American Idol: Hollywood Week

by Jason Hughes, posted Feb 13th 2008 1:34AM
American Idol 7 - The Top 24
(S07E09)
"Welcome to a brand new Hollywood Week. This is American Idol." - Ryan Seacrest

Can I just go on record here as saying that I love love love LOVE love love (did I mention love?) the changes American Idol has made to "Hollywood Week." Gone are the forced group performances, the "When Contestants Go Wild!" bits and the breakdown at the end into three rooms, two of which move forward and one of which goes home.

Instead, every contestant gets at least two chances to make it to the third and final round. In the first round they can choose to perform with an instrument, and in the last round, they get to perform in front of the band with back-up vocals. It felt so much more like a real audition process that I'm still coming down from the high it gave me.

You might want to get a glass of water before you start reading because this was a two-hour extravaganza in the realest sense of the word. So many contestants and so many great performances. I still think "Hollywood Week" could easily be broken down into two or even three episodes, but they certainly packed a lot of meat into the one they gave me.

ROUND ONE - DAYS 1 & 2
Hollywood Week is a three-round four-day process now and is nothing like what the contestants have come to expect from watching seasons past. To start, each contestant will sing individually for the judges. After they sing they either get a "Yes," which means a free pass to Round 3, or a "No," which means they have to come back in Round 2 and prove themselves again. Nobody gets cut in these first two days.

The other major change is the addition of instruments. In Round 1 only, contestants can opt to play an instrument in accompaniment to their singing. Beyond this and through the rest of the competition, instruments will continue to be disallowed. Brooke White (24, Mesa, AZ), the "good girl" with the big blond hair, took the opportunity presented and played organ while singing Carole King's "Beautiful." Once again, she pulls out a bluesy, soulful performance that impressed the judges. Simon really liked her, saying she has great potential and that he likes the Carly Simon, Carole King vibe. She gets the first pass straight to Round 3.

It wasn't as easy for others, who were thankful that they would get a second chance in Round 2. Lorena Pinot (28, Miami, FL) was not good on Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman!" prompting Simon to critique, "It's like when your mum gets drunk." Personally, I think she made a bad wardrobe choice as well with the micromini plaid skirt and tight black top. And this coming from a man who truly appreciates the female form. And it's not a matter of her not looking good enough to wear an outfit like that, it just reeked of desperation to me.

Amy Flynn (16, Knoxville, TN) underwhelmed so much they cut her music early. Meanwhile, Leo Marlowe (23, Charlotte, IA) did an incredibly boring rendition of Bryan Adams "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You." So boring, in fact, I wasn't sure that's what he was singing at first. And that's one damned recognizable song. In fact, so many contestants recognized it on the list that we were treated to it over and over again.

David Cook (25, Blue Springs, MO) reminded me just how good a song it can be. Sure it was overplayed back in its Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves day, but it's a really good talent showcase. With guitar in hand, he gave one of the more passionate performances of the show. And while Simon worried he'd be lost without the guitar on the bigger stage, Paula and Randy have no fears and send him straight to Round 3.

But the Bryan Adams love continued, as Robbie Carrico (26, Melbourne, FL) gave us a bluesy rock version, Jessica Brown (24, Longview, TX) country-fied it, Perrie Cataldo (27, Phoenix, AZ) gave it a soulful edge and Syesha Mercado (21, Sarasota, FL) sounded like she was trying to wrangle it into a gospel or a Whitney/Mariah song. Finally, Colton Berry (17, Staunton, VA) did a straight-up boy band version. The song paid off for Colton and Robbie who got passes to Round 3, but not so much for Jessica, Syesha or Perrie.

The addition of instruments paid off for the likes of David Cook and Brooke White, but more often it didn't help the contestants. Alisha Dixon (18, Manahawkin, NJ) didn't need her guitar to butcher Natasha Bedingfield's "Unwritten," whereas I think Michael Sanfilippo (19, South Barrington, IL) actually sang Albert Hammond's "When I Need You" fairly well, but his guitar playing was so awful it detracted from his vocals.

Alyssa Coco (16, Penfield, NY) and Shaun Barrows (27, Spanish Fork, UT) played organ to poor results, but the ultimate instrument failure came at the hands of Jake Mellema (20, Sand Lake, MI). Jake is a drummer/singer so he brought out the full drum kit and tried to sing from behind it. And it was a disaster. He sang Blue Swede's "Hooked on a Feeling" and it was so amateurish as to be painful. Simon summed it up pretty well: "That was a ridiculous idea."

Meanwhile, straight up vocals continued to come on strong. David Hernandez (24, Glendale, AZ) made Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young proud with how he handled "Love the One You're With." He slowed it way down and gave it a bluesy vibe. I loved that arrangement and his control and range was incredible. Randy said, "It was one of the first times today I loved it from note one." Simon said it was one of the best ones they'd heard all day. It's a no-brainer that he's through to Round 3.

Janis Joplin-esque rocker Amanda Overmyer (23, Mulberry, IN) was in a terrible car accident a week before Hollywood Week, and came out of it with staples in her head, cracked ribs and a new perspective on how to cherish each moment and take those chances in life. You'd never know her ribs were cracked when she belted The Doors' "Light My Fire." wailing as raw and unique as ever. Simon's only advice, and it is very valid, is that she needs to diversify her vocal sound or she may become monotonous and boring. She doesn't want it to get to where they know before she opens her mouth what every song sounds like. Nevertheless, she's through as well.

Also straight through is Josiah Leming (18, Morristown, TN, the homeless contestant who lived in his car. "I've made every mistake a man can make in the past year, and it's time to pull all that together and put it toward something good. I won't settle for anything less." He takes on Mika's "Grace Kelly" on the keyboard and he is absolutely incredible; way, way better than he was in his initial audition. And he still sounds sort of British when he sings, oddly enough. "I think out of all the auditions, this is the one I'm going to remember," said Simon.

There was time for a quick montage of contestants who forgot their lyrics after being specifically warned not to by Simon. This year's lucky contestants included Buck Smith (28, Kingsland, GA) who mumbled through Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle with You." Cardin McKinney (20, Nashville, NT) forgot her lyrics and tried stringing random words together to make up the difference, and then wailing no words at all, while Natashia Blach (29, Fort Collins, CO) just stopped and said "Oh My God!" and let the music play on without her for awhile.

Little Danny Noriega (18, Azusa, CA) wowed everyone again with his rendition of Leo Sayer's "When I Need You." Also in fine vocal performance was equally little Ramiele Malubay (20, Miramar, FL) who nailed Stevie Wonder's "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)." Then Carly Smithson (24, San Diego, CA) kept the love going by tapping into Leo Sayer's "When I Need You" again, while Michael Johns (29, Buckhead, GA) did a more subdued version of The Doors' "Light My Fire." All four were straight through to Round 3.

Each day ended with an unusual and memorable contestant from the audition rounds. Day One ended with our Venezuelan Casanova, who apparently wasted no time in wooing the female contestants during rehearsals. Ghaleb Emachah (27, Miami, FL) sounded good when singing to the contestants backstage, but somehow on-stage it was a different story. He took guitar in hand and sang (what a shocker) Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You," but his accent was still too thick and it wasn't great and his final note was painfully all over the place. It's off to Round 2 for him.

And the last contestant of Day Two was our future politician Kyle Ensley (21, Valliant, OK). I thought he was pretty weak on Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)," but Paula was rocking out in her seat. She said it was "a little corny" but liked his spirit. Simon said it was abysmal and walked away while Paula rambled on trying to give her answer. I appreciated that he apologized later in the episode for that.

Need more American Idol? Check out AOL TV's coverage -- including the best and worst Idol auditions and some scathing (and hilarious) Simon Cowell quotes.
Also: Find out which Idols have been named the Biggest Idol flops!
ROUND TWO - DAY 3
It's Day Three and today people start getting cut. Forty-eight people got passes to Round 3 and get to enjoy a day off. The other 116 face "Do or Die" in Round 2. For this round, the contestants come out in groups of ten, a familiar portion from past seasons. Each one sings a capella for a few seconds. After a brief deliberation by the judges, they are either cut right there or passed on to Round 3. Simon prepared them: "This is going to be brutal."

Perrie Cotaldo and Suzanne Toon (21, Clearwater, FL) faced the firing line first. She brought George Gershwin's "Summertime," complete with an an annoying shoulder shimmy, but I think she sounded pretty good. Perrie brought a nice vocal on a song I couldn't identify, nor find online (sorry about that). But it wasn't enough for either of them, establishing that the talent is so high this year the judges are going to be brutal. I agree that the talent depth appears to be very high this year, I only hope the good ones all get in.

Determined to turn her fate around is Amy Flynn. She even brought along her voice coach, a former contestant from Season Four. Her coach picked Taylor Dane's "Love Will Lead You Back," which she'd never heard before. She substituted the word "Bring" for "Lead" in the song, most likely by accident, but it didn't lead to the judges bringing her back.

Kristy Lee Cook's "Amazing Grace" got her to Hollywood in the first place, so she went back to it in her attempt to save herself. In line with her was Jeffrey Lampkin (24, Newberry, SC) who's boisterous attitude lit up the first auditions and apparently Hollywood Week as well. His sister had been cut earlier that morning and I worried for him when he started in with "Big, Blonde and Beautiful" from Hairspray. The judges seemed a bit confused by his choice as well. He was loud and over-sang it in my opinion. Angela Martin (26, Chicago, IL) was in the mix with them as well, dedicating her performance to her daughter. Her father, who'd intended to join her in Hollywood was killed before they could go, but at the insistence of her sisters, she still came to honor her father. She sang "Lovely Day," by Bill Withers. The line was split and while Jeffrey and Kristy Lee stayed alive, the road ended there for Angela.

In the end, almost 100 of the 116 were cut, with only a fraction of them moving on to the final round.

ROUND THREE - DAY 4
It's the final day of auditions; the final chance to impress the judges and make the Top 24. All the contestants are together again as Simon prepared them for today's events. "If we think you're good enough to make the Top 50, we're going to put you straight through ... If we hate you, we're going to cut you here and now." For their last chance at the Top 50, they got to sing with the band three background singers, just like they'll get on the show itself. And they have complete freedom to select any song they want, though I'm sure there's still an approved list they have to choose from as copyright issues are always a factor.

David Archuleta
(16, Murray, UT) sang Bryan Adams', but it was "Heaven" this time. His vocal control is so mature and his power just ridiculous for a kid of sixteen. The judges loved him, too. Randy thought he was the best of the week so far. Paula said he's a "gem for the whole world to see." Simon said he was young, good-looking and likable with a great voice. It's a "Yes" for David.

I got worried when I saw geeky Kyle Ensley but his song choice ("You Raise Me Up") must have inspired him. because he blew me away channeling that rich timbre that made Clay Aiken a revelation. This time he got their support and their "Yes."

The news wasn't as good for Jeffrey Lampkin. And while I'm sad to see him go, his "A Whole New World" from Aladdin just didn't go well. Joey Catalano (25, Mays Landing, NJ) missed with Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky" as well and saw his Idol dreams end, too.

Beauty pageant winner Brooke Helvie (18, Wellington, FL) took on The Righteous Brothers and "Unchained Melody," another contestant favorite that more often than not destroys them. And again the song proved her undoing. Not only was she stilted and awkward, but she painfully sabotaged a high note before Simon mercifully stopped her. Still, Simon said "Yes" based on past performances. She tried again and sang it better, but in the end Paula sided with Randy and she was gone.

Every time I've seen him, I've been impressed with Michael Johns, and he came back bold in this round, tackling Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." Tackling Freddie Mercury almost never works, but damned if Johns didn't prove himself up to the task. He had the power, control and range needed for Mercury's vocal acrobatics. Simon said it was the best audition of the day and he was through. Hot on his heels was Asia'H Epperson (19, Joplin, MO) , who'd lost her father just before her city audition. She looked and sounded better than I've ever seen her on Mary J. Blige's "I'm Goin' Down." Simon told her it was "your best audition by a mile. I loved that. I think you're terrific." Of course, she got through.

Syesha Mercado is this year's contestant who lost her voice throughout the week. She even stopped talking to save herself for Aretha's Franklin "Chain of Fools," and clearly that decision paid off in spades. She belted this one like it was written for her. Her speaking voice, still incredibly hoarse, amazed Randy. "I think that you could sneak up and give everybody a run" he said, and it was a "Yes" from all three judges for Syesha.

Also worried that something was wrong with her voice was Carly Smithson. She felt that way after her city audition, and as it turned out, she was allergic to her dog. She wore a dust mask to clear things out and then had possibly the most inspired song choice of the week with Heart's "Alone."There were a couple of sour notes, but it didn't matter. She really is that good. Simon: "That was a good song. A very, very good song choice for you." Unanimously, she continues on.

The last contestant of the day was Josiah Leming, who struggled monumentally to come up with a song, and ultimately failed to get in any productive practice time with the band. Now, he's exhausted and really nervous heading in to face the judges. He applauded the band's talent, but asked them to leave. "This is 'Stand by Me' (Ben E. King) as I hear it in my head," he told the judges. Man, I like Josiah, but you could tell exhaustion and nerves were tearing up his voice. "That to me was your worst performance, do you want the band to come back?" Randy asked. "Sometimes you just make the wrong choices," Paula told him. She's still a huge fan and thinks he's very talented. Simon: "You lost a little bit of your charm on that performance." Simon thought it was overconfidence that lead to him dismissing the band, but it was the exact opposite. Nevertheless, he got three affirmatives, albeit based more on his past performances than what he just did.

And that's it for Hollywood Week. We end with some shots of the judges sniping over the various contestants as they try and whittle the Top 50 into the Top 24. Tomorrow night we get to see who makes that elite group as the Top 50 face the long walk to the single chair, and their moment of judgment. The question I have is how many people in the Top 24 will we have never seen before.

Do you like the changes to Hollywood Week?
It's much better this way442 (86.3%)
They should have kept the group performances50 (9.8%)
They shouldn't have changed anything9 (1.8%)
What changes?11 (2.1%)

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CJC

Josiah: worst piano-playing posture ever. He played pretty well, but I can't believe that none of the judges commented that he looked like a freak while doing so.

February 13 2008 at 3:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dave

After Kyle Ensley sang his second song, everyone loved it except Paula made a comment that it was a safe choice. What a fool. Everyone loved it except for her.

I think David Archuleta will go very far. He has a great voice. I also like the Australian guy.

Does anyone know what happened to the guy who sang with a British accent when he sang a few weeks ago? Was that Josaih? I didn't hear the accent.

February 13 2008 at 2:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brenda

Love the shows new format.
LOVE! Love! Love! the Australian guy who sang Bohemian Rhapsody.
Yeah, what was with the blue tongues? Most have been candy or a throat lozenger.

February 13 2008 at 1:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Excelsior

What was with the blue tongues? And are they aware they are being filmed in high definition?

February 13 2008 at 1:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Excelsior's comment
Emily

I noticed the blue tongues, too. I think they were using those throat numbing lozenges. I saw one contestants practically gargling chloroseptic spray.

February 15 2008 at 1:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
DANCER MOM

I really hope that Josiah makes the final 24, I think he has what it takes not to be a cookie cutter singer. American Idol was started to promote singers in their own right not to produce cookie cutter or bad singers (fantasia) I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SEE ORIGINALITY ON THIS SHOW SOMEBODY THAT MAKES IT THEIR OWN NOT KAROKE VERSION-- I THINK THAT PERSON WOULD BE JOSIAH.

February 13 2008 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim

How many zeroes are in a kazillion?

February 13 2008 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carrie

Yes, I am impressed with some of the singers that have come through so far this year. But mostly I am disappointed that a lot of them have already made records or have had record contracts (talking about you, Smithson.) I just think it's unfair to those who may not have had as much experience but are talented. Clearly, although these people are good, they are not "undiscovered talent." It definitely has hindered my enjoying the show thus far.

February 13 2008 at 12:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mags

Thank God they cut the beauty queen who then whined about how she didn't get a fair shot. Anyone else think Kristy Lee isn't getting enough face time?

February 13 2008 at 12:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Willmore

Josiah a prima donna/tortured artiste type. Sure, there is immense talent there somewhere, but it's no wonder that he has no band. He needs everything to be done his way, or otherwise there simply can not be great music the way he sees it. If you watch some of his youtube clips, you'll see that he is talented, but I doubt he'll make it in the business with his emotional problems. His voice isn't up to par, it's raw and often uncontrollable, but he has great songwriting ability and he can play the piano rather well. He's not classically trained, so he's not perfect, but the raw emotional performances that he gives are something.

February 13 2008 at 12:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan

Great recap, but I have to disagree with you on Lorena Pinot, I think all of the girls should dress that way! That way, if they aren't that good (like her), I at least get to enjoy the anticipation of seeing up that tiny little schoolgirl skirt.
Michael Johns, Robbie Carrico, David Cook and hopefully that dredlocked guy (I saw a couple of videos of him and he's fantastic) will get through and should be the final four men. The women mostly look and sound the same to me except for Syesha, Asia'h, Amanda (the rocker girl) and the little Filipina girl are the only ones that I think can stand out and win.

And does anyone else think that Asia'h is GORGEOUS? Man, I loved that little outfit she wore and she is so pretty. She's going to be hard to beat.

Finally, I am not a fan of that David Archuleta kid. I don't think his voice is all that great, and he could end up as this year's Sanjaya. The other kid, Josiah, has a lot of talent, and will probably be a very successful musician until he goes to rehab, but I can't see him being able to deal with the rules Idol has. Imagine that kid trying to sing country or latin music! But I like that he's not a pro like Michael Johns (who is probably my favorite of the people we've seen) and seems to truly be an artist and not someone who is doing it for the money or fame.

February 13 2008 at 11:53 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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