‘American Idol’: All Together Now: Group Grope In Hollywood

by | February 16, 2011 at 11:58 PM | American Idol, Eye on Idol

American Idol Hollywood Week (FOX)

American Idol Hollywood Week (FOX)

It was time to turn aside the sob stories, the amateurs and the wannabes and get down to business with “American Idol’s” fabled Group Rounds.

The 168 contestants left were put together in 39 different groupings of between three and five apiece and given 24 hours to work up a song and a choreographed presentation for tunes ranging from Cee Lo’s “Forget You,” Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” and Duffy’s “Mercy” to Queen’s “Somebody to Love” and the Temptations’ “Get Ready.”

DRAMA QUEEN QUOTIENT
“American Idol” spent some time showing that the Group auditions could be a lot like high school, with the cool kids battling the nerds, as 15-year-old Jacee Badeaux, the round-faced Louisiana Cajun kid dubbed “Chubbieber” by New York Magazine’s “Vulture” scribe Paul F. Tompkins, was kicked out of the Guaps, the group led by Clint Jun Gamboa and forced to scramble to join another bully victim, red-headed Brett Loewenstern in Sugar Mama and the Babies.

Meanwhile, deep-throated good old boy country singer Scott McCreary also had a hard time finding a home among the popsters, finally joining Gamboa’s Guaps. Prima donna Jordan Dorsey, who wowed Jennifer Lopez with his “Over the Rainbow” in New Orleans, split from the group 440 to join nice Long Island Jewish boy Robbie Rosen in 4 + 1, leaving the former’s Lauren Turner to summarize the tricky aspect of performing as an individual within the collective: “It’s hard to be in a group when you have to rely on other people for your dream.”

There was also the continued drama of Ashley Sullivan, the contestant who wanted to combine “pop and Liza Minnelli,” evincing a high-strung attitude that almost had her quitting the competition, leaving her looking, with her tear-stained raccoon eyes, more like Judy Garland at the end of her career.

The other conflict involved petulant Adam Lambert-esque, multi-octave belter James Durbin kvetching about the stage mothers working The Minors, the group containing all 15 and 16-year-olds, both of whom would tackle Queen’s “Somebody to Love.”

There was also Three’s Company, the group consisting of former couple Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks, with Jacqueline Dunford, whose partner Nick Fink was eliminated last week, playing the roles of John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers, respectively. The two girls completely emasculated poor Rob, who merely complained that he was a musician, not a dancer.

Then there was large-figured, hot-tempered Jersey dance instructor Tiffany “Snooki” Rios and blonde Jessica Yantz, who formed a duet when no one else would join up. Apparently, some people took exception to Rios’ comment, “I’m tired of seeing people try to do what I can do.”

AND THEY’RE OFF
Steven Tyler was in typically ebullient form, giving the contestants a pep talk: “The pressure I know nothing about. I’m addicted to adrenaline and a whole lot of other things, including wanting to hear you sing real good today.”

Added Randy: “Don’t ever forget the words,” advice that several hopefuls didn’t take to heart, including the one who read the lyrics from the palm of his hand.

The first few groupings passed the audition with flying colors, sending a trio of Noo Yawkers, in Howard Beach 22-year-old Pia Toscano, Brooklyn Lea Michele lookalike Alessandro Guercio and Staten Island’s Brielle von Hugel, the one with the doo-wop singing, cancer survivor father, on to the next round.

Both 4+1’s Dorsey and Rosen made it through with a rousing version of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” as did 440’s Adrian Michael, Erica Shane and Lauren Turner with “Forget You.”

Rebel Star’s duo of Rios and Yantz proved they were far from “Irreplaceable,” with a wobbly version of the Beyonce song of the same name, while Spanglish suffered from member Kevin Cooper oversleeping, which prompted Tyler to perform an impromptu drum solo during the wait for their version of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”

FAVORITE SONS AND DAUGHTERS
Fifteen-year-old Georgia cheerleader and favorite Lauren Alaina killed Goffin and King’s “Some Kind of Wonderful,” while single mother Paris Tassin and tattooed waif Emily Anne Reid also fell by the wayside with the Gutierrez brothers also split, substitute teacher Mark making it, but shoe salesman Aaron getting the ax.

The Hits, which included a revitalized Ashley Sullivan, laid into Blu Cantrell’s “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” earning all of them a pass onto the next round, including an impressive Ashton Jones, with Randy calling them: “The best harmonized group I’ve seen.”

The Deep Vs, featuring the dynamic Durbin and Asheville, NC’s Caleb Johnson, blew the harmonies on Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” but earned those two a chance to move on, but they were upstaged by The Minors, a group of five teenagers supported by their stage mother cheering section. Keonna Evans, Jalen Harris, Surina-Joi Crowe, Felix Ramsey and a pony-tailed Deandre Brackensick emerged as the evening’s highlight on the same song, their five-part harmonies earning a standing ovation from the judges, as Tyler enthused in typically descriptive terms: “This is what I joined forces with ‘American Idol’ to hear. That was as good as it gets. Freddie Mercury’s up there smiling down at you guys. I was bathing in those vocals. Your background harmonies were delicious.”

Others who moved on included Texas crooner Corey Levoy and 17-year-old Liverpool-by-way-of-Texas Jodie Foster lookalike Hollie Cavanagh, along with Julie Zorrilla and melodica-toting scat singer Casey Abrams, as well as Milwaukee Summerfest groundskeeper Naima Adedapo and her fellow city native Da’quelo Payne.  Compton, CA, native Jacob Lusk’s idiosyncratic closing on an a cappella “Get Ready” put him in the spotlight as well.

COMING TO A CLIMAX
Dubbing themselves Four Non-Blondes and That Guy, sentimental favorite, the Chicago barrista with the wheelchair-bound girlfriend, moved on, as did Steve Buscemi clone Carson Higgins and Caleb Hawley.

Sugar Mama and the Babies tackled “Mercy,” with the real suspense whether baby-faced Jacee Badeaux would make the grade. Brett Loewenstern continued as a front-runner, reminding me more of Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall each time I see him, with Denise Jackson, Natalie Hanson and Stevie Cain Badeaux, clearly flustered by being forced to join the group in midstream, added the line, “I don’t wanna go home,” to his rendition, while the judges left us all hanging whether the crowd favorite would be allowed to move on. Awarding him a chance to continue, Badeaux choked up for the evening’s mot shameless emotional moment. How much longer he’ll continue remains to be seen.

The Guaps, led by a cocky Gamboa and McCreary, who offered a twangy, idiosyncratic country take on “Get Ready,” were shoe-ins, along with Monique de los Santos and Frances Coontz.

At the end, an emotional McCreary admitted he didn’t want to see Badeaux kicked out of the group, but went along anyway, earning a few extra points from the crowd for his compassion.

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO
The final Three’s Company trio, consisting of ex-couple Bolin and Oaks, along with Dunford, was once more split up, with Bolin getting the ax, and the girls moving on, leaving an even 100 contestants to be winnowed down further.

The race is now shaping up, the favorites having established themselves in the Group Round. There are some talented potential finalists in the grouping, though it will take some time to sort through them all.

Who do you like? Who did themselves a favor in this round? Who hurt their chances? What did you think of the judging? Are there more interesting candidates than in the past or less than you expected?