A lot of the reason that this season of American Idol has seemed so much better than previous years is the pacing. A week was shaved off the audition episodes, resulting in the axing of the often-excruciating "Best Of The Rest" audition episode, which seemed to be the producers' way of squeezing in extra "funny" contestants and indulgent asides from the judges. But the expansion of Hollywood Week to not one but two weeks' worth of episodesone devoted to the male contestants, the other to the female hopefulscaused me to pause.
In years past the Hollywood Week episodes have been a morass of infighting and backbiting, arguments that often threatened to overshadow the character development that actually makes these early Idol installments worth considering in the course of the season. And tonight's episode, which featured only the female contestants who had made it through to Hollywood (the dudes went last week), had even more potential for the drama being played upyou know, the old "catfight" impulse.
There were pockets of hoopla here and there. Much of it centered on Kez Ban, an "amateur fire performer" (read: Burning Man type) who had various issues throughout the audition process. First, her solo performance of "Nights In White Satin" was hampered by her having a cold; she sounded pretty abysmal but she went through anyway. Then she was put in a groupthis year, the producers decided to nix the junior-high lunch-table drama of the contestants selecting their own teamsand kept insisting they sing "California Dreamin'," going so far as to sing bits of the verses to prove her point. Her groupknown as The Misfits, because of coursedid not. They kept it retro by singing "Be My Baby," and they sounded like crapharmonies all over the place, although Janell Arthur sounded pretty decent. But for some reason (punchiness?) Nicki Minaj thought their vocals were "perfection," and sent them all through.
It makes you wonder how the editing process goes down at Idol HQ, because while The Misfits were the last group to go during the day, the true standout was the first group to be shown during the episode. Known as The Swaggettes (maybe the producers should start picking names, too?) and made up of Melinda Ademi, Kamaria Ousley, Candice Glover, and Denise Jackson, these four ladies turned Blu Cantrell's kiss-off "Hit 'Em Up Style" into a deliciously oozing support group offering guidance through post-breakup empowerment. Forget putting them through to Idol, get these four ladies working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis pronto.
Of course they all went through. But there were lots of curious occurrences throughout the daysingers who were just plain off being sent through, people deciding to sing Gotye's "Somebody I Used To Know" despite it being a tough sell, singers wondering why the Spice Girls' "Say You'll Be There" was on the list of approved songs. (Um, hello? Those harmonies! The Mel C ad-lib at the end! Oh, kids today.) There were also lots of people looking at their hands, on which they had written lyrics, a la eleventh-grade math class. (You can take Hollywood Week out of secondary school, but...) This drew ire from the judges, particularly Nicki, who felt like she was being disrespected and ignored as an audience member. Despite the annoyance raised by the spectre of cheaters, though, the old "forgotten words mean an automatic ticket home" rule was not kept in place, which meant that mealy-mouthed singers like Stephanie Schimelwhose giant platinum hairdo was by far the night's most impressive mopsurvived, much to their own disbelief. ("Why did they let me through? I totally botched that thing," she said after being spared.)
There was, however, one shining moment of redemption: Zoanette Johnson, who auditioned with "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Oklahoma City, tore the roof off during her group's performance of "Knock On Wood," and lived to see another day of auditions. I am so rooting for her to go all the way.
Could the relative lack of dramatics compared to previous Hollywood Weeks be the result of the producers really, really wanting a woman to break the White Guys With Guitars curse, and going to the lengths of actually developing characters the viewers at home will care about? That hypothesis will be borne out tonight, when the Top 40 is revealed.