At this time every year, American Idol stops meandering and, like the superhero-themed linear-induction roller coaster at your local theme park, just fucking takes off. It’s Hollywood Week! The most intense week of these young singers’ lives! Which is kind of impressive, considering the show has spent the last three weeks telling us how intense the lives of these young single parents, cancer husbands, and amputees are. But even if this week doesn’t scar them for life the way, say, permanent oral nerve damage would, it’s going to mess you up but good: Ryan promises that some “shocking eliminations will shake you to the core.” I seriously hope that at least one viewer is honestly shaken to the core. I want someone to wake up this morning and say, “Some stranger I saw on TV for twelve seconds got eliminated. This is my new normal.”
Anyway, nobody can seem to set an alarm for the most intense week of their lives. We see all kinds of home video of patient parents and roommates trying to rouse their young singers, who for some reason are all boys. This year, Hollywood Week is separating the boys and the girls, which Ryan says “makes the competition all the more vicious.” It does? Why? Show your work, Seacrest.
Half of the 150 or so boys who’ve made it to Hollywood will be sent home immediately after a quick, vicious a capella solo round. It all happens very fast, too fast to take in, so I’ll just give you some quick thoughts:
- You know how Idol is in season twelve and still hasn’t had an openly gay contestant? Man, are they determined to make up for it this year. They are going to put a homosexual through to the top twelve if it kills them. Welcome to the nineties, guys. And just as television had to cough up a Jim J. Bullock before it could produce a Neil Patrick Harris, so too is Idol making its first stop right in central Swish City: shouting expert Alex Sanders, angular-jewelry enthusiast Joel Weyman, drag performer JDA, and the world’s least compelling enigma Papa Peachez all sail right through. On the surface, this looks like progress, but I fear the jokes and innuendo that await us.
- If the gays are getting whisked into the VIP section this year, the white boys with guitars can’t even get in the front door. After six years, the producers have finally figured out how Idol’s audience votes, and they’re not even giving them the option this year. Dreamy Griffin Peterson, burly fireman Dustin Watts, and a million other cute boys whose names we never even learned: OUT. The era that began with David Cook will end with Phillip Phillips, as it should.
- Also out: grown-up Beavis Karl Skinner, singing doctor Calvin Peters, cancer husband Brian Rittenberry, and at least three guys who look like Cree Summer from A Different World.
- Nicki, as always, brings the pain tonight: Cortez Shaw (whose name I just mistyped as “Cortex Shaw,” which is a much better name) sings “I Will Always Love You,” but only the big finish. His version is literally 100 percent crescendo. It’s flashy and boring at the same time, so obviously Mariah and Randy love it. Only Nicki speaks truth to melisma: She says she’s “very, very disgusted” with his performance and sends him to the corner to think about what he’s done. Tell. It. Girl.
- Speaking of Ms. Minaj, though she takes detours into British Aristocrat, Southern Cartoon Character, and Cockney Chimney Sweep, when she speaks in her real voice, it’s very Laverne DeFazio.
- Mariah dresses like a bridesmaid in a new-money Long Island wedding, in weird long gowns over a series of compression undergarments that make her ass look like a big red pepper that you need to cook with tonight before it goes bad. Also, anytime she has a big physical reaction, when her face lights up and she starts pointing at all the notes the singer is singing, she first checks to make sure there’s a camera on her. It’s fascinating.
- Much is made of Lazaro Arbos’s stuttering, and not enough attention is brought to his sweating. Rivers, oceans of sweat issue forth from his furrowed brow. My flat-screen television just asked for a towel.
But listen: We’re all here for Group Night, so let’s get down to business. The day begins with even more people oversleeping and at least one gentleman disgustingly Neti-Potting himself with a bottle of water. And this year, there is one more shocking twist: The producers will choose who goes in what group, and once you’re in, there’s no getting out. The annual crowning of the Person Who Can’t Find a Group has been canceled, but the drama will continue, as the groups have been chosen to maximize tension. For example: Group Country Queen matches very-gay JDA and Joel Weyman with very-military Trevor Blakney and very-also-there Lee Pritchard. JDA is getting a ton of screen time — has anyone seen him before tonight? (Related: How can you be that gay and still think “Moves Like Jagger” is very new and hip?) Anyway, there is immediate stress, because gay people and straight people don’t speak the same language, because tonight’s show started in 1992 and went back in time from there.
There is endless preparation and rehearsal and choreography, and it’s the same as always: Nobody gets any sleep, everybody presses their fists to their foreheads at least once, nobody can remember the words to simple pop songs even though this is their dream, and they’re in the middle of the most intense week of their lives. You’ve seen it.
Up first: The Math-Heads! With Mathenee Treco (who is in at least his second year of suddenly popping up right around this time), Mattheus Ferdandes (who we are pretending wasn’t in The Glee Project), Nick Boddington (who looks like Lance Bass taking over for Cynthia Nixon in Wit), and the very Chris Cornellish Gabe Brown. They do Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” and although it’s shaky in parts, they’ve caught the judges in a charitable mood and they’re all through.
Johnny Keyser is hoping he can remember the words of the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” and if this is what he wants to do with his life, he really should. But his insistence that he’s had “a nightless sleep” does not bode well. And indeed, dude goes up on his lines right away and instantly starts making excuses. He goes from having chosen the song to saying he doesn’t know it very well to claiming he’s never heard it ever, in the space of one minute. But it works: He’s through.
Noted Charlie Askew Syndrome sufferer Charlie Askew has been grouped together with giants Curtis Finch and Nick Mathis, and together they bring “The Lazy Song” to life, which is no easy feat. All three are through.
As are the Four Tones: broken-tongued Micah Johnson, Mariah-loving praise leader Vincent Powell, total strangers Marvin Calderon and David Willis. Also: child of deaf parents Nate Tao, shouty Cortez Shaw, along with Zach Birnbaum and Elijah Liu. Effeminate country guy Paul Jolley and guy I’ve never seen Will White are through, despite not knowing their words. You kind of wonder what Group Night is for, if we’re just letting everyone through.
And then we get to our first unmitigated disaster of the night: The B-Sides consist of Turbanator Gurpreet Singh Serin and three other guys we haven’t met yet but who dress in a colorful way. They choose Maroon 5’s “Payphone,” a song I have never listened to on purpose but whose lyrics I have absorbed through cultural osmosis. But these guys? These guys cannot get it together. Lyrics, melodies, harmonies: gone immediately. But Nicki loves them and pleads her case to the rest of the judges, who are evidently in a hurry to get to lunch, because they’re all through. Randy’s advice, on his way to craft service: “Be better.” Way to earn that paycheck, Jackson.
Nicki finds the B-Sides in the lobby and says something that makes sense: “We all forget lyrics; we’re human. But it’s what we do in those moments that makes us a star.” I’ll buy that. Holy cow: We might have some legitimately entertaining live shows this year.
But the boys of Last Minute will be watching from home. Their alyrical take on One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” is genuinely terrible, and none of them are lucky enough to be dressed whimsically, so they’re cut.
Ryan Conners Smith has convinced his group, who are somehow all named Devin, to do an a capella rendition of “Payphone” (again with this song!) that gets everyone sent to the next round except him. “It’s tough seeing a friend go home. It’s bittersweet,” says Devin No. 3. What part of seing a friend go home is sweet?
Group MoFlo features Burnell Taylor, who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and who did dress up for Hollywood Week as Keith recommended. He’s having a tough time learning “Some Kind of Wonderful,” but he pulls it together and he’s great, and his glasses are distractingly filthy, but he’s through. Though not as good as Darien Moses, the breakout star of the group, who is somehow sent home.
Super 55 is having a tough time coming up with a song, because Lazaro Arbos hasn’t heard of anything ...
Okay, a quick aside here: Several weeks, maybe even months pass between the initial auditions and Hollywood Week. Spotify and RDio allow you to stream music for free, even to your mobile device. The producers of American Idol are too cheap and unimaginative to license any curveballs. So why not carve out some time each day to familiarize yourself with some popular songs? It might come up on the test! Anyway.
So they settle on the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” and spend a lot of time trying to teach Lazaro the harmonies. But come performance time, bossy Josh Stephens and Scott Fleenor forget their lyrics, and only Christian Lopez and Larazo make it through. Josh takes it especially hard, but pulls it together long enough to congratulate Lazaro thus: “You might as well be going through, I mean, we spent so much time teaching you what you were supposed to be doing.” It is, like, active-agressive.
At last it is time for Country Queen! Randy chortles: “This is a funny group.” Ha-ha, yes, Randy! It’s hilarious when gay men think they’re people. Anyway: Military Trevor, who insisted on singing “More Than Words,” botches his lyrics and gives up, Lee goes all monotone, and only the gays are through.
Group of li'l children DKSK includes David Leathers Jr, last year’s Mister Steal-Your-Girl who got eliminated right before last year’s top 24 (in favor of the young boy whose name I can’t remember but who looked like Helen Hunt)! And also Kayden with the cystic fibrosis, who has a gripping backstory but a voice that isn’t quite there, so he’s out, along with a kid named Kevin Quinn who I thought did pretty well, but what do I know.
Last up: Oz, with subway-singer Frankie Ford, Charles Allen, Alex Sanders, and Papa Peachez, who they are desperately trying to turn into a thing. Frankie has a rough time pulling it together, and before they go out onstage, he has a grand-mal breakdown in front of the cameras, crying about his asthma and his nerves. “Not to put a bane on the existence of our group,” he wails incorrectly, “but I’m having a rough time here.” It’s hard not to feel for him. I don’t, but it’s hard. Onstage, he goes from not being able to stop crying to not being able to start singing and becomes the only boy from Oz not to make it to the next round. And then the real crying starts, and he excuses himself for a private moment outside, just him and all 30 available camera crews. Better luck next time, Frankie.
Tomorrow, one more solo round, and then we’re down to twenty boys, which is still far too many!