They put their heads together and conspired on ways that they could make Hollywood Week even more distressing for the American Idol contestants. First of their Machiavellian twists was to separate the boys from the girls. Some might argue that the old-fashioned technique of gender segregation would remove the distraction of the opposite sex and enhance the focus of the contestants. But if the ability to remember lyrics is any indication of focus, clearly the abolition of a co-ed Hollywood Week did not have its intended effect.
Or perhaps, it was the even more sadistic twist by Ken and Nigel that resulted in so many American Idol contestants crumbling under the pressure - the decision to strip them of their free will when it came to forming groups. This season, the group rounds – which have a long history of being the most difficult portion of Hollywood Week – were made even more difficult when contestants were given no choice of their co-singers. Looking on the bright side, it did prevent the always awkward moments when a handful of contestants are left running to and fro begging people to let them on their team. Something that no doubt gives many viewers flashbacks of high school gym class. You know who you are.
Half of the male contestants were spared the horrors of American Idol's group rounds and sent home after their first performances, including Dr. Calvin Peters and Brian Rittenberry, whose wife was a cancer survivor. And while many decisions seemed to come surprisingly easy to the judges, when Cortez Shaw took to the stage to sing Whitney Houston's iconic hit, "I Will Always Love You," the agreements came to a screeching halt.
During his performance, Mariah Carey was rocking her somewhat vapid grin that usually suggests she likes something while at the other end of the panel Nicki was staring at Cortez as if he had just run over her puppy. If it hadn't happened more than once over the past few weeks, it could be labeled as a fluke but somehow, despite all evidence suggesting otherwise, Nicki Minaj is actually capable of making some really valid points. When Cortez finished singing, Minaj didn't hold back when she emphatically declared that it was terrible. And she was right! But Despite Nicki's (and my) rather strong feelings, Cortez managed to make it through to the next phase.
As tough as Hollywood Week group rounds can be, some contestants actually manage to harness the potential that the opportunity to harmonize gives them. The Mat Heads, which one can only assume was meant to be a clever play on the fact that two of the four members' first names start with, "M-a-t," was one group who managed to overcome the odds and impress the judges. Each of the members, Nick Boddington, Mathenee Treco, Matheus Fernandes, and Gabe Brown sang (or in the case of Gabe, screamed) their way into the solo round, which was really only fair after having to listen to Nicki give feedback in her faux-British accent. Why, oh why, can't the producers use their powers for good rather than evil and zap Nicki with a cattle prod every time she goes all Madonna on us? Where are the comment cards when you need one?
Meanwhile in another group, Charlie Askew, who struggles in social situations, and Curtis Finch, Jr. who apparently struggles in any situation which isn't all about him, were failing to find the cohesion that is so vital to the success of a group. But despite their early struggles, the group turns out a really excellent performance. How excellent? Well, Nicki Minaj actually joined her co-judges in a standing ovation!
But after 11 seasons, viewers know that the road from Hollywood is littered with the broken dreams of those who couldn't handle the pressure. Group after group fell victim to the curse of forgotten lyrics, including some early favorites like Frankie Ford, who explained in his first audition that he sings on the train to earn money and 16-year old Kayden Stephenson, whose elimination was particularly disheartening because of his terminal illness. Kayden, as young as he is, handled his elimination with poise, explaining that he's going to use this season as a learning experience so he can return next year and win. Frankie also vows to come back next year but with markedly less composure, as he continues the drama queen tirade that began the night before and ultimately led to his demise in his group performance.
Then there are those who should have gone home but inexplicably make it through. Like Johnny Keyser. Johnny, (who as loyal readers will recall, was not a favorite of mine last season) claimed that he struggled with the lyrics of the song, "I'll Be There," because he had never heard the song. Keith Urban was understandably dubious about this claim considering it is a classic and Johnny chose the song for his group!
Johnny should have gone home just for being full of . . . errr, for questionable integrity.
But no! Johnny is given a second chance whereas poor Kayden was sent packing. No doubt Nicki, who found Johnny attractive when he first auditioned, had something to do with his salvation. Nicki was like a one woman rescue unit on Wednesday night, saving contestants like Papa Peachez and all of the members of the group B Side, who butchered Maroon Five's song, "Payphone," so badly that poor Randy was begging them to "hang up the phone."
But Thursday night, the contestants who made it through will face tough odds again. Only 20 of the 43 remaining will stay. What did you think of the changes to Hollywood Week and which guys do you think deserve to claim a spot in the top 20? Sound off in the comments below!