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American Idol's Las Vegas Challenge

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American Idol

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Last night, the remaining 70 Idol contestants headed to Las Vegas to perform on the Viva Elvis stage. They were, once again, sorted into groups of three or four. Then each group was assigned a song from the 50s or 60s and had only a day or two to perfect it. It was nice to get to see each of the performers doing their thing with full production on a big stage before they hit the Kodak.

The first group, made up of Skyler Laine, Chase Likens, Colton Dixon and Cari Quoyester, sang “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Cari’s voice fit the style of song better than any other in the group; Chase sounded a bit too Broadway, Skylar is pure country (though she sounded pretty good despite earlier worries), and Colton was too pop. Funnily enough, Cari was the only one from the group who was cut.

Group 2 was a group of youngins who met at the Savannah auditions and have remained friends ever since. Gabi Carrubba whined that she wasn’t getting a chance to show off. “I want to shine, and everybody else is. I wanna be that girl that gets the standing ovation,” she moaned before her group went on. Lucky for her, all members of the group have strong vocals and ended up having an equal(ish) share of the song. After all of the kids get through, Gabi was feeling much less stressed.

Adam Brock, Erika Van Pelt, Angie Zeiderman, and Shelby Tweten sang “Great Balls of Fire.” Erika was AWESOME throughout. I couldn’t understand why Angie is still in this, but her sequined, midriff baring halter top and leggings clued me in a little bit. The performance was pretty good, albeit a bit overdone. J. Lo was feeling it, though. “I felt that the whole number suited all of you. You played to each other’s strengths,” she complimented them. Steven’s eyes were predictably on Angie’s “dance moves.” “The choreography was astounding,” he said. “For a skinny little girl, you don’t have any tail feathers, but you sure shook ‘em.” Thanks, creepy man. And all group members are through.

Schyler Dixon, Brielle Von Hugel, and Molly Hunt looked like service girls in shorts and cute little hats. The girls were cute, the choreography was cute. The voices weren’t weak, but they certainly weren’t the strongest. I’m pretty sick of Brielle oversinging everything. Still, she and Schyler made it through, while Molly was cut.

A montage of horrible people made the judges want something better, and they got it with Haley Johnsen, Reed Grimm, Elise Testone, and Eben Franckewitz. This group got along incredibly well, and, as we saw on group night, it showed. Reed pulled weird faces but sang well. Elise had a strong rasp. There was an awesome and fun a cappella breakdown in the middle of it all. Eben sounded a bit loungey, though it was kind of cute because of how young he is. This group was in it to win it. The received a standing ovation from the judges. All members proceeded onwards.

The next group was an interesting duo of baritone voices – Jermaine Jones and Richie Lawson. After struggling to find a group, Jermaine still wasn’t convinced that his routine with Richie would go well. He felt that they were almost listening to two different songs. However, despite worries and Richie’s honking, guttural voice, the harmonies kind of worked out. Jermaine does have a very pleasant voice, but there’s no way he can win this competition. Either way, the judges were enthralled and advanced both boys onwards.

At the end of day one, a group made up of Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick, and Candace Glover was uncomfortable with their song, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” Their vocal coach Peisha McPhee and Michael Orland, musical director, helped them add a gospel flair to the song to properly show off their voices. All three sang with big, powerful vocals, though by the end of the song, while the judges were still grooving, I was yawning. I felt the arrangement stayed samey throughout. All three contestants sure can sing, though, and all three advanced.

Once this group had done their thing, the judges pulled everyone back on stage to tell them that there was going to be a little bit of a twist – there were so many good performers this year that, after seeing what the Day 2 singers had to bring, Day 1 contestants would have to be reviewed and might end up losing their spots. A slight panic rippled through the air. Whatever, guys – you were all going to be judged against each other and cut again at some point.

Day 2 brought a lot of Elvis cheese, starting with Clayton Farhat, Adam Lee Decker, Curtis Gray, and Scott Dangerfield. The vocals were fine, the performance was silly. I was excited to see Scott Dangerfield back – he got through preliminary auditions last year, but dropped out to continue teaching. I remember him being better than he was last night, but he made it through those cuts, so maybe there was just some poor editing. In fact, everyone in the group, with the exception of Curtis, moved on. I always feel bad for the lone dove who gets cut, especially when there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason behind it, as in this case. Was Curtis really that much worse than the other three? I didn’t hear much difference in any of their vocals.

Feeling that they were above the competition since they’re all professional singers, The Neopolitans (Courtney Williams, Britnee Kellogg, Jessica Phillips) didn’t rehearse with the band or a vocal coach. Probably due to lack of coaching, they all did too many runs and oversang. The judges didn’t seem wild about any of the girls. In the end, they chose to keep Britnee and Courtney and axed Jessica. “They’re not looking for real artists,” Jessica moped in the lobby. Courtney glanced at her sideways and hinted, “To me, you can walk away gracefully.” Jessica didn’t take the hint, kept pouting, and ended up looking like a sore loser.

The next group was the first to have a struggle with the Vocal Coach from Hell, Peggi Blu. She screamed in everyone’s faces through rehearsal, especially once they started crying. Peggi is cruel but hilarious. Anyone else think she should be the next judge on Idol? When the group finally hit the stage to sing “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?,” they sounded fine. Lauren Gray has deep smokiness in her voice reminiscent of Adele. Wendy Taylor has a big belt, but she has bright red hair, which doesn’t usually fair well for contestants (unless you’re Alison Iraheta, and even that girl struggled to get where she did). Mathenee Treco has a good voice with a pleasant falsetto, but the judges decided to send him home. He took the news gracefully, with a thank you and a goodbye. His humility made me wish the judges had kept him – that kind of attitude would be refreshing to have on the show.

Heejun Han worried about Peggi Blu – he had looked her up on YouTube and was a little terrified of her, as he had every right to be. They shared an early hug, though, banishing the tension before it broke out. Peggi was so impressed with this group that I was expecting them to move mountains with their voices – which they didn’t. They were good, but not to the degree that she was making them out to be. All four boys (Neco Starr, Jairon Jackson, Heejun Han, and Phil Phillips) moved forward. Even though Phil still sounds like Kermit the Frog.

Groove Sauce was sad that they had to split since four was the maximum amount of contenders aloud per group. Without Reed Grimm, the rest of the group (Creighton Fraker, Jen Hirsh, Nick Boddington, and Aaron Marcellus) now called themselves Lady and the Spectacles. Their vocal coach, Peisha, worried that their harmonies were too tight and that they weren’t letting their individuality shine through enough. WHATEVER, Peisha. I wish Idol would let this group continue to work together. Their sound was impeccable. Each member had an individual line that they got to sing three times throughout the song, and each time they built on dynamics and drama skillfully. An absolute pleasure to watch and hear. However, the judges, for some completely unknown reason, decided that Nick Boddington was not good enough to move forward. But Kermit the Frog and Cowboy were. Go figure.

The Spectacles were the last group to perform, after which the Day 1 contestants were called back to the stage and presented again to the judges in their groups. Now it was time for some bad news. Schyler Dixon was sent home, leaving her brother, Colton, who continues on, complaining about how unfair the competition is. (I’m sure Schyler thinks it’s unfair, too, especially considering that, according to earlier episodes, bro Colton wasn’t even supposed to audition this year, and now he has her spot in the top 42.) I was happy to see Angie Zeiderman go, but none of the other cuts seemed to make sense to me. We lost Gabi Carrubba, Candace Glover, Johnny Keyser, Jairon Jackson, and Britnee Kellogg, as well as 27 others. Altogether, though, at least the show was entertaining.

With just 42 people left, next week, all contestants will be singing for their life. Then they’ll have to take the Elevator Ride of Horror and The Long Walk Down the Hallway to be told their final fate. Who will get to perform for America’s votes, and who will be left with a ticket home? Watch next week to find out!

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