An exotic locale, a wedding ceremony and Jennifer Lopez erupting into sobs -- this “Idol” episode was just one action sequence away from a blockbuster movie. For the first time ever, the penultimate round of Hollywood Week was relocated to the Mirage in Las Vegas, where judges felt the pressure of narrowing the remaining 61 hopefuls down to a more manageable 24.
Seeing as how Beatles Week wasn’t a complete embarrassment last year, producers opted to again use the Fab Four’s catalog to separate the amateurs from the Idols. The 61 candidates divided themselves into duos and trios and picked songs out of a box, to be performed in the same theatre that houses Cirque du Soleil’s Beatles show, “Love.”
I have to admit that when the talented Ashthon Jones (pictured) said that she had never heard a Beatles song in her life, I was worried that this round would be very “Cirque du So Lame.” But props must be given. For a generation whose musical tastes range from the likes of Justin Bieber all the way to “Glee’s” covers of Justin Bieber, these contestants did a commendable job.
This was in no small part due to the efforts of the “Idol” vocal coaches, not to mention permanent mentor Jimmy Iovine, who offered up his very first critiques. As the “Vocal Coach From Hell,” Peggi Blu’s roaring rampage on how mistakes were unacceptable tainted teenagers Thia Megia and Melinda Ademi’s attempt at the blissful “Here Comes the Sun.” Let’s hope we see more from her as the season progresses.
The lack of fanfare given to Iovine’s appearance was disappointing, as his participation adds a whole new element to the show this season. This is someone who worked with John Lennon himself, not to mention modern-day superstars. In fact, both Lady Gaga and Eminem thanked him in their recent Grammy acceptance speeches.
Though he didn’t have a lot of screen time, he definitely had opinions. Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery (right) and Denise Jackson initially pulled “If I Fell” out of the box but Iovine and producer Nigel Lythgoe vetoed the song after hearing the trio run through it. “You ain’t gonna win with that song,” he declared and instructed them to choose another. While he had a point, it seems unfair that these three were given the option of choosing a song themselves.
Another contestant advised was Jacob Lusk, 23, of Compton, who sings with the fervor of a minister at a revival. “You can’t oversing all the time,” he offered. “That’s the worst thing a singer can do.”
Interestingly enough, that doesn’t seem to be the opinion of the judges. When Lusk performed “The Long and Winding Road” for the panel with Haley Reinhart, 20, and Naima Adedapo, 25, he didn’t seem to be reigning it in that much. He claimed that he didn’t want to “take it all the way to Ebenezer Baptist” but Randy encouraged him not to hold back. “You’ve got the gas in the car. Drive it and go. Put the pedal down.”
I predict that conflicting opinions on what constitutes a good performance will cause tension between Iovine and the judges further down the line, leaving contestants stuck in the middle. Fingers crossed!
Lusk and his group offered up perfect harmonies but they weren’t the only ones. In a “where did they come from?” moment, Nashville auditioners Kendra Chantelle, 22, and Paul McDonald, 25, impressed with their rendition of “Blackbird.” We saw a bit of Chantelle last week; she was one of the many who performed “Georgia.”
Alabama native McDonald, on the other hand, has gotten virtually no screen time since he auditioned with “Maggie May.” With the cool confidence of an artist who already knows where he wants to fit into the industry, McDonald was the standout of the episode.
Also showcasing their talent were Tim Halperin, 23, and Julie Zorrilla, 20, who performed “Something” as a dreamy sort of dueling piano number. While Zorrilla’s vocals seemed to suffer last week as she focused on her keyboard playing, she redeemed herself this time and proved that she is more than a pretty face.
Despite not getting much screen time until now, LaKeisha Lewis, 23, and Tatynisa Wilson, 20, left an impression with their harmonies on “I Saw Her Standing There,” along with group member Jerome Bell, 27. Aaron Sanders, 26, and Robbie Rosen, 16 also harmonized with last week’s picky piano player Jordan Dorsey, 21, on “Got to Get You Into My Life.”
Screecher/sob story-teller James Durbin, 21, teamed up with fellow unemployed singer Stefano Langone, 21, to rock out on “Get Back.” Though Langone claimed that he doesn’t know many Beatles songs, these two had my toe tapping. Langone is gifted as a singer but his cookie-cutter good looks may prove to be too generic, especially when contrasted with Durbin’s colorful wardrobe choices and Lambert-like screams.
Also rocking hard were Casey Abrams, 19, and Medina, 27, who utilized Cirque’s props on their version of “A Hard Day’s Night.” They jumped on a bed whilst playing guitars, calling to mind the zaniness of the Beatles in their early years. While they played with the melody a bit, they didn’t commit the cardinal sin of making the song too unrecognizable.
The trio of Lauren Alaina, Scotty McCreery and Denise Jackson didn’t have as much luck with their use of props. Beginning “Hello Goodbye” from the confines of a red telephone booth, the three then engaged in a silly game of chase around the booth. Tyler compared them to the Marx Brothers, but I was thinking more Benny Hill. Randy noted that the song is not a singer’s dream and that would be taken into consideration.
Ironically, this is the same group that was given the opportunity to choose its own song, compliments of Jimmy Iovine. What were they thinking?
While this trio seemed nutty, it was again Ashley Sullivan, 26, who took the cake in the wacky department. In an “AI” first, Sullivan decided to tie the knot at the same Vegas wedding chapel that performed her idol Britney Spears’ infamous ceremony. Sporting a hot pink garter over her pleather-clad thigh, she married David Suraiva as an “AI” cameraman served as the witness.
Though getting married no doubt lifted her spirits, it couldn’t help her stage presence. Sullivan-Suraiva and Sophia Shorai, 28, took a risk by messing with the phrasing on “We Can Work It Out” and it didn’t, well, work out.
By the end of the Beatles Round, 21 hopefuls were cut. Casualties included: Malibu actor Carson Higgins, White House intern Molly DeWolf, “Vocal Coach from Hell” victim Melinda Ademi and newlywed Ashley Sullivan (Suraiva). We also said “Hello Goodbye” to Denise Jackson.
The final round of Hollywood Week took place in an airport hangar, where the remaining 40 contestants sang for their suppers and met with the judges to learn if they would make it into the Top 24, comprised of 12 girls and 12 guys.
Group partners Naima Adedapo and Haley Reinhard both made the cut. Adedapo has been a standout all along, and not just because of her sad backstory. As the mother of two, she cleans toilets at an event grounds where stars who are living her dream perform. Her unique style of dress doesn’t detract from her pure vocals; it adds to them.
Yes, she donned a strange lacy sequined number that looked appropriate for the Mother of the Bride (at Smurfette’s wedding), but I can’t wait to see what she wears next.
Ashthon Jones, who had never heard a Beatles song before, also progressed. Lopez lauded her as one of the season’s most consistent contestants and even went as far as to say that she had the “whole package.”
Paul McDonald, who I could see winning the entire competition, went out on a limb and sang an original song while -- wait for it -- wearing a white suit embroidered with red flowers. Like Adedapo, he has the confidence and talent to back up such a kooky ensemble. Randy and Tyler like his quirkiness and it got him to the Top 24.
Not so lucky were LaKeisha Lewis and Alex Ryan (who?). Neither contestant made it to the Top 24.
As for Clint Jun Gamboa, the karaoke host who gave Jacee Badeaux the boot last week, he “kind of had a good feeling that something great was gonna happen.” Does your cockiness know no bounds, Clint? Whether it’s true or not, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to say that on national television. When Gamboa met with the judges to learn his fate, Randy brought up the situation with Jacee and stressed that they looked at Clint’s whole journey and took everything into account.
That was obviously a fakeout because they ended up progressing him, much to my chagrin. They shouldn’t have wasted a spot on Gamboa. Though he’s a great singer, he lacks the likability needed to earn votes.
Perhaps a better candidate would’ve been 16-year-old Deandre Brackensick, whose falsetto stood out during the Group Round. For his final audition, he sang Bob Marley and accompanied himself on the ukelele. The kid also has an amazing mop of curly hair but was faulted for his consistency. Despite being a talent that Lopez deems worthy of a recording contract “right now,” Brackensick says, “I wasn’t ready for the show this year. Next year I’m gonna bring it.”
He may have some competition, though, as another powerhouse, Hollie Cavanagh, 17, may also be returning. It’s hard to understand the judges’ reasoning with this one. Perhaps they thought she was too young, but Randy and Tyler outvoted Lopez, who believed that she had one of the best voices this season.
Randy even said that in a year or two she could come back and win the entire competition. So why not give her that opportunity now? The British soul singer thing is so hot right now. See: Adele, Duffy.
While the fates of these two teenagers was both heartwrenching and infuriating, it was the decision regarding Medina (pictured above) that really stole the show. You may remember Medina as the guy who wheeled his brain-damaged fiancee into his initial audition to meet the judges. While he has a good voice, the judges seemed more enamored with the fact that he serves as a caregiver for his fiancee than with his actual vocal abilities.
When Medina met with the judges, he mentioned how much meeting them met to his girlfriend and Lopez replied that meeting them was a moment that she will always remember in her own life. Then she cut to the chase.
“At the end of the day this is about singing.”
Medina did not make the cut. The Beatles were clearly wrong when they sang that “All You Need Is Love.” You also need outstanding star quality and musical talent. Medina graciously thanked them and walked out into the arms of a shocked Seacrest.
It was Lopez, though, who couldn’t hold it together. As Randy and Tyler comforted her, she sobbed that she didn’t feel she told him in the right way and didn’t know if she could continue. And then she continued to sob, as the words “To Be Continued” flashed across the screen.
Will Lopez terminate her contract because she can’t play dreamkiller? My intuition says no, but it sure makes for good television. Tune in tomorrow to see who else makes the cut.