While some hopefuls sailed through the initial round, the Group Rounds proved to be as devastating as ever for some of the early round standouts.
"Hollywood Week" kicked off with a vengeance on "American Idol" Sunday night, burning through the first round and into the dreaded Group Round by the close of the night.
By the end of it, we were feeling as exhausted as the contestants, but damn if we weren’t impressed as some of our early favorites reached new heights. Still others fell apart completely, shattering their hopes of moving on.
Katy Perry sneezed her way through the auditions, as she battled a cold she may have given or gotten from several of the contestants. This first round of Hollywood Week began to look like an incubator for infection and throat issues, which is disastrous for singers.
As teased throughout the auditions, country music DJ — and somehow current "Dancing with the Stars" champion — Bobby Bones has joined the show as the contestants’ season-long mentor, with his duties kicking off right away during Hollywood Week.
As in past seasons, the contestants are grouped into "lines" of singers, with the judges filing them onto the stage after everyone has performed. From there, it’s a simple in or out with no other feedback.
Fair warning, since I’m safe at home, I’m probably going to be a little harsher than my colleagues Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan.
Just for giggles, I’m going to rank the Round 1 auditions from worst to first to see who my favorites were. Then we can see how far each of them makes it through this nightmare week of the competition.
ROUND 1: Lines of 10
25 years old – "Whole Lotta Woman," Kelly Clarkson
While she’s done freaking out over Ryan, Courtney was just freaking out at everything this time around. Then, even after she’d calmed down, she came out with all guns blazing and it was just an absolute disaster from top to bottom. She could barely find a melody, lost all the words and the tune absolutely escaped her. This was probably the worst we’ve seen her, and this girl made it to group rounds eight years ago.
19 years old – "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," Freddy Fender
Once again, Luke made Colby lose the guitar and it improved his vocals. He really needs to just let it go. He felt more connected on the Spanish lyrics sans guitar than in any part of the song where he was strumming along. Colby needs to pick up on this hint and lose the guitar if he really wants to make it anywhere in this competition, because he’s weaker overall with it. Luke even hooked up with his own boots to replace Colby’s ratty pair before sending him through.
25 years old – "Lay Me Down," Sam Smith
Margie may just be the biggest personality in the competition, as her audition was as much about her manic energy as her impressive vocals. She was way toned down, though her singing intro was cute, and her solid rendition of Sam Smith wasn’t the most dynamic thing we’ve seen, but it proved she can sing and should do enough to carry her here. Katy saluted her efforts with a sneeze she held until Margie was done. Respect!
24 years old – "Sorry," Justin Bieber
Did Alejandro go Hollywood already, with his dyed hair and new look? The surprise of the second round of auditions wowed the judges with an original, so it was completely new for him to take on a cover. Once again, he was effortless in his vocal but it’s his guitar playing that always steals the show. He is a standout performer and he knows it, but this is still a singing competition, man! He had the judges throwing their clothes at him.
22 years old – "A Change Is Gonna Come," Sam Cooke
After oversinging the hell out of his initial audition, Shawn really needed to home in on the message of this Sam Cooke classic. Not everything has to go to church. He did a little better, but he still had more runs than the stockings of a two-dollar hooker. Shawn has a great instrument, but he’s way too busy showboating all the time when he should be emoting with all that talent. It can be taught if he’s willing to listen. Choose your moments and don’t choose all of them.
19 years old – "Chandelier," Sia
Myra had one of the biggest voices of the initial round of auditions, so the bar was set very high for her. This was a huge song to take on, and she did so fearlessly and with plenty of volume. It didn’t show as much nuance as she might have wanted, but the judges know what she’s capable of and she certainly deserves the opportunity to continue her journey, even if it lacked the wow factor of her first appearance.
Laci Kaye Booth
23 years old – "Natural Woman," Aretha Franklin
It was her grit that impressed during Laci’s first audition, and this time she went even bolder with a country take on a music legend. There was an interesting quality to it that showcased what she does so well, but it also showed her range limitation. Nevertheless, Katy threw her chair off the back of the stage as Laci got a standing ovation.
25 years old – "I’ll Follow You Into the Dark," Death Cab for Cutie
His bright personality and original tune slowly drew us into Eddie’s unique worldview during his initial audition. This time, though, he was battling queasiness and coughs even before he hit the stage, which really put a damper on his usual high spirits. In the end, though, he pulled it off and had us wrapped around his quirky vocals all over again. Eddie is a special character and he continues to shine bright.
Walker Burroughs & Nate Walker
20 years old – "Whereabouts," Stevie Wonder
18 years old – "I Believe in You and Me," Whitney Houston
He was a little too cautious in his initial audition, but the time away seems to have given him a boost of confidence. He still keeps things very mellow, but Paul Simon managed to have a career with a similarly presented vocal. Plus, dude totally sold us on Stevie, and that ain’t easy. Nate, on the other hand, has a huge voice and took on an even bigger one in Whitney. And yet, it was effortless. These Walkers are so different and yet both so talented.
Result (Walker): In
Result (Nate): In
22 years old – "Unchained Melody," The Righteous Brothers
Jade was a little unstable vocally on a Deana Carter song, so it was a bold choice to go with this track as it’s all about vocal control. She does have that innate ability to connect, so that was in her favor. And she totally leaned into that giving us her most controlled vocal yet, without pushing too hard at any point. She hit every note and really redeemed her shaky initial audition.
Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon
26 years old – "Beautiful," Carole King
One of the most authentic auditions during the city round with an original song about his struggles coming out, and Jeremiah just laid it down again. He was even more powerful on this cover, but knew when to reel it in and caress the chorus to help us feel what he’s trying to express. Jeremiah feels like he’s one of the most ready to step into a career right now.
Nick Townsend & Lauren Engle
25 years old – "Life of the Party," Shawn Mendes
27 years old – "Jesus, Take the Wheel," Carrie Underwood
It’s a little manipulative of the producers to pair Nick and Lauren together, considering Nick lost two brothers to suicide and Lauren lost her husband in a car accident. Nevertheless, both were dominant in their initial, channeling their heartache into authentic and powerful vocals. Once again, Nick was just beautifully tender and so real, bringing us into his world, while Lauren hit very close to home with her song choice, but lost the notes in the chorus. It’s a shame but it seems like the song just got away from her. This placement is for Nick as Lauren’s journey ended here.
Result (Nick): In
Result (Lauren): Out
Ashton Gill & Laine Hardy
20 years old – "I Can’t Make You Love Me," Bonnie Raitt
18 years old – "She Talks to Angels," The Black Crowes
Laine was lured back into the competition after he joined his pal Ashton for her audition after the judges made him perform and he was stellar; outshining even Ashton. She came out strong in Hollywood with a solid vocal but there was nothing remarkable about it. And once again Laine just smoked her with his raspy grit and authentic sound. Black Crowes require soul to get it right, and Laine has the confidence and the talent to make it sing. This placement is for Laine as his journey continues while Ashton’s did not.
Result (Ashton): Out
Result (Laine): In
20 years old – "Sensible Heart," City and Colour
It was Logan’s authenticity that impressed his first time out as a recovering addict with the right attitude about his journey today. Once again, he sounded absolutely sublime on this more tender piece. And once again, you could hear that he’s lived pain and knows hurt in a way that you can’t fake. It was just beautiful.
Wade Cota & Dimitrius Graham
27 years old – "Litost," X Ambassadors
27 years old – "The Wind Beneath My Wings," Bette Midler
Wade was one of the standouts from his first audition with an incredible grit in his voice that really pulled you in and could make you feel. And he was absolutely beautiful again. His voice won’t work on everything, but when it fits it’s pure magic. As for Dimitrius, we didn’t get to see his first audition, but he more than made up for it here with a breathtaking and heart-wrenching performance on a Bette Midler classic. Katy had his mom on Facetime as she was heading into surgery the next day, and the whole thing reduced her to tears. He hit a few bum notes straining too hard, but his passion made up for it. This ranking is for Wade, but honestly, Dimitrius would only be about two or three slots behind.
Result (Wade): In
Result (Dimitrius): In
16 years old – "Already Gone," Kelly Clarkson
You don’t just take on Kelly Clarkson, but if Luke already said you might be the next Kelly Clarkson, maybe you do? Madison certainly no problems belting this track every bit as powerfully as the original. And yet she managed to make it sound her own, rather than just a copycat. The "IPN" (Idol Power Note) was a little bit of overkill, but so many of these contestants feel they need it to really convince the judges they can sing. Madison needs no such thing, and in fact literally ran Katy out of the room.
ROUND 2: Groups Round
"California Dreamin’," The Mamas and the Papas
Grayson Little, Kason Lester, Wade Cota, Caitlyn (last name not given), Payton (last name not given)
Wade absolutely did not know this song or these lyrics, but there was a beautiful moment of camaraderie when his group wouldn’t let him just blow his moment outright. They stepped up to help him through it. And let’s just say the overwhelming strength of his earlier rounds is the only thing that saved him here.
Moving On: Kason, Wade, Caitlyn, Payton
Going Home: Grayson
"Grenade," Bruno Mars
Katie Bell, Laine Hardy, Colby Swift & Laci Kaye Booth
There were solid harmonies with Laine and Laci really shining through their verses. But then Colby stepped up with a little twist, immediately forgot the lyrics and froze. He stuttered back in here and there, but it was a glaring moment of silence.
Moving On: Katie, Laine, Laci
Going Home: Colby
"Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)," Kelly Clarkson
Juan Pablo, Myra Tran, Jade Flores & Moriah Fromica
After a contentious night, Juan Pablo went missing before their performance, leaving the girls to rehearse without him. When it came to crunch time, though, all four of them were in their best vocals and actually came together pretty well. This was a surprisingly strong group to kick things off. Alas, it proved the end of the journey for Jade who sounded strong opening the number.
Moving On: Juan Pablo, Myra, Moriah
Going Home: Jade
"I Want It That Way," Backstreet Boys
Shayy, Dimitrius Graham, Assata Renay, William Oliver Jr.
Shayy had a really hard time because she couldn’t read the lyrics to learn them, but her group had her back from the beginning. They even wore specially made goggles/glasses that Shayy made to help them understand how she sees. Honestly, all four of them really shined on this one with beautiful harmonies, teamwork and the true bonds of friendship forming. If only more groups came together like this.
Moving On: Shayy Dimitrius, Assata
Going Home: William
"Hollywood Week" continues on "American Idol," Sundays and Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
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