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American Idol Recap: The Pointless Ritual of Group Night

Folks, sit down near a loved one or a blanket or a cherished childhood toy; the dreaded Group Night is upon us. Are you unfamiliar with the Legend of Group Night? Well, gather round: Once a year, when the American Idol hopefuls are down to around a hundred, the producers put them through a terrifying exercise wherein they must harmonize, choreograph, and exercise diplomacy — all things they’ll never, ever have to do again in the course of the show — and then they cut a few of your favorites and it’s a ton of pointless heartache. (Usually it takes around four hours. But under our new management, we breeze through the whole thing in one quick episode. I love these new people.)

First up: 3 Mo’ Days, featuring Tony Foster Jr., Serina Joi Crowe, and David Oliver Willis, all of whom have been to Group Night before. And it seems like Alex Clare’s “Too Close” is this year’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style” — somewhere around half of the televised group numbers use it. But because it’s a dubsteppy kind of song, and voices don’t do dubstep well, each group takes it in a unique direction. 3 Mo’ Days brings out the gospel you never knew the song had, and wraps it all up with a beautiful Take 6 breakdown. “Not great choreo,” sighs Jennifer, but honestly: Who cares. David and Sarina make it to the next round. Tony asks the judges what he did wrong, and Jen says nothing jumped out at her (which is vague and unhelpful), then Harry interjects that he spent 80 percent of the performance looking down (which is specific and totally helpful). It’s a good, constructive moment, and I hope it doesn’t give the rest of the hopefuls any ideas, otherwise we’ll be here all night.

Casey Thrasher, Ben Briley, and Dexter Roberts have teamed up as the Backstreet Cowboys, in pretty much the smartest move in the history of the show. It would hurt to lose any of these guys, and though they’re similar on the surface, their differences complement each other. As they tear into a slowed-down, Nashvilled-up “I Want It That Way,” Harry asks, “Has there been a boy band in country?” Um, the Oak Ridge Boys, anyone? Look at the raw sexual energy radiating forth from that album cover! Anyway, there’s no choreography at all, and Jennifer doesn’t even care because it is the best. They’re all going forward.

So are Neco Starr and George Lovett, who murder Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”; my girl Paula Hunt and person I forgot about Andrina Brogden, who tailor The Band Perry’s “Done” to suit their needs; and MK Nobilette, Briana Oakley, and Kenzie Hall, who do about what you’d expect with Lorde’s “Royals.” Overall, there is less oversinging this year, but there is a new disease afflicting the voices of too many young women: this thing where you sound like a sick child stuck at a bottom of a well, and you pronounce “us” and “buzz” like uh-eece and buh-eez. As I do with most of the world’s ills, I blame Colbie Caillat. 

Incidentally, tonight there is no sign of Ryan Nisbett, Majesty York, or Marielle Sellars. We must assume they fare well.

Spencer Lloyd teams up with Megan Miller and Alyssa Siebken, but he already knows the song they’re singing, so he doesn’t want to practice. Megan and Alyssa, on the other hand, do not and do. They take the stage and it’s an unmitigated disaster, to the point where I don’t recognize what song they’re singing. Jennifer suggests that they develop a contingency plan for lyric-forgetting: Maybe they should step in and help each other out if one of them blanks (and two of them blank up a storm). It certainly seems like the kind of thing Jesus Christ would tell a young person to do, especially if that young person called himself a worship leader, but Spencer is only thinking about Spencer. He goes through, as does Megan, and poor Alyssa goes home.

So does Madisen Walker, that girl who barely made it to Hollywood because she’s only 15 and needs more time to grow into her voice. Also out: Patriots cheerleader Stephanie Petronelli and sound-healer Adam Roth. And then Tiquila Wilson quits, because she only wants to sing gospel. What is all this quitting?

And why doesn’t it ensure a space for Keith London? Oh, here’s an update on that guy: Shortly after last night’s episode aired, he tweeted “Did I just come out on national television?” Looks like you did, Keith! And today, he did an interview about the whole thing with BuzzFeed where he made it clear that he is a gay man, and that his song choices were intended to reflect that. But Idol, like Fox’s breakout star Homer Simpson, likes its gay people fa-laaaaming, so a regular Joemosexual has no place here. It’s a shame. But I think that kid will go far, I really do.

Matthew Hamel, who had all the difficulties with dramatic Jessica and sick Clark last night, has joined a group with Caleb Johnson, CJ Harris, and Tyler Ahlgren, which seems like a good idea. But it’s not a good idea: Their “Too Close” is a big pile of garbage. Tyler forgets all the words and improvises a verse about it, Matthew sounds listless, and even CJ is a little bit out of tune. Only Caleb and his microphone stand retain their dignity. He survives, as does CJ — the show isn't stupid enough to let that guy go — and Tyler and Matthew are out. Matthew takes it the way a teenager would: “I frankly in all honesty thought their decision was bull crap. I mean, I killed it.” May a viewing of his antics shame him into better behavior in the future!

Remember Sikenya, the girl who was sick last night and wasn’t sure whether she’d do the group performance at all? Well, she’s still sick, but she’s graciously decided to expose her groupmates to infection so she doesn’t miss her chance at stardom. She’s in a group with Munfarid, Allie Odom, and Jena Asciutto (who looks like Mikaela Gordon; I feel like Mikaela Gordon is reincarnated every few seasons, like the Dalai Lama). Sikenya tells the judges she’s illin’, and Harry asks, “Should you have said that? Because now we’re thinking about it.” She tries to answer, but Munfarid does the talking for her, which is classy. She loses her way a few times, but the judges urge her through, and the group’s harmonies are pretty strong. Only Allie goes home, which sounds about right. Sikenya tells her: “I’ll make sure when the show come, you get a front-row ticket.” Even with her power diminished, chick is cold.

Savion Wright and John Fox are in a group that sings “Royals,” and although Savion crushes it, John seems uncomfortable, and also says “bloodstains, ballgrounds,” so home he goes.

And then it’s time for troubled girl-group Sparkles, whose pink-streaked newcomer Jessica Meuse speaks up and tells the judges she’s been through the group-night wringer. There’s always one of these people, isn’t there? She even has the nerve to say, “Drama follows me wherever I go,” as though drama were a sentient being that could decide whom to afflict. (Rule of thumb: When you hear a person say that drama follows her everywhere, you are absolutely talking to a dramatic person with no self-awareness, and you must drop everything and run.) They sing Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” and somehow do not know all the words. How one can live in America and not have absorbed every word and dance move to that song is a mystery; watching a group of wannabe singers muff it is straight up infuriating. And there are no harmonies. But that’s not the worst part: Stephanie’s nightmare stage mom does the dance moves from the audience, like it’s an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. But these women must have some kind of track record, as all of them make it except Stephanie. Obviously, the stage mom takes it badly, calling out from the audience: “YOU ARE A SUPERSTAR — ONE TO WATCH OUT FOR.” It is the least helpful thing a parent can do. And then Stephanie does her one-on-one exit interview, casting nervous glances off camera, and when it looks like she might shed a tear — a completely natural reaction for a child whose dream was bludgeoned on national television — Mom reaches in and pulls Stephanie out by the shoulder. “No, you’re not gonna cry,” she says. I am worried about Stephanie. Maybe Keith London and I will adopt her.

But the Destiny’s Childishness does not stop there: Love’s Angels, who have the best name I’ve ever heard, contains Emmanuel Zidor (the Brian Fellow of American Idol), young Terrica Curry, and spawn-of-Wonder-Mike Carmen Delgina. They do “Say My Name,” and Harry correctly points out that there’s not much song in that song (which kind of makes you wonder why it’s on the approved list of songs). Harry says only one person in the group has superstar potential, and that person is Emmanuel. (He’s Brian Fellow!)

And we end right where we ended last night, with Loud & Fierce: Tuba Gal Malaya Watson, gorgeously named Queen Bulls, total stranger Christina Collins, and Olivia Diamond. Though they spend the whole episode fretting about lyrics and choreography, they appear to be red-light performers. It’s a hit, and all four go through.

Though the objective was to thin the herd from 100 to 50, they only get down to 77. There is much more work to do before we get down to 30, but at least we know it’ll be quick. I know I have my favorites; leave yours in the comments and I’ll let you know why you’re wrong. See you next week!

Photo: FOX