Tonight’s episode is called “Hollywood Week: Lines of Ten,” as though it were the latest in the popular Hollywood Week video-game series. Here’s how it works: Each surviving singer must hit the stage in a group of ten and sing one short solo. Half will be sent home immediately. These are the episodes where the young hopefuls you’ve met and judged over the interminable audition episodes finally have to prove themselves under bright lights and high pressure. There is joy, there are tears, there are mothers. If it sounds exciting, I can assure you it still goes on for way too long, and most of the people they’ve done long introductory packages about are safe.
We begin with the singers arriving in Hollywood. “Those are some tall palm trees,” says single mom LaPorsha Renae. “That was the biggest plane I’ve ever been on: three seats on each side!” says off-the-grid bumpkin Jeneve Rose Mitchell. It is 2016, and it is too much to ask for these kids to have never seen a palm tree or a plane; their enthusiasm derives from the height and the seating chart. This is a sophisticated bunch.
The first person we get to hear sing is sunken-eyed, boy-bun-wearing worship-leader Jordan Sasser, who auditioned with his wife and didn’t seem to be bothered that she didn’t make it. He is still wearing the same shirt, and it is still something Norman Fell would have worn on Three’s Company. Under his segment, they play Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now,” which is a total gay joy in song form, so it is possible that we are all thinking the same thing about Jordan Sasser. He oversings that Tori Kelly song and makes it through.
Dueling Mortal Kombat characters Dalton Rapattoni and Jaci Butler have apparently been rivals their whole lives, which means they were in the same youth talent show once. They’re both safe for now, but I’m guessing Jaci’s days are numbered; anyone who sings Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” in a situation like this is someone to worry about.
Kooky child-care worker Jenn Blosil, kid of touring musicians Olivia Rox, stone-cold dreamboat and eventual FAREWELL SEASON winner Tommy Stringfellow? All through to the next round.
The judges and the not-at-all produced auditioners point out how lady-centric “Hollywood Week: Lines of Ten” is. It is almost as though they are trying to hypnotize us into closing this show out with a female bookend to Kelly Clarkson, someone who can replicate the runaway success of Candace Glover. Caramel-voiced Jessica Cabral, quirky troubadouress Melanie Tierce, rock-solid Sonika Vaid, and Sly and the Family Stone–Afro-wearing LaPorsha Renae hit their lines of ten, and somehow poor Melanie is the first person we see rejected. It’s especially brutal, too: There’s no good reason for it, and as she is recording her exit interview, there is ecstatic whooping just out of frame. It’s like a death scene in a Hostel movie.
The boys this year are trying especially hard to be charming, and it is unbearable. Allegedly hilarious Daniel Farmer, flirty Manny Torres, and guy-with-the-grandfather-with-the-terrifying-grill Harrison Cohen do their things, and while Daniel and Manny are waved through, poor Harrison gets the boot and will have to settle for being inexplicably delighted with himself for the rest of his life.
I don’t remember what Shelbie Z’.s name was when she auditioned, but sometime between then and now, she decided she was better off as “Shelbie Z.,” and who are we to argue? She’s in.
Jeneve Rose Mitchell has her cello and a huge ribbon through her big, braided side ponytail. Gianna Isabella brings along Brenda K. Starr, whom she refers to as her “momager.” Tristan McIntosh has her deployed-to-the–Middle East mother with her as well; the Army’s policy on personal days seems a lot more lenient than I imagined. They’re all on to the next round. A lot of this episode is just: Remember me? I’m fine.
But not everyone is fine, you guys! Michelle Marie (the first person we saw this season!) and Kyrsti Jewel (the girl whose parents are the world’s No. 1 Idol fans, and you immediately wanted to call Child Protective Services!) argue over who’s a bigger Idol fan, and then are forced to audition together. Kyrsti’s dad whispers, “I’ve waited 15 years for this,” (again, not “She’s waited 15 years for this,” “I’ve.” This guy) and unfortunately, the thing he’s waited 15 years for doesn’t happen: Kyrsti is sent packing. Also, it’s her 16th birthday. She will be scarred for life.
But her dismissal seems to be the keystone that shakes a bunch of other unsuccessful auditions loose. Usen Isong? Kerry Courtney? The cop lady who put Harry in handcuffs? Jake Dillon? Out you go.
Finally, poor, angular Trent Harmon has actual mononucleosis and seems to be at death’s door, but sings Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down” pretty much perfectly. Poh, the one with the favorite Teletubby and the sister who made the top 24 last year, is dressed like some kind of character in a snowboarding video game, but her voice is decent. The final voice we hear is that of Emily Brooke, the perfect blend of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. Jennifer asks Trent and Poh to step forward and says the front row is safe — Oh no! Emily is not even in that row! — but then she says the back row is safe, too. J.Lo is funning with us! It would have been a compelling moment if the producers weren’t so obviously pulling for Emily Brooke to win the whole thing!
Tomorrow night: This exact thing, but twice as long.