"American Idol" opened with 70 contestants Thursday (February 16) and ended with 42, as the Las Vegas cuts — referred to alternately as "brutal," "painful" and "deep" — lived up to their billing.
Some who made it through on the strength of their performances were later told they, in fact, didn't make it through, a new twist. The twist wasn't given a name, but it should have been called the "Gotcha!" — as in, "Oh, you thought you were going to go on to achieve your dream of being a singer? Gotcha!"
In Vegas, contestants were asked to form groups and sing songs from the '50s and '60s onstage at the Aria hotel, home to the "Viva Elvis" show.
The episode began, as all future "Idol" episodes should, with Heejun Han talking directly into the camera while wearing a red hooded sweatshirt. Han's feud with this year's resident cowboy contestant, Richie Law, has already proven he's a dry-witted jokester at heart. But Han is also able to turn on the charm, such as when he tamed the "Vocal Coach from Hell," Peggi Blu, and turned her into a pile of mush in his own hands. Regardless of Han's chances this season, he should be considered for the position of next "Idol" host, should Ryan Seacrest ever abandon his post. Or hey, isn't "The X Factor" looking for a new emcee?
Han — God bless Steven Tyler, who sang "Heejun" to the tune of "Hey Jude" when calling his name — made it through to the next round, along with groupmates Phillip Phillips (he apparently is going by "Phil" Phillips now, but we still prefer Phillip Phillips) and Neco Starr. Jairon Jackson initially made it through but then caught an ax to his jugular after the "Gotcha!" twist reared its ugly head. Sorry, man, no one said Las Vegas was going to be all fun and games.
Richie Law, who tormented Han when they were groupmates in Hollywood, found a new victim to torture in Las Vegas in Jermaine Jones. The two baritones made for an unlikely duo, joining forces on "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," but they pulled it off — but only after Law once again showed his stubbornness, telling cameras, "I didn't come here to recycle music; I came here to make it." His determination paid off, but he needs to find a less aggressive way to celebrate; Jones accused him of both bruising his rotator cup and almost taking his neck off while manhandling him following their victory.
The foursome to watch Thursday was the group composed of Reed Grimm, Elise Testone, Haley Johnson and Eben Franckewitz, who earned a standing ovation from the judges and were dubbed "unreal" by Steven Tyler for their version of "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes." The performance came together in note-perfect fashion, as both Grimm — compared by some to an emerging Casey Abrams, though he reminds us more of actor Ethan Embry for some reason — and heartthrob-in-training Franckewitz made their presences felt.
Other victims of the "Gotcha" twist included Gabi Carrubba, Candice Glover, Jairon Jackson, Gaga-alike Angie Ziederman and Schyler Dixon, whose brother, Colton, made it through to the next round. Singers who just plain got cut the first time around included Molly Hunt, Curtis Gray, Curtis Finch Jr., Mathenee Treco and Nick Boddington.
While most contestants took their dismissals in stride, Jessica Phillips wins the Sour Grapes Award for most bitter rant of the night, telling cameras, "I'm an actual artist. It just doesn't seem like they're looking for real artists," after the judges told her to pack her bags. She continued: "I didn't come here to win a television show; I came here for a record deal. And, um, a lot of people are making it through that are not real artists, and they're not going to sell any records, and I don't have to worry about that because that's not me."
Britnee Kellogg, the 27-year-old single mom from Vancouver, Washington, sang alongside Phillips and initially made it through, but was later cut thanks to the "Gotcha!" Only 24-year-old Courtney Williams of Philadelphia made it through from their original trio.
Next week, the Idols will continue to fight for their lives as the field is narrowed from 42 to 24.
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