Wednesday night (February 16) smelled like sleep deprivation, bad craft service and embarrassing levels of desperation. It's not VMA week here at MTV (kidding), so it must mean one thing: Hollywood Group Number Night on "American Idol"!
In the past, we've had havoc-wreakers like the Brittenum Brothers, Tatiana del Toro, Julia DeMato and Antonella Barba. Who will step up and be this season's resident diva?
As it turns out, a bunch of people!
Thanks to producers insisting that each group feature singers from both days of the first Hollywood round (thus thwarting savvy hopefuls who secretly created groups and rehearsed on their day off), contestants' true colors shone through immediately.
The first diva showdown came during the initial group number scramble. In one corner, we had "professional choreographer" Tiffany "Star Tatas" Rios, and in the other we had Scotty "I Only Know One Song" McCreery. No shocker that nobody wanted to be in Tiffany's group. Could you blame them after she boasted to the judges "I'm tired of seeing people try to do what I know I can"? But Scotty's reaction to Tiffany's invitation was surprisingly divalicious. "Sing for me," he sniffed to the desperate Rios as he sprayed his voice with some kind of magic Celine Dion vocal spray. Even cowboys get the phlegm!
Then Scotty dissed the likeable Sugarmamas, who were desperate to include a day two singer after their first nameless white dude member (who might have been Tim Heidecker) ditched them. (The Sugarmamas also ended up losing Jessica Yantz to Tiffany Rios. Perhaps they should have renamed their group the Hemorrhages.)
Scotty met his match with Jordan Dorsey, who only needed to hear two seconds of McCreery's signature "Oh baby blah blah blah lights down low" song before hilariously hissing, "No, just no." Later, Dorsey denied calling a girl "a weak link" two seconds after he called just that. Werk, delusional diva! Werk! (Eventually Jordan left his first group to go terrorize another.)
Our next diva was Guap group leader Clint Jun Gamboa, who kicked 15-year-old cherub Jacee Badeaux to the curb. Clint, Clint, Clint — even if Jacee's sweet honey-dripped tenor wasn't gelling with the group (as you claimed), didn’t you realize that you'd look like a heartless boob on television for making an adorable puppy cry? Good thing Jacee's mom passed the parent test by saying precisely the right thing to her weeping child. "You know what? It just wasn't meant to be." Four for you, Mama Badeaux! (Jacee ended up with a group who knew a thing or two about being dumped: the Sugarmamas.)
Moms were involved in another diva-off, this one with resident season 10 screamer James Durbin. Both his group, the Deep V's and the Minors (a collection of underage R&B superstars), were tackling Queen's "Somebody to Love." But his Asperger's-and-Tourette's-affected mind thought it was unfair that the 15- and 16-year-olds were getting coached by their sassy stage moms. He bitched to producers, cameras and anyone who would listen, which was basically everyone in the greater Los Angeles area since Durbin busted out his signature shriek. "Either way, our version is really gonna kick some aaaaaaaass," he said/sang as a group member visibly winced. I feel ya, bud.
Our next diva, Jacqueline Dunford, committed the cardinal sin of "Idol" Hollywood Week episodes by saying she didn't want anyone to "take control" of the group. You know where this is going. She did just that, barking orders at Rob Bolin long past 4 a.m. while his ex-girlfriend Chelsee Oaks nodded along. A defeated Rob sighed to cameras, "I don't perform with people." I guess he forgot all those years he professionally sang duets with his ex. Whoops.
The judges set the tone early on with the usual "Give it your all!" speech, although the tenth season remix featured Jennifer Lopez dressed like a 1980s soap star and Steven Tyler referencing his drug problems and then name-dropping a Guns N' Roses album. Without Simon Cowell there, Randy had the honors of giving the "Don't forget the words ... unless you're an adorable 15-year-old named Jacee Badeaux" speech.
We never learned the name of the first group, comprised of Pia Toscano, Brielle Von Hugel and Alessandra Guercio, so for the sake of recapping, I’ll give them one: The Seacrest Over-Pronounced Our Names Trio! The girls aimed for the Supremes with their arrangement and choreography on Bruno Mars' "Grenade," but instead it ended up as Supremely Cruise Ship. Regardless, they all made it.
Cameras caught J. Lo saying, "Oh my God, you guys, I'm so scared for this group," as Tiffany Rios and Jessica Yantz took the stage. They went by the name Rebelle Starr (I'm guessing that's how they spelled it) and were granted special permission to form a duo when nobody wanted to work with them. (Producers invoked the ruling from the landmark 2003 Frenchie Davis/Kimberley Locke case.) They began Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable" awkwardly sitting on the stage, and things only got worse. The judges quickly cut them. Jessica Yantz (who may have been Kara DioGuardi in a blonde Amy Winehouse wig) talked an angry Tiffany off the ledge. "I don't wanna seem like that on TV," Rios said. Girl, tell that to your tinsel weave.
Spanglish member Kevin Campos overslept (shirtless diva!) and almost missed his time to shine. He might not have a good grasp on his sleep cycle, but Kevin displayed beautiful control during Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are." Too bad his tardiness did him in. How else to explain his elimination? By comparison, the other booted Spanglish member sang as though he memorized the lyrics after shredding them. Granted, I'm still unclear as to what exactly happened after Steven Tyler botched the verdict. (These live shows are going to be epic.)
We now interrupt this recap to ask a question. What was more nauseating: Angela Cheslock's noodle in the nose trick or her group's "Let's Grind Up On Steven Tyler While We Sing" strategy? Even nastier, only 15-year-old Lauren Alaina survived the cut. Shudder.
There was a healthy amount of suspense around Ashley Sullivan's group thanks to Ashley's full blown "I'm going home, now get the cameras out my face" freak out. Ultimately, her boyfriend talked her into staying, and although she's about as stable as a Jenga tower on a three-legged table, and although she performed "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)" as though she was fiending for her next hit, the harmonies earned her group high marks from the judges. Go figure.
In the Durbin versus Stage Moms battle of the Queen songs, J. Lo dismissed the Deep V's harmonies as "a bad 'Glee' audition" while the Minors rose to the top. The teens' voices blended perfectly, their dance moves were sharp and their hunger was palpable. Stage moms, 1. Durbin, 0. Humanity, -5.
Jordan Dorsey's second group, Four Plus One, all skated through to the next round, including teenager Robbie Rosen, who looks familiar because you definitely went to theater camp on Long Island with him. Rosen was the highlight from their mixed bag of a Jackson Five cover. Dorsey was — how do I put this nicely? — not a highlight.
Meanwhile, Jordan's original group, Four Forty, slayed Cee Lo's "The Song Otherwise Known As Forget You." Argyle-sporting Adrian Michael was particularly impressive, and he has emerged as one of my favorite R&B voices this season. I wonder if Jordan's deflection to Four Plus One was less about song selection (as he claimed) and more about Adrian's intimidating pipes.
We had not one but two groups make the Temptations "Get Ready" an a cappella jam. Julie Zorrilla and Casey Abrams' Night Owls' take was sloppy, while Naima Adedapo's Ebony, Ivory and Every group rearranged the entire song to show off each member's strength. No surprise that Zorrilla and Abrams were the only two Night Owls asked to continue hooting, while every member of Ebony, Ivory and Every made it to the next round.
Early fave Chris Medina was one of Four Non Blondes and That Guy, but without his back story setting up the audition, Medina was upstaged by actor Carson Higgins (the Nick Mitchell-esque "That Guy" in the group). Medina still made it through. (Earlier in the episode, we saw fellow sob story Paris Tassin getting the ax.)
The most likeable group was definitely Sugarmama and the Babies (formerly the Sugarmamas). Brett Loewenstern continued his streak of bringing me non-stop joy with his charming quirks and soulful voice, while mama hen Denise Jackson warmed my heart by taking Jacee under her wing. "You have a lot of fans out there," Randy told Jacee after the crowd cheered for him despite mangling the lyrics to Duffy's "Misery" beyond recognition. Welcome to "American Idol X: Hand Holding The Young'ns."
The judges took the Guaps to task for dumping Jacee Badeaux, and that verbal whipping gave Scotty McCreery an opportunity to redeem himself. "I apologize for not sticking up for him. I love all y'all, but Jacee's the best kid in this whole competition," he said. All is forgiven, Country Diva! Now I can focus on how out of place your country baritone sounds singing the Temptations.
Fellow Guap Clint Jun Gamboa maintained that ditching Jacee was the right call. (The cajones!) It's a good thing he tore his solo up, delivering the kind of notes and intensity James Durbin only thinks he can achieve. The judges agreed, although they made him sweat his verdict as payback for making Jacee cry. All of the Guaps moved on, including new exciting faces Monique de los Santos and Frances Coontz, who looks like every girl in Williamsburg.
Last but not least, there was Three's Company (aka Two Exes and a She Beast). Jacqueline Dunford joked that she would tase the exhausted Rob Bolin right before he performed. Funny, then, that she sounded like she was being zapped while shouting an R-rated Cee Lo's "F--- You." (Inexplicably, she moved on.) Rob's ex, Chelsee Oak, earned points in my book for refusing to change the song's pronouns. And poor depressed Rob, browbeaten and lovesick, all but gave up as he changed the lyrics to, "I'm so tired — I don't know the words." Judging from the death stares he gave his ex as she told cameras, "He'll always be one of my very best friends," I think his grueling "Idol" experience was the swift kick in the butt he needed to get over Chelsee.
And in the end, isn't destroying hopes and dreams what "American Idol" is all about?
What did you think of Group Night 2011? Do you have any new favorites? Were you frustrated that a large chunk of people we saw audition were eliminated during a quick montage? (We'll always have San Francisco, Emily Anne Reed.) Were any of the group numbers as good as "Band of Gold" or "How Deep Is Your Love" from past seasons? For more "Idol" insanity, follow me on Twitter @jambajim!