Welcome to the live blog and recap for “Hollywood Week, Part 1″ of American Idol Season 12!
It’s time to start thinning the herd. This mostly means putting the finalists in groups, for reasons that continue to defy me, 12 seasons in. But hey, it wouldn’t be Hollywood Week without group drama! (Well, unless you ignore season seven. I wonder how David Archuleta would have done in a random group with Jason Castro and man/myth/identity thief Chikezie Eze)
-Lots of Hollywood hype about “leaving it all on the stage.” If you’ve seen one Hollywood Week opening, you’ve seen’em all.
-We see a series of shots of contestants waking up, packing their bags and leaving for Hollywood. Karl Skinner seems super-psyched to “crush” his competition, while Lazaro Arbos is “freaking out”.
-And we get to our first twist: it’s all guys tonight. We’ll be seeing the girls next week. Weird. I don’t know that I would have gone in that direction, as I feel like there’s more of a buzz behind the women this year, and some viewers might skip if it’s just going to be men. But you never know, given the last five winners.
-The judges wish the contestants luck, and now it’s time for contestants to gather in lines and perform acapella. It’s sudden death elimination.
-Micah Johnson, the young singer with a speech impediment from a botched tonsillectomy sings “Benny and the Jets” with an easygoing confidence that elicits a standing O from Keith.
-Micah is terrified as he waits for the other singers in his line to perform. The judges are swift with their verdict when the time comes: Micah Johnson advances to group round.
-Pro: Nate Tao, Gabe Brown, Gurpreet Singh Sarin also advance to group round. Con: We see hardly any of their performance, getting brief clips that amount to roughly four seconds apiece. But I’ll take what I can get, as I love all three of these guys.
-Karl Skinner sings “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and it’s pretty bad. Keith compliments his dance moves, but the judges all agree that it’s time to let him go. Dustin Watts, the 27 year-old firefighter, and Dr. Calvin Peters (the singing doctor) are also eliminated.
-Cortez Shaw, 22, sings Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and immediately blows Randy away with his performance (judging by the look on his face). He has a pretty solid R&B look, although there’s a bit of a disconnect between his look and his voice, which borders on theatrical. He’s definitely got a hell of a set of pipes on him though.
-Back from break with the judges divided on Cortez. Mariah likes him, but Nicki was “disgusted” by the performance as she felt it was way, way too much. She says “I would have sent you home, hands down, and I just need these guys to hear that”, as her three judging colleagues send him through. Cortez Shaw advances to group round.
-Curtis Finch, Jr. and Frankie Ford also advance to group round.
-Lazaro Arbos is up next. His stuttering makes it difficult for him to give his opening introduction to the judges, in which he says he feels he could be the next American Idol because of the effect music has had on his life. We get a brief reminder of his backstory.
-He sings “Angels” by Robbie Williams and although this song isn’t my cup of tea, I like it better than his audition (which I thought was excellent). Mariah lights up when he starts singing, and is the first to applaud when he finishes.
-Lazaro sweats it out while the other contestants in his line perform.
-Ultimately, Keith is the one to give the verdict: Lazaro Arbos advances to group round.
-Trevor Blakeny, Byant Tadeo, Charles Allen sail through to group round as well.
-Nicki messes with Bryant first though, making it appear that he’s going home after Bryant admits that he’s tired. Nicki: “NEVER admit you’re tired!”
-Brian Rittenberry sings “Back At One” by Brian McKnight after we get a brief background vignette about his heart, soul and determination, and how much he loves his wife. Serious Tate Stevens vibe from him.
-Mariah breaks the news to Brian: the decision wasn’t unanimous, but the decision has been made to let him go. As he embraces his wife, he tells the camera that he doesn’t know what else he could have done. He adds that he feels that while he believes the judges made a mistake, he’s still thankful to have his family and his life.
-Back from break, and it’s time for GROUP ROUNDS. Let loose the dogs of hell!
-Some contestants have already started putting groups together after learning they’ve advanced to the next round. Some of them already feel comfortable together.
-Producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick announce the new Group Round twist…the producers themselves will be putting the groups together, taking the choice out of the contestants’ hands. So…like every other week then? Should be good prep for the live rounds, when they’re forced to sing “Against All Odds”.
-Lazaro Arbos and Christian Lopez are in a group with two other singers, and communication quickly breaks down over Lazaro’s stutter and his overall lack of familiarity with current American music.
-Charlie Askew, Charlie Mathis and Curtis Finch, Jr. (“The Couch Potatoes”) go over song choices, with Charlie Askew showing some promise with “Everybody Talks”, although his partners quickly shut it down.
-Normal Hills (a group with Johnny Keyser and Cortez Shaw), struggles to make it through “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”.
-We check in with some other groups, many of which are singing One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.”
-Tensions arise in Oz, as Papa Peachez wants to change his song, but his partners insist it’s way too late to start changing things.
-Trevor Blakeny is pissed that his group (Country Queen) seems more interested in getting down dance moves than actually nailing the singing.
-The lack of sleep is starting to wear on the contestants, and Country Queen decides to try and get some sleep for the night.
-Anyone else hate this forced groups dynamic? Part of the drama of Hollywood Week was in contestants struggling to find a group where they’d fit in. There was a greater sense of drama when those groups imploded because there was a sense that “Well, I got myself into this by picking these people.” There was a feeling of personal responsibility in a contestant’s fate. There was also the drama of last-minute changes, such as one person bailing on a group that isn’t working out, joining another at the last minute, and creating magic.
The producers manipulating outcomes in front of the curtain as well as behind it just reeks of the fear that falling ratings inspires. But it’s like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. They’re not actually fixing the problem by screwing with what isn’t broke.
-Back from break on the morning of group performances, as some contestants want to sleep in, and others are up with the birds to get to the theater early. The judges admit that they’re nervous for some of these contestants.
-The Math Heads (Matheus Fernandes, Nick Boddington, Mathenee Treco and Gabe Brown) are up first: they sing Queen’s “Somebody to Love”, and their opening harmonies are absolutely beautiful. The individual parts are seriously good too, although Matheus sounds really nervous.
-Though Nicki tries to fake Gabe out by not calling him forward with the others, she quits yanking his chain and announces that all four men are through to the next round.
-Matheus Fernandez, Nick Boddington, Mathenee Treco and Gabe Brown advance to solo rounds!
-They do a celebratory dance backstage, with Gabe hoisting Matheus onto his shoulders like a little kid. I can’t really argue with the decision to send them all through, as I felt that all four guys contributed to making it as good as it was, with no one having to pick up slack for anyone else.
-We return from break with Normal Hill (with Kareem Clark and Johnny Keyser), and Johnny Keyser admits that he made a mistake in picking “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” by the Four Tops, a song he’d never really heard before.
-This mistake plays out onstage, as Johnny destroys the lyrics, and he tries to save face by admitting his lack of familiarity with the song. “What planet are you from?” asks Keith. “I’m from Australia and I know that song!” Preach it, Keith.
-Ultimately, though the performance was a disaster, the judges like Johnny’s voice. Johnny Keyser advances to solo rounds, along with every member of his group except Kareem Clark, who is cut.
-Up next it’s Charlie Askew, Charles Mathis, and Curtis Finch, Jr. Charlie Askew is sick, and while Mathis is sympathetic and willing to help, Finch reveals a diva streak, saying that he’s technically competing against Charlie anyway, so if he wants go home, he’ll be happy to help Charlie pack, since he’s “trying to be American Idol, not American Airlines.”
-But Charlie recovers, and lets his group know how much their support meant to him (poor kid). They knock it out of the ballpark with Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song”, and though Finch hogs much of the song, Charlie impressed the hell out of me with his energy and falsetto. He reminds me a lot of Declan Sykes from X Factor Australia, a kid with similar social troubles, but who had such a winning personality and such a killer voice that you couldn’t help but root for him. Unfortunately, we heard hardly anything of Charlie Mathis, who had what sounded like a really silky gospel/R&B voice.
-Of course, none of that matters, as Randy (and the other judges) are over-the-moon for the performance, with Randy adding that their vocal is precisely what this group round needed.
-Charlie Askew, Charles Mathis, and Curtis Finch, Jr. all advance to solo rounds.
-Micah Johnson, Vincent Powell, Martin Calderon, and David Willis (The Four Tones) sing “Hold On, I’m Coming” and advance to solo rounds.
-Nate Tao, Cortez Shaw, Elijah Liu and Zach Birnbaum also advance to solo rounds.
-But the good times end there, for the moment, as we get a series of group performances that bomb. Remembering lyrics is the kryptonite to these discount Supermen. Although we do see Paul Jolley and Will White advance to solo rounds.
-Gurpreet’s group ravages “Payphone”, although the judges are at least amused by the trainwreck…at least until the cataclysmic falsetto notes at the end. Keith Urban says, “Adam Levine is still alive, and he’s already spinning in his grave!”
-Nicki sticks up for them, and though Randy is adamantly against it, the votes are against him, and all four members of Gurpreet’s group go through to solo rounds.
-Back from break with Last Minute (Jason Jones, Dan Wood, Jessie Wood), singing One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”, dedicated to Mariah and Nicki.
-They bomb worse than you might have thought was possible, forgetting the lyrics and murdering every harmony. No one advances. And rightfully so. That was just ugly.
-Devan Jones and Devin Velez are part of the only group to sing acapella, eschewing the band altogether, a choice Keith didn’t really agree with, though I actually find myself disagreeing with Keith for once. Three of the four group members advances, all except Ryan Connor Smith, whose decision it was to sing acapella in the first place.
-Back from break with Tony Foster, Jr., Burnell Taylor, Darien Moses and Mario Jose struggling to make “Some Kind of Wonderful” work for each of their distinctive vocal ranges.
-Keith likes Burnell’s easygoing style, but felt that he lost him a bit due to the mic getting away from him. Darien and Mario are cut, and Burnell Taylor and Tony Foster, Jr. advance to solo rounds.
-Up next it’s Lazaro’s group (with Josh Stevens Scott Fleenor and Christian Lopez), singing “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by the Beach Boys, a song Lazaro has never heard. He feels that he’s not being understood, and that he’s being mistaken for slow. Josh confesses to the camera that Lazaro is kind of holding them back.
-It’s a bit rough for all involved except Christian Lopez, who I genuinely feel was the best of the four members of his group, even from the brief segment we heard.
-Josh tries to do damage control when the judges ask if they had any trouble learning how to blend, saying that they didn’t all agree with the song choice. But it’s too little, too late. Josh gets cut (along with Scott), and then cries to the camera that he felt he helped a person get a spot he wanted. He stops crying long enough to passive-aggressively congratulate Lazaro (“You might as well have moved on. We spent so much time perfecting what you needed to do.”). How old is he? I didn’t catch his age, and I fear they let a 12 year-old through to Hollywood from the way he’s acting. Lazaro Arbos and Christian Lopez advance to solo rounds.
-We’re back with Country Queen: Lee Pritchard, Trevor Blakeny, Josh “JDA” Davila, Joel Wayman. They sing “More Than Words” by Extreme, and while Joel and JDA are the only ones who don’t botch the lyrics, it’s Joel who is the only one who actually sounds any good at all.
-We stick with Trevor for an excruciating length of time as he stumbles his way through his solo. This is seriously painful to watch. He can sing, but the trouble with the lyrics is voiding all that potential.
-Trevor and Lee get cut, while JDA and Joel Wayman advance to solo rounds. They try to console a heartbroken Trevor, who admits he screwed up, and that failing is new to him.
-Up next is a group consisting of the youngest performers left among the guys: David Leathers (the last cut in last year’s top 40), Kayden Stephenson, Kevin Quinn and Sanni M’mairura.
-David is sounding more mature, although he still looks 12 despite being 18. Kevin Quinn sounds pretty great, not stumbling once through the performance of Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time”, and also providing one of the crispest vocals. But it’s not enough to save him, apparently, as only David Leathers and Sanni M’mairura advance to solo rounds.
-Kayden vows to come back next year, using his experiences this year to learn and grow going forward. Nicki tells Randy that they made the right choice, if they’re going just based on vocals alone. I agree. Kayden is a sweet kid, but he’s not ready for this, if he’s even cut out for it at all.
-In a brief series of clips, we learn of two other singers who’ve been cut: Griffin Peterson (the hunk Nicki flirted with at auditions, although that’s not really differentiating things that much) and Clifton Duffin (whose parents had never heard him sing before).
-We’re back with our last group: Oz (Frankie Ford, Papa Peachez, Adam Sanders and Charles Allen)
-Frankie Ford is absolutely insufferable. He rants and raves to the camera before the performance, talking about how his group members didn’t let him prepare as well as he wanted to and adding that he had asthma issues. He breaks down backstage, saying he doesn’t want to go home. This leaves it to Charles to calm Frankie down, saying that the group needs him to stop crying and put the past behind them so they can actually have a shot at pulling this off.
-They sing “American Boy” by Estelle, and everyone but Frankie is at least solid, with Adam and Charles really bringing the goods.
-After the performance, Nicki asks the group to raise their hand if they thought it was great. (No one raises their hand). She asks if any of them thought it was good. (No one raises their hand) She asks if any of them thought it was bad. (Papa Peachez raises his hand). Nicki goes over her love of Frankie and how she wanted so badly for the performance to be good, but that his performance fell apart for her. She asks Papa Peachez if he got along with his group, and he chalks up the clash to egos and personality differences.
-Nicki asks Papa Peachez and Frankie to step forward. Nicki reveals that Keith really fought for him, and that the decision was not unanimous, but he’s going home. Nicki then tells Peachez that if one judge had changed their vote, he’d be going home. She tells Peachez that he’s grown too complacent in the competition and that after this point, she won’t be able to fight for him anymore. He’s got to step his game up. With that said, she tells him to step back, because he’s going through.
-Papa Peachez, Adam Sanders and Charles Allen advance to solo rounds.
-And though Frankie, while onstage, appears to take the news in stride, he has a total meltdown backstage, crying “This ain’t right”, then brushing off Charles’ attempts to comfort him. Frankie tells Charles he respects him as an artist and wishes him the best of luck, going forward, before turning his attentions to the camera, ranting with heartbroken anger that he’s going to be back next year and win this whole competition. Honestly, he doesn’t have anyone but himself to blame. From the looks of it, he couldn’t have had a more gregarious group. Others had less compatible, less supportive groups than he did and managed to work it out. Then again, I don’t think Frankie really blamed anyone in his group specifically in that last rant. It’s probably his own anger at himself bubbling to the surface.
-And that’s a wrap on part 1 of Hollywood Week, a mixed bag of solid performances, trainwrecks, and some perplexingly uneventful stretches. Hopefully tomorrow’s more briskly-paced hour-long episode will deliver on the promise of Hollywood Week drama.
Until then, keep refreshing the page throughout the night, as videos of tonight’s performance will continue to be added as they become available.
Thanks for reading!
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