Becker/FOX