The auditions are over. On the plus side, we no longer have to endure the frog-throated hucksters who just wanted to get on TV. Unfortunately we're also done with the hilarious post-audition interviews, which were shot through gauzy, Vaseline-smothered lenses and set against an all-white backdrop, as though the contestants were eulogizing themselves from heaven. The sprawling cast of characters who made it through the initial endurance tests will now converge on Los Angeles for boot camp.
"It's called boot camp for a reason," Simon Cowell says, ominously, at the top of the show. "We're going to separate the good people from the not-so-good." This process, we're told, will comprise the toughest week of the contestants' lives. In order to drive the point home, there's a lot of footage of severely dressed people crying, which culminates in an almost staggeringly long clip of Paula Abdul herself crying. Gravitas!
In order to assist all the performers through the hardships to come, the judges have employed some decidedly non-drill sergeant-like help. There are two vocal coaches, a stylist, and a choreographer – the latter of which has the entire lot of them doing MJ's signature moves to "Smooth Criminal" right away. This doesn't appear to have any discernible purpose, unless it's a warm-up exercise or a psychological intimidation move. The only interesting revelation here is that Brian Bradley, the young rapper of "Stop Looking At My Mom" fame, refuses to dance. "You don't see Jay-Z dancing," he claims. (Brian's obviously never seen the video for "Hawaiian Sophie.")
Everyone next has to sing a song "which will show why they are worth $5 million." I could've sworn every song they sing is supposed to demonstrate this same quality, but let's not dwell on details. Let's instead dwell on the re-introduction of all our old friends, who flash by briefly. Siameze Floyd is looking committed as ever in a sleeveless denim jumpsuit and Katt Williams hair. Tora Woloshin is back and perhaps even blonder (love you, Tora!) but the judges don't seem very thrilled with her. Adorable corkscrew-curled Rachel Crow sings adorably and everyone looks pleased. J. Mark Inman sings like an unhinged carnival barker and everyone looks surprised. (Why? This is exactly what he sounded like on his audition.) Chris Rene, he of the recent stint in rehab, does very well. ("The girls will love him," Nicole Scherzinger points out.)
The only real criticism is directed toward recovering abuse victim Stacy Francis, who holds the high note in her song as though if she dips below a certain octave, Dennis Hopper will blow up a bus full of hostages. "That was way over the top," says Simon, and he definitely doesn't mean it as a compliment. Cut to a tearful Stacy being interviewed a moment later: "Simon doesn't like me."
This vocal test is revealed to be a sudden death elimination round – a third of the contestants are about to be sent home. Not even midway through the episode! The whole platoon is divided up into three large groups. As the first group steps onstage, young Bieber-worshipper Drew Ryniewicz is visible and so clearly this one will be fine. The second group comes onstage and the only face I recognize is J. Mark Inman, which, well, don't let the door hit you on the way out, guys. Just after his fate is revealed, J. Mark is glimpsed maniacally wailing "I don't have a life!" and looking as unstable as Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket.
The third group is told that they too will make it to the next round, and then they reunite with the first group in a series of tearful hugs that seem pretty damn sentimental considering that most of these folks would literally throw each other under the bus to move ahead in the competition. Subsequently, everyone is shown partying together, complete with alcohol and hot tubs. Will there be any Jersey Shore-style hookups and possibly catchphrases about those hookups? Only time will tell.
For the remainder of this first portion of boot camp, everyone is divided into groups and given five hours to learn and perform a song of the judge's choosing. Here are the highlights:
• Dexter Haygood channels James Brown channeling Mick Jagger during his group's song: "Creep" by Radiohead. It's like a rejected Steve Martin bit.
• Revealed to be Ike Turner's widow (!!!), Audrey Turner impresses Simon and LA Reid during "Creep," but leaves Paula and Nicole unmoved.
• Also, 1/4 of that group has never heard "Creep" before, in case you weren't feeling old.
• During a version of "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" that has the beat from "Empire State of Mind" awkwardly jammed in, raven-haired Jazzlyn Little forgets lyrics, but continues on for her team's sake. The judges notice.
• Everybody in the group singing the Eagles' "Desperado" has a superstar name, from Paige Ogle to Leroy Bell (who has a voice built for narrating serious films).
• On the flip side, while a lot of the group artists have not-so-great names, Illusion Confusion is next level bad.
• Brian Bradley's rapping skills are upstaged by Tatiana Reina Williams and her black-and-yellow dreads (on a Jay-Z song, no less). This despite Brian's frequent interruptive ad libs. LA Reid says: "From a rap perspective? He's just too young."
• Brock and Makenna, the cute college-age platonic couple, are totally gonna start doing it.
• Controversial chanteuse Tiah Tolliver actually wins over Nicole and Paula with her vocal part on a Michael Bublé song. This after both judges were still upset that Simon "saved" Tiah during her audition.
• 12-year-old Emily Michalak looks like a dewy, just-hatched Kendra Wilkinson.
• I can't describe how worried I am for Rachel Crow, who was a little too pitchy during her group's performance – the only one of these songs that came out sounding like a "We Are the World" type benefit.
The next round of cuts is going to be huge – shaving the 100 who are left now down to a lean 32. Who will survive the rest of boot camp? We'll have to wait until tonight's results episode to find out.
LAST EPISODE: Auditions Go Out With a Bang and a Whimper