OK, I knew there had to be some other vetting round after tonight’s top 100 was cut down, so the surprise that Ryan promised us wasn’t totally surprising, but we’ll get to that later. More urgently, we heard all three judges sing tonight! Shouldn’t we get a free ice cream cone for that or something?
Tonight, the performers had one last chance (or second-to-last) chance to thrill the judges. We saw Haley Reinhart, who screwed up her lyrics on group night but belted the shit out of “God Bless the Child.” She was a really strong singer, but I didn’t like how she growled while she sang or adopted the “I’m pooping on the stage” pose. Steven liked her so much, though, that he sang backup to her, and Jennifer proclaimed her performance “redemption.” (By the way, I thought Jennifer looked great tonight. Like a raccoon or magpie I am drawn to shiny things like her gold shoes, sparkly black short shorts, and glitzy huge jewelry.) In comparison, I preferred Ashthon Jones (from Ashley Sullivan’s group last night), who did “And I Am Telling You” with confidence that wasn’t overbearing. I also continue to be a fan of Thea Megia, who seems way too self-possessed for a 15 year old, although I hated her Cosby-esque sweater.
The contestants had the option of performing with the band and backup singers but some couldn’t get the hang of it, a few of them actually accusing the band when they screwed up. Poor Frances Coontz had the bad luck to be named what she is and then sing in a totally different key than the band, but we actually got to hear Randy sing as he tried to get her back in key.
A lot of singers chose to perform “Georgia On My Mind,” including Clint Jun Gamboa, who I think I’m over. I prefer singers who seem confident in their instrument and save the big notes only for special occasions, and a lot of the singers tonight, Clint included, seemed to have it cranked up to 11 for their entire performances.
Both Chris Medina and Carson Higgins made the mistake of thinking they were original for taking on “My Prerogative.” (Anoop Desai, never forget.) Carson went big with the band, and Chris went acoustic just like Andrew Garcia. I enjoy Carson Higgins’ personality onstage up to a point, but I could see him going a little too much over-the-top, you know, like when the drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race prematurely rip off their wigs when they lipsynch for their lives. Carson was really pumped after his performance, Chris, not as much.
The contestants were allowed to play instruments tonight, and I liked Julie Zorrilla more after seeing her play piano to “Love Song.” Robbie Rosen took on the keyboard, and I had a feeling he’d easily make the top 50 based on how much airtime he’s gotten the last few days. I find his stage presence on the edge of corny, but the judges adore him, and he can sing, that’s for sure. Casey Abrams toted out an upright bass. I waffle on him: He’s obviously quite a talented guy and seems pretty funny (“Am I like Neil Armstrong?” he asked Ryan when Ryan said he was the first guy to bring a bass on the show), and while he maybe needs some styling help, at least he’s not wearing Ed Hardy. But sometimes, he just gets all Soul Patrol, and I can’t deal with it. But the band seemed to like him a lot, and that says something.
Chelsee Oaks was sad because Jacqueline got sick and dropped out of the competition, and somehow, Jacqueline is now her “best friend in the entire world.” I thought her audition tonight was pretty forgettable.
Jacob Lusk, the guy who had the memorable solo last night in group night, sang “God Bless the Child,” evoking the same unique persona only much... more. I kind of thought Norman Gentle did that same schtick in Season 8 and did it with a sense of humor. The judges were very complimentary toward him, though (especially Jennifer: She’s not too proud to give props), and then Jacob collapsed into his family’s arms in extravagantly hysterical sobs.
Remember John Wayne Shulz? Well he’s still there, along with his lime green shirt. Snark aside, his version of “Landslide” on acoustic guitar was very nice and understated, and this time Jennifer actually sang along with him.
Ryan Seacrest (who has been much more behind the scenes this season, no?) referred to Ashley Sullivan as an “emotional time bomb,” so it was no surprise when she broke down bigtime after forgetting the words to her song. (By the way, I feel bad for saying that her boyfriend looked “meth-y,” when it turns out he was a soldier in Iraq, which doesn’t necessarily preclude potential methiness, but still.) Anyway, her performance was a bit of a trainwreck, although the judges were remarkably nice about it. She collapsed into her boyfriend’s arms afterwards, yelling “You’re a liar!” when he told her she did well. It must be exhausting to date her.
So you know how Scotty McCreery has only sung that one song about locking the door and shutting off the lights? It turns out that apparently that’s the only song he knows, so he tried “I Hope You Dance” and muffed the lyrics. I enjoyed the show’s subtitles for his singing (“Zone zoo talk and nuts of wonder”), along with Tatynisa Wilson’s (“May you never take advantage of this broken”). Scotty was pretty down on himself and felt like he deserved to be cut.
After their auditions, the contestants were then arranged by rooms. The first contained Ashley Sullivan, Brett Loewenstern, Jacee Badeaux, Jacob Lusk, Robbie Rosen, James Durbin, Casey Abrams, Lauren Alaina, and Clint Gamboa, and of course, they all made it through.
Room two contained a bunch of people we didn’t see that much of throughout the competition, so it was no surprise when they got cut. Jennifer comforted one of the distraught singers, and Steven commiserated with them by saying that he lost out on auditions “so many fucking times.” The kids in the next room didn’t make it either, which contained the other Gutierrez brother and Chelsee Oaks.
Finally, the last room also made it through. It contained Carson Higgins, Julie Zorrilla, Rachel Zevia and Scotty McCreery. At least the judges only had one fakeout as they delivered the news, Steven saying, “I can’t do this... Jennifer?” The judges seemed to enjoy delivering the good news (and they really seemed to enjoy the audition process, which turned out to be a nice surprise) and danced around together.
So it turns out there is one more level of competition after this: The remaining competitors apparently all sing Beatles songs on the Love stage, where they have 24 hours to learn their songs. It seems like it will be some sort of in-between audition phase that’s not quite Hollywood week but not quite the competition level. I anticipate some great performances and some moments that will truly fill me with rage. Can’t wait!