The first a cappella round keeps the dream alive for some and crushes others forever
American Idol
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As “colossal pressure cast its shadow onstage,” the misery of Hell Week was palpable. Couples therapist Ryan Seacrest chatted up various contestants as their most basic bodily functions failed them time and time again. People were dropping dead all over the place. They’d be going home to nothing. Why can’t you understand that?

Still, there were plenty of bright spots in last night’s first-round Hollywood Week episode. The warblers got to ride in Ford rental cars. J. Lo wore all white, like an angel, of death. Steven Tyler even skipped! “I want you to edit the skipping out. You know that,” he warned the producers. Yes, they know. They don’t care.

I can’t believe we saw ZERO new singers and no John Wayne. Anyway.

These happy people made it through:

Brett Loewenstern and his voluminous cloud of curls. It was as if the lighting had been carefully curated for his hair and his hair alone. Screw those other people and their stupid faces. Brett added some odd little grunts to the ends of some of the words in “Let It Be” (“wisdom-uh,” “trouble-uh”), but his vocal was strong and pure. I liked how the 15-year-old classed things up with a black jacket and Star of David necklace. “That boy’s got the blues!” we heard J. Lo say. She thinks a few people have the blues, it turns out.

Rachel Zevita must have flipped on her “instant extrovert” switch because she was all zany jazz hands before beginning “Warwick Avenue.” The 22-year-old from New York seemed more confident than she has in the past. Thia Megia sailed through with “Summertime” and Casey Abrams once again created his own new beat for “Lullaby of Birdland.” I was relieved that his voice rang out pretty well in the bigger space, and that he looked like less of a scrub with his solid dark outfit.

NEXT: Idol producers envision eventual Baby Durbin/Baby Tassin romanceI don’t want the stylists to drastically change Casey’s hair (or Brett’s obviously), but I would like them to sculpt the mighty Chris Medina‘s shag into some sort of Edward Scissorhands sculpture. Maybe a different one each week? Trotting reindeer would be fantastic, but I would also settle for human hand. After his audition, Chris sat and cried while Coldplay’s “Fix You” whined softly in the background, lest he forget that it’s his responsibility to cure his fiancée of her brain injury.

James Durbin and Paris Tassin got paired up because they’re both “doing this for someone else” — James’ poopy toddler and Paris’ hearing-impaired daughter. If both parents make it through, the little ones can make friends in the audience and ultimately try out for season 11 when the minimum age is lowered to 3. Paris sang Celine and James sang the Beatles. It’s nice to think highly of oneself. Still, I wasn’t blown away by either vocal powerhouse.

Lauren Alaina, the Idol producers’ favorite child prodigy, went with “Unchained Melody.” It was sort of breathless and scratchy and I hated that she sang “that time can do so much” instead of “and time can do so much.” Very jarring. They paired Lauren up with sexy Stormi the pageant queen, because they were “two ladies that had a strong connection to Steven.” Ewwww(.com). Stormi never had a chance. She’d arrived fully clothed.

More youngins: Holly Cavanaugh, whose “When I Look At You” suggested none of the nerves she’d suffered during her trembling audition. Good for her. Randy definitely appreciated those sky-high heels. Jacee “Big Bieber” Badeaux kept his cool with a sweet and even cover of “Bless the Broken Road.” Robbie Rosen took on “Moody’s Mood For Love” with what I considered a little too much force, but Steven sure was whooping it up. Jacee won this round, though, Steven Tyler Reaction-wise. S. Ty clinked his cup with his pen!

NEXT: The worst couples retreat in historyA scheming producer decided it would be fun to throw ex-couple Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks into a foursome living situation with Nick Fink and Jacqueline Dunford. Rob looked like he’d rather go on a date with Death than subject himself to one more group hug. It was pretty gross and kind of genius. But really, it was awful. Rob pulled it together long enough to sing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and maybe the severe drowsiness he exhibited was just a literal interpretation of the title. Well done, sir. Chelsee made it through without consequence and apparently not much of a lasting impression on me.

The real drama went down when Jacqueline, 22, made the cut, but her boyfriend Nick, 19, got dumped. This did not align with Nick’s unique perspective on how the universe should operate, so he somehow intercepted the mic and begged for mercy before miserably croaking out the end of his song from the auditorium’s aisle. “No. Nope,” confirmed Randy. And then just for good measure: “Nope.” Settle down, Randy. Then Nick got all weird and eerily perceptive as he asked Seacrest flat-out if he was “just washed-up emotionally ’cause you’ve been here for 10 years now.” Well, that and other things, Nick, but basically yes. Ryan didn’t honor such nonsense with an answer, but we could all see the truth in his eyes. Ugh, I’d like to not have to deal with Nick every week. My eyes can only handle so much shiny blazer in one lifetime. Also, I’d like them to do us all a favor and put some lowlights in Jacqueline’s brassy pelts.

Tiffany Rios (tall Snooki) acted like a complete bitch onstage and popped a squat during her overwrought song. “I like her; she’s crazy,” we could hear J. Lo murmur. Poof. Done. Next.

Congrats also to Scotty “I really just wanted to sing the words ‘turn me on’ again” McCreery, Jackie Wilson, Jerome Bell, Clint Jun Gamboa, Julie Zorilla, Naima Adedapo, Aaron and Mark Gutierrez, White House Intern Molly DeWolf Swensen (the new High School Student Aaron Kelly?), Emily Anne Reed, Stefano Langone, and the still completely unhinged Ashley Sullivan. I think I also spotted elusive blondie Paul McDonald in there.

NEXT: A litany of losers

These miserable people are going home:

Victoria Huggins got an entire segment devoted to her tired-out Overgrown Toddlers and Tiaras charade. I guess they had enough freaking footage of her, so why not? (So many reasons why not!) This is one delusional little lady. As annoying as she was, I have to give her credit for one of the best ego trips I’ve ever heard on reality TV: “Maybe people look at me like I’m looking at these mountains.” Sure they do, sweetie. Now run along and go stand on one of the mountains. Keep going….keep going….keep going….perfect. See ya.

Goodbye and good luck to my favorite accountant Steve Beghun, Sarah Sellers (?!?!?!), Jacqueline Dupree, belly dancer Heidi, a woman with a bad perm, and Travis Orlando.

At the end of the day, Casey Abrams felt so bad. He didn’t even know half of the people he hugged. He’s an equal-opportunity hugger. Get ready, Seacrest. Hug City.

Unsung Hero of the Week: The “WATCH YOUR STEP” sign on the landing of a flight of stairs. Really?!

Wednesday’s Group Round can’t come fast enough. I mean, I’ll take the weekend. That’ll be fine. But Monday and Tuesday? Forget it. Count me out. I’ll see you all next week.

Follow Annie on Twitter: @EWAnnieBarrett

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American Idol

Ryan Seacrest hosts as Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan guide aspiring singers on their way to superstardom.

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