The first "American Idol" casualties are claimed during Hollywood Week -- and they're all guys.
Hollywood Week is known for its drama and its sometimes surprising eliminations. Viewers are more often as not shocked when some of the contestants that put on great auditions to get their gold ticket wind up in Hollywood and fail to deliver. Sometimes its vocals that don't measure up. Sometimes it is the stress that knocks them down. Sometimes it is a lack of preparedness, the culture shock of being immersed in singing contest in Hollywood, and the inability to deal with what the producers demand of them. But for whatever reason they fell out of the competition, 286 contestants made it to Hollywood Week and, for the first time ever, they were divided by gender. And the boys were up first, with Wednesday evening's show (Feb. 6) seeing several familiar faces from the auditions falling in the A Cappella Round and Group Night.
So being first to perform for the "American Idol" judges, the guys were also the first to hear the bad news that they would not continue, that their journey had ended. Three tries to get through to Las Vegas (two of which were featured Wednesday evening), where the Top 20 boys and the Top 20 girls would battle for spots in the Top 10 and a chance to perform for America on the live shows.
The A Cappella Round was skimmed over in a matter of minutes. But there was one moment where the show lingered. That's when Corez Shaw stepped forward, said he was going to do Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," and immediately went big voice, belting the chorus and shocking the judges panel. Judge Nicki Minaj let him know she was not impressed. In fact, she said she was "disgusted." But she must have been the only one because Cortez was voted through to Group Night (and rightly so, because, surprisingly loud or no, Cortez nailed his notes).
Among those getting cut, though, were Karl Skinner, the guy who asked the judges if he was allowed to move while he auditioned in Oklahoma City, and Brian Brittenberry, who won over the judges in Charlotte for his heartfelt audition on behalf of his supportive wife, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Dustin Watts, the singing fireman, and Calvin Peters, the singing doctor, both who made it through from the Baton Rouge auditions, were cut as well.
Then it was on to Group Night, probably the most dreaded round of the competition. Why? Because most of the singers were, are, and plan to be solo acts. Egos clash. Musical styles differ. Opinions irritate and aggravate. And as the stress builds to perform -- in both singing and choreography -- the multiple combinations of talent and styles sometimes reaches boiling points. Some melt down. Others blow up. Some have an attack of nerves and suffer physiological symptoms. But, in the end, they still have to perform.
There were several really good groups but the show didn't waste much time on them. No drama. So the producers went in search of interesting, in search of drama.
Matheus Fernandes, the little guy viewers met in Long Beach, was teamed with the massive hard rocker Gabe Brown, and two other relatively tall guys, Nick Boddington and Mathenee Treco. Their spirited and well sung version of Queen's "Somebody To Love" entertained the judges. They all were passed on to the Solo Round.
Perhaps the oddest trio consisted of soul singer Nicholas Matthis, gospel singer Curtis Finch Jr., and Charlie Askew, the quirky and socially awkward alternative singer viewers met in Baton Rouge. Musical styles aside, the three settled on Bruno Mars' "Lazy Song" and had the judges loving every second of it.
Then there was "Country Queen," which consisted of two country boys, Sgt. Trevor Blakney and Lee Pritchard, and two flamboyant performers, JDA and Joel Wayman. There was a personality clash and a priorities clash (the Sarge was less concerned with learning dance moves than learning the lyrics of the song). The group settled on Extreme's "More Than Words" and just as if it had been foreshadowed, Trevor forgot the lyrics. But he didn't go home alone. Lee, who didn't forget his lines, was also sent home.
A quartet made up of Papa Peachez, Adam Sanders, Charles Allen, and Frankie Ford were the last to perform. Frankie, the New York subway singer, had trouble from the start, being the odd man out with no musical training. But the tension finally got to him and he broke down before he got on stage. His groupmates tried to encourage him (well, all but Papa Peachez), but he forgot his portion of the lyrics to Estelle's "American Boy." Since the singers are still judged by their individual performances, Judge Keith Urban, who began his career in a similar manner in Australia, became the only judge to vote for him to go to the Solo round. Frankie would be the only one cut from the group, but Judge Nicki Minaj told Papa Peachez, who she fought to retain (just like in San Antonio) that his complacency would not see him past the Solo round and he needed to "step it up."
So Frankie Ford was sent home (although he vowed to return next year and win it all). So was 16-year-old Kayden Stephenson (and he, too, vowed to be back next season).
Still, of all the auditions, perhaps the most surprising was the quartet that included Gupreet Singh (the "Turbunator"). All four guys forgot their lyrics. However, they hemmed and hawed and made up lines, muscling their way through the entire number. And were rewarded for not giving up. All four -- and perhaps unfairly -- were sent through to the Solo Round.
But that was just two-thirds of Hollywood Week. Those that made it through still had their solos to get through to get a coveted pass to Vegas. On Thursday evening, Part 2 of Hollywood Week would further delineate the guys.
"American Idol" airs on Fox Television weekly.
(photo credit: Eva Renaldi, Creative Commons)