“This week, we separate the singers from the superstars,” “American Idol” judge Luke Bryan said in a dramatic voiceover. He wasn’t kidding. Now that auditions have wrapped, 169 golden-ticket-wielding hopefuls will be cut down to 24 as the competition, renewed and rebooted on ABC, continues with Hollywood Week. And so, there was no more fitting soundtrack than Demi Lovato’s “Confident” to welcome the contestants and wish them luck.
The first round of finalists included four incredible talents, among them: the teenage talents of Layla Spring, who led with an acoustic version of “Last Kiss,” and Alyssa Raghu, who dedicated “Wind Beneath My Wings” to her father with an a capella rendition of the Bette Midler classic. Country was well-represented, too, as goat farmer Trevor McBane cut a striking figure in black and Caleb Lee Hutchinson charmed with his good-natured attitude, earning easy access through to the next round.
“I would be barfing if I was on that stage,” said Katy Perry, as alpaca fan Noah Davis and brothers Milo and Julian Sposato had their hearts broken when only Milo is voted through.
Pennsylvania’s Catie Turner, who Bryan advised to stay off of social media and not read any mean tweets (advice she ignored, as she addressed those very people on Twitter the night of her audition), was a goofball delight as she gushed about the cute boys with guitars, and attached herself to new crush Zach D’Onofrio (“He dresses cool”). Turner’s assertion that she should win “Idol” because she gives good hugs is an undersell — her version of The Beatles’ “Come Together” was quirky and cool. Her personality was even more endearing as she learned of D’Onofrio’s surprise elimination and threatened him not to ghost her — or she will find and kill him. No doubt about it, this is great television.
Also going through were Maddie Pope, Cade Foehner, and Jonny Brenns, who sat at the piano and impressed with a cool cover of “Somebody Else” by The 1975. If he continues to pick songs like this (which smartly showcases the pop undertones in his alto range), Brenns will survive well into the live shows.
Eighteen-year old Jurnee was another standout contestant. With a flair for style and a wife overseas, she made her mark with a cover of Demi Lovato’s “You Don’t Do It It For Me Anymore.” She “did it” for the judges (Perry in particular), and made it to the group rounds.
Meanwhile, Dennis Lorenzo continued to captivate with his folksy and soulful marriage of voice and guitar on Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.”
Eye candy Trevor Holmes returned for another flirting session with Perry (oh, and to sing “Riptide” by Vance Joy). Unfortunately, so did his girlfriend who figured Holmes’ audition was more of an opportunity for her to spar on camera with Katy in a scene worthy of “The Bachelor.”
“Katy, I’m watching you,” she called from the audience. Surely Katy Perry must have been shaking in her Louboutins. Still, the quips went on: Holmes commented, “That’s my girlfriend,” to which Perry shot back, “Not your fiancé!” Touche’. Holmes got a rose to make it through to the next round.
As is the “Idol” way, the episode ended on a heartbreaking note, as singer David Francisco, who was hit by a car and is slowly recovering the use of his legs, tossed his cane and attempted to sing “Sunday Morning” by Maroon 5. Pitch problems prevented him from advancing, however, and the judges sent him home.
The group rounds, the crown jewel of Hollywood Week, came next and in an instant the audience saw alliances formed, stars step out, Momagers out of control and dreams crushed — not to mention poor vocal coach Michael Orland, constantly tortured by singers forgetting the words to songs as massive as Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself.”
The group God’s Diversity, which included Michael Woodward, “Idol” repeat Thaddeus Johnson, Shannon O”Hara and Kourtney Smith, was up first, taking Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” to church in a way that recalled the best moments of “Glee.” Four out of the five advanced.
On the flip side, The Gurope (oy, these names) were a “disaster,” Orland commented, as they attempted a cringe-worthy version of The Bee Gees’ classic, “Stayin’ Alive.” Contestants Maddie Zahm and Samuel James improvised their own words to get through the round (Zahm had the upper hand when it came to freestyling), while Cesely Parrish and the likable Marcio Donaldson, thankfully, emerged unscathed.
Back to Catie Turner, who, if she doesn’t win “American Idol,” should get her own sitcom. Her group, Taco! (“because after we sing you will ‘Taco’ about us”) was comprised of plucky teens Alyssa Raghu, Khaya Robinson, and Victoria McQueen, and rocked a youthful version of “La, La, La,” by Naughty Boy featuring Sam Smith. Turner and Lionel Richie had a moment on stage when the icon shared a story of how The Commodores were almost called, “The Commode.” Richie’s stories are so vibrant, and he shares them like a true mentor.
Another group in turmoil was Superdope Hotness, featuring Milo Sposato and his mom, who was not crazy about the choice of Bieber’s “Love Yourself.” Sposato made a decision to break himself out solo at the tail end of the song, a change Orland or the group wasn’t wild about. Orland even suggested that Sposato doesn’t care about his group. Still, the gamble paid off, and everyone — including Lorenzo — is voted through.
Why the producers chose to montage the group DNA with beatboxing Ada Vox is a mystery, as Vox looks to have the chops for the Top 24. So does Gabby Burnett, Jurnee, and Dominique, who were all put through with ease.
Sure to be hotly debated in the court of “Idol” opinion is why Laine Hardy was put through. He complained about the choreography chosen by his predominantly female group, and the fact that he doesn’t listen to Bieber. So he didn’t bother to learn the words. This seemed unfair to Mia Disaris and Julia Madrid, who were both sent home despite knowing the dance moves and the lyrics.
The final group, Don’t Touch, included Britney Holmes, Lee Vasi, Gabbii Jones, and Crystal Alicea, who up until this point had only sung karoke. Vasi took Alicea under her wing, giving her encouragement and hugs, demonstrating one of the best examples of how a group should nurture a member and work as a team so they can all advance together. So it was a shock when Perry told the girls that the judges only had three spots left, and one had to volunteer to go home. Tears began to flow as Alicea volunteered herself in tribute, Jennifer Lawrence style, only to be told by Perry, “Just kidding!” Not funny.
Solo rounds begin on Easter Sunday (April 1), with the Top 24 revealed on Monday, April 2. “American Idol” airs Sundays and Mondays on ABC.