Last night on American Idol, we saw the first stage of Hollywood Week, where contestants competed for a spot in the semifinals.
As stage one began, 147 contestants gathered at the Kodak Theater, where they participated in an American Idol boot camp: getting tips from stylists and the glam squad, as well as from vocal coaches and surprise mentor: Barry Manilow. Manilow, who has offered good advice to previous contestants, advised them to think about their songs and make them their own.
Contestants prepped in the wings, then took the stage in groups of eight. One by one down the line, they performed, a capella, a song they'd rehearsed with the vocal coaches. After each group performed, the judges selected who would stay and who would go home.
In the first group were Dennis Brigham and Lil Rounds, both of whom auditioned in Kansas City. Lil Rounds performed a soaring version of the Whitney Houston classic "I Will Always Love You." She got applause from the judges, who send her on to the next round. Dennis, who had split the judges at his audition, gave an uneven, nasal performance and was cut. Not to be deterred, he argued with the judges: "Nobody can take me seriously. I disagree." As he left the auditorium, his tirade continued, as he fumed about what he called Simon's cheap shirt.
Nathaniel Marshall, who has facial piercings, was in the next group, performing "The Anchor Holds" by Ray Boltz. Judge Paula Abdul didn't like song choice, calling it very repetitive. In response, he began to cry, saying, "I want this more than anything. It's on my skin. Like, it just bursts out of me every time I'm on-stage, and I don't know why."
Also in that group was Anoop Desai, Jasmine Murray and Rose Flack. Anoop gave a fierce performance of "It Fills You Up," Jasmine Murray, who showed both control and power. Paula said she has raw, natural talent. Rose Flack, who had cried when she met with vocal coaches, sang a decent version of "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay." While she was pretty good, her nervousness was evident. Nonetheless, all the competitors in this group were put through to next round, including Nathaniel Marshall.
Stephen Fowler, Jorge Nunez, and Von Smith stepped up in the next group. Stephen Fowler showed his vocal skills with a pitch-perfect rendition of a Stevie Wonder song. Paula said, "You nailed it." And judge Randy Jackson added, "You slayed it." Not to be outdone, Jorge Nunez gave a performance Paula called beautiful. Finally, Von performed, sounding a bit off-key and embellishing his performance with a lot of runs. Simon called it indulgent nonsense, adding that it was horrible and annoying, "the sort of thing a child would do... when they're learning to sing." Despite the tough criticism, hose all made it to the next round. Von told the camera he was grateful for the second chance.
Next up, Nick Mitchell, a.k.a Norman Gentle, had been cautioned to tone the comedy down and be serious, but he showed up still wearing his weird, shiny shirt and red headband. He started by playing a note on his pitch pipe and then gave an over-the-top, ridiculously prima donna performance, including a call-out to Seacrest. He is certainly very much the ham, but the judges said he has a good voice and was entertaining. He made it through to the next round.
Scott McIntyre, the blind piano player, and Frankie Jordan, the new mom, also made it through.
Female rocker Jackie Tohn seemed to be channeling Janis Joplin, singing in a smoky voice but pulling weird faces, including gnashing her teeth. The judges told her she'd be moving on, but many of the people she'd befriended in her group were cut.
Best friends Danny Gokey and Jamar Rogers had better luck. The two auditioned together in Kansas City, Jamar offering emotional support to Danny, who has recently lost his wife. Jamar sang a jazzy version of "California Dreaming," and Danny did a moving rendition of Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" showing both power and control. Both moved on.
One of the most controversial contestants, Katrina "Bikini Girl" Darrell, had irritated the female judges at her initial audition by showing up in a bikini and gotten into a vocal showdown with new judge Kara DioGuardi. Taking the stage, she proclaimed, "I'm the next American Idol because I am" before launching into a surprisingly good version of Faith Hill's "Breathe," despite some poor mic technique and some flat notes. When the female judges criticized the performance, Simon called them catty. Despite their reservations, she made it through.
Several contestants who had been featured in the audition shows were cut, including Jessica Furney, who had auditioned with a Janis Joplin tune (badly, I thought), Sharon Wilbur, who had brought her dog to her initial audition, and Patricia Roman, whose large family had joined her in San Juan.
Both Jeremy Michael Sarver and Jesus Valenzuela had left families behind to come to Hollywood. When Michael performed, Randy called it one of the best. Jesus's song, by contrast, was very nasal. Michael made it through, but Jesus was told he was leaving. He didn't take it terribly well, clearly irritated and saying he was going to catch the first flight home.
In the last group were David Osmond from Salt Lake City, Erika Wesley from San Juan, and punk rocker Emily Wynne-Hughes from Phoenix. Instead of the song she'd rehearsed, she did the No Doubt song, "Excuse Me, Mister," which was kind of harsh. The judges said they were disappointed with the song choice but put her through, along with David. Erika, however, was cut.
Erika was the only one in her group cut, and she came back to argue with the judges, saying she didn't want to be the one person out of the line sent home. She begged for another chance. Paula told her that "I was a fan but I was beaten out by the rest." Simon pointed out that Paula had written "no" in her notes, and Paula claimed she'd only written that because that was the final decision of the judges. After more squabbling, Simon said he was standing by the decision. Finally, Erika thanked them and exited the stage.
Also making it the next round were stay-at-home mom Alexis Grace, musician Brent Keith Smith, Anne Marie Boskovich, and Adam Lambert. By the end of round one, 104 contestants were still left.
Tonight is group day, which is usually full of drama. The promos promised more drama than ever before. Sounds like fun!
Arguing with the judges doesn't get you a second chance.