For the next few episodes, we find ourselves in the oft-chaotic "Hollywood Week" portion of "American Idol." It's the most intense and serious part of the entire season, which means the contestants and the judges need to buckle down and take this seriously ... Katy Perry!
We've seen Katy prank a dad into thinking his daughter hadn't made it, but she took it to the next level on Sunday's episode by telling a group of four girls that one of them was going to have to volunteer to leave the competition after they'd all killed their group performance. After a few moments, one young lady actually stepped up and said she would leave before erupting in tears.
It was a prank gone perhaps too far, as even after Katy told her it was all a joke and all four girls were advancing, the group could only circle up and console their emotionally destroyed teammate while Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan stood by helplessly. Katy tried to join the hug and make it better, but that poor girl's heart had just been torn from her chest.
Meanwhile, back in the competition, Hollywood Week is broken into three rounds and we burned through the first two of them tonight, the Lines of Ten a cappella round and the dreaded Group Round. With so much going on, we have to tweak our own format for this episode as there's really no way to rank performances that we're only seeing snippets of here and there. So for Round One, we're just going to break them up into "Hit" or "Miss" categories. Then, in the Group Round, we'll just take it group by group and break it down. Next week, we should be able to return to some semblance of normalcy around here ... and maybe Katy will behave!
With only three judges, you stand as the fourth judge, as your votes will certainly have a lot to say about who wins. I'll proudly stand beside you. "Who do I think I am?" you ask. Well, I spent nearly a decade of my life sweating and bleeding to the music as a dancer. During this time, I was also a member of the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra, as well as a gymnast, writer and cartoonist. I had a lot more energy in my younger years. And I've spent the last sixteen years analyzing and critiquing reality competition shows for various media publications. I've got this.
Fair warning, since I'm safe at home, I'm probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. But I might be nicer, too. Maybe.
The first round of the competition offers each contestant a chance to sing solo for the judges, but they don't get critiqued one by one. Instead, as soon as ten have performed, they're all brought onto the stage and then split into two groups. Some move on, some go home. Feedback is minimal if at all, so you better bring it!
Layla Spring (16) was a tiny little spitfire in her first audition, when she brought out her little sister, and she did it again with a classic take on "Oh Where Can My Baby Be," easily shifting from the higher doo-wop bridge to the energetic chorus. She was followed by Alyssa Raghu (16), who was our favorite in the first night of the competition. She slayed "The Wind Beneath My Wings," even as her nerves saw her a little overwhelmed. Still, that voice is years beyond hers.
Goat farmer Trevor McBane (22) dug even deeper this round, pulling out even more of that Chris Stapleton vibe in all the best ways. He was more confident, and he stayed in tune. Growth is key, and he's already progressing beautifully. Caleb Lee Hutchinson (18) had a classically polished country voice that was pure and filled with such depth and passion he sounded like an album recording.
Jonny Brenns (18) initially auditioned without his parents' knowledge, as he didn't think they would support him. While his mother and sister joined him for Hollywood Week, his father did not. I was on the fence about him before, but this time around he must have really wanted to prove to his mother that he deserved this chance, because his voice was breathtaking, as was his passion and conviction. He sounded so cool and hip and current, this guy I could get behind.
Maddie Poppe (20) brought the same cool vibe to her Hollywood chance, but with even more dynamic vocal range and focus than she gave us in her initial audition, when she sang "The Rainbow Connection." Cade Foehner (21) was another we missed during the auditions, but he grabbed my attention with "The Thrill Is Gone." He reminded me a lot of Phillip Phillips, but with an even broader range.
Noah Davis (18) moved one step closer to his alpaca dreams with a soulful performance that was riddled with nerves, but still a great vocal. There's only one thing to say: "Wig." His performance was paired with the Sposato twins, who impressed me far less and will be discussed in "Miss" below.
Dennis Lorenzo (26) blew me away with his smooth, soulful pipes in his audition, and once again he brings nothing but depth and passion to his performances. I'm ready to watch him in concert right now. Like Noah, Dennis' performance was paired with Jurnee, who just isn't impressing me as much as the judges ... see the next section for more.
Catie Turner (18) was the first contestant we saw this season, and she killed it with an original song. In Hollywood, she got distracted by all the pretty boys, and old-school crooner Zach D'Onofrio (17) in particular. She brought her indie vibe to "Come Together," and I fell in love all over again, but this match wasn't made to last.
I wasn't all that impressed with Zach D'Onofrio the first time, and he failed to dazzle me again. It's just karaoke of what he thinks old-school crooners should sound like. [See his performance paired with Catie Turner above.] Jurnee (18) lacked emotional depth for me the first time I saw her, and once again she didn't really blow me away -- though she has a solid voice, it lacks emotional resonance. The judges put her through, but I think she'll come up short. [See her performance paired with Dennis Lorenzo above.]
Milo Sposato (17) laid it down, building the pressure for his brother Julian, who brought a little more rasp and polish than we saw in their opening audition. I thought Milo was stronger the first time, but Julian really upped his game here. And yet, it was the end of the road for Julian (so maybe the judges saw more in their full performances than we got). Honestly, I'm not sure Milo will make Top 24. [See their performances paired with Noah Davis above.]
Trevor Holmes (27) had Katy's heart from the moment she saw him (it was her flirting with him that led to a backlash about her behavior on the show with the pretty male contestants), even though he brought his girlfriend. That didn't intimidate Katy, though. When the girlfriend shouted from the audience, "Katy, I'm watching you," Katy was ready with a quick retort. Trevor said that was his girlfriend, and she shot back, "Well, it's not your fiancee, so--" He had a cleanness to his voice that was pleasant to hear -- and he made it through -- but did it offer enough character to win a show like this? I'm not so sure.
David Francisco (25) threw aside his crutches and performed on his feet, but I still need more from him vocally than he's brought to these two auditions. I think he's a compelling story, coming back from paralysis, but I don't think he's ready to compete on this stage.
The most brutal stage of the entire competition forces these solo artists to come together for this one round only and find a way to work together while also shining individually. It's a grueling round that breaks many contestants, but a good group performance can help even a mediocre contestant shine.
God's Diversity. Michael J. Woodard (20) was a lackluster start, with Thaddeus Johnson (25) stepping it up on his solo. Shannon O'Hara (17) threw some power into the performance, while Kourtney Smith (18) brought the diva vocals and took us to church. This group set a high bar, even as one of them was cut (we didn't even get her name).
The Gurope. Rehearsals were a disaster for this group, which could not get their lyrics down. Marcio Donaldson (28) stepped up as a leader to try and bring them together, and he proved he still had the vocals. Cesley Parrish (16) had a nice quality to her voice, while Samuel James (29) still didn't have the words down (and it cost him his spot). Maddie Zahm (19) blew the lyrics as well, but she made up her own and proved she had the voice to deserve a second chance.
Taco! This group of young ladies were all about having a good time and bringing the energy up. Catie Turner (17) is a consistent winner, and she even beatboxed behind her groupmates. Kyah Robinson (17) has a unique quality to her voice that is compelling, while Alyssa Raghu (15) still sounds ten years older than she is. This is a polished group from top to bottom, and even though we didn't see one of them solo at all, it was Kyah who got the boot.
Superdope Hotness. Milo Sposato (17) took control of his group (possibly behind their backs) changing the arrangement to better spotlight himself. Aname' Rose (19) kicked things off with a confident vocal filled with the right amount of sass, followed by Deonte Baker (26), who paled in comparison. Dennis Lorenzo (26) was stronger and things were going well. They were killing "Love Yourself," and Milo got his moment in the a cappella spotlight. There were a few misfires along the way, but they came together strong enough to all advance.
DNA. Ada Vox (24) brought beatbox and her usual power, followed by Kay Kay (18), who had a sweetness to her voice that was absolutely enjoyable. We then got a spotlight of some of the other standouts like Gabby Barrett (17), Christina Jones (18), Jurnee (18), and Dominique (26).
The Soul 4's
The Soul 4's. Laine Hardy (17) was the only boy in a group of girls who just bowled over his ideas with song choice and everything else. All he could do was try to stand out among a crowd of Beliebers on "Love Yourself." Right away, Kaitlann Runnels (17) brought the passion, followed by Mia Desaris (16), who had a more coy interpretation, and Julianna Madrid (16), who played it more straight. Laine came up last and had a nice quality to his voice, and it was enough to send him through with Kaitlann.
Don't Touch. Crystal Alicea (20) was nervous and stressing due to her lack of experience compared to Britney Holmes (28), Lee Vasi (20) and Gabbii Jones (20). But you couldn't tell when it came time for them to perform as they all killed this equally. Crystal rose to the occasion in a big way and helped the group create a killer new vibe that was a lot of fun to watch. And then the poor thing crumbled to tears after Katy played the cruelest trick of all time on her.
Hollywood Week is hard enough without you making it harder, Katy Perry! The "American Idol" action continues Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.