Group Day is the Shakespearean drama of the "American Idol" auditions, where all the bad blood and backstabbing makes for terrible singing — but good television.
It's the most pointless day of the competition as far as identifying talent is concerned. The show is searching for an individual winner, not a team, and once the competition begins the only tandem efforts are the dopey time-fillers that don't count for anything. Moreover, if choreography and dance moves were so important, Carrie Underwood would never have made it out of the audition stage last season, and she wound up winning the competition.
The only point is to get everyone tired, stressed out and yelling at each other so the show's producers can tease the tears, pointed fingers and bleeped-out f-bombs for all the promos.
Terrell tortures teammates
This season's edition was a little less dramatic than usual, but it did have its villains. The Brittenum twins, who made news before the Hollywood round even began for allegedly committing identity theft, and have been the main men on camera ever since, did another clinic on how not to win friends or influence people. But like all good villains, they did get to be at least partially redeemed in the end.
Terrell Brittenum was the main source of drama in his group, and it was the good fortune of the show's producers that it drew the No. 2 position and got on the air early.
Two of the other three men sentenced to deal with Brittenum wanted to go to bed and rest up for the early-morning sing time, but he would have none of it. With Anthony Hanson as a silent but apparently willing partner, he called the rooms of Elliott Yamen and Jose "Sway" Penala, trying to browbeat them into rehearsing. When that failed, he told Hanson not to worry, to let him do the talking the next day and everything would be fine.
Indeed, Brittenum played the tattletale as soon as the music stopped, saying that he and Hanson were trying to rehearse while the other lazy duo went to bed. He got the immediate smackdown from Randy, who said "That boy right there [Yamen] was the best of all y'all."
Of course, Brittenum changed his tune quickly, particularly when Hansen was voted off and the other three moved on. "We had someone who was tone-deaf in the group," Terrell said, clearly referring to Hanson. In the background, Yamen rolled his eyes, remembering that a few minutes ago Brittenum had been looking to throw him under the tour bus to save himself.
But that was nothing compared to his brother, who threw a hissyfit for the "Idol" ages.
Derrell's tantrumDerrell Brittenum sounded a lot better than his brother on "Can't Help Myself," and made it through to the next round. However, he apparently thought his brother had been cut, and made a speech essentially telling the judges to take their "American Idol" competition and stick it where the sun doesn't shine, because they were going to go home and make an album of songs they wanted and sell a trillion records and live happily ever after.
Of course, the judges let him walk. And of course, Derrell was wrong, and his brother had not been cut at all. Terrell made him go back and apologize, and Simon read them the riot act and made them sit and stew about their fate for half an hour. He asked the rest of the contestants if they should be allowed to stay, and got only tepid applause. On the other hand, he got a loud ovation when telling the twins he was sick of their attitude.
Of course, they got to stay in the show anyway. Good television, after all.
Drama queenThe Brittenums weren't the only villians. Tyra Juliette Schwartz abandoned her group a half an hour before their singing time, rejoining the group that she had dropped out of the previous night.
It turned out that in her case, duplicity did pay. Everyone in her old group got sent home, presumably in part because they had to adjust everything on the fly when Schwartz left. Everyone in her new group made it through, though Schwartz herself was left to dangle for a few seconds. "And everyone's friends again," Simon snidely said in one of the best lines of the day.
Bad day for cowboysThe human interest story came in the final group: singing cowboys Michael Evans, Matthew Buckstein and Garet Layne Johnson. Johnson looked to be one of the favorites of the other contestants, judging by the ovations he typically received after he performed, but it was more because of his personality and his effort than his abilities.
Johnson has a nice voice, but was much rawer than anyone else in the competition and had no rhythm at all. After a mediocre performance — and an unfortunate hip-thrust joke by Buckstein, particularly given the whole Cory Clark-Paula Abdul drama that took up much of last season — all three were cut.
"Sorry I let you down," Johnson said outside in the lobby.
Buckstein was having none of it. "You didn't let me down. You did the best you could, and that's all you can ask of anyone out of life," he said.
Weirdly, a show that does so well in the ratings and usually tries to eke every ounce of usable footage (and the accompanying commercial time and product placement opportunities) brushed through the final acapella performances in about 30 seconds of airtime. In a flash, the remaining contestants were spilt into four rooms to await their fate.
Usually the producers milk this portion for all its worth, letting the audience do a few minutes of analysis before revealing the results.
Not this time. The whole process took less than five minutes. After all the buildup, the ending was a letdown — like being told "Oh, yeah, Darth Vadar is Luke Skywalker's father" an hour into "Star Wars."
Group one had Gina Glockman, who forgot the lyrics to her song in the acapella, and Tyra Juliette “Benedict Arnold” Schwartz. That was a bad sign for everyone else in the group, and indeed they all were cut.
Group two had Chris Daughtry, who was among the best of the first day's auditioners, and Mandisa Hundley, the performer who Simon made the "do we have a big enough stage" crack about that comes up tomorrow, judging from the preview. They made it.
Group three had Terrell Brittenum, Paris Bennett and Taylor Hicks. It would have been a moderate surprise had Hicks not made the cut, but Bennett was a mortal lock based on everything the 17-year-old has shown so far. They got the good news as well.
Judging from their faces as they heard the second group cheer, the contestants in the fourth room knew the odds were against them. Of course, it also had some of the more talented voices in the competition. There was Kellie Pickler, this season's early Carrie Underwood clone, and Brett "Ace" Young, who was so good in his individual song early in the week. It also had 16-year-old Kevin Covais and … oh yeah, the other Brittenum twin. Did this seem like a group destined to be sent home?
It did not, and the members were among the 44 who advanced to the final stage of the auditions. But as everyone went out into the main room and celebrated, one person was silent. Terrell Brittenum did not see his brother, and was clearly a wreck.
But in the end, the two reunited, and hugged each other. Even backstabbing blabbermouths can be happy. At least for a little while. Twenty people who were celebrating at the end of this episode will be sent home on tomorrow's show, when the final 24 performers are named.
Craig Berman lives in Washington, D.C. and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.