Start with one part delusion, two parts forgetfulness, four versions of “Somebody That I Used to Know” and a big old dash of ego, and you’ve pretty much got the recipe for the strange and delicious stew that is girls’ night on “American Idol.”
With 162 girls to whittle down to 20, there were so many extreme personalities all melding together Wednesday night in that Hollywood pot, creating something wonderful. There were huge voices, forgotten words, backstabbing, all the things you love about Group Night. It truly lived up to its reputation for being the most compelling episode of the season, and some of that was thanks to the efforts of one woman: Kez Ban.
The street performer/fire dancer broke all “Idol” rules in her audition, first of all by admitting that she fire dances, but also for standing out as a wacky troubadour with some real talent. But the against-the-grain contestants from years past don’t usually make it too far on this show. RIP Scooter Girl, Tent Girl, Norman Gentle, et al. Kez may not have many more episodes left in her, but it’ll all be worth it for the amazingness we got from her tonight—a combination of jumping jacks, massage circles, snot coughs and a very serious devotion to oldies.
Kez’s unusual “Idol” journey (“If I don’t go home, that’s even scarier,” she said) was strung throughout the night, and culminating in the final group performance, foreshadowed to be a disaster but turning out to be one of the better numbers.
But before groups, the girls all had to stand in lines of 10 and sing for the judges. Quickly, the four gods of “Idol” sliced through the lines until fewer than half the golden ticketed girls remained. Some early standouts included Angela Miller who shined on her runs; country girl Janelle Arthur, who confidently stated that she’s the next “Idol” because “I’m a dreamer”; and season 11 returnee Candice Glover, whom Nicki Minaj threatened to skin during her audition.
Kez, who’s been cheering maniacally for her friends all day, has ruined her vocal chords and asks for 30 seconds of privacy to practice. Which she doesn’t get. Her song, a series of wails of “Love youuuuu,” goes poorly, but here’s where having Nicki Minaj on a panel will do amazing things for a crazy woman, because Kez, of course, makes it through.
Early rejectees included former anorexic Mariah Pulice, Ashley Smith, the loud girl who thinks she’s living in a talk show; and Megan Miller, who sang into her crutches at her audition.
By 8:30 p.m., there were 76 girls left, and it was time to start Group Night—a cruel experiment in sleep deprivation as torture. Between then and breakfast at 6 a.m. the next morning, some stand-up girls became sleepwalking nightmares. There were also plenty of girls who got along great with one another, did their work, and went to bed, but you don’t win any camera time if you’re not having a temper tantrum in a hotel ballroom at 4 in the morning.
One of such professional non-drama groups went first the next day, in front of a truncated panel of judges: Nicki, Keith Urban and Mariah Carey. Randy Jackson was “in the studio,” said Ryan Seacrest, and I’m still trying to figure out what that’s a euphemism for.
Anyway, the first group sang “Hit Em Up Style” with perfect harmonies, and all four—Kamaria Ousley, Melinda Ademi, Candice Glover and Denise Jackson, all make it through. A country quartet also impress the judges with “Sin Wagon,” as well as one of the more dramatic groups consisting of Cristabel Clack, Janel Stinney, Kriss Mincey and one other. The performance was a trainwreck after Janel got all passive-aggressive on the others because she felt like she didn’t fit in. Janel didn’t sing a single word of “Somebody That I Used to Know,” just hummed along, but Nicki actually liked it better that way. “I enjoyed you guys messing up the words more than I enjoyed any other performance today,” she said. All went through.
Other “Somebody That I Used to Know”s paved the way for barefoot, earthy Liz Bills and teenager Holly Miller to make it through as well. But more girls got eliminated from the song, which, despite being played everywhere constantly for the past year, hasn’t quite sunk in, lyrically. A number of girls scrawled the lyrics to that (and other songs) on their arms and hands, so rather than learning the lyrics, they got to stand there on stage and try to read the smudged microprint on their sweaty palms and waste our time. Good move.
One such eliminee, Shira Gavrielov, wore a severe bun atop a slightly feminized tuxedo, a strange look that no doubt contributed to how ugly it was when, crying, she begged the judges for explanation about her elimination. They all handled it quite nicely, particularly Mariah, who complemented Shira for her performances up till that point, but remained firm in that her group performance was kind of the most tone-deaf thing we heard on the show tonight.
But back to good news. A favorite from auditions, “Star-Spangled Banner” singing, short-short wearing Zoanette Johnson returned in a group called Pooh Snaps. POOH SNAPS?! And obliterated the country girls around her on “Knock on Wood.”
Finally, Kez was back, along with her group of Breanna Steer, Angela Miller and Janelle Arthur. Having disappeared the night before to find some dinner, Kez was warming up with jumping jacks while her teammates looked on warily, pretty much convinced they were being punk’d by some producer who got his insane clown cousin on the show as a joke. But somehow, amazingly, it all came together, and the group gave a cute and not at all weird rendition of “Be My Baby.” Nicki loved it and gave it a standing ovation, particularly for the voices, which she called “perfection.” But she saved her best critique for Kez: “Of course you’re a crazy psycho and I love that.”
Tomorrow: teamwork is a thing of the past, as the top 20 girls and top 20 guys are revealed, and it becomes a dirty fight to the death from here on out. Just like we like it!