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Thursday, February 6, 2014

American Idol' recap: Hollywood Horror Story


Welcome to sunny California, bright and shiny teens! Your new home is… A CAVERNOUS TOMB.
Wednesday's "Hollywood or Home" twist round saw the 212 hopefuls ushered into a big ol' airplane hangar as soon as they landed at LAX. Eww, what a weird-looking hotel, some of them must have thought as the judges sauntered in… with murder in their eyes.
I'll cut it out with the deathspeak, but that was a crazy-ominous vibe in the hangar of doom, and Keith Urban's new short, spiky, almost Pete Wentz-ian (how the hell did I even know that) haircut was not helping matters any. But you know what? I loved it! This was a great chance to slash the dreams of 32 kids who probably never should have gotten golden tickets anyway -- all the people the judges (or producers) had been on the fence about. Better to cut them here when all they've seen of L.A. is the cold grey of a cement floor and the steely blue ice of Harry Connick Jr.'s eyes. If they'd made it to the hotels, they'd have gotten to see… the inside of another hotel conference center multiplex. And then they'd really know what they were missing. A buffet breakfast.

So it's an early goodbye to Johnny Newcomb, Caitlin Johnson (if you've always had really bad stage fright, what makes you think you'd do well on American Idol?), Nikki McKibbin's son Tristen Langley, Rich Lafleur, fake accent girl Khristian d'Avis, and many others. Somehow the annoying sound healer Adam Locke got onto lucky Bus No. 2 even though his piano-playing was "so excruciating" according to Keith. 'Twas a stressful time for all. Adam retreated to a distant corner to meditate all alone, and for the camera. A lot of people choked, giving Harry Connick Jr. the opportunity to channel his inner Valerie Cherish:
This is totally my go-to screen grab for the rest of the season, so I hope you like it.
Here is a really handy YouTube grid of all the Hollywood Hopefuls, by the way. I'll have to dig into that later. Tons of hidden gems.
Cool new people: Connor Zwetsch, 20, charmed everyone but Harry at the Atlanta auditions with her rainbow airbrushed hat; she toned the headwear down to a blue printed headband for Hollywood and set herself further apart with a hippie-fied (I don't even know what that means, but she's a hippie) rendition of "Let Her Go" -- a bold song choice for someone who wants to stay. Like he had in the deep South, Harry questioned her voice but "actually dug the way she played guitar." I'm just glad we saw her at all. I also dug Ali Jane Henderson, whose clear and powerful voice alternated between soft and hard on her acoustic cover of "Toxic." So many toxic teens out there! Is this, like, the first song you learn when you get an acoustic guitar these days? Anyway, Ali Jane looks like Maddie from Nashville (Lennon Stella) in the face, or maybe I was just excited for Nashville to start.
The shot of the "Departing Flights" sign for the poor rejects in Bus No. 1 was the most tragic moment of this Mystery Bus scene for me. That's usually such a happy sign. You're really goin' somewhere! it usually means. But nope. You're going back to your boring old life, it said this time. And good luck finding your checked luggage.

Day 2 delivered the Hollywood Week "sing for your life" solos we're used to, with groups of 10 vying for a diminishing number of spots and screen time. I was a bit disappointed we didn't see any "new" people during this incredibly hectic rush of humanity, but I know how crazy that sounds. It's not like I didn't want to revisit the people we'd met already. I just wanted to see more. Basically, in an ideal world, we'd be able to watch every single GREAT audition for a hearty few seconds. In just two crammed telecasts, though, that's just not possible.
I'll run through some standouts: Majesty York, oh my God, yes. What better Hollywood Week song is there than Feist's "1234," which contains the lyric "teenage hopes align at your door"? And she did not mean hangar door. I love everything about this girl, most of all her gentle, optimistic demeanor, lack of makeup, and the gap between her two front teeth. Spencer Lloyd, one of seemingly dozens of worship leaders in the fleet, performed a tender keyboard cover of "Say Something" in a hoodie that looked like a vest. Austin Wolfe delivered my personal favorite vocal of the entire episode on Adele's "Take It All" -- there's an almost electronic second element to her voice that makes it really rich and multilayered, yet soft. I could listen to her for hours. Perhaps I will in the coming months.
Bria Anai switched to glittery orange lipstick this time around and delivered another powerhouse vocal, while Sam Woolf and his baby face and sculpted auburn hair are a teen-girl-moderated fan site waiting to happen. His cover of "Waiting on the World to Change" had Harry humming up the scales behind Jennifer Lopez's head in some sort of secret "this guy can sing" message to Keith Urban. (Do not bother the lady with such details.) And C.J. Harris is getting a major Likable Guy edit -- he was tonight's winner of the coveted Seacrest first-name shoutout and firm handshake before his group took the stage. J. Lo jumped the gun and gave what I believe was the only (shown) standing O of the day following C.J.'s cover of Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble." There's something about this guy, I tell ya. The excruciation in his face as he was singing made me light up in a smile. In what universe is that even possible?
I am never going to get through everyone at this rate. Alex Preston: cunning guitar picking, creative (and/or natural?) fluffy hair. Ben Briley and Dexter Roberts are solid country guys. I still can't stand Briston Marley (he covered "Royals") and I'm sorry; I'll try harder. Harry really seemed to respond to Rachel Rolleri's authenticity and Keith even started harmonizing with her, while J. Lo ugly-mouthed "Impossible" along with Maurice Townsend. Casey Thrasher, the other dad makin' this journey for his kids back home, captivated Keith in particular with his moving cover of George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today." I had to giggle because when Ryan said "both fathers hoping to make lives for those families back home," it sounded like he said "fodders." And maybe they are. But probably not. And ugh, can we stop being so melodramatic? The families of these two contestants don't "need lives." They are already alive. Some people have kids. The ones who don't want this shot at televised glory just as much. Let's not get crazy here.
Kenzie Hall was majorly memorable tonight with her rapid-fire spoken-word delivery (and more richness than I remembered when she used her fuller singing voice) on "Can't Hold Us." She's definitely in it to win it (agggggggh, Randy) with her Let Me Engage You Personally eye play with the judges and the rest of the audience.
I remember Caleb Johnson's red leather jacket first and his strong vocal second, but hey, not bad for an episode of hundreds of clips. Nurse tech Kristen O'Connor (the new "high school student Aaron Kelly"?) stood out vocally in this group and even got to keep singing on the right half of the screen as J. Lo called people forward. Jeweled hat fan Stephanie Hanvey yelled "I love you, mom!" after making it through, and I was like…
…because apparently I have no heart. Briana Oakley showed incredible range and excellent pants fashion -- I loved the sassy visible zipper. All the time spent dwelling on Keith London was bothersome -- it seemed like the editors were trying to make him seem like some sort of calculating hack just because he chose to sing "If I Were a Boy." Is this not 2014? Are we not allowed to swap pronouns? I really thought we'd covered this. The only "distracting" thing about his performance was the way Harry and Jennifer fussed over how STRANGE it was that this lad with a shag rug on his head was pretending he was BeyoncĂ©. He wasn't. It's just a good song, okay?
And in the final line of cattle -- a keyboard-lover's delight -- we got smiley real-deal Malaya Watson, slick and sultry performer Jena Ascuitto, and waterworks-inducing Savion Wright, whose brother had died two and a half weeks before Hollywood Week. Fierce zoom-ins on all three judges' eyes suggested they were either crying or just had super-reflective eyes that day. All three piano players are contenders in my book.
Biggest disappointment: The brutal and NOT SHOWN cut of Jade Lathan, my favorite audition from Detroit. Flower crown girl, remember? It felt like a magical lantern was glowing inside of you when she sang? What?! We didn't even get a clip. That's nuts.
Next up: Group Night! We'll see all the performances on Thursday. So far, the drama has centered around Jessica Meuse, who's getting the Big Bad Bitch edit -- I'm sure the hardscrabble working musician who's played countless sets in smoky bars at 4 a.m. isn't the easiest person to work with, but, um, neither is Stephanie Hanvey's STAGE MOM, and only one of these people is a legit contestant. The scene in which Clark King eliminated himself was completely heartbreaking. It was hard to tell whether he really didn't think he could sing anymore, or if he was just being a martyr for Jessica so she could officially break off from their woeful trio. I'm not sure Clark even knew. Tragic!
Meanwhile, a girl group appropriately named Loud and Fierce was burning my favorite American Idol character's ears.
MICHAEL ORLAND'S EYE ROLLS. Best part of the episode. Easily.
What did you think of Wednesday's "Hollywood or Home" twist? Were you as upset about Jade Lathan as I was? When Sikenya Thompson had her three group members read aloud her handwritten note that she was giving up until the last minute before showtime, did you have a loud and fierce urge to reach into your TV screen and tear it up? Why are you so freaking violent tonight?
Discuss!
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