RECAP: American Idol Takes A Tumble

It’s uncommon, if not totally unprecedented, for a night of American Idol to end with a cliffhanger, but that’s what happened on Wednesday, which marked the beginning of the always entertaining Hollywood phase for Season 11.

We can be pretty certain teenager Symone Black will be just fine after apparently passing out and then falling off the stage, since any other outcome would have made it a noticeable news story. But it was still quite a jarring sight, which explains why the show ended with Symone being attended to by her father, Nigel Lythgoe, and an arriving medical crew. Symone had not yet gotten her verdict after a pretty solid version of “Dock of the Bay,” but assuming she’s medically cleared to go on, it’s a safe bet she will make “the dreaded group round.”

There was no shakeup to the first-day-of-Hollywood formula: the 309 who made the first cut took the stage in groups of ten, sang a song of their choosing without accompaniment, and received no feedback except a yes or a no as to whether they would move on. It’s a stark end with no hand-holding, and no one appeared to take it harder than Travis Orlando, who has had his backstory of homelessness and parental abandonment featured in the auditions two straight years, only to be sent right back. I hope someone is looking out for this kid, whose response to coming so close last season was dropping out of high school.

The Wednesday failures of some others who were featured in the auditions did not come as a surprise, as they never seemed to have the chops to go much further. It’s a fond farewell to Galveston’s Ramiro Garcia, the fellow born without ears. Jane Carrey, the daughter of Ace Ventura, was about as meh as she had been in her audition, which meant the end of the road. Her father consoled her by saying it could always be worse: people could still be mad at you for paying good money to see Mr. Popper’s Penguins. If any cut Wednesday was truly surprising, it was that of Jason “Wolf” Hamlin, who was deemed interesting enough to close the San Diego show. Looks like he was nothing without his git-fiddle.

Another singer who was allowed to play an instrument in his audition struggled noticeably without it in Hollywood: Phillip Phillips. The judges clearly remembered him because otherwise they never would have put him through to groups, but he’s still going to be one to watch if he makes the final 24 – he’s too similar to the usual winners’ type to not watch. Two others I didn’t much care for Wednesday, but who also got the positive verdict, were New York oddity Creighton Fraker, who combines a bizarre performing style with a very unpleasant tone; and ostrich-like teen Shannon Magrane, whose take on the oh-so-often-covered “Fallin’” proved that she’s still just copying those she’s heard before. Heejun Han doesn’t seem to have anything going for him but a decent Michael Bolton impression and a sad-sack personality.

In the category of “still alive, but we need to wait and see,” we have Lauren Gray, whose story finished off the St. Louis audition. She showed plenty of power there but not much finesse, and since she did the exact same thing in Hollywood, you have to wonder if this is a problem that can be fixed. Big Adam Brock, whose audition we had not seen, irritatingly claimed that “there’s a large black woman trapped inside of my body.” He has some raw talent, but he was more annoying than anything else. And while Reed Grimm is good looking and makes an effort to entertain, choices like the Willy Wonka song “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” make me wonder if he’s taking this all that seriously.

Who from Wednesday should we definitely keep in mind? There were three in particular who look like they have the goods to get to May, starting with Season 6 Hollywood flameout Baylie Brown. If she can just remember her dang lyrics this time, she’s going to be a wealthy young woman a year from now. Idol is still pushing the “Mr. Steal Your Girl” persona of Smurf-like David Leathers Jr., but the young man’s effortless ability to hit the high notes is making the stronger impression. Jessica Phillips is one of the few people we’ve seen on Idol who is good enough without her sob story (stroke victim boyfriend), as she continues to display that rarity for this show: soul without the excess.

Also advancing Wednesday was Johnny Keyser, who has an interesting musical sensibility, but is so handsome that millions will love him or hate him for that reason alone. The judges shouldn’t let him through to the final 24 unless they are completely OK with the possibility of him winning. Elise Testone, who we heard briefly in her audition, sounded like a less unhinged Lauren Gray; while a newcomer to our screens, Jen Hirsh, showed a lot of poise and range. Mobile DJ Erika Van Pelt doesn’t know how to dress (she wore a vest so tiny it made it appear she put on a bra outside her shirt), but I like the depth in her voice. And Hallie Day, she of the girl group history, new husband, and suicide attempt, was featured just long enough to increase the suspicion she’s into the voting rounds.

Thursday, Symone lives! (We’re pretty sure.)