Like Downton Abbey, American Idol seems like it’s trying to atone for a few lackluster episodes by stuffing a two-hour episode with far more action than is necessary. (Not to go too far off topic here, but can we agree that Downton Abbey is hurtling headlong toward an episode where the Dowager Countess jumps a car over a creek?)
We begin with Group Day and a few wonderful examples of why it doesn’t ever seem to work. Alisha the Cop moans, “Ohhh, Group Day. I wouldn’t do it again if I HAD TO,” which, you know what, Alisha? I bet you won’t. Then two other people I’ve never seen before have this exchange:
1: “You ret to rock?”
1: “Me too. Let’s DO THIS.”
So Group Day is a day for self-absorbed people to quickly choreograph some rudimentary dance steps and group harmonies for a show that’s looking for solo singers, and to bitch and show that even though this is their DREAM they still somehow haven’t absorbed the lyrics to “Son of a Preacher Man.” It’s the worst. Let’s get into it.
Ryan tells us that the groups are so nervous that “some have resorted to a last-minute rehearsal,” which, as a performer myself, I can tell you are fairly common. The fact that the producers think rehearsing is some sort of desperate last resort might go a long way toward explaining why this show is so inexcusably shoddy.
MIT, with awful Richie Law, delightful Heejun, Phillip From My Dreams, and Some Other Guy, does a confessional about how they’ve come together as a group, and then Richie stays behind by himself to confess that they haven’t, and that only he understands how to be great. Richie is a cross between Rick Santorum and Tatiana del Toro, and I didn’t even know those streets intersected.
The Betties, the group who fought over whether human beings need to sleep, are up first. Steven Tyler says, “The Betties? Couldn’t it have been Betty and the Boops?” Yes indeed: Why aren’t these children referencing cartoons from a century ago? Steven, do you understand that most of these people are too young to understand a reference to Barney? Anyway, they’re awful, with the two who decided not to sleep and the one who yammed into a full-size garbage bag not making it forward. Cherie Turner blubbers that her dream is over and then gives us the longest, wettest nose blow in television history.
Up next: Groovesauce, with Creighton Fraker, Jen Hirsh, and Reed Grimm. Surely the annoying-vocal-tic-iest group in American Idol history. They do a very Manhattan Transfer thing on “Hold On, I’m Coming,” and I have to say it totally works. They’re all through! They’re all weird.
679 contains Frat Guy Kyle and Brielle With the Stage Mother. (Pro tip: If you meet someone named Brielle, they are the child of parents who would name a child Brielle and are therefore irreparably broken. Proceed with caution.) They do an oddly mournful version of “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” and only Frat Guy Kyle gets cut, because the arrangement was not in his key. I believe I will miss this young Bruce Hornsby–looking fellow.
I also believe I will not make it through these two hours. Which is why I’m so relieved that the next group up is the Make-You-Believers, which features increasingly methy-looking Tent Girl Amy Brumfield, Dustin Cundiff, Jackie Who Keeps Fainting, and Mathenee Treco. Dustin, Jackie, and Amy stumble their woozy way through “More Than a Feeling,” and then Mathenee comes out and just jizzes all over it. Jackie is asked to step forward, and when the judges ask Amy to do the same, Jackie grimaces because she knows Amy is doomed, and also because she is classy. Only Mathenee makes it through, because to these judges, more singing is better singing. Backstage, Amy wails, “I pushed myself, and all for nothing.” That’s the spirit, Tent Girl.
And then there’s the montage of forgotten lyrics, which includes Jacob Lusk-y Black Guy, Cowboy Hat Guy, and Emaciated Blonde. (“Oh, thanks, Dave; that narrows it down.” — you.)
Those Girls and That Guy has Alisha the Cop and Christian, a young boy who looks like Nancy Culp. (I bet Steven Tyler gets that joke.) They all make bad sounds with their mouths and none of them make it through.
Are you worried that there has not been enough falling down? Area 451 has you covered. Imani Handy, who has already blacked out twice in this show, is in the group, as is Handsome Johnny Keyser and a few other people whose names you will not need to remember. Imani can barely make it to the stage, and Imani’s mother can barely satisfy the minimum requirements for motherhood by telling her child to sit this one out. And sure enough, Imani gets a few lines in and crumples. She falls to the ground so fast and so gracelessly that they have to blur out her vagina. It is bananas. As is the fact that Handsome Johnny looks down on Imani as her mother begs her to wake up and paramedics pull out defibrillators, takes a beat, and goes right on singing. He is ruthless. He makes it through, and as Imani struggles into a folding chair, the judges ask whether she thinks she can make it through the rest of the season, which she swears she can, but it’s a moot point because they didn’t vote her through. Delicious.
Other folks who didn’t make it: Symone the Accidental Stage Diver, and WT, the big blonde jail warden guy. I say this with love, you two: Run and don’t look back.
The last group is MIT. Richie Vegases his way through all the choreography — too-hard snapping, too-firm stepping — and then he comes forward to sing, and ... oh, he is for sure not making the correct noises. But the whole group makes it to the next round. And as Richie gives a totally unnecessary acceptance speech, Heejun interrupts and apologizes. “I talk a lot of craps about you, Richie.” And as Richie extends his hand for a peace shake, Heejun just grins into the camera. It is a breathtaking moment.
And then it’s time for solo performances, because we are only halfway through the show. Trees and powerlines are down all throughout my neighborhood from the weary sigh I just issued. I will try to keep my thoughts brief.
Joshua Lidet manages to breathe life into “Jar of Hearts,” which should somehow qualify him for the Olympics. Colton Dixon looks like a teenager’s drawing of a gay superhero. I am crestfallen to discover that Phillip Phillips does the Dave Matthews Charleston dance when he plays guitar, but I would still hit it. Creighton Fraker is this year’s Sam Harris, and here is my proof. Jen Hirsh makes me feel like I am in one of those restaurants where the waiters sing. Rachelle Lamb forgets her lyrics and says, “I think I messed up,” which is the No. 1 best thing to do in an audition. Shannon Magrane looks exactly like Katherine Chloe Cahoon (and if you haven’t seen those videos, say good-bye to your next hour). Skylar Lane sings very nicely, and absolutely says “skeeter” when she means “mosquito.”
And then there’s Reed Grimm, who I’m pretty sure has some serious mental health issues. He had planned to sing a cappella, but it’s against the rules all of a sudden, so he must find a song to sing with the band. Peisha McPhee is sent to be his coach, and they don’t mention that she is Katharine McPhee’s mother, which seems like a weird thing to gloss over. (Is Katharine dead to them now? Is working on an NBC show like joining a rival gang?) She is tasked with keeping him focused, and it’s not easy:
Peisha: So you have twelve minutes to learn this song with the band.
Reed: That’s the thing about life, man, is that it’s ...
Peisha: No. Song. Focus.
Reed: See, that’s what I’ve noticed about the world we live in.
Reed rehearses for as long as his ADD will allow, then calls his mother and has a conversation that is all sharp exhales. And then he goes out onstage and kind of crushes it. This guy is very talented and clearly damaged by some sort of jazzy showbiz child abuse. I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Adam Brock says, “I think it’s time this show had some white chocolate,” which really hits the nail on the head: This show’s major problem is that it hasn’t had enough white guys who think they’re black. He does a great job, and at some point we’re going to have to address the fact that he’s a little Marcus Bachmanny, but I don’t know that I have the space right now. But I will say that he has a hanky in a back pocket, and Randy asks the significance of it, and I really thought things were going to go in a radically different direction for a second there.
And then they do the thing where they divide the singers into four rooms and then the judges go in and deliver the news, and everyone must know by now that when Randy looks the most solemn, the news is good. Room 1 is Jen Hirsh, Creighton Fraker, and Erika van Pelt, so they are obviously through. Room 2 contains Phillip Phillips, Skylar Lane, and Shannon Magrane. Also on to the next round.
Room 3 is clearly our loser room, because Rachelle Lamb is in it. Some girl complains that people in the room are laughing, and obviously if you’re going to hear bad news, you should be a great big pill about it. Rachelle responds by belching, and somewhere in Missouri right now there’s a former Mr. Rachelle Lamb who’s feeling pretty good about his life choices. Room 3 does not make it through, and they play Gary Jules’s version of “Mad World” because they want us to think all of these people are contemplating suicide.
Richie Law and Heejun Han are in Room 4, and if you think they won’t wring every drop out of this terrible relationship, you have a Reed Grimm–level understanding of the world. They are through.
Tomorrow night: Two more hours! Another group night in Las Vegas for some reason! And still more fainting! As Maggie Smith will almost definitely say in season three of Downton Abbey: “Vegas, baby! Let’s get it crunk!”