Hollywood Week kicked off Wednesday on "American Idol," and more than half the field of 212 "Idol" hopefuls was cut before the end of the two-hour episode. A fair number of contestants didn't even make it to their hotel, in a new twist that made this visit to Hollywood "Idol's" most ruthless one yet.
"If you think you know Hollywood Week, think again," Ryan Seacrest said, teasing format changes. Keith Urban's new haircut seemed to be the first. (His shaggy 'do has been upgraded to a tighter, more head-fitting cut.)
Upon their arrival in L.A., the "Idols' " first stop was an airplane hangar, where selected contestants — those who were on the fence after their initial auditions — were asked to sing for their lives.
"The judges expect greatness," Seacrest explained, and many did not deliver. Neco Starr did, however, ripping a note-perfect rendition of Bruno Mars' "Gorilla" that produced audible gasps in the room. Those 52 contestants were split into two groups — one group continued on and the other group was bused straight home. And it was pretty clear that those not in Starr's group — including first season "Idol" finalist Nikki McKibbin's son, 15-year-old Tristen Langley — were the ones who were being unceremoniously sent home.
That quickie round cut 32 contestants from the talent pool. The remaining 180 contestants were sent to the renamed Dolby Theatre, where many an "Idol" dream has come true. Here, it was business as usual, Hollywood Week-style, with groups of 10 sent to sing in a line, and individuals asked to either step forward or step back to receive their fate.
There were standouts: Majesty Rose York of Goldsboro, NC, sang a plain, perfect version of Feist's "1, 2, 3, 4" that made Jennifer Lopez beam "I love her," while Bria Anai — who made an impression in her audition with her sparkly purple lipstick, which she upgraded to ruby red for Hollywood — slayed the room with her audacious take on Jessie J's "Who You Are." The episode was economical, concentrating its airtime on contestants who sailed through the auditions, only briefly mentioning those who did not.
Other standouts: Jena Asciutto of Farmington Hills, Mich., who banged out Lana Del Rey's "Video Games" and nearly took away the breath of Urban; the "supremely fierce" Emmanuel Zidor, who hails from Miami and belted out the "Dreamgirls" staple "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going"; Caleb Johnson, whose rocker personality recalls Jack Black in "School of Rock," and who ripped through the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil"; and the great C.J. Harris of Salt Lake City, the guitar teacher whose stunning version of Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble" immediately catapulted him to the forefront of this year's competition.
The remaining 104 contestants were then asked to form groups for "Idol's" infamous group round, and the episode's final 20 minutes focused on the drama and shenanigans that make this exercise such a will breaker for many. "Idol" doesn't care how you perform in a group, it's a personality test, and it drives some to their limits. The segment mostly consisted of pink-and-black haired Jessica Meuse's struggle to find a group after her initial group imploded, while the trio of Casey Thrasher, Dexter Roberts and Ben Briley had the good ol' boy chemistry that Simon Cowell was looking for on the last season of "X Factor" when he put together Restless Road.
Hollywood Week's restless road continues Thursday with Group Round, which promises to slash the talent pool in half yet again. This season of "Idol" seems extraordinarily down-to-business, and so far we're loving every minute of it.
What did you think of "Idol's" kickoff to Hollywood Week? Let us know in the comments!