One of the endurance tests all "American Idol" contestants are forced to undergo is the set of auditions and calls known as "Hollywood Week." But this year's going to be a little different. They're sectioning off the genders early, making it a guys vs. guys and girls vs. girls level to get a ticket to the Vegas round of the competition. Only the Top 40 will go to Las Vegas, where, again for the first time, the remaining contestants will be pared down to just a Top 10 line-up for the live shows. So do any of those highlighted in the auditions shows seem to have an edge?
Here's what will happen: First, the singers will be called upon to sing a capella. The survivors of the purely vocal round will then be asked to join others in the grueling -- and often disharmonious -- group sing-offs. The standouts from the groups will then get one more shot at the Top 40 and a trip to Vegas with a solo performance.
If you're an "Idol" fan, you know Hollywood Week is filled with drama, sleep deprivation, lost voices, conflicting personalities, drama, insecurity, forgotten lyrics, manic behavior, and more drama.
So who looks like a lock to make it through to Las Vegas?
From the New York auditions, Frankie Ford (he of the subway singing sessions) and Angela Miller (the young lady who hasn't let her hearing loss affect her vocals) might become part of the Vegas group. They had strong auditions and Frankie seems to be a performance-oriented kind of guy, having to sing for his money on a daily basis like he has. Angela might have some problems, but as long as she has an earpiece and good direction, getting to Vegas shouldn't be a problem.
From Chicago: Brandy Neely, who made it to Hollywood Week last season, should get through to the City that Never Sleeps. Mackenzie Wasner is also a strong contender, having developed her chops under the tutelage of Vince Gill's keyboard player (her father).
From Charlotte: Another returnee from Season 11, Candice Glover, got a "best audition I've heard this year" from Judge Jackson, so she just might get past Hollywood Week this year.
Baton Rouge: The "Singing Doctor," Calvin Peters, and the "Singing Fireman," Dustin Watts, were impressive during the Louisiana round.
San Antonio: There were a few good singers highlighted in the Lone Star State. Savannah Votion, a singing mother of one, nailed an Etta James song, as did Adam Sanders later in the show. There was also Sanni M'Mairura, a 16-year-old charismatic double-threat (singer, dancer) from Houston that looks like a lock for at least the Top 40 and maybe the Top 10.
Long Beach: Next door to Hollywood, those trying out here didn't have far to go once they got their gold tickets. Briana Oakley, who has already had a brush with fame on "The Maury Povich Show," and Rachel Hale, whose voice prompted Judge Keith Urban to compare her vocals to Wynona Judd, were strong and will likely get through.
Oklahoma City: Possibly the strangest round of auditions in "American Idol" history happened in the Sooner State, but there was still plenty of talent. Only two of the auditions where a contestant was awarded a gold ticket (that viewers saw) indicated talent worthy of getting to Vegas: Nate Tao (who Judge Randy Jackson thought looked as if he should be doing The Dawg's taxes) and 16-year-old Kayden Stephenson, a handsome young man with plenty of drive.
The problem with the auditions and trying to choose a contestant or two from the few that were featured centers around all those that weren't given any face time or might have been given just a few seconds in passing. Since more than 30 contestants were given gold tickets at every audition, that leaves quite a few contestants that could potentially win the competition that viewers have yet to really get a good look -- and listen -- at.
The broadcasting of Hollywood Week will also be separate. The boys get Feb. 6 and 7 while the girls will face off on Feb. 13 and 14. "American Idol" airs at 8 p.m. (EST) on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
(photo credit: American Idol, Fremantle North America, Fox Television)