I’ll miss you, Jessica Furney! Give grandma a crazy pill or two for me. Meanwhile, we’re all still in Hollywood, and it’s Group Night! For me, this is the night around which my Idol devotion revolves, more so than the Elevator of Destiny, the Top 12 announcement, or even the finale. This is the night that we find out what happens when people who think they can sing stop being polite and start getting real. We're talking two of my favorite things, talent show plus social experiment. It gets me every time.
Make New Friends
The Disembodied Voice of Seacrest immediately promises us that this year’s drama will be more dramatic than ever, and to back that up we get accompanying shots of tear-stained cheeks, hands wringing in agony, faces red with apoplexy, and enough bleeps to put your Emergency Broadcast System to shame. Also, people with microphones and pianos and stuff on stage for some reason.
It’s night time at the Kodak, and the 107 folks who survived the initial solo cuts are awaiting their next hurdle: pairing up with people who offer the proper balance of craziness and singishness. Of course you want just enough of each so that you look best by comparison. The sizing up begins in a frenzy, and most of them seem to link up pretty quickly, but of course a few rejects are left out of the mix. Obviously these people should just find each other and make up their own kickball team to beat the pants off those Cobras, but instead they wander around looking forlorn and timidly asking to be accepted. Megan Corkrey, who is no one I recall, but who is adorable, sidles up to a group of Reginas and asks to be let in. They first act like the Sneetches with stars upon thars, but eventually they look reluctantly at each other and say, “Sure, we’ll make it work,” before it outs that they hadn’t even made any plans yet, so there was nothing to work out. Tatiana the Laughing Maniac found a semi-normal dress to put on (the ruffles are only on the sleeves), and also eventually finds a group to shoehorn herself into and somehow become boss of. Cue footage of her group mates instantly lamenting their decision and admitting to the cameras that Tatiana might be too heavy on the loon front.
Random singing artistry montage: groups learning lyrics and pose-y choreography, crowding around pianos, high fiving, and drinking water. But all is not as peaceful as this might lead you to believe. Witness, husky-voiced, be-dreadlocked Rose Flack who auditioned with “I Feel the Earth Move” back in SLC has somehow wound up in a group with Bikini Girl and certified Judges’ Darling Jasmine Murray. Out in the Hallway Cam, Rose complains dreadlockedly that her group mates are too worried about “being cute.” She rolls her eyes a lot, while Bikini Girl mouths the lyrics to their song as if she’s auditioning for a straight to DVD movie.
In other news, Tatiana continues to be a people person by telling her group that they are bad singers, which results in much lip chewing frustration, but precious little confrontation.
But Keep the Old
Widowed Danny and his friend Jamar have found “harmony” in their coed quartet; they’re all smiles as the camera captures them winding up their rehearsal. Back in Tatianaville, she’s now shaking and scrunching up her face like a sad Chihuahua, while her group members whisperingly accuse her of trying to sabotage them. Tatiana fulfills the purport of her existence by running off to latch herself onto another group. People called Nancy Wilson (not that one, of course) and Nate Marshall aren’t too excited about the prospect of her crazy, but they decide to rearrange themselves and give her a chance. And Tatiana’s flitting around like an idiot. She eventually goes back to her original group, which makes Nancy angry because that idiot wasted their time.
It’s past 2 AM, Tatiana keeps air kissing at people for no reason, and something happens to hurt her feelings some more. It could’ve been a raindrop falling in Montana or the wind blowing across a Kenyan plain for all I know, because this girl is all “feelings” and it takes practically nothing. Say, is Tatiana the only one here tonight? Is she the only one who showed up?
No! It turns out Unnamed Third Member of Nancy and Nate’s group is tired and wants to sit out for a while. Nancy’s not having it, and UNT calls her a drama kettle and then immediately starts to cry which makes her a drama pot.
Rose is suffering similarly; turns out Bikini Girl needs lots of Bikini Sleep, so she’s gone to bed as well. Rose is plotting a mutiny while Bikini Girl flops onto her bed and sobs for unidentified reasons which might have something to do with her being Bikini Girl and being sad about it.
Back downstairs, the reality of no camera time has registered with Nate, and he ends up crying because his team isn’t taking things seriously and is letting personal drama get in the way of his dreams. The night closes with each member of his group all angry with the others for being angry instead of singing. These people are all ridiculous.
I Shoulda Stood in Bed
But, suddenly it’s morning and none of the previous night matters, except for how everyone still hates each other and wishes they were the next American Idol already. 7 AM is breakfast time, and a bunch of boring, sane, or otherwise untelegenic people confess to the camera how little sleep they slept – between four hours and none. India of “Asia and India” is running choreo with her all-guy backup band, but no one has seen Bikini Girl and this is an emergency. Her group troops up to her room to have a showdown but Bikini Girl’s roommate is running interference and informs them that she’s not feeling well. Minutes later, they’re all in her room and she’s under the covers croaking that she only slept for two hours. Rose is officially over it; she throws up her hands and laments that Bikini Girl is on Earth wasting valuable resources, and they go off to rehearse without her.
Hey, it’s Emily the walking Jem Doll! Haven’t seen her in a while, and here she is now controlling her group and making them miserable because she used to be lead girl in a girl band. Various proclamations of no people longer worrying about the group but only about themselves, lots of doo wop dancing, beaucoup bottles of water and hair product. Tatiana’s group has reconciled, and then a note of doom plays as Bikini Girl rises from the dead. She walks cautiously into the waiting area to a chorus of side-eyes from her group and announces that they must teach her what she missed. They three rise wordlessly, Bikini looks questioningly, and we wait in suspense.
Don’t Stop Thinking About the Lyrics
Post-commercials, it’s finally time for the real drama queens to make their episode debut; it’s judging time, and Paula, Simon, Kara, and Randy all strut in like peacocks and everybody takes a moment to regret that they ever wasted time on being lazy/popular/Mean/crazy/cute, when they should’ve been learning the words to their songs. Bunches of them are already crying and heaving, and they have all failed before they’ve begun. But India and her white boys, collectively known as “White Chocolate”, are looking confident as they take the stage. They’re doing “I Want You Back,” and India raps for no reason before they get started. One of the white boys is Dueling Piano Matt; he gets good reception on his verse, and whoever is providing the bass line is tearing it up because that’s my favorite part of their whole deal. Paula stands to give our first official seal clap and White Chocolate gets through wholesale. Ryan mocks all the other groups for clapping because he knows they will all be terrible. This is his eighth season.
High School President Austin Sisneros and Ordinary High Schooler J.B. Ahfua both flame out when they forget the words to “Get Ready,” and Paula outright laughs at Miss Latina Julissa when she mumbles through the same song. Emily’s team Action Squad is up now, and also contains my first love Alex Wagner-Trugman and the made-over Anne Marie Boskovich. They spent a lot of time on their cool team cheer and dance moves, and it shows -- on stage they suck at harmonizing together and each go for making themselves shine in their solo sections on “Don’t Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)”. Emily spent so much time telling everyone what to do that she blanks on her words; Fourth Member and Anne Marie try to jog her memory, but it’s too late for she is already doomed. She nods her head in dismay and is already crying as the judges separate her and Fourth Member from Alex and Anne Marie and send them through to the next round. Emily is sad because “this is the only thing she knows how to do,” and she brought her mother with her to help her cry, so she’ll be okay.
Meanwhile, Fourth Member (real name Ryan Pinkston) does not cry, but is sad inside because he has only just now discovered that Paula Abdul is Pure Evil. Poor naïve thing.
Here They Come, to Save the Day
Scott McIntyre, Blind Guy is sitting in the audience nervously rehearsing lyrics, Rose is slowly melting, and Simon’s on the verge of walking off a cliff because he hates his job so much he can never leave it. He asks for Advil and insults a succession of groups with a succession of different versions of the word “horrible,” Simon and Paula have a bleeped out spat, and it’s a gloomy time in Idol Town, until Danny Gokey and Company come along to bring the sunshine. Oh, Lord. I’m going to have to deal with Danny Gokey all season long, aren’t I? I think so. He, Jamar, and two unimportant people sing a pretty a cappella version of “Somebody to Love,” Jamar’s voice is still loud but pretty, Danny’s still singing about dying and making my stomach hurt, but well enough to get attention, and there are also two girls with them who sing good too. They all end with their arms around each other and are too adorable to last very long in the world, but they’re all through to the next round at least.
More rejections, and then every single person who sings “Some Kind of Wonderful” sounds like a superstar, including Oil Rig Guy, Big Matt Breitzke, Adam Lambert of Musical Theater, and Jesse Langseth whom I have never seen before but will probably root for hardcore if she makes it.
A Diva Is a Female Version of a Tragedy
That sudden burst of strings should let you know something important is about to happen: Rose and Bikini Girl are about to take their act to the big stage. Team Diva, they call themselves, and I know they didn’t come up with that. They’re singing “Mercy.” Someone named Lauren who has said nothing so far is up first; she has an interesting voice that unfortunately cracks on an important note. Bikini sings and is as mediocre as a girl who came in a bikini would be. Rose misses the words but rocks out Ashlee Simpson style until she gets them back and finishes the chorus. And then Jasmine wins the whole show with one phrase and makes them all look foolish.
Simon can tell that they didn’t work together well; Lauren tries to be diplomatic and then caves, telling the judges that she and Jasmine stayed up through the night while Rose and the anti-Rose had their battle to the death. Bikini Girl says something about having scoliosis, which is what she should’ve done at first instead of wearing a bikini because now it’s too late and she’s Bikini Girl who we hate and not Deenie who we love. Simon’s not convinced and he tells Bikini that she is the root of all evil. Kara relishes Bikini Girl’s eventual destruction as she calls out everyone but Jasmine and sends them each home. Rose hugs Jasmine and Lauren, and Bikini Girl walks off stage with her head held high because at this point she’s not in a bikini and she has to have something to keep from crying. All the judges whisper about how gross she is as she passes into the waiting area. Her group are all dismayed, even Jasmine, but now they’re close to each other like when you survive a bank robbery, and Bikini Girl interviews off in a corner that they’re haters; she brushes her shoulders off as she tries not to cry. What a sad, dull girl. Shame, because I always thought monsters led such iiiiinnteresting lives.
Last Drops of Drama
Now let’s dip our patties in the water! We’re at the final segment, so it’s the last opportunity to show us stuff that wasn’t as interesting as self-esteem issues and megalomania: David the Osmond and my Ultimate Contender Deanna Brown both being eliminated somehow; Rose crying to her mother and various losers crying alone. And now, the capstone. It’s time for Team Tatiana and Team Thank God We Didn’t Get Stuck with Tatiana to go back to back. Ryan tries to get Nancy, etc. to identify the source of all their drama and they can’t because Tatiana’s insurmountable crazy comes and steals your sense like a thief in the night. Meanwhile Tatiana and the rest of her crew are up on stage singing “I Want You Back.” A small girl named Muna has a beautiful voice we never got to hear before, Tatiana is a mess, and everyone knows it. She won’t stop singing even after the judges have halted them; she sings about how she “really wants you back,” and later how she “wants to get through.” This girl, y’all. She really delivered on her initial promise though. Randy’s not having the cutesy-crazy today; his patience is gone, and he tells Tatiana to shut it while Paula calls everybody but Tatiana up and then tells them they’re all four in, including Tatiana. I can’t stand this show sometimes. Tatiana goes on to hog the joy camera out in the hallway, thanking everyone from her group members to Jesus and everyone on the show for being a part of her and helping her make it through this and being in her heart forever, while they hug each other and try to keep from smacking Tatiana in the face with a cast iron skillet. I might be projecting that last part.
Anyway, last group. Nate leads them all in a sorry prayer about how they're not best friends but they deserve God’s help anyway. Then they all get in stage and immediately break down because they loathe each other so much. Then they sing “Mercy,” and are laughable. Everyone’s in a different key, no one knows the words, Nathan’s queening out, and then Unnamed Third Member (name: Kristin McNamara) saves her own skin at the last minute with an amazing pair of high notes. Eventually Nate and Kristin make it through and Nancy does not. I don’t know why any of them made it really, and neither does Nancy. She flips out into bitter grief, while flipping off Kristin and being sad that she let group dynamics wear her down. She departs while an extremely mournful version of “California Dreamin’” plays and we watch all the other no-names who didn’t make it collapse similarly into tears.
That’s a down beat to go out on, so we see more footage of happy people who did make it into the next round. Cheers and clapping, hugs and dancing, Danny Gokey’s group beaming rainbows and blessings from their eyes, American Idol, yay! 75 of them made it through group round, so I think there’s one more big cut to make before we meet our Top 36. I don’t know exactly how it’ll go over two nights because my DVR cut off before Ryan could explain in that helpful way he has, but my partner MsFroggy and I will be back to fill you in.
I said to my girl friend just the other day, “Gee, I’ll bet monsters are iiiinnteresting,” I said. The places you must go, and the things you must see -- my stars.