Make no mistake, fair television consumers: To American Idol contestants, Hollywood Week provides all the comfort of a rusty guillotine. It is here that wheat is separated from chaff. Tears and backbiting go hand-in-hand during this brutal all-night display. Heck, there’s even an ambulance this time around.
First things first: Judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan have a group of 175 doe-eyed singers to winnow through, and they do so first by lining them up, several at a time, and asking them to turn out a very short solo performance. Thus begins the Hollywood Chainsaw Massacre.
Guitar-playing Texas college student Laci Kaye Booth showed enough spark during her original audition to become Katy Perry’s “diamond in the rough.” Here in La La Land, Laci cranks out a few bars of Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and she’s nervous as she realizes just how many other talented hopefuls she’s surrounded by. That’s right -- tremble, sweet lass, for fame will not come without anguish.
Also in line with Laci is Pomona, California multi-talent Alejandro Aranda, who admits that he grew up with a lack of confidence. He thankfully checks the childhood angst at the door when, strapped with his guitar, he finger-picks and croons his way through Justin Bieber’s “Sorry.” Lionel blurts out that he could watch Alejandro do his thing all day on stage. And so both he and Laci make it through to the Group Round.
Crazy Chicken Girl Courtney Penry sobs and belly-flops her way through Kelly Clarkson’s “Whole Lotta Woman.” Later days, sweetie. This brings us to the quadruple threat of New York teen Madson Vandenburg (who also goes with a Kelly Clarkson song; “Already Gone”), bundle of nerves Margie Mays (Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down”), country guy Tyler Mitchell (he flies by so fast that I didn’t catch his tune) and 10-months-sober Logan Johnson (Dallas Green’s “Sensible Heart”). All four sail through to the next round with Luke proclaiming, “You’re some of the strongest singers.”
Eddie Island is up, and he admits he’s been tossing his cookies all day and “feeling kinda gross.” Luckily, the judges are spared any projectile-vomiting from Eddie on stage while he makes his way through Death Cab For Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into The Dark.” Katy visibly sings along, which is a good sign that, yes, Eddie will live to barf in the next round.
Texas cowboy Colby Swift is back in front of us, with holes in his worn-out boots. He makes a rough start as he attempts to play guitar while singing “Before The Next Teardrop Falls” by the late Freddy Fender, but Luke saves Colby’s butt by telling him to chuck the instrument and just belt the song out a cappella. This makes all the difference, and the 19-year-old gets through along with Shawn Robinson, Katie Belle and Dalton Elliott -- but not before Luke literally removes his own boots and gifts them to Colby as he exits the stage. Movin’ right along.
Now, children, we knew this was going to happen, didn’t we? When Ashton Gill originally brought along the previous season’s Laine Hardy to accompany her on guitar for her audition and they subsequently both received golden tickets, it was a given that only one would be standing by the end of Hollywood Week. In a nutshell, Ashton, 20, bombs with Bonnie Raitt chestnut “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” while Laine finds redemption with The Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels.” And away he goes.
The next line contains Waxahachie, Texas songbird Jade Flores, who wants to be the first Hispanic country singer and is feeling super happy with her “sexy red hair,” along with Vietnamese teen dynamo Myra Tran and church janitor Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon, whose audition with original song “Almost Heaven” a couple weeks back still haunts me. For Jeremiah, the stakes are especially high since, he admits, he quit his job because his being openly gay wasn’t accepted by either the church or his family. Thankfully, all three survive the line. Next!
It’s also a good day if your name is Walker, as both Birmingham, Alabama crooner Walker Burroughs and Pittsburgh teen/Gabby Barrett mentee Nate Walker zip through to the Group Round.
Not as fortunate is Lauren Engle, whose husband, you may recall, was killed the year prior in a car accident. She lacks the vocal chops to pull of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.” Thus, it’s the end of the line for her, but Nick Townsend, the guy whose brothers tragically both committed suicide, soars to the next round.
Wade Cota turns out X Ambassadors “Litost” and finds himself safe, along with Baltimore hopeful Dimitrius Graham, who Facetimes his line performance of “Wind Beneath My Wings” for his mom, who is going into surgery the next day. Both contestants are safe, but it’s curtains for Peach Martine (she hilariously vows, “I’m gonna be the next Mick Jagger and they can all watch!”), Israeli transplant Jorgie and Sgt. Landon Knowlton. Neeeext.
The final contestants we see escape the initial axe are Los Angeles driver Juan Pablo, 90 Day Fiancé alum Evelyn Cormier, dental hygienist Ashley Hess and legally blind teen Shayy.
And now we’ve gone from 175 nervous faces to 98 completely terrified ones. Prepare yourself for the Circus Maximus-esque bloodbath known as the Group Rounds.
Myra Tran, Juan Pablo, Jade Flores and new face (to Idol, but not The Voice) Moriah Formica make up Diversity. Juan Pablo tries to boss the ladies around while rehearsing, but they’re not featuring that B.S., and the three of them sass him back. This causes Juan Pablo to retreat to the janitor’s closet to practice alone, but the quartet manages to pull their performance of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” together enough that three of the group members survive. Getting the chop is a teary-eyed Jade Flores.
We also bid farewell to a trio of country contestants: Florida teen Chloe Channell, who first auditioned with ‘90s country star Billy Dean by her side; champion clogger Zebulon Spencer; and 15-year-old Ethan Payne, who once sang on stage with Luke the Make A Wish Foundation. Showbiz is a heartless dream crusher, kiddies. NEXT.
Katie Belle, Laine Hardy, Laci Kay Booth and Colby Swift make up Diamond Dixies. During rehearsal, the vocal coach hands all four their asses for extreme floptitude. You can see why when go-time happens, and Laine can’t even remember the title of their song when presenting their performance to the judges. (For the record, it’s “Grenade” by Bruno Mars.) Colby suffers his own fatal mistake by forgetting the lyrics. It’s no surprise when he’s the one sent packing. At least he’s got Luke Bryan’s boots, right, y’all?
Meanwhile, Wade Cota not only forgets the lyrics while performing “California Dreamin’” with his group Victorious Secret for the judges (despite writing the lyrics on his arm in marker); he’s straight-up never even heard of the Mamas & The Papas classic before. Oh, Wade. In his case, it doesn’t matter, however, as he and strawberry farmer Kason Lester both live to see another episode.
They’re followed by Unexpected Vibe, a group containing Shayy, Dimitrius Graham, Assata Renay and William Oliver. Shayy’s lack of vision takes its toll when she’s not able to read the lyric sheet for Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way” during rehearsal. Enter the 18-year-old’s mother, who pulls Shayy aside for an hour and helps her out. With the rest of her group having her back and wearing dark-tinted goggles in a show of support, legally blind Shayy knocks it out of the park, along with Assata and Dimintrius, during a moving performance that would surely have all five BSB members bowing down in appreciation. For William Oliver, though, it’s the end of the line.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger as Nate Walker is rushed to the hospital by paramedics before he can rehearse Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” with the rest of his group. To be continued, kiddos, on Monday (March 25) night.