It's solo time on American Idol, and thank goodness after that mostly disastrous group round.
One hundred contestants are left, stewing over their fate in a holding room, while the judges deliberate. They haven't been moved into those rooms where they're cut en masse because...it's time to rewind to the beginning of the day! Ryan Seacrest explains that, per usual, contestants will take the stage alone with an option of being backed by the band, being accompanied by their own instrument or singing a cappella.
How'd they do? Let's get down to business:
We're reminded that first contestant Haley Reinhart, 20, made it past the group round "by the skin of her teeth," according to J. Lo. She forgot her words then. Today, she sings "God Bless the Child" -- or rather, she oversings it. Randy applauds her wailing and guttural growling. Steven looks skeptical for a second, and we're reminded of why we're Team Tyler. But wait, he's nodding now. He's singing along. (We'll forgive him, since she's merely pageant princess-esque and far from embarrassingly bad.) "We almost sent her home yesterday," J. Lo whispers to Randy.
Up until now, we haven't seen much of Ashton Jones, 24, who we're told had the displeasure of being grouped with the spastic Ashley Sullivan during the group round. She does a ho-hum but inoffensive version the Dreamgirls showstopper "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Steven likes the way she "attacked" the song. Randy says, "When you got it, you got it, no matter what age?"
Thia Megia, 15, is third up and she does a clean (and perhaps a bit sleepy?) rendition of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." J. Lo calls it amazing. And with that, the first three appear to be moving on — of course, we won't know their fate until the end of the episode.
Three decent singers in a row can only mean one thing: a montage of singers going off-key, off-pitch and off the rails! First is Adrian Michael, 19, who also does "What a Wonderful World," but takes it in a horrible direction. Then, Caleb Johnson, 19, goes a little too high and complains the band is on the wrong key. The worst offender is Frances Coontz, 16, who butchers "Hey, Soul Sister" — we know, we should thank her, really -- despite her impressive performance earlier in the week.
One of the more popular song choices of the night proves to be "Georgia on My Mind." Clint Jun Gamboa, 26, is the first to tackle the song and offers one of the most electric and memorable performances of the evening, and just one day after getting called out by the judges for kicking Jacee out of his group. Kendra Chantelle, 22, and Sophia Shorai, 28, sing renditions of the song that are stellar and soulful, but also strikingly similar.
Chris Medina, 27, and Carson Higgins, 22, also choose the same song: Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative." Go figure. Hyper Carson uses the full band to his advantage and does a good choice picking a song into which he really can put his personal pizzazz. At times, though, it feels like he's yelling rather than singing. Chris chooses to go solo and his acoustic take is much more subdued. The performance is OK, but the song itself doesn't "show off his talents" as much as some of his previous choices.
And now it's play-your-own-instrument time! Cue the quick montage of decent-to-solid performances from Julie Zorrilla, 20 (Sara Bareilles' "Long Song" on the piano), Caleb Hawley, 25 (Stevie Wonder's "You Can Feel It All Over" on the guitar), Colton Dixon, 19, (Daughtry's "What About Now" on piano), Brett Loewenstern, 16 (Brandi Carlile's "The Story" on guitar) and Robbie Rosen, 16 (Bareilles' "Gravity" on piano). The judges seem pleased by the lot.
But not as pleased as they're about to be. Enter the bearded Casey Abrams, 19, who has brought up his bass for this round. "I think I'm gonna be able to knock it out of the park," Abrams tells the camera before facing the judges. He's doing "Georgia on My Mind" too, but this kid can jaaaaam, really jam. This is all sorts of jazzy goodness, and for the first time this episode, we're blown away. His fellow contestants give him a standing O. Randy says, "I love it."
Next we get a mouthful from Seacrest about Chelsee Oaks, 23, who is a wreck. In Wednesday's group round, her ex was cut. Today, Jacqueline Dunford, the remaining half of Idol's self-proclaimed power couple, has gotten sick and has withdrawn from the competition. Chelsee and Jacqueline must have been closer than we thought because Chelsee can't stop crying! She struggles through Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You." Steven kind of likes it, but we're not hearing anything good at all. She's likely doomed.
Lauren Alaina, 15, returns to her audition staple, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing." You can see the stage presence and confidence she's gained since the beginning of her Idol journey, but it would have been nice to see flex her vocal muscles with a different genre, or at least a different tune.
Jacob Lusk, 23, performs "God Bless the Child." This guy clearly has skills with a capital S, but he's continuing a frightening trend of completely oversinging to the point where it's hard to tell what the song is. Note to Jacob: Stop showing off and start focusing on the melody and the message fast. There is such a thing as being too all over the place. However, the judges are still sold by his vocal ability. "In case you had any doubt," J. Lo teases Steven after his performance.
With a cowboy hat and his acoustic guitar, John Wayne Schulz, 23, gives a sweet, solid performance of "Landslide" that even inspires a sing-along from J. Lo. "We always look forward to you," Steven tells him.
And now arrives Ashley Sullivan, 23, who decides to perform Michael Buble's "Everything" because she screams it to her boyfriend all the time. How reassuring to know her boyfriend is OK with all of... that. On stage, she tells the judges about the song's emotional background and dedicates the performance to her bf. Although she starts off OK enough, she quickly realizes she's messed up the words and asks to start again. She messes up a second time, and starts slowly cracking on stage. Of course. Randy tells her to go to the chorus, which she squeaks through. She says she's wasn't prepared for the emotional punch of the song and J. Lo says, "Most of it was about controlling your emotions." She leaves the stage crying and even her boyfriend can't comfort her after.
Now, for a group of capable young men: Stefano Langone 21, sings another "You Can Feel It Over" and he looks pained. He's lightweight overall, but we wouldn't be opposed to giving him another listen should he get through to the Las Vegas round, as we suspect he will. Jovany Barretto, 23, sings Marc Anthony's "You Sang to Me." We hate this song (sorry, J. Lo), but he performs very well. Jacee Badeaux, 15, who had us sobbing yesterday, sings David Cook's "Time of My Life." We don't like this song either, but we're so firmly in this kid's cheering section that, for now, we're all right with it. J. Lo thanks him and says it was "very nice" and that it's her pleasure to listen to Jacee.
Deep-voiced Scott McCreery, 16, has been determined to sing some song with the lyrics "baby, lock them doors" (or at least that's what we heard), but he discovers that it's not available. So he settles on "I Hope You Dance"... which would be bad enough, except he incredibly doesn't know the words to this overplayed country hit! And he isn't the only one! Turns out Ta Tynisa Wilson, 20, also chose this song, but doesn't know the words. Hoo-boy! Needless to say, neither sounds very good. Scotty is "pissed off" at himself and says there's no reason he should get through to the next round, unless the judges really like that deep voice of his. Ta Tynisa just cries and cries into her phone.
Finally, the time has come for the judges to make their final decisions and everyone is placed in four different rooms. Ashley Sullivan, Brad Loewenstern, Chris Medina, James Durbin, Casey Abrams, Lauren Alaina, Jacob Lusk and Jacee Badeaux are among those in Room No. 1. Steven tries to play it cool and fake those poor kids out, but they get the good news and the room bursts.
The judges are on to Room No. 2, which includes Corey Levoy and Brielle von Hugel. They will not be going onto the next round, and J. Lo quickly works her Mama Cub ways and rubs the back of a sobbing singer. Randy assures them that the judges have all had to audition for things and J. Lo says even if you don't nail an audition, it's about making fans out of the people listening to your auditions. (Too bad she wasn't a fan of this room!)
Room No. 3 holds the same fate, which means it's the end of the road for Mark Gutierrez and Chelsee Oaks. Sadly, this poor girl gets nothing for having to endure the obnoxious power couple. There's more tears and hugs. And that means Room No. 4 is going to the next round as well. Steven, again, tries to play it cool, but hands the fake dismissal to J. Lo, who tells them they're going to the next round. The group includes Thia Megia, Carson Higgins, Rachel Zevita, Scotty McCreery and Julie Zorrilla. We see Room No. 1 and Room No. 4 merge in the hallway and embrace.
Next up? Las Vegas and The Beatles!
So who were your favorite contestants of the night? Did you favorites make it to the next level? Who were you sad to see go?