Group night on "American Idol" is notoriously brutal. It's full of attitude, fighting, ragged nerves and exhaustion. And that's just from the audience at home watching the ridiculous diva behavior onscreen.
But after pulling an all-nighter, a number of this year's picks to click, including teens Jacee Badeaux and Lauren Alaina, as well Chris Medina, James Durbin, Brett Loewenstern and Chelsee Oaks, survived to sing another day, while some early favorites went down in flames, unable to handle the pressure.
On Wednesday night's (February 16) show, producers figured they'd up the ante this year on the contestants by telling them, after they'd already formed their groups, that they must be comprised of a mix of singers from day one and day two of last week's Hollywood eliminations. That sent the 168 remaining wannabes scrambling to rework their sets.
The first two segments were devoted to showing the high school lunchroom nightmare of singers desperate to find someone's group to join and facing heart-crushing rejection at every turn. Then, with just 10 hours to perfect their songs amid the din of nearly 170 voices roaring at once, contestants grabbed any space they could, from bathrooms to parking garages, and got to work.
The pressure almost claimed the fragile Ashley Sullivan, who came close to leaving the show, while 15-year-old Jacee Badeaux was booted from his group in the middle of the night and several other singers either got dumped or bailed on their ensembles at the 11th hour. On the verge of breaking up because they couldn't find a day-two person, redheaded bullied belter Brett Loewenstern's quartet was saved when they picked up Badeaux.
When the singers finally got a chance to, well, sing, there were plenty of new or little-seen faces who shone. Among them were New Jersey auditioner and makeup artist Pia Toscano, 22, who did her sultry best on Bruno Mars' "Grenade" in a trio that got the day started off right with yeses all around.
Male diva Jordan Dorsey bailed on his group to join up with Robbie Rosen and sing a doo-wop version of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," setting up an intense rivalry with his old cohorts, but getting sweet revenge by moving on. His old pals, though, survived the breakup as well by nailing Cee Lo Green's "Forget You."
Nobody wanted to be in a group with overconfident Tiffany Rios the night before, so the judges allowed her an exception to form a duo with tattooed blonde Jessica Yantz. "It was really bad," Randy Jackson said, though, after the pair made a hot mess of Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable."
It couldn't all be good news, as acts like Spanglish mangled Mars' "Just the Way You Are," with just two out of the four getting a pass, while Lauren Alaina's quartet asked Steven Tyler onto the stage to serenade him with Grand Funk Railroad's "Some Kind of Wonderful," buttering up the shy rocker by letting him add some of his signature yelps to their tune. Lopez dubbed their idea "cute," but in the end only Alaina made the cut.
Paris Tassin, 23, has the look and appeared to have the vocals and the story — she's the mother of a special-needs daughter — but her iffy take on Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)" flamed out. Also tanking were quirky San Francisco redhead Emily Ann Reed, bartender Alyson Jados and Aaron Gutierrez, whose brother Mark got the thumbs-up.
While Sullivan had struggled earlier, the 26-year-old pulled it together and put some girl-group sass into Blu Cantrell's "Hit 'Em Up Style (Oops!)." "It was a little pitchy here and there, right," Randy said. "But all in all, you held it together and I must say you guys were the best harmonized group I've seen," meaning her whole crew made it.
Tourette sufferer James Durbin brought out his best Adam Lambert impression again for Queen's "Somebody to Love," but was saddled with some fellow singers whose energy and vocals were totally flat. And whereas his sky-high falsetto wails were charming before, the judges cringed a bit this time around. "The harmonies were almost painful, really guys it was like a bad 'Glee' audition," Lopez said, giving Durbin one more chance while sending most of his pals home.
With a bit too much help from their stage moms, the Minors angered Durbin and his cohorts, but the five teens brought some gospel soul to the same Queen ballad, earning a standing ovation from the judges and the other contestants. "This is what I joined forces with 'American Idol' to hear," Tyler gushed. "That was as good as it gets," he added, and needless to say Keonna Evans (16), Jalen Harris (15), Sarina-Joi Crowe (15), Felix Ramsey (15) and Deandre Brackensick (16) passed through.
The Night Owls made the gutsy move to sing a cappella, and their doo-wop cover of the Temptations' "Get Ready" got a thumbs-up for Julie Zorrilla, and blues belter Casey Abrams, but not for the rest. They were followed by a second group who forsook the band and covered the same song, but with more intricate choreography and more daring vocals.
Naima Adedapo got the least amount of shine in the gospel-tinged version of the Motown classic, but still lived another day. "It showed style, creativity ... every little bit of it was beautiful," Tyler said, giving props to Jacob Lusk, 23, for wrapping things up with an offbeat vocal flair that sounded like a car engine grinding to a halt and got the judges to sit up and take notice.
One of the season's most touching stories belonged to Chris Medina, who was paired with singing waitress Devyn Rush and charismatic actor Carson Higgins, all of whom brought some attitude to "Forget You." Randy thought Rush was too scream-y and Higgins was entertaining, and in the end he put the whole team through ... except for Rush.
When it was finally Jacee and Brett's group's turn to take the stage, Sugar Mama and the Babies did a soulful take on Adele's "Mercy," with Loewenstern killing it and a nervous Badeaux forgetting the lyrics and expertly vamping about not wanting to go home. Randy told the teen he looked a bit lost and Jacee explained how he was booted from his original crew at the last minute and had never heard the song before, but it turned out to be no problem since they all got another chance.
Baritone country crooner Scotty McCreery sounded a bit out of place trying to put a twang on "Get Ready," but bespectacled karaoke DJ Clint Jun Gamboa bailed him out with some gritty wailing that bought another day for the entire quartet.
The final group of the day featured Rob Bolin and his ex, Chelsee Oaks, singing with one-half of the dashed "Idol" power couple, Jacqueline Dunford, who had struggled mightily all night to find their footing. Oaks' vocals were flat and her choreography was sloppy, while Dunford was even worse and Bolin completely blew his chance by vamping about how tired he was and not remembering any of the lyrics.
In the end it was Bolin who was sent packing, while the ladies moved on, proving for the one millionth time that you MUST REMEMBER THE LYRICS!!!!!!
On Thursday night, the final 100 sing solo, with only 50 advancing to next week's first-ever Las Vegas round.
What was your favorite performance from Wednesday night's group show? Tell us in the comments below!
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