Pop Life

Idol Beat: Hollywood Week, Part 1

[Note: Because a lot of people are apparently into American Idol, Rocks Off asked contributor Ray Cummings to keep track of this season for us. This is his first report.]

"Hollywood Week" marks the point in American Idol's grist-mill rigamorole calendar where the kid gloves come off, when being cute 'n' quirky with the hint of a decent set of pipes isn't enough anymore, when it's time to separate the Kimberly Caldwells from the Josiah Lemings, when the cavalcade of Ford product placement begins in earnest. Sayonara, whimsical novelty, hello, brutal reality checks! Join me, won't you, for a furtive glance back at the week that was.

Days One and Two - Solo Auditions

In an effort to ratchet up the general ridiculousness level of the Idol enterprise, Hollywood Week hopefuls now have access to vocal coaches, stylists and - very briefly - Barry Manilow, who always looks like he sleeps encased in a vat of formaldehyde. Remember Rose Fleck? Her dad died? She's a perpetually barefoot hippie chick? During rehearsals she's in total disheveled Joni Mitchell-cum-Courtney Love mode, crying about her dad. Then she gets onstage and tears into "Sittin' On The Dock of The Bay." We like Rose Fleck, you know?

Texas' Jeremy Michael Sarver - you know, the cleancut, All-American roughneck family dude - was impressive enough to survive. He's sorta "Joshua Gracin II," isn't he? You'd want him to have your back in a bar brawl. Steve Fowler, you make us wanna say "hooray" for sleeveless gray hoodies and questing Steve Wonder covers! Nick Mitchell, you're a karaoke superstar from Connecticut who happens to have a decent voice and an obnoxious wardrobe!

Bikini Girl, heavy coatings of makeup make you look like a fucking space alien. Her pouty, pose-y take on Faith Hill's "Breathe" inspires Simon to say "it was better than your first audition," which is bullshit. Apparently emboldened by her golden ticket, Memphis contestant Lil Rounds opted for a Mary J. Blige-inspired 'do - and massacred the deathless "I Will Always Love You." Original, right? But she made it through.

Sort of a dull beginning, wasn't it? But the drama's en route, in a big way...

Day Three - Groups Day

Being avowed sadists, the Idol producers have resurrected Groups Day, a Real World-esque exercise in psychological torture wherein our mass of hopeful heroes and heroines must split into smaller groups and perform for the judges. In years past, the night prior to Groups Day was spent partying and hooking up on camera; the bleary next-day comeuppance was a treat. I miss that.

Anyhow, a few random thoughts and observations, if I may. As demonstrated by her initial audition and her bizarre vascillations between two different groups, Tatiana Del Toro is completely and utterly fucking insane, and that insanity is the gift that keeps on giving for Idol producers - if not for anyone who actually has to interact with her or listen to that creepy, unhinged cackle that emerges when she laughs.

Fleck somehow winds up in a group with Bikini Girl, who asses out on her groupmates during early-morning rehearsals. Rose's self-fulfilling prophecy prediction: "We're gonna be that group that gets up there and it's just gonna be a train wreck. I knew it when I joined this group." Well, that proves that some contestants actually watch this show before auditioning.

White Chocolate is a stupid name for a Groups Day group; nonetheless, their pop-qua-rap take on the Jackson 5's "ABC" was tight - unlike the version that Tatiana's team performed, which was a train wreck.

How much of Ryan Seacrest's sustained, twinkling bemusement with regard to all things Idol is genuine, how much is feigned, and how much is leeched from the script he's being fed? The ninth person to post with anything approaching the correct balance of forces wins a CD-R copy of Kellie Pickler's not-too-bad debut album.

OUT: Rose Fleck, Bikini Girl and pink-tressed Emily Wynne-Hughes, who I suspect wasn't psyched about having to beg her moderately successful punk band to take her back.

SAFE: Tatiana Del Toro, Nate Mitchell, Danny Gokey, Jamar, Anoop. (See, some folks are kinda beyond the need for surnames. Savvy?)

Let's wrap up this week's recap with a passage from the Book of Sanjaya: "Hollywood Week is American Idol's version of boot camp. They take five days out of your life and put you in as many performance and audition situations as they can. The ultimate goal is to break down the Idol hopefuls until they're one big, open, raw nerve."

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Ray Cummings