‘American Idol’ Thins The Herd On Group Day

Some early favorites are sent packing during the first group round.

As usual, chaos, quarreling and drama ruled on group night on “American Idol.” Wednesday’s show found the 95 remaining singers shoehorning themselves into unnatural combinations that mostly upped the already tension-filled pressure-cooker atmosphere as battle lines were drawn over choreography, harmony, personality and anything else worth arguing about.

Tears were shed, fingers were pointed, and lyrics were blown time and again, as the groups spent the traditional sleepless night working on their steps and trying to find their groove. Meanwhile, viewers’ heartstrings were pulled by big Michael Lynche monitoring his wife’s labor on his cell phone and listening as his daughter was born across the continent in New York.

First up was the group named Faith, singing Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable” in near enough harmony to allow Charity Vance, Ashley Rodriguez and Michelle Delamor to advance, even with Vance’s thin, squeaky high notes and spartan choreography.

Lynche was up next with Team Awesome, singing the Temptations’ “Get Ready.” Country hunk Tim Urban did his part, as did Lynche, but the group’s other two members, third-timer Seth Rollins, a father of two, and Michael Castro, younger brother of Jason Castro , didn’t make the cut. For Castro it was strike two in the Hollywood round.

Two groups chose to sing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and, fortunately for Team Neapolitan, they went first. While Liz Rooney’s platinum-blond hair with pink highlights grabbed plenty of attention, her bum notes appeared to melt the group’s chances. But Thaddeus Johnson and Pussycat Dolls-alike Jessica Cunningham redeemed the quartet with strong vocals. “I actually thought in its own way that was very good,” Simon Cowell said, praising their effort to the chagrin of rival group Destiny’s Wild, who were miffed that Neapolitan seemingly stole their idea to do the song a cappella.

Wild had nothing to worry about, as their strong vocals, acrobatic choreography and infectious energy won the day. Between Todrick Hall’s gymnastics and soulful vocals, Theri and Jareb Liewer’s impassioned singing and Siobhan Magnus’ scratchy soul bark, Wild made it — just barely. “It really was weird,” new judge Ellen DeGeneres said, comparing their outfits to Cirque du Soleil, but ultimately putting them through.

The Mighty Rangers struggled to get enough practice time, and while Tori Kelly and Maddie Penrose did their part on Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” the house fell down when Mark Labriola and Kimberly Kerbow both forgot the words, prompting DeGeneres to ask them to stop. Kelly and Penrose got good news, while a weepy Labriola, wiggy Kerbow and Danny Jones were sent home, with Labriola tearfully begging for one more chance in his last year of eligibility.

Just moments before Phoenix took the stage, one member bolted because she couldn’t stand the pressure, leaving Ben Honeycutt, Jeff Goldford, Moorea Masa and Jermaine Sellers to soldier on singing Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son.” It wasn’t great, with Kara comparing it to “Survivor” and Cowell saying their excuses weren’t cutting it. “The struggle was you had 12 hours to learn the song — that is not hardship,” he said. Gritty crooner Goldford and smooth singer Sellers got passes, while the other two were sent packing.

Note to future “Idol” wannabes: don’t pick Gwen Stefani’s “The Sweet Escape,” because if you forget the lyrics and toss bum notes, you will fail. Stefani was not kind to Orlando auditioner Matt Lawrence, who spent four years in jail for robbing a bank when he was 15, or Amanda Shectman, who won the panel over at her audition with some drama-queen antics. Both bit it hard on “Escape,” forgetting the words and mumbling so unintelligibly that Cowell didn’t even let them finish. “There isn’t going to be any ‘You step forward.’ … It was so horrific,” he said, summarily dismissing the quartet.

Middle C brought it with Janell Wheeler, Jermaine Purifory and pretty boy Casey James nailing their version of Ne-Yo’s “Closer,” while early front-runner Andrew Garcia lifted his group Three Men and a Baby higher, anchoring a solid performance of Alicia Keys’ “No One” that also featured soulful turns from 17-year-old Katie Stevens and recent high school grad J. B. Ahfua.

The final group was the Dreamers, a five-piece that seemed to spend most of their time arguing. Rock mom Mary Powers started things off by throwing a nervous laugh into her intro on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” which drew a harsh stare from Cowell. With lame choreography and thin vocals, things weren’t much better for Texas bartender Hope Johnson, tone-deaf waitress Margo May or nervous-looking Texas teen Alex Lambert. “It’s like the dream died somewhere on that stage,” DioGuardi quipped.

Despite the drama, Powers, Johnson and Lambert made it through, joining the 68 other singers who made it to the next round. Hollywood continues next week in the wind-up to the choosing of the top 24.

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