As if I needed to reiterate this again, I love this season of American Idol. Season 11 has brought some great talents and great moments already, and we are only just now past the auditions. However, most of the joyful, heartwarming, and funny moments are over for the next week (at least) because a very trying time has begun- Hollywood Week.
Don’t get me wrong. I will get a kick out of the next few episodes of Idol because there will be nonstop madness, contestants losing their mind, and people rising to the top. For the contestants, this is one of the most difficult weeks of their lives.
I am really loving that the Idol team armed the contestants with cameras this year because it really adds personality to the show that can be overlooked sometimes. It truly showcases to audiences how badly these contestants want to make their dreams come true, getting up at 3:30 in the morning and boarding a plane, golden ticket in hand, to compete in the biggest talent search of their lifetimes.
I was already feeling very inspired at the beginning of the show, seeing many of my favorite hopefuls as they prepared to leave for Hollywood. The inspiration continued as Steven Tyler greeted all 309 of the contestants and gave them a great speech (in poetic verse, naturally) about courage; J-Lo gave her sweet words of encouragement to everybody; Randy shouted out “SEASON 11 IT’S ON!” in true Randy fashion. He’s always so full of…words.
Tonight’s Hollywood episode showcased the first two days of competition, as each contestant would sing in a line of nine other contestants, and half would be cut. Yes, in groups of ten, five would automatically be cut because they did not give a good enough audition. These auditions were also acapella, meaning they would have no music to back them. This really is a testament to see if each person has a standout voice and really exposes the voice, leaving all of the strengths, as well as weaknesses, out in the open. At the end of the day, 154.5 contestants will remain, if they remain true to the math. I feel bad for the poor contestant the producers have to cut in half to meet the quota.
Up in the first group were two of my very favorite contestants from the audition episodes: Johnny Keyser and Heejun Han. However, both of these contestants are so different, which is absolutely hilarious. Johnny has the confidence of a seasoned performer, whereas Heejun acts as though he has never stepped out onto the stage before. Johnny sang Amos Lee’s “Dreamin'” and it was even more perfect than his first audition. If this guy doesn’t make it to the top 12 this year, something has gone amiss. He is a star in every sense of the word. His falsetto is just crystal clear and he knows how to work a song without overdoing it. This performance easily put him into the next round.
Heejun of course had me rolling with laughter before his performance, mostly because of his always quotable interviews. “I just checked into Hollywood and everyone is so tall and so pretty. Even the guys are pretty. I don’t know if it is something they eat.” Seriously, this guy needs to be interviewed constantly because he is constantly saying wonderful gems such as this. He sang “How Am I Supposed to Live Without You” and again, even better than his first audition. Way better, in fact. I greatly appreciate Heejun’s unassuming attitude, especially in this Hollywood week full of divas. It also appears that his stage confidence may have been slightly raised. I can’t wait to see what else comes of this contestant.
In a move that suprised no one, Johnny and Heejun both made it past the first round. Yay!
In the next group were three great young women from the auditions, but no one that I could have remembered without seeing their faces again. Elise Testone, Baylie Brown (repping season 6!), and Hallie Day were all grouped together.
I think of the three, Elise is my favorite for now. She seemed well prepared for this round, and I really really enjoy the raspy quality in her voice, as well as her vocal phrasing.
Baylie Brown, as I mentioned before, truly does have a good voice and a nice stage presence, but I cannot see her as a country superstar. To be very honest, I think she would be a less successful Taylor Swift. She needs to find a different niche, and quick.
Hallie hit it big with her performance of “Natural Woman”, with solid vocals and a better attitude than her first audition, where I felt like she was “too cool for school”. Also, as she finished singing, Kelly Clarkson’s current chart topper “Stronger” (Hot 100 #1!) began playing in the background, which of course got me smiling because there is no artist that I love more than Kelly Clarkson. Also, this was probably not on purpose, but “Natural Woman” is one of Kelly’s standout Idol performances from season 1. If you don’t remember, or didn’t watch Idol back then, you must look this up and see just how great the original American Idol has always been.
Again, all three of the ladies made it through that round, which doesn’t surprise me too much, as all three of them have solid voices. However, where is the Hollywood week drama???
In the next group was 25 year old Jen Hirsch, singing Patty Griffin’s perfect song “Up To The Mountain”. Again, a song by an incredible artist, but also one that Kelly Clarkson has a fantastic version of from “American Idol Gives Back” (YouTube is a powerful tool, people. Look it up!) Although I was afraid at first, not willing to let this girl win me over with a song that very few can do justice, I could not deny Hirsch’s voice once she got into the song. She has a powerhouse of a voice that I wish we would have heard earlier.
Lauren Gray was also in line with Jen, and again she sang Adele. While her voice is suited for this type of music, she did crack a few very important notes, making me extremely nervous because I really like her and want her to go far. However, in Hollywood week we all know that missing a note here or there can cost you a spot in the next round.
We finally got to see who made it to the next row from this line, and Jen Hirsch’s powerhouse voice was sent through…as well as Lauren Gray! Lauren has really got to keep bringing it, or she may not keep getting grace from the judges.
The saddest part about this round of Hollywood is that half of these contestants will get the chance to sing one time, then will go home. I imagine that must be so difficult because I’m sure none of them expect to go to Hollywood only to be sent right back home… well, except Heejun, who I’m sure expects at every moment to be sent home.
Unfortunately, many contestants who may have initially impressed the judges simply do not have what it takes to be a star and drown in Hollywood very quickly. Such was the case with Heather Youmans, Sascha Julian, and Candice Russell. Poor girls, they really were just awful. It was like bad karaoke. I just felt so bad because they are all young, and all clearly wanted this so badly. The three girls getting cut then led into a sequence of nameless bad auditions and contestants begging the judges to give them another chance. The reality is, this is American Idol Hollywood Week, where second chances rarely exist for mediocre performances.
After the commercial break, Steven was shown giving a pep talk to the contestants waiting backstage, hoping to raise the morale for those starting to lose hope, seeing so many people going home in front of them. I really love Steven as a judge. When Simon was a judge, Hollywood week did not have that warmth. It was all about being cutthroat and if you didn’t have it, you were basically just a number who was coming in and going out.
Once Steven was done with his talk, one of the early favorites from the audition process, Phillip Phillips, was up for his time in front of the judges. There were some questions raised on the show and in my mind about whether or not he could still bring what he brought to his original audition without his guitar. Don’t worry, he brought it. He still possessed that incredible voice with that growl and quality I love. It is just so mature. I think he would feel more comfortable with a guitar, which I don’t really think is a bad thing because some artists do play throughout their show. Brad Paisley basically never stops playing his guitar in a show, even when he isn’t singing. Maybe that is simply where Phillip thrives.
Reed Grimm, who was great if not a bit silly during his audition, was also in Phillip’s group, and still possessed his silly factor. I’m not sure if he is just a quirky guy, doing it as sort of a gimmick, or immature. I’m not sure I feel it though. He sang “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” from Willy Wonka. No, I’m not joking. The guy can sing his face off, and he filled up that auditorium with his huge voice. I really like his voice and could see him doing really well, but he needs to take a competition of this caliber a bit more seriously, in my opinion. I’m all about a great and fun personality, but when it is do or die time in front of the judges, don’t rely on gimmicks to get you by.
Travis Orlando, familiar to the heartbreak of Hollywood Week, was also in this group of ten. If you recall back to the auditions, Orlando’s mother walked out on their family last year, shortly after his audition. The year has been extremely tough, and Travis has so much riding on this week. He really brought his all to this audition, and I had actually forgotten how much I originally liked his voice, as he has clearly been working so much to prepare for Hollywood. I think that audiences could really connect with him and he could harvest a large number of votes, especially when working with the Idol professionals on song choice and vocal style and development.
The moment of truth arrived, and as the judges began having contestants step into two lines, Phillip and Reed were together, but Travis was in the other line. This meant that of three contestants I find to be very strong, either only one will advance, or two, but not all three. Finally, the decision was revealed. Phillip and Reed were sent along to the next round, while Travis was sent home, again a victim to Round 1 elimination in Hollywood Week. Now, I know I am seemingly finding faults in contestants and saying people aren’t ready or good enough, but this really just broke my heart. He worked so hard, and to come audition for American Idol for the second year in a row, only to be cut in the same round as last year, had to be such a difficult blow. I wanted to jump through the screen and hug him, then give the judges a piece of my mind. I am usually all about the judges, but this time they just really disappointed me. I really really am hoping for the best for Travis.
Don’t worry everyone, that wasn’t my only disappointment of the night. Ramiro Garcia, another of my audition favorites, was sent packing. He was the worship minister who was born with no ears. This was another case in which I thought he could be a huge inspiration, but I suppose he just didn’t bring it enough for this year. Wolf Hamlin went home as well, and while he wasn’t a favorite of mine, I did quite enjoy his voice, but not sure I’ll be missing it in a few weeks time. Jenny Schick was sent home, but that was one I was actually glad about because I found her very average and annoying.
Adam Brock, a contestant we were just introduced to tonight, first grabbed our attention by stating that people tell him there is “a large black woman trapped inside [his] body.” Well, that’s interesting. He also has the most adorable new baby, which melted my heart in one instant. Then everything got kind of sad because he started crying when he talked about how he had never been away from his daughter for this long, but that this is his dream and he knows that with his family’s love he can succeed. He sang “Walking In Memphis”, which I think is one of the greatest songs ever written. Sadly, while Brock does have a very strong voice, I found him to be overdoing this song, which is a problem very often on shows such as Idol. People know they have a certain trait, and use only that, unfortunately way overcompensating. Plus, he had a presence that translated cockiness rather than confidence. Not sure if I am feeling him.
Jane Carrey, who we all remember to be Jim Carrey’s daughter, stepped up next. I think she is just so pretty. Her face could easily be on record covers and posters and billboards and would catch people’s eyes. I also really like her voice. It is very refreshing and has a great amount of energy in it that we don’t always hear from contestants, especially in these first rounds. However, I’m not sure if she is at the Idol level yet. I think she could be, but I think she would begin to get lost in the crowd as the rounds progress.
When the time came and the lines were separated, Jane sadly was sent home, while Adam Brock successfully passed on to the next round. I’m sad that Jane is gone because she seems super sweet, but I hope she can find a good career in music.
The next line made me very excited because “Mr. Steal Yo Girl” David Leathers is BACK. I just love this kid. He is hilarious and personable and fun. All of the ladies in Hollywood were in LOVE with him, and he was loving all of the attention from them, as well. He sang, get ready, Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me”, for this round. If anyone possibly thinks this is a funny choice, or a weird choice, you obviously don’t know this boy. He sang the heck out of Celine. Who is this magic star??? I could not close my mouth, I was that blown away. When he went into his falsetto I was so blown away, my mouth could not be picked up off of the floor. It was just so good. If anything goes amiss and this guy gets eliminated before voting rounds start, I’m not sure I can forgive the Idol team. He is mind-blowingly great.
Shannon Magrane, the very very tall teenage contestant, is also in this line. She sang the always overdone “Fallin'” by Alicia Keys. However, I really did enjoy her performance of it. So many people have sang this on American Idol, male and female alike. However, Shannon actually brought herself into this performance and made me like it. That’s not easy to do with a song like this for me because I am always comparing it to everyone else who has ever done it. Good job on making me love you Shannon!
My current favorite girl, Jessica Phillips, was up next. As soon as she came onstage, my heart was already breaking. In case you don’t remember, she is the contestant whose boyfriend had a massive stroke last Easter, and she has had to act as his caretaker ever since. They are still very in love, even if it is different. She has such an opportunity right now to pursue her dreams; to top it all off, she is incredibly talented and I could see her doing really big things this season if she stays consistent. This performance so far is showing that she will probably be doing just that. I don’t know the name of the song she was singing, but I was a HUGE fan. She has so much character in her voice that I can’t imagine who wouldn’t love her. He does these great little “Hey!”s and “Yeah!”s and such that aren’t obnoxious, and really get me into her performance. She is so seasoned and great; the judges love her; the crowd loves her. Jessica is a star!
When it came down to it, I was so happy because David, Shannon, and Jessica were all sent to the next round! I am so glad because all of these contestants are very deserving of moving on to the next round. Beautiful NBA dancer Brittany Kurr also advanced, which is great because she is great and beautiful. Unfortunately, Gaga-wannabe Angie Ziederman was sent to the next round with this group. I guess we could be seeing more of her.
Erika Van Pelt was in the next line, and I don’t really have too much to say about her. I was not that impressed in her first round because she is truly sort or ordinary. She is consistent, but not anything I haven’t heard before. However, I found that in this round she had a bit more character and unique qualities in her voice than before. She had obviously been working. In fact, some of her vocalizations were very reminiscent of P!nk, who I think is one of the great pop singers of this era because of her unique and strong voice.
Creighton Fraker was up next, and he is another I am just feeling very lukewarm about right now. He reminds me of a less talented Justin Timberlake, partially because his voice, and partially because he actually looks like a less superstar version of Justin. He sang Queen’s “Somebody to Love”, a very bold choice, and I just don’t know how I feel about it. I really can’t decide if I like his voice, or if it absolutely annoys me. I can’t decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Hmmm…
Music teacher Aaron Marcellus, who I don’t believe we have seen before, was next. I mean, don’t get me wrong, this man can SING. He was hitting those notes out of the ballpark and nailing the runs, but there just weren’t very many words. That may seem funny, but there is a difference in singing runs and singing a song. We’ll see how he develops.
Not too surprisingly, all three of those made it to the group round. I could honestly have done without Creighton making it, but I do look forward to seeing how Ericka develops and seeing just what Aaron can do.
We finally made it to the last line of the night. Although this was only a one hour episode, so many things happened.
Beautiful Lauren Mink was up first. She is the young woman who works with disabled adults; I love her voice and I love her heart. She sang one of my absolute favorite songs- “Alone” by Heart. Unfortunately, my heart hurt for her while she was singing. I truly do love her voice, but I’m not sure if she is ready or has the knowledge she needs yet for Idol, as she noticeably changed keys in the middle of the song, but not in a “this is a dramatic key change” kind of way. It was more of a “here I am singing this song but now I’m singing this key and didn’t even realize it” way. Just so sad. Plus she was hitting some off notes here and there. I just don’t want it to be the end for her.
Brown noser Jeremy Rosado stepped up next, immediately complimenting all of the judges, trying to win over a pass to the next round. He sang “Superstar”, a very tough song, but he was solid. Again, I’ve heard other people sing this song much better, and I’ve heard many people with more unique voices than his before. He was definitely good enough to get to Hollywood, but we’ll see just how far he can go.
Symone Black was up next with her stage dad. Don’t start pointing accusatory fingers- she called her dad out personally as a stage dad. She seems to have a pretty good personality, and I really can’t believe that she is only like…16. She sang “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay”, which is of course a great choice! She was doing very very well until…..the TiVo cut off! Somehow, FOX tricked us into playing Idol over into the next time slot to keep us watching. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know exactly how it all ended because recording ceased.
However, here is what happened- Symone was singing and singing and getting pretty close to the edge of the stage. Suddenly, she wobbled, passed out, and fell OFF THE STAGE. That was no short fall either. The episode ended there, and we would have to wait until the next night to see what happened to Symone, as well as the rest of her line.
I don’t know exactly how I feel about that ending. It’s great TV for sure, but I feel bad that so much attention has been placed upon this girl when, in reality, this was probably a very embarrassing situation.
What do you think of those eliminated so far? Who did you want to see go through to group rounds? Who did you want to go home?