"American Idol's" group round really isn't about singing in a group at all. It's a personality test, designed to see how well contestants deal with adversity, drama and the unexpected curveballs that come along with being forced to collaborate with their fellow competitors.
On Thursday's "Idol," group round was introduced as "the most grueling challenge on the 'Idol' journey." In a montage of past group rounds, there was one singer who said, "I don't do groups," and the fact that his wasn't a recognizable face sent a clear message: if you don't "do groups," you don't do "Idol." It's a hurdle everyone must jump over.
But if the group round was a killer in previous seasons, Thursday's episode presented a more forgiving exercise. Going into the round, 104 singers were in the mix, and while Jennifer Lopez told contestants half or more would be cut, just 27 were sent to the slaughter. Either the singers were just that good, or this year's judges have a case of premature separation anxiety.
Group round presented the usual mix of backstage drama and dropped lyrics, both of which plagued Jessica Meuse, the 23-year-old from Alabama. Meuse, whose black hair is accented by a shock of pink, was in a group that fell apart and was an 11th hour edition to another group, which already included Nica Nashae, Cara Watson and Stephanie Hanvey. (Hanvey's overbearing stage mother was an unofficial member of the group.)
Meuse took the stage even though she was rusty on the words to Beyonce's "Single Ladies," and was able to work through the song with the generous help of her group members. When the judges made their decision, Meuse and company made it through -- with the exception of Hanvey, who was cut. Hanvey's mother reacted by big-upping her daughter and then taking passive aggressive swipes at the other singers, which caused Meuse to give her the gas face and walk away. "Drama follows me everywhere, apparently. I don't know why," Meuse mused. But she made it through, which at this stage is all that matters.
The night's most polished act was the Backstreet Cowboys, the trio of Casey Thrasher, Ben Briley and Dexter Roberts, who sang a Southern version of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" with the mix of country flavor and pure pop appeal that Simon Cowell worked so hard to achieve on last year's "X Factor" with his country boy band creation Restless Road. The three of them sailed through their audition and all three remain frontrunners in the competition, with Thrasher at the head of the pack.
The favorite song among the groups was Alex Clare's "Too Close" followed closely by Lorde's "Royals," both of which were performed by multiple groups during the episode. What that portends for the season ahead is unsure, but surely there will be plenty more Lorde to come in the coming weeks. (We might already be Alex Clare'd out, however.)
Notable cuts from the episode included Tiquila Wilson, who took it upon herself to withdraw from the competition when she was suddenly hit by the revelation that gospel music is her path; Keith London, who stood out on Wednesday's episode for his decision to sing a longing version of Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy"; cheerleader Stephanie Petronelli, whose peppy version of Grace Potter's "Paris" stood out during auditions; and sound healer/ Jesus dude Adam Roth, whose barefoot and bearded act was bound to run out of steam sooner or later, but it's a shame it had to be so soon.
Next week, the cuts continue, and they're going to come hard and fast if they're going to get this group of 77 down to a more manageable 30. Group round is a big step in the "Idol" journey, but there are many more steps to come.
What did you think about Thursday's "Idol" group round? Let us know in the comments!