American Idol Season 12 Review “Hollywood Week, Part One”

With the auditioning process mercifully behind us, it was time for “American Idol” to separate the wheat from the chaff in earnest on part one of Hollywood Week. Okay, sort of. There were definitely more than a few people that got passes that didn’t necessarily deserve it, and a few that went home that maybe deserved better as well. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the ones who went home maybe weren’t finalist-worthy, but they certainly deserved better in comparison to the ones that got to stay and deserved it a hell of a lot less.

Here’s the thing. It’s a competition. You have rules to follow, things you do, things you don’t do, that sort of thing. In my opinion, it shouldn’t matter if your choreography is crap, for instance. This is a singing competition, not “So You Think You Should Dance.” That stuff shouldn’t matter. You should be able to do some mild swaying and maybe finger-snapping and the like, a la one of those vocal groups from the 50s and 60s like the Temptations, and that should be just fine. Who cares?

However, what you should know is the lyrics to your freaking songs. I get that some people are getting songs they don’t know, but guess what? Not the judges’ problem. Part of the reason they do things the way they do is to prepare potential stars for how to do things in the actual industry. And guess what again? You have to actually know the songs you sing, even if you didn’t write them, especially since that may well be the case if you do win, when a battalion of writer-producers are no doubt assigned to you to plot and plan and build your career from the ground up. If you can’t hang with the big dogs, time to get off the porch, know what I’m saying?

This is a contest, but it’s also a crash course in the way the industry works, and every step is a test. If you don’t pass that test, someone else will. So, you have only yourself to blame if you screw it up. I noticed that a lot of the people tonight that got sent home tended to blame themselves if they were smart. The rest blamed their group, the song, the arrangement, the dance steps, yada yada yada. When the chips were down, it was up to you to bring it, and if you didn’t, you should go home, period. There are too many people the judges have to get through in this thing to be screwing around with people that can’t bring it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Everyone deserves a second chance, and I could see why they let certain people have one. But there’s a difference between flubbing a line or phrase and flat-out pulling a “Lalala”-type thing for most of it. I don’t care if you’ve never heard the song before. Get a copy of it off the internet and listen to that thing on your iPod until you get it. Step it up, because if you don’t someone else will and you only have yourself to blame if you blow it.

I also get that people get nervous. Hey, I feel you. I’ve done plays, sang in front of people, did wacky skits in acting classes in front of everyone- I get it completely. But in this business, time is money. You don’t get a lot of second chances, so those who did damn well better thank their lucky stars, because boy, a few didn’t deserve it.

A few interesting changes marked this version of Hollywood Week. For one, only the guys were doing the group thing- no ladies whatsoever. Next, the groups weren’t picked out by the contestants, but rather the producers of the show themselves. Finally, they only had 20 songs to choose from, most of which were well-known pop standards and a few newer ones for good measure, like Maroon 5 (kinda surprised that one made the cut, given singer Adam Levine’s other gig) and One Direction. Yes, there’s just one night to prepare, but you gotta do what you gotta do. And whining sleep deprivation ain’t gonna cut it, either. You think musicians that tour the world get a lot of sleep? Suck it up, people!

First up, was a much-needed sudden death round to take out some of those who squeaked through. A few that I was skeptical about, like Karl Skinner (he’s the one that did the cheesy version of James Brown’s “I Feel Good” on the audition shows), singing doctor Calvin Peters, Dustin Watts (the firefighter), and Brian Rittenberry, who did the Brian McKnight thing again. They seem like decent enough guys, and did serviceable jobs, but let’s be honest: not quite up to snuff insofar as being likely to win or even land in the top 10.

And we won’t get too far into the whole Matt Farmer debacle, except to say: for shame. I mean, really? Lying about your military service, something that can easily be checked and verified? That’s just low. Can they retroactively give that guy a dishonorable discharge? Ugh. I digress, out of disgust. Moving on…

Some early favorites got through, like good old Gabe Brown, the wild-haired country boy with the classic rock friendly voice; chronic stutterer Lazaro Arbos; Micah Johnson, who had the speech impediment as a result of tonsil surgery; Nate Tao, the son of deaf parents; street performer Frankie Ford; and, of course, what would the competition be without the “Turbanator”?

Group Night started on a high note, in more ways than one, with the dubiously-monikered “Mathheads.” Featuring Nick Boddington, Gabe Brown, Mathenee Treco, and short-in-stature-but-big-in-heart Matheus Fernandes- oh, okay, I get the name now. See what they did there?

The guys did a pretty swell take on Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” which may well have been the most challenging song that I was aware of from the list. I mean, Freddie Mercury’s not something you half-step, you know? I thought it was great- and that it was mostly downhill from there. Regardless, this was the easiest pass of an entire group of the night. (Loved the post-pass celebration with Matheus perched atop the ginormous Gabe’s shoulders- that, dear friends, is what you call an “Idol” money shot. Well done, guys!)

Normal Hills were next, and they lived up to their snooze of a name, with a subpar take on the Four Tops’ “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).” The guys fumbled with the lyrics, which was enough to get Kareen Clark clipped, but the other got through with a stern warning. Which was the least they should have gotten for never having that song before. (I kid, but come on!)

A trio of fellas was next up, including perpetual wallflower Charlie Askew and a none-too-supportive Curtis Finch, Jr. who was in it for himself in a pretty nasty sort of way for a choir director. You’d think someone used to dealing with kids would be a little easier to work with, but he wasn’t having none of Askew: “I’ll just worry about myself, so I can be on ‘American Idol,’ not ‘American Airlines,’ said Finch. Alrighty then!

You know what I said earlier about taking care of yourself because no one else will? This guy gets it a little too well. I mean, you can still bring your “A”-game and not be a dick about it, people. Action speaks louder than words and all that. Still, Finch brought it, big time, all but pummeling the spotlight from the others, to the point of completely changing the vibe of the song- Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song”- and breaking it down for the judges good and proper. After they got a pass, even Finch lightened up enough for a group hug. Still, this guy ain’t kidding around. As Randy would say: He’s in it to win it.

Things continued on a positive note for groups the Four Tones and Young Love (that should so be a real band name), who did decent takes on Sam & Dave and Grand Funk Railroad, respectively, but came to a screeching halt with the Tailors (?), whose delivery was just as confusing as their oddly-chosen group name. In fact, it warranted hilarious subtitles.

This is a perfect example of exactly who should have got clipped, especially after bragging how repetitive the lyrics were and how anyone who couldn’t learn it must have something wrong with them. Pot, meet kettle. Two did get clipped, but astonishingly enough, two got through: Paul Jolley and Will White, who should thank their lucky stars twice tonight.

Things did not get any better with B-Side, another band name I liked. They positively massacred “Payphone” by the aforementioned Maroon 5. If Adam was watching, I’m guessing he was glad he was on the “other” show. As Randy amusingly put it: “Stop, stop! Hang up the phone!”

These guys have someone much more specific to thank than their lucky stars: namely, Nicki Minaj, who vouched for them as her favorite group and almost certainly made the difference in getting them a pass, even though they were just terrible. On the plus side, it did keep the Turbanator in the running, and that’s not so bad, even though he was a main offender in the messed-up lyrics department. He best send Nicki a Hot Pink Turban care package, ASAP, because there but for the grace of her goes he, to be sure. Although big up to Keithy for the “Keith Turban” crack. LOL.

Later on, the night’s only group to do it a cappella, without the backing band, also did “Payphone,” and though it was by no means perfect and the judges rightfully told them forgoing the band was a bad idea on the whole, two out of the three made it and their version was at least better than B-Side’s.

The Last Group took on One Direction and all got clipped, which is what should happen to them just for choosing that song in the first place, but it didn’t help that they screwed it up so bad they actually made me long for One Direction. Or not, really. Moflow- another winner band name- was so-so, and scored appropriately, with two making it, two going home.

Super 55 was flawed, to be sure; with various members screwing up the lyrics to the Beach Boys’ classic “Wouldn’t it be Nice?”- But you know what? I kind of liked what they tried to do with it. It was off-beat (sometimes literally) but good in parts, and I can’t fault the judges for wanting to keep member Lazaro around. Josh, his fellow member, was none too pleased when he got cut, though- especially as he felt he’d spent a little too much time coaching the ESL Lazaro at his own expense. He wasn’t entirely wrong, but come on, dude. The guy has enough issues, cut him some slack. Geez. Sore loser, much?

You just knew Country Queen was going to crash and burn, just as sure as you has to wonder what the hell the producers were thinking when they pared two good old boys with two, shall we say, more flamboyant gentlemen? (Not that there’s anything wrong with either, mind you.) They picked the perfectly-awful “More than Words” by Extreme, and ironically enough, forgot the words to it. Final score, rednecks zero; other guys for the win. Sgt. Blakney could barely contain his rage at this turn of events, having been clearly at unease throughout the pairing.

DKSK, the youngest group, was next, getting their name ABBA-style from their initials. Among them were David Leathers, who made it all the way to the final pre-main show round in Vegas last season before getting clipped at the last minute; and Kayden Stevenson, the young boy with CF and Idol dreams in his eyes. They did Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time” and it would have been great if they’d nailed it because all the parts were there. Alas, he forgot the lyrics, so his dream ended there, at least in the short term. He’ll definitely be back, I suspect. David made it through, as did one of the others.

Last up was Oz, featuring everyone’s favorite wackadoodle, Papa Peachez and the likable Frankie Ford. Ford went from zero to complete mental breakdown, which you wouldn’t think would be an issue for a guy who sings to complete strangers on the subway, but there it was. He didn’t just forget the lyrics, he didn’t even try to get them. This time, the mistake cost him- Frankie is out. Too bad, seemed like a nice guy. I guess you never know who will crack until they do. The rest got through, though Peachez was given a stern warning for half-stepping, which he did.

A mixed bag all round, but at least they cut most of the worst offenders. They could have saved themselves some trouble on down the line by cutting a few more. Hopefully, the second chance will put the fear of God into them and help them to raise their game next time around. If not, they’ve already gotten their second chance- next time…they will be Turnbanated! Err…terminated that is. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

What did you think of “American Idol” tonight? Wish you were watching “The Americans” instead? Was it pretty hit-or-miss for you, too, or better than I’m giving it credit for? Or worse, for that matter? Let me know in the comments!

About The Author

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. His impossible dream is that "Twin Peaks" will one day be resurrected and pick up where it left off. Until then, he drowns his woes in anything remotely similar, from "Buffy" to "Lost" to "Pretty Little Liars." This has not always been a good thing-cough, "Ringer", cough- but now at least it can help pay the bills.