Flying by the seat of their (sequined hot)pants, newbies Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler survived their first Hollywood Week intact, though Tyler looks like he could really use a keratin treatment. Trimming the fat to 60 hopefuls was no easy feat; Randy reckoned that these 100 kids could be the most talented group “Idol” has ever heard.
That being said, this round almost seemed like a formality, as numerous contestants progressed to next week’s Beatles Round despite lackluster performances.
We haven’t seen much of 20-year-old Haley Reinhart since she auditioned with “Oh Darling” in Milwaukee. Apparently she barely made it through the Group Round, floundering when it came to memorization.
True to form, her lyrics were virtually undecipherable this time around, but she passed it off as a Dylan-esque artistic choice and fell back in the judges’ good graces. Her voice alternating between gravel and syrup, “God Bless the Child” bordered on torch song.
Reinhart wasn’t the only one working the retro throwback angle. Former “America’s Got Talent” contestant Thia Megia,15, shone on the oh-so-current “What a Wonderful World” and no less than four candidates tried their hands at “Georgia,” with schlubby Casey Abrams being the standout. Trading his in Melodica for a stand-up bass, the 19-year-old’s jazzy vocals seemed natural rather than gimmicky.
Louis Armstrong would be proud. (And so would Seth Rogen.)
Also attempting the Ray Charles classic were Jacee Badeaux-booter Clint Jun Gamboa, 26, and a couple of faces that we’re not sick of already: 22-year-old Kendra Chantelle and 28-year-old Sophia Shorai.
While Shorai’s vocal was one of the most impressive yet, her Stevie Wonder-like swaying and choice to go barefoot left me scratching my head. (Hollywood is a dirty place!) If she makes it further -- based on her voice alone I’m sure she will -- J.Lo may need to coach her on stage presence. Lesson 1: Open your eyes at least once during the song.
Fan favorite Jacee Badeaux of Lafayette had a similar problem. While his voice is well beyond his 15 years, he needs to work on performing, as opposed to standing on stage like an adorable little knot on a log, a la last season’s Alex Lambert. As Jacee’s lyrics proclaimed “this is the time of my life,” somehow I didn’t quite believe him.
Proving that it doesn’t hurt to kiss a little ass, Jovany Barreto, 23, earned brownie points by singing Marc Anthony’s “You Sang to Me.” Tyler did the obligatory swaying, but I find it hard to believe that he’s a fan of poppy salsa. He is, however, a gracious fan of his own music. Lauren Alaina, 15, reprised her cover of “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” and while I’d like to hear her do a different song next time, it’s hard to complain when the voice is that good.
Authentic cowboy John Wayne Shulz, 23, accompanied himself on guitar to “Landslide.” While his voice was sweet it was also lukewarm. I’ve said it before but Shulz is truly the sum of his parts. A handsome guitar-playing cowboy could go far on “Idol,” but take cowboy and good looks out of the equation and you’ve got someone who’s made it farther than his talent allows.
Julie Zorilla, 20, also falls into this category. Yes, she has a lovely voice, beautiful face and great backstory. But as she accompanied herself on keyboard to Sara Bareilles’ “Love Song,” the basic piano chords seemed to take up the bulk of her concentration, causing her vocals to be pitchy. She was still as pretty as ever, but maybe she should stick to wearing cute dresses and and leave the musical instruments to the professionals.
For every Idol who shimmered in the spotlight there were more than a few who disappointed. Caleb Johnson and Adrian Michael blamed the backup band for their own mistakes and 16-year-old Frances Coontz sang “Hey, Soul Sister” in the key of Wrong.
Tatynisa Wilson, 20, and country teen Scott McCreery both botched the words to Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance” with hilarious results. McCreery interpreted “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder” as “I said this zone zoo talk and nuts of wonder.” No, a songwriter he is not, but I was just glad to hear him sing something other than “Your Man” by Josh Turner.
Resident nut Ashley Sullivan, 26, didn’t fare much better. She had yet another breakdown after trying her hand at Michael Buble’s “Everything.” Dedicating the song to her boyfriend in the audience, she forgot the lyrics and had to start over repeatedly. I don’t know the words either but I’m pretty sure they’re not “Omigod, I’m freaking out.”
Seriously, how has she made it this far?
Not to be outdone by Sullivan’s histrionics, 23-year-old Jacob Lusk of Compton -- totally under the radar up until the very end of Wednesday night's show -- out of nowhere belted out “God Bless the Child” with the fervor of an evangelical preacher. Turning one syllable words into full paragraphs, his range went from the basement to the rafters and earned a standing ovation from the judges. In the hallway afterwards, he wailed like a soap star at a funeral, insisting that he’s “not a crier.”
Chelsee Oaks, formerly of “Chelsee and Rob,” also had an emotional day. Already reeling from the elimination of her ex, Oaks then had to endure her “very best friend” of two days, Jacqueline Dunford, dropping out for health reasons. Oaks was obviously too distraught to think clearly; why else would she have chosen to sing a Kelly Clarkson song? Her rendition of the Original Idol’s “Because Of You” was pitchy at best.
Proving he’s nothing if not versatile, Chris Medina, 27, transformed himself from the new Danny Gokey into the new Andrew Garcia. If Garcia could pull off an acoustic cover of “Straight Up,” who’s to say that it couldn’t be done with “My Prerogative?”
Carson Higgins, 22, of Malibu is no doubter. In an eyebrow raising turn of events, he too covered the Bobby Brown classic. Like Ashley Sullivan, I’m not sure how Higgins has made it this far. Seacrest mentioned that his “outgoing personality dominated” during the group round, but to me he comes off as that obnoxious drunk guy at karaoke night. Higgins holds the mic with the posture of a stand-up comedian but the judges aren’t getting the joke.
He’s Season 8’s Norman Gentle without the voice.
In the end, the Idols were divided into four rooms, as opposed to the usual three. When we saw that Room 1 was full of favorites like Brad Loewenstern, James Durbin, Lauren Alaina and Casey Abrams, it was pretty evident that they would all be progressing.
Ashley Sullivan also moved forward with Group 1, proving that the judges are clearly looking for something more than vocal talent. Or correct lyrics. Or sanity.
Room 2 was full of people whom we’ve never seen before tonight. Translation: Thanks for trying out.
Mark Gutierrez and Chelsee Oaks awaited their fate in Room 3. When Oaks commented that “I know that I really deserve it,” I was hoping for her demise. Wish granted. Now she can reunite with her ex and her new best friend.
Room 4, containing Thia Megia, Julie Zorilla and Rachel Zevita, also progressed. Despite butchering that Womack song, both Tatynisa Wilson and Scotty McCreery will live to sing another day. (Hey, I guess “Idol” has to offer up more than one cowboy for the red states.) Inexplicably, Carson Higgins also made the cut.
Next week, “Idol” travels to the “Love” stage in Las Vegas where the hopefuls will be given only --gasp! -- 24 hours to learn songs by the most popular band of all time. Word on the street is that some of the youngsters have never even heard of the Beatles.
Set your Tivo; it should be enough to make George Harrison’s guitar gently weep.