After three traumatic days in Hollywood, we’re into the final leg of Hollywood Week on American Idol, and the 100 remaining contestants have one last chance to impress or depress the judges, after which their numbers will be halved. As
Kermit the Frog Ryan Seacrest tells us, it’s been an emotionally exhausting and physically draining time. But enough about me – how are the contestants bearing up under the stress?
Not well, it would seem. There are many tired-looking faces and weary bodies being dragged down to breakfast on the final morning, but many seem to be revived by the sight of the breakfast buffet. It’s those four magic words, baby: all you can eat. And why not? In all seriousness, the week has clearly taken its toll, not least on Jacqueline Dunford (the female half of Ken and Barbie), who was taken ill – which, with hindsight, explains her abysmal performance in the group song – and forced to withdraw.
Anyway, let’s pull on some of the common threads from the final televised hour from Pasadena for this season.
Following your Idols
The contestants are only permitted to choose from a limited song list for this final round – due to rights issues and such like – but there is always a tempting selection of songs either by or closely associated with previous Idol stars.
So, we get Ashthon Jones (who survived being in the same group as Hokey Cokey Idol™ Ashley Sullivan) who sang And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going from Dreamgirls, which helped propel Jennifer Hudson (seventh in season three) to an Oscar. Teenager Jacee Badeaux (Justin Blubber™) did season seven winner David Cook‘s The Time of My Life. And Chelsee Oaks, the ex of the eliminated Rob Bolin and new bestest buddy of the ill Jacqueline Dunford made a complete hash of the very first Idol Kelly Clarkson‘s Because of You.
I’m never too sure this is the wisest of tactics – it’s always hard to avoid an unfavourable comparison against a previous Idol star – but at least they are generally songs most of the contestants will be familiar with, which never hurts.
Standing out from the crowd
At this stage, there are often one or two contestants who leap out from the crowd with a performance so memorable that it sweeps them through the following several weeks on a tide of goodwill. Remember Andrew Garcia last year? He finished joint-eighth, but probably finished higher than his latter performances merited because of his brilliant reinterpretation of Paula Abdul‘s Straight Up at this stage last season.
I have previously made the comparison between Garcia and Chris Medina after the latter’s initial audition, and it was obvious that Medina was looking to emulate Garcia and provide his own Straight Up moment. However, his version of Bobby Brown‘s My Prerogative was wide of the mark. Having been picked out as an early favourite, he has gone backwards in Hollywood Week and seems to be a classic case of a good singer who just seems to shrink on a big stage.
That comparison was all the more stark when his performance was juxtaposed with that of Carson Higgins, who had been in the same group as Medina the previous day. He attempted the same song, did it better and filled the auditorium with his quirky personality. Medina is the better technical singer, but Higgins has greater stage presence – and that counts for a lot in the live stages.
Also standing out from the crowd was Seth Rogen lookalike Casey Abrams. While many contestants elected to play either guitar or keyboard with their final performance, Abrams brought out his double bass. (I bet that’s fun to check-in at the airport.) And, far from being a gimmick, he used it to great effect, spinning out a genuinely original version of the Ray Charles classic Georgia On My Mind.
It was a song we saw attempted by many other contestants, none remotely as distinctive: Clint Jun Gamboa (looking increasingly like Alvin or one of the other Chipmunks), Kendra Chantelle, Sophia Shorai, to name but three. It was a proper sit-up-and-watch moment, a simple but novel arrangement showing off a great voice full of soul. Some contestants have to work incredibly hard to be even remotely distinctive, but Casey Abrams does so naturally. Definitely one to watch – I love his voice.
The bright and the dull
Some contestants come out of nowhere, having failed to be shown in the earlier rounds. Others who shone brightly in their initial audition seem to fade away once they reach the bright lights of Hollywood.
We had not seen Jacob Lusk before he suddenly popped up with a killer vocal in the group round, and he proved that had been no fluke with another stunning performance here which had his fellow contestants watching slack-jawed and bursting into applause. His vocal and emotional range were both incredible, and he immediately brought to my mind thoughts of Cee Lo Green – not a bad comparison at all. In truth, two brief clips in the last two shows have been enough to bypass the ranks of ‘dark horse’ and catapult him from ‘unknown’ directly into the upper echelons of the big favourites. Seriously, he’s that good.
Immediately after we had John Wayne Schulz. I had him down as top 12 material after his Austin audition: a good, old-fashioned, stetson wearing, God-fearing, lantern-jawed, yes-sirring cowboy, whose mother has breast cancer and who possesses amazing tone and maturity in his voice. But, competent though his performance here was, it was just a tad, well, dull compared with Lusk. It was like listening to a good lounge singer: all very good, but it was hard to picture him playing to anything more than a small club audience. It was good enough to see him through another round, maybe two. But not good enough to win this competition.
Get out of jail free card
A bad performance in this final audition does not necessarily mean an automatic exit. By now, the judges will already have some firm opinions on people they really like, which means they can get away with one slip-up if they have accumulated enough money in the bank from previous performances.
Both Scott McCreery and Tatynisa Wilson had problems with Lee Ann Womack‘s signature song I Hope You Dance, but both would ultimately scrape through.
And then there was Hokey Cokey Idol™ Ashley Sullivan – so named because during the group round she was in, out, in, out. She had picked out the perfect song – Michael Bublé‘s Everything – to dedicate to her boyfriend, who was watching from the balcony. Only she completely forgot the words.
But Sullivan has clearly been earmarked as this year’s Tatiana Del Toro – a self-fuelling source of endless melodrama, who will be left dangling on the end of a string until it is the right time to cut her loose. Forget the words? Meh. Now was not her time to go. My guess now is that she will be one of the traditional final two at the end of next week’s Green Mile episode, where one will go through and one will go home. And then we will get the mother of all meltdowns. We can but hope.
The favourites we saw … and those we didn’t
15-year old Lauren Alaina – who would be in my personal top three if I had to vote right now – got to repeat I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing. Colombian Julie Zorrilla showed her keyboard skills while singing Sara Bareilles‘ Love Song. And we also caught brief glimpses of other likely contenders such as Brett Loewenstern, Caleb Hawley, Robbie Rosen, Jovany Barreto and Stefano Langone.
And, of course, there were some major talents who we saw little or nothing of in either this episode and/or the group round – most notably Harvard graduate and White House intern Molly DeWolf Swenson, and the striking Summerfest janitor Naima Adedapo, both of whom we first saw in the Milwaukee auditions. Neither featured prominently during Hollywood Week – indeed, I don’t recall seeing the former at all – but both will be forces to reckoned with in the later stages. (That’s cursed them, then.)
The rooms of doom
Having completed their final performances, the 100 contestants were then split into four rooms, only two of which would go on to the next stage. Room one included Lauren Alaina, James Durbin, Brett Loewenstern, Jacee Badeaux – and Ashley Sullivan (groan). Let’s face it, if you had been in that room, you would have been pretty confident – and with good justification, as they were sent through.
For the canny viewer, that meant we knew the fate of room two, who could not possibly go through if we were to maintain any sense of tension in the proceedings. The fact there were so few recognisable faces in there merely confirmed the obvious – they were going home.
Similarly, with contestants in each room able to hear the whoops of celebration in the successful rooms, that always meant room three was likely to be sent home so that the final batch could be kept on tenterhooks. That meant we said goodbye to Chelsee Oaks, while Mark Gutierrez got to join his brother Aaron on the plane home.
Which just left room four who, not being aware they were the final group, were uncertain as to their fate. But given the glut of favourites in that room – Julie Zorrilla, Naima Adedapo, Scott McCreery, Jovany Barreto, Thia Megia, Carson Higgins – again, you would have to have been quietly confident.
So there we have it. 50 names are left in the frame, and on we go. For the full list, follow the link here.
Next week: it’s Vegas, baby! Idol‘s final 50 are whisked off to the epicentre of America’s gambling industry and asked to perform Beatles classics with just 24 hours’ notice. Who will hit the jackpot, and who will leave flat broke with their dreams in tatters? The preview suggests tears for Lauren Alaina – which presumably means she sails through.
American Idol posts
Link: American Idol website