At the beginning of Tuesday’s episode, Ryan Seacrest promised viewers a brand-new Hollywood week. Mercifully, one wrinkle was the absence of the group sing that’s been a staple of previous seasons and mainly served to provide footage of the contestants behaving badly toward each other.
But from a competitive standpoint, the big change was that nobody was cut in the first round. Either people got enough yes votes to advance all the way to the final performances, or they would have come back for a sing-for-your-life audition. It was a kinder, gentler Hollywood round, albeit one where 100-plus talented performers were getting their dreams crushed within shouting distance of stardom, or at least temporary fame.
The new rule made the process more fair to the contestants, since they were ensured at least two chances to perform and could not be eliminated by a jet-lag induced first-day flameout. In effect, however, it made the opening portion of the show bereft of drama.
Most of the featured singers were those like Carly Smithson and Michael Johns, music veterans who sang like the professionals they arguably already are. Others, like Josiah Leming, aren’t locks to make the final 24 but weren’t in danger of getting cut before the final performance either.
But after the showcases and the usual stories about people who were nervous, hoarse, sick, cranky and battling adversity, sing-for-your-life day finally dawned and the cuts began.
Sad day for the single parents
Simon Cowell began the day with a pep talk. “Good luck. It’s do or die,” he said. It’s no shock that he doesn’t make a living as a motivational speaker.
That was an appropriate beginning to the sad portion of the episode.
Remember those heartwarming audition stories that the producers showed? The sad but ultimately uplifting stories of people overcoming adversity and personal tragedy to earn their golden tickets?
Yeah, well, a lot of those people are gone now.
Single dad Perrie Cataldo was a feel-good story from the San Diego auditions, and single mom Suzanne Toon charmed the judges in Miami.
Neither had the same kind of luck in Hollywood and both were sent home. Neither, however, was ready to rant and rave about it.
“Wow. That’s all I gotta say really is wow. I ain’t gonna cry about it,” Cataldo said afterward.
“I was really nervous. I thought I would perform better than I did,” Toon said. “Bummer.”
Compelling story doesn’t guarantee survival
Amy Flynn made it out of Charleston, S.C., with a strong performance and a story about giving talks promoting abstinence from drugs, sex and alcohol. She got a quick return ticket back to high school, though at her age there’s a pretty good chance she’ll make it back to “Idol” down the road.
Kayla Hatfield survived a near-fatal car accident. Anjelica Puente made her dad proud by auditioning after moving out of the house as a 17-year-old. Neither got to tell the next chapter in the saga before being cut. Joey Catalano lost more than 200 pounds before impressing the judges in Philadelphia, but got a migraine at the worst possible time and couldn’t overcome it.
Angela Martin was probably the saddest story. The Chicago native told her story at the Philadelphia auditions about wanting to make a better life for her two-year-old daughter with Rett Syndrome. The single mother suffered a further blow when her father was killed right before the Hollywood audition. And the judges showed her no mercy — she, too, was sent home.
“I’m not gonna stop. I’m gonna keep trying, so it’s OK,” Martin said. “I came to Hollywood. Now I’ll move onto something else. I’m a strong person.”
The “Idol” cameras moved on as well.
Those singers remaining got to perform again, and unlike previous seasons where they were divided into several rooms to wait for news, this year they heard their fate right after the notes died down.
David Archuleta overcame the historical reluctance against having teenage boys make it past Hollywood, and his version of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven” was more than good enough. Syesha Mercado was worried enough after struggling with her voice that she wrote her comments for Ryan on flashcards instead of talking, and the strategy paid off as she came through with a superb effort.
Smithson and Johns advanced as well, and it would be a shock not to see them in the final 24. Asia’H Epperson continued her string of strong solos and advanced. Beauty queen Brooke Helvie did not, but the only shock there was that the one positive vote she had was from Simon, and Paula Abdul was the one who cast the tie-breaking vote.
Wannabe governor pulls through
The biggest surprise, without a doubt, was Kyle Ensley.
Ensley auditioned as a 21-year-old who talked about being a future governor of Oklahoma. He doesn’t have anything to worry about from an ethical standpoint. When the hotel mistakenly gave him keys to a room occupied by two female contestants, he stammered his way out and raced back to correct the mistake. Plenty of contestants would likely have played things differently.
His first chance to sing before the judges went as poorly as possible.
Ensley went with “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” by Edison Lighthouse, and Simon stalked off in the middle of the judges’ debate, saying he couldn’t take it anymore. As the singer/politician stood shell-shocked on the stage, it was hard to see him having any chance at moving forward.
But he made it to the finale, and when he sang “You Raise Me Up” by Josh Groban it finally became possible to see a scenario where he could make the final 24. That’s still a longshot, but he did make it into the group of 50 singers who will be considered, even winning over a suitably apologetic Simon.
Liberated from the car
Less surprising but far more disappointing was Josiah Leming, the 18-year-old from Atlanta who lives in his car and has a singing voice like someone in a college Coldplay cover band.
He easily made it to the finale, with Paula gushing, “You have a magical thing about you. You make the girls fall in love with you, and the guys think you’re cool.” But for the final performance, singers got to work with the band, just like they would if they made it to the show.
That was a huge problem. The late night and inability to get in synch with the musicians left Leming feeling low. “I can’t sing in front of a band I don’t feel comfortable with,” he said. So, unrehearsed and with less than two hours of sleep, as the final performer, he thanked the band for their service and sent them away so he could sing “Stand By Me” a capella instead.
It was not a good decision. The vocals were very bad, made more obvious by the lack of any instruments to drown it out.
“That to me was your worst audition,” Randy Jackson said in the understatement of the day. “Do you want the band to come back?” Paula also slammed the choice, and Simon called him overconfident.
Though they all agreed that he deserved to be in the final 50, he had to head home wondering about his chances of advancing to the final 24. His fate, along with that of the other 49 still standing, will be officially announced Wednesday.