Welcome back to American Idol. I know you didn’t sleep a wink last night because you were so worried about poor little Symone Black, who was so overcome by nerves or illness or clumsiness that she fell off the stage creating the first-ever Idol cliffhanger. Yes, for the first time in Idol history someone’s life – and not their recording contract – hung in the balance. Spoiler alert: Symone’s not dead.
In fact, approximately two seconds into tonight’s episode, they show Symone walking with her dad to a date with the hospital. Yes the much-touted drama goes out with a whimper. In the words of late pitchman Billy Mays: “But wait, there’s more!” Now that Symone is up and seemingly head trauma-free, Idol has to manufacture some more thrills and chills to keep us on the edge of our seats. First round of terror comes in the results for Lauren Mink, who we already determined is probably going home because she thought her special needs adults would miss her, and Ethan Jones whose dad is in rehab, and Jeremy Rosado with the yellow tongue and the access to infectious diseases. Instead of building tension, Idol quickly dispatches Lauren and Ethan, but keeps Jeremy around to spread whatever Def Con 1 illness he has to the other contestants. Where’s the drama, Idol?
Luckily, this is Idol‘s self-proclaimed Hell Week, which I assume they write on poster board with dripping red tempura paints and post in the quad. Ryan Seacrest’s disembodied voice reminds us that after the sudden death elimination rounds that we saw yesterday, now it’s the infamous (in Idol’s own mind, at least) group performance night. The remaining 185 contestants have just one night to form into groups Voltron-style, choose a song, choreograph a routine, and then aim for perfection. It’s a two-for-one combo pack of hazing and cramming for finals and just another reason why Idol has a mid-20s age limit. According to the teasers, not everyone survives.
The show’s producer causes some consternation among the contestants by informing them that they must form groups of 4 or 5 singers, but there’s a twist! Each group must have with a mix of contestants from Day 1 and Day 2. This twist causes a huge uproar among people who didn’t watch last year’s show because everybody already made their new best Facebook friends and doesn’t want to make any others. Cue many many shots of people gasping and looking wide-eyed in fear at having to make new temporary BFFs. Most stricken by this choice is Alicia Bernhart, a St. Louis police officer who declares she is a St. Louis police officer to all comers. She also insists on singing the wretched, aria-free “Joy to the World” – better known as the “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” song – and won’t team up with anyone who won’t commit to singing that song. Amy Brumfield, who you may recall lives in a tent in the woods, also finds herself, in Idol’s always classy vernacular, homeless. Adding to Amy’s woes is that she has the flu, or more likely, Jeremy’s mystery yellow tongue ailment. To improve her situation, she sits in the corner and cries while telling herself that she can’t give up.
Outside Amy’s sad little corner of the world, “The theater has erupted in CHAOS,” Ryan says. The auditorium is crammed with contestants milling about, bumping into each other, squealing, grimacing. It’s like The Walking Dead except whinier. Eventually Amy and Alicia find each other, and then they find three more people, but when no one wants to sing Alicia’s bullfrog song in favor of the equally gag-inducing “More Than A Feeling,” she quits the group and returns to milling around demanding to know if people like cops. I wonder what would happen to Alicia if she never found a group. Would she be forced to compete Running Man style? Would Seacrest feed her to Randy Jackson? We never find out, because Alicia eventually finds one person whose father is a cop, so she relents to join that group. She is really good at not making friends and alienating people.
We are more than halfway through the show when I notice nothing is happening. There’s no singing, there’s no judging. It’s simply watching teenagers manufacture dramam – kind of like My Super Sweet Sixteen, but without the giant cake payoff. Heejun Han and Phillip Phillips have formed a group together with some kid in a hat and another kid in a plus-sized cowboy hat. Their head-butting creates much of the drama for the evening. For some reason, the cowboy hat’s insistence on music theory and box step choreography is ruining Heejun’s ideas of looking cool on national television. Phillip can’t get his back, because he is busy in his hotel room passing a kidney stone. Strangely the cameras aren’t tracking that action closely, which is obviously a missed opportunity for drama. Instead we have to settle for Heejun worrying about looking like a dork in front of his friends.
In the hallway of the convention center, Brielle Von Hugel, who made it to Hollywood and through the group auditions last year alongside Idol finalist Pia Toscano, is using this impressive resume to put herself in charge. She’s teamed with Kyle Crews, the frat bro from San Diego and Shannon Magrane, the seven-foot tall pitcher’s daughter. Brielle’s stage mom stands on the sideline muscles tensed, ever-ready to leap forward and throw someone under the bus if they step into her daughter’s spotlight.
45 minutes into the show and still no singing. I doublecheck the listing to see if the show is two hours long, which could explain the filler, but no. It’s an hour. And 45 minutes of the hour have been people muttering and shuffling and arguing in a convention center hallway. It’s Comic Con minus the cos play, or the Lutheran Elementary School Tournament minus the drama.
Well, there is some drama: A mysterious ailment is felling people left and right. The more stalwart and committed contestants practice between puking. The contestants with commitment issues retire wanly to their hotel rooms to barf far from the cameras. Some of them eventually return to the practice rooms, where they are greeted with full-bodied hugs and cheers by idiots who don’t understand how germs are transmitted. Amy Brumfield is still sick, but she’s “not letting the devil play” with her like that. She has Jesus and Thera Flu on her side.
Finally, morning has come and we are ready to see some group performances. As the first group takes the stage …the camera cuts. Come back next week when we get to see the judges in HazMat suits and the CDC shuts down the whole production.
Last episode: Life and Death in Hollywood