The Hollywood round is the eye in the "American Idol" hurricane: its intense competition, singing, and critiques come without the insufferable studio audience or the tedious elimination ceremonies that start later this month. But so far this season, the Hollywood round seems more like a tornado, ripping around randomly before destroying itself.
While "American Idol" found a groove during this year's auditions, it lost all of its momentum in Hollywood, which was given five hours and four episodes this year instead of three hours and two episodes last year.
After slogging through a dull first day that focused on remarkably few singers, the second day only offered interpersonal drama and a ridiculous number of montages. There was also a lot of talking: Ryan Seacrest's narration was far more present than actual singing, as he told viewers more than they actually saw, which is never a good sign, even for a talent competition television series.
Either the editors were being lazy or there just isn't much to show, so Ryan's talents have to fill in the gaping holes, neither of which bodes well for the next three months.
Still, "American Idol" piled on the rhetoric. "This will separate the real ones from the fake ones," Randy Jackson boasted at the start of the contestants' first day in Hollywood, but that wasn't even close to being true. And when Ryan Seacrest said that "this year's talent is truly unbelievable," he was being tragically literal.
First, the joke contestants that the judges sent to Hollywood for no good reason at all were allowed to stick around so the show could squeeze more entertainment out of them. That was particularly true of Katrina "Bikini Girl" Darrell, who was the not-so-bright star of the first Hollywood week.
Katrina, who apparently actually believed Simon and Randy's fake praise that was based on her body and not her singing, was allowed to stay deluded for one more day, as the judges advanced her past the first round.
She stuck around long enough to sabotage her group by going to sleep instead of rehearsing, blaming high heels and scoliosis rather than her inability to sing more than a few palatable notes. After staying in bed and thus essentially quitting the competition, she finally showed up, only to be sent home along with all but one member of her group.
There's entertainment: dreams wrecked by Simon Cowell and Randy Jackson's libidos.
Auditions had more credibility than Hollywood roundMore significantly, that kind of nonsense both hurts the credibility the show had established over its initial three weeks of auditions, which mostly disposed of clearly awful, jokey singers quickly to give more attention to those who could sing.
The opposite should not be happening during the Hollywood round.
Because the producers insisted on focusing on catfights and quarrels, the second of two Hollywood hours all but ignored some truly amazing singers. While we saw Kris Allen, Matt Giraud, India Morrison, and Justin Williams put on an amazing performance, they were otherwise ignored, as was a group that performed a cappella.
All viewers really saw were those groups' performances, not their rehearsals or discussions about what they planned to do. At the very least, that sort of footage should have been combined with the interpersonal drama that came from groups that were in constant conflict with one another.
Another side effect of that awkward focus was that "American Idol" had little time to say goodbye to those who got attention during the auditions, instead lumping their departures together in brief, unceremonious montages, because there weren't enough of those already.
That included David "yes, as in Donny and Marie" Osmond, but not, alas, the singer who performs as nerdy character Norman Gentle. Simon Cowell admitted Gentle was "a joke" and "ridiculous" but he got to stay around anyway.
But at least day two was more entertaining than day one, which dragged on as it disposed of 43 contestants. And let's not forget the brief non-appearance appearance by "surprise mentor" Barry Manilow, who was only surprising because he's the same kind of old, irrelevant singer that the show continually drags out even as it demands its contestants be relevant to audiences.
This season started out with a clear trajectory, one that earned new life thanks to a new judge and an intensified focus on good singers and their stories. But the first two Hollywood episodes were ultimately just a mess, both as television and in terms of the competition.
Seventy-five singers and three hours remain in the Hollywood round, which will only get rid of 39 of those people, allowing for the first-ever top 36 semi-finalists. If those semi-final rounds are going to start with viewers caring about or actually knowing any of the contestants, Hollywood better live up to its reputation this week.