Having negotiated the initial solo auditions, American Idol moves on to my favourite part of Hollywood Week – heck, it’s my favourite part of the entire show – the group round. If you thought the first round was brutal, then this makes Guantanamo Bay look like a luxury resort by comparison.
The basic template for success on Group Day has been well established over the last nine years. Form your group as quickly as possible. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Get some sleep. Don’t worry too much about the choreography: this is a singing competition, after all. Above all, avoid drama like the plague. In general, the groups who do well are the ones who knuckle down and get on with it.
In fact, it is possible to boil the formula for surviving the group round into a few simple rules – American Idol‘s Ten Commandments, if you will. Allow me to share …
1. S-Ty is the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other rock Gods before him
It was in one respect the cutest group performance. In another, it was the most disturbing. 15-year old Lauren Alaina and her all-girl group asked for a chair on stage for S-Ty to sit on, and then proceeded to serenade him with the Gerry Goffin/Carole King classic Some Kind of Wonderful, even getting him to join in. It was a nice gimmick, but the sight of under-age girls performing pseudo-lapdances for the Aerosmith front man was slightly discomfiting. Still, he seemed to enjoy it – but not enough for the judges to throw everyone other than Lauren out.
The group left the auditorium with brave smiles. Lauren beamed with delight, while one of her now ex-group-mates smiled and uttered through gritted teeth the immortal words “It’s OK. It’s really fine.” Of course it was. We believe you.
2. Thou shalt not make for thine self a false idol
In the least surprising Drama Queen act in Idol history, we were treated to the torturous journey of Ashley Sullivan, the self-proclaimed ‘Awkward Idol’, who I flagged up as follows after her initial audition:
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.
The fellow members of Ashley’s group, ‘The Hits’, failed to heed this advice and took her on board. The water-works started almost immediately. Tear-streaked and looking like an extra from a gothic horror movie, she dissolved under the extreme pressure of being asked whether she would like coffee or tea, and declared she was quitting. She was then convinced by the producers to have a think about it, leaving the rest of her group hanging to try to prepare. Eventually, she decided that she couldn’t let everyone down by throwing away this opportunity – what a surprise! – and rejoined the group.
When it came to their performance, they were actually very good – Ashley included – and all five were put through. Which only lends further credence to my initial belief that she is as fake as anything and this is all nothing more than an attention-grabbing act. Never mind ‘Awkward Idol’. Henceforth, I am referring to her as Hokey Cokey Idol™ – because she’s in, out, in, out – for as long as she remains in the competition. Which hopefully will not be long. I’m not buying the amateur dramatics one iota, love. When it comes to histrionics, you’re not a patch on Tatiana del Toro.
3. Thou shalt not take the
name of the Lord rules in vain
With the initial auditions split over two days, the producers came up with the idea of negating any advantage gained by day one contestants by insisting that all groups had a mix of day one and two people. This brought a new element of tension to an already fraught process, forcing pre-formed day one groups to split up and seek out day two members. Groups wandered around like drivers at an airport arrivals lounge, holding up hand-written signs declaring ‘Day 2 boy needed’ and ‘Will sing for food’. People joined and people left, forcing apparently complete groups to abandon rehearsals and seek out new members.
It was a bit like a cross between football’s transfer window, the NFL draft and a speed-dating event. And it was hilarious to watch.
We had Jordan Dorsey, the piano teacher whose original audition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow had given J-Lo goose bumps, snootily rejecting prospective members. And then, unhappy with the way things were going, the song choice and the colour of the curtains, he jumped to another group. Rat? Sinking ship? As things transpired, it made no difference – every member of both his old and new groups made it through anyway.
And then there was Tiffany Rios – see the ninth Commandment below.
4. Remember the
Sabbath words and keep them holy
Assuming the role traditionally taken on by Mr Scowl (you know, the High-Trousered One) in the past, R-Jack had started the day by reminding the contestants:
Don’t ever forget the words.
Which, of course, guarantees the traditional montage of contestants doing exactly that. They were legion in number, but I would particularly like to highlight Steven Clawson, who came up with the not particularly ingenious solution of writing the lyrics to Bruno Mars‘ Grenade on his wrist – and then spent pretty much his entire performance looking down at his arm. No surprise that he was thrown out by a disbelieving panel. He might as well have thrown himself on to a grenade.
Sadly, one other contestant afflicted by Er-What-Were-Those-Words-Again syndrome was Paris Tassin, the mother whose young daughter was born with hydrocephalus. One of the early favourites, she committed the cardinal sin, and then compounded it by drifting hopelessly out of tune. There was to be no reprieve, and she exited the competition.
Speaking of which, I have often wondered about the rationale behind the song list for group day. Obviously you want a diverse selection of challenging tracks, but I have long suspected there is something of the devil in the producers’ choices too. How else would you explain the presence of so many ironically-titled songs? Contestants throwing themselves on a Grenade? Forgetting the words to Forget You? Giving a performance which renders you anything but Irreplaceable? Being so bad that you have to beg the judges for Mercy? The potential for sardonic put-downs by the judges and blogging punnery by the likes of yours truly is just too much to resist …
5. Honour thy
father brother and mother
Time for a tale of two groups
seeking singing Somebody To Love. In the red corner, we had ‘The Deep Vs’, led by the Tourette’s/Asperger’s-suffering Adam Lambert-wannabe James Durbin. In the blue corner, ‘The Minors’, a five-piece of 15 and 16-year olds (none of whom we had previously seen), being coached by their mothers.
The Deep Vs mumbled and grumbled about The Minors, and spied on them. James muttered darkly about Idol not being a competition for stage mums and about it all being terribly unfair.
They would have been better off concentrating on their own performance rather than worrying about their rivals, because when push came to shove they were dreadful. J-Lo summed it up perfectly when she commented:
[It was] like a bad Glee audition or something.
James survived – solely on the strength of previous performances, one suspects – the others went home.
They were followed by The Minors. This could have gone one of two ways as we watched the mums vicariously living their own childhood fantasies from backstage – it would either be great or one of those classic ‘pride comes before a fall’ moments. It was the former and all five were deservedly put through.
Although we did not see them perform, we were also told that brothers Mark and Aaron Gutierrez – the Justin Suarez (Ugly Betty) lookalikes with the unfeasibly dazzling teeth – had been separated. They sang in the same group, but while Mark went into the next round, Aaron did not.
6. Thou shalt not kill the song
Oh so many examples of this.
Most saddening for me was the spectacular crash of Matt Dillard, the classic ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ qualifier from the Nashville auditions. Remember him? He was the giant hayseed with the hat, whose family had taken in 700 foster children in 23 years and who belted out Josh Groban‘s You Raise Me Up. I had him down as your standard rabbit-in-the-Hollywood-Week-headlights, and it gives me no pleasure to confirm I was proved right.
His was a classic case of a talented but inexperienced singer buckling under the combined pressure of short rehearsal time and sleep deprivation, and his performance of Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are ticked all the boxes on the Things-Not-To-Do list: he forgot the words, he was miles off-key and it was then compounded by possibly the worst karaoke harmonies I have ever heard. Ow. Ow. Ow.
7. Thou shalt not
commit adultery jump into another group’s bed (or boot out the poor fat kid)
Scott McCreery, the Alfred E Neuman lookalike with the amazing baritone, had rejected some groups and been rejected by others before finally alighting on the rather obnoxious and up himself Clint Jun Gamboa‘s crew. Clint subsequently took the opportunity to oust the two-left-footed Jacee Badeaux (Justin Blubber™) from the quintet, leaving the poor 15-year old in tears and temporarily homeless.
He was finally taken in by Brett Loewenstern‘s ‘Sugar Mamas and the Babies’ – one of the groups which Scott had earlier turned down – forcing Jacee to quickly learn a song (Mercy) he was unfamiliar with. Unsurprisingly, he was all over the place when it came to the performance, standing leaden-footed and forgetting his words. But the judges, upon hearing his hard luck story, did indeed take mercy on him, putting the entire group through.
This was immediately followed by Clint’s group, who did a so-so job of The Temptations‘ Get Ready. After a light spot of Spanish Inquisition over Badeaux-gate, the other three members of the group were put through, and then Clint was told that … he was through as well. Boo. Hiss. To be fair, he is a decent singer, but one suspects his ego far outweighs his talent. His days are numbered, and his inevitable fall from grace will likely be a hard one.
8. Thou shalt not steal a contestant from another group
There was plenty of thievery going on in the early stages, with people being brazenly swiped from under the noses of other groups as everyone scrambled to meet the required minimum number of members (three) and the necessary mix of contestants from days one and two.
Having initially joined Brett Loewenstern’s group, Jessica Yantz then turned her back on them when approached by Tiffany Rios (more on that in a second) – a decision by the dumb blonde which ranks right up there with climbing out of the escape boat back on to the Titanic. And then tossing your life-jacket overboard. While setting your feet in concrete.
Brett’s group ended up with Jacee Badeaux, so it all worked out well for them in the end. For Tiffany and Jessica, however, divine retribution was just around the corner.
9. Thou shalt not
bear false witness against slag off thy neighbour
And here’s that corner. Last week we saw Tiffany – the Puerto Rican dance instructor who turned up in New Jersey with stars taped to her bra, step up to her solo audition and declare:
I’m going to be honest. I’m tired of seeing people try to do what I know I can.
At the time, I noted that her brash statement would come back to bite her on group day, and would contribute to her downfall.
And so it came to pass.
Having first alienated her peers and then stolen Jessica away from Brett’s group, Tiffany unsurprisingly found herself shunned by every other person or group she approached in much the same way that people used to run away from lepers. She pondered, sagely:
Maybe it’s a huge protest against Tiffany from New Jersey?
You don’t say.
Given dispensation to perform as a pair, ‘Rebel Star’ performed Irreplaceable. (Tiffany clearly had a Beyonce thing going on, having done All I Could Do Was Cry in her solo audition the previous day.) I suspect I was not the only viewer punching the air filled with an overwhelming sense of justice when the duo redefined the word ‘painful’ with their performance. Irreplaceable? Hardly. Shut the door on your way out.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy
neighbour’s wife ex’s new partner-in-crime
The last of the 39 groups to perform – the aptly named ‘Three’s Company’ – was the trio of Barbie lookalike Jacqueline Dunford (now without the rejected
Ken Nick Fink) and exes Chelsee Oaks (Miss Glass Half-Full) and Rob Bolin (Mr Someone Just Smashed Me Over The Head With A Half-Full Glass™).
We had followed them throughout the episode as they embarked on a rollercoaster ride of downs and even more downs. Rob was uncomfortable as the two girls ganged up to boss him around. He was uncomfortable with being asked to dance. He was uncomfortable with the lyrics. In short, he was the one contestant whose room you wanted to check for a bottle of sleeping pills.
Rob confided to camera that as far as he and Chelsee were concerned:
Right now, we are really not on speaking terms.
This seemed somewhat sub-optimal when coordinating a group performance. And so it came as little surprise when Rob couldn’t remember the words to Forget You and instead riffed some ‘improvised’ lyrics of his own which he had clearly been practising for hours. The judges put the two girls through – I’m not sure why, as Jacqueline was appalling – and mercifully put Rob out of his stage-managed misery.
So, at the end of the group round we have around 100 contestants still in the competition. Next comes one final round of performances before cutting this down to 50 survivors. There will be laughter. There will be tears. There will be shocks and surprises. And that’s just our reaction to Randy’s wardrobe.
American Idol posts
Link: American Idol website
- “American Idol Hollywood â€œGroup Roundsâ€ Pia Toscano; Grenade American Idol Group Round” and related posts (tv.popcrunch.com)
- Video: Lauren Alaina Seduces American Idol’s Steven Tyler (crushable.com)
- ‘American Idol’ Hollywood Continues: Best Group Week Ever? (tvsquad.com)
- American Idol Group Night! (americanidolchitchat.blogspot.com)