Wednesday evening (Feb. 6) kicked off Hollywood Week for the gold ticket holders for Season 12 of Fox's hit television show "American Idol." It turned out to be an all-boy affair, with some of the featured artists from the auditions making it and some getting cut. And, of course, there was the drama...
Every year the "American Idol" contestants selected during the various auditions have to endure Hollywood Week. They battle fatigue, strained voices, sickness, egos, and their own limitations as they sing a cappella, in groups, and then a final (if they get that far) solo performance. This used to set up a large group of finalists that would get paired down to 24 or less before moving into live shows that produced a Top 12. But in Season 10, Hollywood Week became the door to Vegas Week, which opened the door to the live shows. For the twelfth season, 286 contestants made their way to Hollywood with the knowledge that by week's end, only 40 of their number would remain.
With the pressure on (as always), producers introduced halving the singers into gender groups for the first time. There had always been an even bifurcation when it came time to choose for the live shows, ensuring that an equal number of boys as well as girls got into the final run, but any number of each gender could get to that last culling, now traditionally known as "the green mile." Not so for Season 12. The genders would get to "the green mile" in an even number. But first, they had to get past the judges in the three rounds of Hollywood.
On Wednesday evening, viewers got to see a mass paring down as the a cappella round and the Group Night round played out. Producers decided to toss in another twist for the season: During group round, the producers for the first time would choose who would sing in which group -- and all placements would be final. (Prior to Season 12, the groups had been left to choose their memberships on their own, often causing drama as some inevitably found themselves group-less or incompatible with one group and searching for another.)
In the a capella round, Karl Skinner, the guy who just had to move while he auditioned in Oklahoma City, did not impress the way he did when he moved to James Brown's "I Feel Good." Neither did Dustin Watts, the singing fireman, or Calvin Peters, the singing doctor, from the Baton Rouge auditions. Brian Brittenberry, who won the judges' hearts in Charlotte for singing for his cancer-diagnosed wife, was sent home as well.
And Cortez Shaw had a problem with Judge Nicki Minaj when he simply belted out the chorus for Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." The over-the-top rapper said she was "disgusted" by his arguably over-the-top performance but the other judges had no problem sending him on to Group Night.
The producers' twist of choosing up groups shook things up a bit (many had already formed groups in anticipation of the round, but...), leaving some groups meshing well while others were in conflict. One of the oddest vocal amalgamations was the grouping of little guy Matheus Fernandes with big guy hard rocker Gabe Brown, rangy Nick Boddington, and soulful Mathenee Treco. They wowed the judges with Queen's "Somebody To Love." They all went through as well.
Another odd grouping was soul-singer Nicholas Matthis, gospel-oriented Curtis Finch Jr., and asocial Charlie Askew, but despite their musical differences and preferred song choices, their powerful rendition of Bruno Mars' "Lazy Song" got them through to the solo round.
Then there was "Country Queen," two country boys, Sgt. Trevor Blakney and Lee Pritchard, that were matched with the more flamboyant JDA and Joel Wayman. Their group had personality issues from the start, not to mention differences of opinion on song choice and choreography. They settled on Extreme's "More Than Words," the lyrics of which would escape the sergeant. He would join Lee in heading home.
One of the more dysfunctional groups was the last to perform. A quartet made up of Papa Peachez, Adam Sanders, Charles Allen, and Frankie Ford. Frankie, the New York subway singer, broke down before he got on stage. And even though his groupmates tried to encourage him, he forgot his lyrics to Estelle's "American Boy." He thanked the judges (Keith Urban, who began his career in a similar manner in Australia, was the only judge to vote for him to go to the solo round) after finding he was the only one of the group cut, but, once outside, vowed to come back next year and win it all. (Nicki Minaj fought for Papa Peachez again, just as she had at the San Antonio auditions, but warned him that his complacency would not see him past the solo round.)
Another familiar face cut from Group Night was Kayden Stephenson, the 16-year-old battler with cystic fibrosis viewers met in Oklahoma City. He, too, forgot his lyrics. He, too, once outside, vowed to return and win next year's "Idol."
At the same time, Kayden's groupmates, David Leathers (who viewers might remember as the last boy cut before the finals last season and probably should have been the one that "Idol" brought back instead of the disastrous Jermaine Jones reboot) and Sanni M'mairura
But one of the worst groups, a quartet that included Gupreet Singh (the "Turbanator" from the New York auditions), couldn't find a correct lyric among their members. And yet, all were sent through. (A criteria of the judging for Group Night is that individuals are judged individually although they must perform as part of a group.)
So with two rounds down, the boys have one more shot at a trip to Las Vegas as part of the Top 40 remaining finalists (20 guys, 20 girls). But that will have to wait until Thursday evening's show. The female half of Hollywood Week airs next week, on Feb. 13 and 14.
"American Idol" airs on Fox Television at 8 p.m. (EST) on Wednesdays and Thursdays.