"Welcome back to Hell Week," Ryan Seacrest intoned at the top of last night's American Idol. It's pretty ballsy for a singing competition show to compare itself to SEAL training, since I'm pretty sure none of these kids will be carrying logs or dealing with being drowned. But that's just what Hollywood Week is all about, apparently: senseless, over-the-top drama. Last night was the first episode of the season where Idol had moments that ranked it with every other bottom-drawer reality show, and you can see how they had a hand in starting it. Everything's life or death, everyone's crying, and everyone is being pushed by producers and their environment to break down and fight. And they did.
The action picks up basically where the last ep left off, after two days of solo auditions that winnowed the group to 96. The kids -- and, yes, I know I'm in my late 20s and am not much older than some, but come on -- split into groups right afterward and were assigned music to learn and put to choreography. This meant that after a long day of singing, they had to throw together a group number, and practices ran until 3 a.m. for some groups. This, needless to say, is what many of them would refer to as "struggle" and "hardship," and with a staggering lack of guile and artifice.
I won't (and can't) list all the groups that competed, or even the ones the show decided to make part of the episode's narrative, because there were just too many and it's still a touch too soon to act like some of these singers will be around long enough to remember. Their groups all had names like The Mighty Rangers and Destiny's Wild, like a slightly dorkier version of Randy Jackson's own America's Best Dance Crew. The groups all had to practice at the same time in the ballroom of the hotel where the contestants are staying, which is a shameless way to make them all start hating each other. "It's only natural that frustration sets in," Ryan narrates. Nice deadpan?
Anyway, so the groups took the stage in turn the next day to perform, but it's similar to when the soloists were clumped in random groups in that not everyone will win or lose. If a group tanks, but one person is a standout, they can move to the next round, and similarly if a group is good but they have weak member, that person might be sent packing. Basically the group round is identical to the solo round, except the producers make the contestants think it's different. If you're good or great, you'll keep on moving.
That's one thing this hipsterish dude didn't get. He was part of said Mighty Rangers, a group that had wrapped rehearsal the night before without having nailed the words and music to their song. Since words and music are pretty much all a song has, this is not a good idea. He got the boot and tearfully begged for another chance, not seeming to grasp that he'd already been given it with a plane ride to Los Angeles. Staying up another hour and working would've put him through. Ditto another loser, a girl named Moorea (or something) whose group couldn't even remember the words to "Carry On Wayward Son." She'd petulantly talked the night before of hitting the harmonies and knowing what the judges wanted, but she, like the rest sent home, were short on things like determination and memory.
So much of the episode was full of those awful, self-aggrandizing proclamations you'd expect to hear from a Real Housewife of any county, and I'm hoping that those contestants get sent home or are brutally schooled on the ways of the real world. "We're pretty much trendsetters," one girl said of her group. Oh please, let her learn a tough lesson, soon.
All told, 71 survived the latest round of cuts, including Big Mike, whose wife gave birth while he was at the audition. (How on earth he was so calm and seemingly willing to stay was beyond me.) Also in it for now is Houston's Christian Spear, as well as some other genuinely talented singers and performers. As long as the show focuses on their voices, things might be all right. But I'm not holding my breath.