Tonight’s ‘American Idol‘ focused on Hollywood Week’s group round, in which the contestants who made it through the first round of callbacks are forced to wander around a hotel ballroom, find people they might be artistically compatible with, and learn a song and attendant choreography — all in 12 hours. It’s like a hybrid of ‘Mean Girls,’ ‘The Singing Bee,’ ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ and ‘Survivor’ — and it’s all happening while the contestants are running on little more than adrenaline and their preferred flavors of Vitamin Water.
There’s backbiting. There’s behind-the-back sniping (although is it really talking behind someone’s back if a person is complaining to a camera?). There are impromptu naps. There’s infighting, accusations of laziness, people just sort of wandering off for extended periods of time. Pretty much any conflict you had during a group project you might have worked on in high school comes up at least once during the hour, only this time there’s singing added.
As such, the Group Round episode is not at all about figuring out who might be the best singer this season. The contestants who get screen time are barely allowed to get through a couplet; the night doesn’t even seem to factor too much into culling the herd of semifinalists, what with only 25 people of the 96 remaining hopefuls being sent packing. No, this hour was all about maximizing the drama quotient. With that in mind, I bring you…
The Top Five (Conflicts)
5. Michael Lynche vs. the clock. The burly personal trainer’s wife went into labor on Day One of Hollywood Week, and she delivered a baby girl just in time for Michael to go in and completely nail his verse on the Temptations’ “Get Ready.” Something tells me we’re going to hear a lot about this baby on Tuesday’s episode. (Did Fox send a camera crew in to document the birth live? And is that a sign that he is indeed going to make it through to the top 24? So many questions!) So let’s just point out for now that auditioning alongside Michael was the Zac Efron/David Cook hybrid Tim Urban, who I suspect will be eaten up by the tween girls and older ladies who love nothing more than to obsessively powervote for ‘Idol’ hopefuls who they find fetching.
4. Akon and Gwen Stefani vs. the contestants’ short-term memories. “Wait, Akon and Gwen Stefani were there?” you might ask. No, but their 2007 single “The Sweet Escape” was a popular choice among the contestants; perhaps its doo-woppy backing vocals made the sleep-deprived kids think that the song would be a natural fit for groups. Oops! Its rapidfire sing-talking tripped up many a contestant, proving the maxim that a good chunk of success on ‘American Idol’ is all about song choice. (The big-voiced Crystal Bowersox, who had a terrific performance last night, was seemingly the only one to nail Gwen’s rant about acting like sour milk.)
3. Moorea Masa vs. Phoenix. Moorea is kinda young, but she took the fact that she made it through to Hollywood (and shared a group with Danny Gokey!) last year really seriously. She forced everyone to rehearse in the same closet where she worked with Gokey last year, and berated contestants who thought that complex harmonies were maybe a bit too much to take on given the time constraints. But apparently the closet’s magic didn’t work a second time; she forgot the words to Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son” while onstage. Not to mention that the dynamic was seemingly so unpleasant that Jermaine Sellers — who showed off his Lambert-esque screech during his bit — invoked fire and brimstone when reminiscing about his group-round experience. Yipes!
2. Lady GaGa vs. oversingers. Forget the overblown “they stole our idea to sing the song without accompaniment” conflict that developed between Destiny’s Wild and Neapolitan, the two groups that took on GaGa’s vampy “Bad Romance.” How about the way every singer given a turn absolutely massacred the track, thanks to an overreliance on melismas and whooping? (And what was that flip that Destiny’s Wild threw in to the beginning of their performance? This isn’t ‘American Gymnast,’ people.) Somehow all the members of both groups made it through, but I would have sent each and every one of them home on principle.
1. Mary Powers vs. the rest of her group. The tattooed Mary, who’s driving home the point that she wants to be thought of as “Pink, if she were a mom” more every time she shows up on camera, grabbed the reins of her group at the outset of the 12-hour rehearsal period and refused to let go. She cajoled, she clapped, she made me wonder just how intense her presence on a PTA might be. And — surprise! — the super-intense approach to being a leader didn’t really work. Her group muddled its way through Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” with meandering backing vocals that at one point caused Randy Jackson and Kara DioGuardi to look as if they’d been suddenly stricken with food poisoning. In the end, Mary was one of the two people to make it through, and afterwards she even gave the old “I love them all” speech, to keep it classy. Well, it was classy at least until she noted that she would prefer to never work with any of her now-former-allies again. Okay then!
(And a special note to Mark LaBriola, who was reduced to tears after his verse on Ne-Yo’s “Closer” didn’t pass muster to make him through: It serves you right for wearing a T-shirt that is emblazoned with spoilers on your big television appearance. Haven’t you heard of HD? Talk about alienating people who could have been sympathetic to your plight!)