The first round of American Idol auditions are over, and now it’s time for – cue dramatic drum roll – er, more auditions. Only this time it’s sudden death, whereas in the initial auditions it was, well, sudden death. Yes, but now we’re in Hollywood week. Except we’re not actually in Hollywood yet because we’re at the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, at the other end of the Arroyo Seco Parkway – the United States’ first ever freeway, trivia fans – from LA. Other than that, it’s do-or-die, you’ve-only-got-one-shot Hollywood Week, baby!
Cue the theme music, fellas. I could do Ryan Seacrest‘s job, honestly. Although, to be fair, his teeth are whiter and far more perfect than mine will ever be.
Anyway, it’s Hollywood Week – or as it’s more informally known, Hell Week. Only this year, we have twice as many contestants to begin with as we normally do. We’re not told why. The implication is that we have more talent this year than ever before, I suppose. Or that the judges were less decisive on the audition tour. Or, as I have suspected since the outset, Idol is single-handedly trying to keep American Airlines in business. Not to mention Pasadena’s hotel industry.
The first round of Hollywood Week – solo a cappella performances – takes place over two days this year, but the basic format is the same. The contestants come out in groups of ten, perform individually without any accompaniment, receive no feedback from the judges, and are then split into two lines. One line moves on, the other goes home. Simple. And brutal.
Basically, at the end of this first round half the contestants will be driven straight back to LAX to catch a flight home.
Kermit Ryan tells us there are 327 of them at the start of Hollywood Week, but later goes on to say that 160 sing on day one and 163 on day two. What happened? Did four people get lost en route from the hotel, or can someone just not add up?
Anyway, however many there are, R-Jack does his best to reassure the mostly terrified contestants:
You get one shot. This is make it or break it.
That should settle the nerves just fine.
First up was Brett Loewenstern, the 16-year old we first saw in New Orleans, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Shaggy from Scooby Doo. In his first audition, he sang Queen‘s Bohemian Rhapsody. Here, he overcame his nerves to perform the Beatles‘ Let It Be, and after he had sailed through spoke some words of wisdom to all those who had bullied and taunted him since the third grade.
Brett was rapidly joined in the next round by Rachel Zevita (murdered Hallelujah at the New Jersey audition, made Hollywood Week in season six), 15-year old Thia Megia (Milwaukee) and Seth Rogen lookalike Casey Abrams (the melodica player from Austin).
Next up in the feature spot was Victoria Huggins, the 16¾-year old with the impossibly perky smile who S-Ty had complimented by saying her skirt had “just the right amount showing”. Much though I despise her type – they make my teeth grind – in her New Jersey audition she had taken on Midnight Train to Georgia and knocked it out of the park.
Here she was equally impressive – very good but in reality not quite good enough to be a genuine top 12 contender – so I was more than a little surprised when the judges told her she was going home. Mind you, it was worth it to see that annoyingly perky smile falter for just a moment. She left, still smiling, saying:
I feel special. I know North Carolina will be proud of me and I am their American Idol.
No, you were just another number, and I suspect they’ve forgotten you already. Move along, please.
In the next line-up we had three of this season’s big heartstring-tuggers: Paris Tassin (New Orleans), whose young daughter was born with hydrocephalus, James Durbin (San Francisco audition), the Tourette’s/Asperger’s singer who could easily be season eight runner-up Adam Lambert‘s straight younger brother, and 15-year old Lauren Alaina (Nashville), who was inspired by her cousin with a brain tumour. Oh, and Stormi Henley (Nashville), the former Miss Teen USA who J-Lo had damned as having the smallest voice she had ever heard. Three of them went through, one went home. Go on, you’ll never guess.
Worse still, the producers showed Stormi’s performance immediately before Lauren stepped up and belted out Unchained Melody. We didn’t need the point hammered home quite that much, but what a contrast between Stormi’s adequate but tiny voice and Lauren’s lung-busting belter. She remains rough around the edges, but I stand by my initial assessment of her as a possible overall winner.
As James, Paris, Lauren and one other girl were called forward, you really had to feel sorry for the six remaining in the back line. They didn’t need to be told they were going home – the four in front of them more than likely contained three of the final 12. (That’s cursed them, then.)
Next up – and waved quickly through – was Chris Medina. The Milwaukee auditionee, who stuck by his fiancée Juliana after she had suffered a traumatic left-brain injury in a car accident – “what kind of a guy would I be if I walked out when she needed me the most?” – had produced a spine-tingling version of The Script’s Breakeven in his initial audition and was never in any danger here with an equally accomplished performance.
Which was more than could be said for the subsequent montage of faces we had never seen before – and will probably never see again.
Three more to make it through to the next round were Jacee Badeaux (New Orleans), Robbie Rosen (New Jersey) and Hollie Cavanagh (Austin), aged 15, 16 and 17 respectively. Jacee followed up Sittin’ On The Dock of The Bay with a little something by Rascal Flatts (groan), and still sounded like Justin Bieber‘s chubby but more talented 12-year old brother. Robbie showcased some mad jumps and runs in his performance, while Hollie demonstrated both power and sensitivity in hers. Each was fantastic in their own way, although I fear for Jacee’s sanity in particular when it comes to the brutal group round.
Less fortunate were the singing accountant Steve Beghun (Milwaukee), Sarah Sellers, Jacquelyn Dupree (both New Orleans) and belly dancer Heidi Khzam (LA).
We finished day one with a clip of an unnamed contestant walking away in tears and speaking to her father on her mobile:
I did this for you, Dad. I’m sorry.
Sometimes you wonder exactly whose dreams it is that have been broken. It’s quite sad, really – and not in a ‘not happy’ sense.
Anyhow, that’s enough philosophical seriousness for one post. How about a comedy montage of contestants forgetting the words to their songs? Done. It’s a highly pressurised situation, and not everyone can cope – but it’s still funny to watch them fail so dismally, right?
Back to business, and the overriding theme of day two is, well, themes. We start with a look at season ten’s two couples.
Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks auditioned in Nashville. They were the co-habiting exes – they sang a duet of The Bee Gees‘ To Love Somebody – she was the bubbly one, he was the one who looked like he had just been slapped in the face. Five times. With a breeze block. Nick Fink and Jacqueline Dunford were the vomit-inducing Ken and Barbie lovebirds from Austin. In one of those strange twists of not-at-all-coincidence, Rob and Nick roomed together, as did Chelsee and Jacqueline. Cue some painfully contrived conversations between the group.
Back in the auditorium, Rob continued to play the heart-broken blues singer to the hilt, singing Johnny Cash‘s I Hear That Lonesome Wind Blow. Okay, we get it. You’re not happy. Please go away and slash your wrists now. To no avail, though – both he and Chelsee progressed to the next stage, where her no doubt her glass will continue to be half full, while his remains empty and cracked.
Ken and Barbie Nick and Jacqueline, Nick’s so-so rendition of Paolo Nutini‘s New Shoes saw him eliminated while Jacqueline, rightly, went through.
Cue the first broadcast scenes of unseemly begging for one more chance from Nick. R-Jack reminded him of the whole ‘one shot’ deal, but he refused to leave gracefully, continuing to sing his song (badly) as he departed, while his girlfriend sloped off looking a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. I give it five minutes before Barbie dumps the loser.
Next up we had three of the early stand-outs who elected to repeat their songs from their initial auditions. Scott McCreery (Milwaukee) was the Alfred E Neuman lookalike with the astonishing baritone. Jackie Wilson (Nashville) was the girl with the boyfriend old enough to be her father (possibly even her grandfather). And Jerome Bell (Milwaukee) was the bar mitzvah and wedding singer with the chocolate-coated voice who looked like a Creature Comforts character.
Each stuck with their original song choices, respectively Josh Turner‘s Your Man, Aretha Franklin‘s Until You Come Back To Me and Marvin Gaye‘s Let’s Get It On – and they all went through. Seacrest wittered on about sticking to their guns being a good strategy. Strategy? Ryan, they each got through because they are awesome singers. Strategy doesn’t really come into it.
And so to the last line of the day. This contained Tiffany Rios, the Puerto Rican dance instructor who turned up at her New Jersey audition with stars taped to her bra who idolises the Puerto Rican dancer-slash-singer-slash-actress J-Lo. She stepped up declaring:
I’m going to be honest. I’m tired of seeing people try to do what I know I can.
That attitude’s not going to come back to bite you on group day at all, love, is it? As in her initial audition, her performance – Beyonce‘s All I Could Do Was Cry – was so-so at best, but it saw her through to the next round. I suspect her confident attitude may have contributed to her progress – I suspect it will also contribute to her downfall.
Also in the final group was New Jersey’s Travis Orlando, the boy from the Bronx who was forced to move into a shelter when his father fell chronically ill and lost his job. I had loved his rendition of Eleanor Rigby and Jason Mraz‘s I’m Yours, which had been full of rich, swooping tones reminiscent of Andrew Garcia from last year. But here he chose Maroon 5‘s This Love and it was a poor selection. Even so, it was a huge shock when the judges booted him off, particularly given they had allowed Tiffany to stay. They don’t always get it right – I think they got this one 100% wrong.
Others who survived day two included San Francisco’s Clint ‘Jun-Bug’ Gamboa, Colombian Julie Zorrilla, Stefano Langone (the scarred road accident survivor) and Emily Anne Reed (the folksy singer whose house had burned down the week before her audition). Also put through were Milwaukee’s striking Summerfest janitor Naima Adedapo and White House intern Molly DeWolf Swenson, LA’s Mark and Aaron Gutierrez (with the dazzling teeth and the Lean On Me duet) and New Jersey’s Ashley Sullivan, the self proclaimed ‘Awkward Idol’ who successfully cried and begged her way to Hollywood. At the time I predicted that:
Her hyper-intensity will inevitably result in the mother of all spontaneous combustions in Hollywood Week, probably on group song day. Fellow contestants would be well advised to retreat to a safe distance.
I’m standing by that forecast. In all, 168 contestants survived the initial cull to progress to the most savage round of them all: the group performance. The preliminaries are done. The gloves are off. The claws are out. Let battle commence!
American Idol posts
Link: American Idol website