The “American Idol” group auditions are designed to be grueling and gruesome in their demands, and they bring out the talents who are truly willing and most worthy through that process that chews young hopes up, and spits them out. This week’s January 28 group selections were especially poignant, even for Jennifer Lopez, who came to tears, recalling just how glad she has been to be part of this seasoning stage for crafting talents, and realizing that this will be the last opportunity for the landmark competition. It wasn’t long before bright eyed talents found themselves packing bags for home, as a select few moved out of the 108 standing from the previous cuts. This is the point at which leaders, followers, and the willing to do whatever it takes show their stuff, and some proved that they were born for the moment, while some forgot everything that mattered.
As happens every year, things started to fall apart even before groups got started, as the task of creating something from nothing has to begin. Despite her sister, Shi’s example and encouragement, Miranda “Poh” Scott kept periodically disappearing from her group’s practice, and she was preparing for departure soon after, realizing “I’m just not ready.” Shelbie Z. knows she has a voice, but she couldn’t settle with a group for quite a while. La’Porsha Renae made some rounds, too, until her final decision turned out to be perfect, as all the pack pushed themselves to absolute limits. Team Blue Eyes took the stage first, and as Harry said, “you set a high bar.” Kelsie Watts, Jordan Sasser, Jenna, and Kory all exuded confidence, a touch of choreography, and mostly, tons of practice and chemistry in their performance of “Treasure,” and it all came together, as they were deemed universally “terrific.” Milk and Cookies came next, with Lynnzee, Jenn Blosil, Bri Rae, and Sara Strum. They went with One The Direction, and “Nobody Can Bring Me Down.” Harry called it a bold choice, and they, too, all went through for another round.
Judging is tough work, particularly during this emotional season, and Jennifer Lopez needed frequent fuel snacks of chocolate from Keith Urban, and whomever else she could get it from! Amelia Eisenhauer and Tristan McIntosh were the members of Who Times 2, and still delivered the goods, being nervous about being eliminated by numbers. Avalon Young was a standout in her group, and Harry told her that he could hear her singing on the radio right now. Jeneve Rose Mitchell and her cello, and the perfect plea in her voice on Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” showed true artistry, and led all three of her group on in the competition. Chynna Sherrod and Terrian took off with “No Place I’d Rather Be,” winning Jennifer’s heart and votes to move on. Trent Harmon is battling mononucleosis along with competitors through this ordeal, but he keeps punching back, and his one-man group, Just Trent, showed so much diversity, so much style, he easily captured the judges’ votes, who all remarked on his “extraordinary gift.” Harry let him know that he “sounded better in mono.” Michelle Marie, Shelbie Z, Ashley Lusk, and Lindsey came on as the next group, and Keith Urban called them “very strong” in voice, but Lindsey, who had notoriously taken charge, had to take her plane home, said she was the only member cut. Elvie Shane from Kentucky, whose audition had been so strong, was sent home, too. Mackenzie Bourg and Juno were the only survivors from their group, one of many to choose “Too Close.”
Louisiana favorite, Cameron Richard, didn’t come through with his group, Envy, either. Chicken Noodle Soup, however, managed just fine with Dalton Rapattoni, Kassy Levels, and Anatalia Villaranda. They were and superb synchronicity on “Treasure,” and it’s something of a miracle, since Anatalia’s mom had numerous meltdowns over her former group’s not accommodating her daughter with a proper song! All is well that ends well, however, and all three went through. A reformed Envy, who had shunned Anatalia, featuring Andrew Nazerbakian, Stephany Negrette, and Sonika Vaid carried on, and despite Keith Urban critiquing that only Stephany performed, all three were through. There was an intermission segment of all the failed dance moves, before Marcio Donaldson, Jon Klaasen, Kylie Thomasson, and Casey Haynes became Trick or Treat, and sailed straight through the completion. Joy Dove, Lindita, and Daniel Farmer morphed into Smooth Soul, and their sound was praised, but Daniel Farmer did not make it onward. Harry scolded Joy for letting Lindita take her spotlight.
Eliz Camacho was another over-controlling “manager”of her group, “Las Verequas,” including Gianna Isabella and Dana Ordway, and Jennifer Lopez picked up on the tension, reminding them that one strong reason for her staying power was that people “wanted to work with me,” and warning, “If you don’t play well with others, you will last long.” Eliz was left to make her exit, while the rest move on. Ms. Lopez offered another needed lecture to The Good Vibes, who had good voices, but no energy for their performances from Alesana Tolai, Olivia Tai, Jessica Paige, and Joe Dahmen, who didn’t even look up through the song to make any eye contact! Mama Lopez let it be known about her style of “attacking” of performance, giving it everything, even if things go all wrong, and nailing it in the end. This is no time for lazy! Rebirth was comprised of favorite, Manny Torres, Malie Delgado, and not much seen until now, Christian Easen. Manny drove the train, and it got them to a standing ovation from Keith, and onward in the competition.
The Soul Cats did a really sorry job for this far in the competition, forgetting nearly every word, and Marshall Cunningham, John Arthur Greene, Laurel Wright, and Drew Angus got their tails chewed, a deserved comeuppance, for the lapse. A performer who picks “Stayin’ Alive” knows that beat and words matter. Nonetheless, Marshall and Laurel lucked out to move on. The Sistas closed out the night, and chose the same song, but delivered much more effectively to hide their flubs. La’Porsha was the leading lady, and she did not disappoint, strutting and owning her song, and the stage, like she was born to it. Tonie Starr came through like a star, too, but Marlena Johnson couldn’t catch a word in a bucket, but at least put in some decent cover words. They all get the blessing of being put through, and Harry Connick, Jr. praises, “That’s how you forget words!”