At long last, Hollywood Week has arrived. The judges wound up giving golden tickets to a whopping 327 hopefuls — up from the usual 250-ish. Seacrest says, "There will be little time to relax" for the contestants, who will immediately face a sudden-death round, just as in years' past. J.Lo says this is where they separate "the men from the boys, the women from the girls." Randy Jackson says, "These kids gotta bring it." Steve Tyler hopes they "did their homework."
The format is exactly the same as it always has been. Groups of 10 contestants will take the stage and sing a song of their choosing a cappella. The judges will deliberate for a short while and make their cuts. No second chances.
Here's the breakdown:
Brett Loewenstern, the red-headed, 16-year-old who's been picked on since the 3rd grade, says he's shaking in his pants. He sings (The Beatles' "Let It Be") just as well as he sang in his first audition. The judges put him through. Afterward he tells the camera, "I'm done being the victim."
New York's Rachel Zevita, we'll call her Roller Girl, sang Duffy's "Warwick Avenue," oversang if you ask us. But she wasn't wholly terrible either, and she gets to move on. Fifteen-year-old Thia Megia from the Milwaukee audition sings more than solidly and earns her spot in the next round. Casey Abrams, he with the substantial beard, emotes and growls his way through to the next audition.
Up next, and as introduced by Seacrest, is "charismatic Southern belle" Victoria Huggins from North Carolina, or, as we have since crowned her, Kelli Pickler 2011 (she's astounded by our Los Angeles mountains!). Her cheese is truly overwhelming, and we get a sick feeling she'll last as long as Diana DeGarmo, but wait, she doesn't make the cut. But she emerges from the auditorium still smiling and says she still feels "special."
Young parents Paris Tassin, 23, and James Durbin, 21, are paired together, and a montage rolls reminding viewers just how much is riding on the Hollywood round for them. James' story is still just as emotional as it ever was. His fiancée talks about their baby's hearing loss. Paris, singing Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," starts off strong, but veers off course in the second verse and gets a little pitchy, as Randy would say. James nails his performance. Fortunately for them, they both move on. We think Tassin's shaky vocals will catch up to her soon enough though.
In the next group are pageant queen Stormi Henley, 20, youngster Lauren Alaina, 15, and the inspiring Chris Medina, 27. Stormi's voice isn't as small as J.Lo made it seem during her first audition, but she's in a strong group. Lauren, who made an early impression with Tyler when she performed his Aerosmith hit "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," gives one of the stronger performances from the young contestants we've seen. Lauren gets the green light, but it's a dark day for Stormi.
Finally, Chris comes to the stage and Tyler immediately asks him about Julie, his fiancée that was left with brain damage after an accident. "She's getting better every day and she's an inspiration to me every day," he says. He also tells Seacrest, "This is where it all can change or it all can stay the same. I don't want it to stay the same." Unfortunately, Chris shows poor song choice with Jason Mraz's "You and I" and he's scattered all over the scale. Chris gets sent to the next round anyway, because, really, how can they say no?
Next up: a montage of all the contestants being overcome by their nerves. These kids are shaking, they're forgetting their lines, they're giving up on stage! So Tyler and his benevolent heart step in with some encouragement: "It hurts our hearts," he says to the people crumbling before his eyes. "We understand, we're singers too." In other words: Sing something! Anything!
A trio of younger teens take their turn. High-pitched 16-year-old Robbie Rosen from New York reminds us that he's been wanting to be on Idol since he was 7 -- we feel old, thanks for that — does OK. Tyler thinks he does better than OK and lets out a "Yeeeoooow." Fifteen year-old Jacee Badeaux does a super job with Rascal Flatts' "Bless This Broken Road" (except by super, we mean he sounded like the Vienna Boys Choir, but not in a bad way). Hollie Cavanagh sounds better than she did in her last performance, and in impossibly high heels too! J.Lo nods in approval while she sings. All three kids live to sing another day.
Steve Beghun, the accountant whose voice sounds like what we imagine David Archuletta will sound like as a grown man, still sounds off to us. He sings Michael Buble's "Haven't Met You Yet." The judges choose not to bring him back. Sound decision. At this point, the show lets us know that Sarah Sellars and Jacqueline Dupree, who we don't remember very well anyway, have not made it to the next round, along with Los Angeles belly dancer Heidi Khzam.
On to Day 2. On to another montage of nervous nellys stopping cold in the middle of their songs. Get it together, people, you really only have one shot!
The producers are either masochists or have a really sick sense of humor: They've made Rob Bolin, 23, and his ex-girlfriend Chelsea Oaks, 23, room with self-proclaimed power couple Nick Fink, 19, and Jacqueline Dunford, 22. In auditions, J.Lo predicted Rob and Chelsea would get back together, but spending all his time with this annoying, PDA-happy couple has made him cynical about romance, for now. "My mother is the only woman I trust anymore," he laments. On stage, Rob taps into a kind of soul not yet seen in Hollywood Week. Chelsea's vocals are a little shaky, but they both make it through. Maybe there's hope these exes can rekindle the flame.
Amazingly, Nick and Jacqueline pry themselves off each other long enough to perform. Nick does a so-so rendition of Paolo Nutini's "New Shoes," but is lacking in the soul department. Jacqueline picks a strong tune — Sam Cooke's "Bring It On Home to Me" — that really shows her impressive range. But we won't find out what happens until after the break...
Nick Fink has been chopped, as they say on that subpar Food Network cooking competition show. He is stunned and reaches for the mic. He wants a second chance, the second chance that you don't get during a sudden death round. "Just let me get to the goods," he pleads. Randy says some auditions don't go right, and "it didn't quite happen" for Nick this time. Nick serenades the judges on his way out of the auditorium. Randy turns around and says "No, no... nope," you know, in case he wasn't clear the first time. Outside, Seacrest asks the couple, now divided, what they said to each other after Nick was cut. Nick isn't happy that Seacrest isn't more broken up about this. "Are you washed-out emotionally because you've been doing this for 10 years?" he asks. It's that and the Botox, Nick.
Now for some riskier moves, courtesy a trio of contestants who decide to re-use their audition songs. Scotty McCreery, 17, who had J.Lo swooning over his deep baritone, sticks very close to the quality of his first audition -- which is to say, he was good. On the other hand, Jackie Wilson, 28, manages to improve on her audition with the same tune and show strong range. Jerome Bell, 27, recycles "Let's Get It On" and really hits the high notes this time. All three will be singing in the next round.
Two early Idol favorites, New Jersey's Tiffany Rios and the Bronx's Travis Orlando, 17, are among the last contestants to perform. Tiffany forgets her star-boob cut-outs (thank God!), but remembers to practice. She has better control over her voice and again shows her flair for the dramatic when she grabs the stage railing during her big finish. During his first audition, the judges told Travis he was a little stiff, but now he's trying too hard and his movements are distracting. Tiffany is passed through, but it's back to the Bronx for Travis.
Julie Zorrilla, Emily Anne Reed, Stefano Langone, Molly DeWolf, Mark Gutierrez and Aaron Gutierrez also make it to the next round — but are quickly listed as an afterthought at the end of the episode. For reasons entirely unknown to us, Ashley Sullivan, the crazed contestant from Springfield, Mass., is also sticking around.
What did you think of Hollywood Week? Who were your favorites?