The judges narrow the field from 70 to 42 after performances on the 'Viva ELVIS' stage

By Annie Barrett
February 17, 2012 at 09:21 AM EST
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The American Idol caravans had hit Las Vegas, and you know what that meant. Costume party!!! The 70 remaining season 11 contestants grouped up to perform songs from the ’50s and ’60s “ON THE STAGE OF ELVIS PRESLEY!” shouted Steven Tyler. These crazy kids thought they were standing where Elvis had once stood, when in fact they were standing on the set of a circus. In so many ways.

Once they miraculously made it out of ringmaster Peggi Blu’s rigorous training sessions alive and sang onstage, the kiddies immediately faced eliminations. Then if they were safe, they might not really be safe! Such needless mindf—ery by the producers. Those unnecessarily brutal callback-cuts were just absurd.

Up first: “Dedicated to the One I Love” with Colton Dixon (the one the Idol editors love — how about that glamour shot of him in a tank top with his huge arm tattoo of a tree?), Skylar Laine, country singer Chase Likens, and Cari Quoyeser. Control-freak Skylar needed to reeeeeelax during rehearsals, but she pulled it out onstage. Cari had my favorite vocal of the bunch, sort of throaty and soulful and like something I’d want to listen to while writing American Idol recaps. She was also so cute — what gives? You can listen to some of her music here.

Enter the teens! Hello, teens. Jeremy Rosado, David Leathers Jr., Ariel Sprague, and Gabi Carrubba had stayed friends since the Atlanta auditions. Gabi quickly identified herself as the local diva — foreshadowing alert — and asked if the group could add another “Rockin’ Robin” at the end of the song so she could get a better part. Yeah I bet those two words will really pump up your performance! Ariel was the standout for me, and the cheesy compliment J. Lo paid her was totally true: “When you smile, you light up the place.” She really does. Her voice is powerful and unpretentious and always a surprise. I’m so into her.

“All the stress that I had the whole day is all gone,” announced Gabi after her whole team was safe. Later the judges would call everyone back and send her home alone. We should have known. She really got the bitch edit for awhile there, and Randy’s high praise of her performance was “You were in there, man!” Man.

NEXT: Brielle Von Huge Turd stays over Schyler Dixon Adam Brock, Erika Van Pelt, Angie Zeiderman and Shelby Tweten were strong on “Great Balls Of Fire” — especially Erika, who’s a growler in a good way and benefitted from the “let us costume you” element of this round. Angie looked insane as always with her Betty Boop-meets-Lady Gaga demeanor and eye makeup. “Girl, you don’t have any tailfeathers, but you sure shook em!” cried Steven. That’s one way to tell a girl she’s’ got a flat ass. Angie went home at the end, too. She should have worn some chicken butt-lets.

I still don’t see what the judges like about Brielle Von Hugel vocally. She’s low-toned and not powerful enough to seem like she’s in control of what she’s singing. She just comes off as aggressive in all of her efforts. Schyler Dixon sounded the best in a trio with Brielle and Molly Hunt as they sang “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” while “modernizing a look from the classic age of music,” according to Seacrest.

Anyone else missing Ryan these days? It’s not that I want him to dominate these early episodes. I just know he’s hanging around, lurking — always lurking — and I get excited when I see him. It’s like spotting a heart-shaped Coke stain on a stretch of hideously patterned convention center carpeting.

Anyway, Molly got the boot, and then Schyler didn’t make it through the random callback-cuts. Her brother Colton skunked out on the floor, beside himself with sadness. She seemed like she knew it was coming, her brother’s victory over her. Maybe not that day, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of her life.

The best part about “Night Has A Thousand Eyes” was Elise Testone, she of the sexy red shoes and black and white geometric dress. I thought she classed up the whole song with a maturity unable to be matched by Reed Grimm and Newsies understudy Eben Franckewicz. Reed and Eben seemed to be playing characters onstage while Elise looked like she was living out the experience as herself. Just something I noticed. I probably didn’t explain that very well. Haley Johnson was with them, too — her voice seemed weaker compared to Elise but frankly all of these guys were good. Everyone’s through.

NEXT: The awful cowboy succeeds again Jermaine Jones and the awful cowboy Richie Lawson paired up more out of desperation than the fact that they were both baritone bass singers. Simply finding a group was a struggle for these outcasts, the voice of Ryan informed us. Training was rocky, with Richie spouting off annoying near-threats like “I didn’t come here to recycle music; I came to make it” instead of just shutting up and rehearsing his song. Somehow the two opposite personalities made it work on “Make It Easy On Yourself.” Jermaine’s operatic voice was far more commanding and I wouldn’t be surprised if most viewers were rooting for the awful cowboy to go home. The judges LOVED their performance though. I can appreciate how the pair pulled this together at the last minute, but still found their segment altogether weird and sad.

My favorite number of the night: “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” by Jessica Sanchez, Deandre Brackensick, and Candice Glover. For one thing, it seemed longer than any other song so they had to have shown the whole thing. It was a significant spotlight shone on Jessica, who can seriously wail, and silly vanilli Deandre, who got cut on the season 10 green mile despite his soulful voice, exquisite hair, and chiseled face. They need to make statues of Deandre Brackensick’s head and bust. Hello — it is him they’re looking for. Poor Candice was booted during the unnecessarily cruel callbacks. I thought she sounded great. Watch them here.

In strolled Clayton Fairhat, returning hopeful Scott Dangerfield, Adam Lee Decker, and Curtis Grey with their manly wide stances and leather jackets. Were they bouncers at the Aria nightclubs? These couldn’t be real contestants. Too scary. I did not enjoy “Jailhouse Rock.” I tried pretty hard, too. It shouldn’t be that way. The whole routine was just boring. I liked how Steven schooled everyone with his musicianspeak: “It’s not a hard song. It’s a minor third thing. You guys were a bit sharp on that.” I also liked J. Lo’s advice, which could apply to so many others: “Learn how to pull back. It’s not always about the power.” Only Curtis was cut.

Shannon Magrane and Joshua Ledet stood out on “Blue Suede Shoes” alongside eliminated singers Curtis Finch and Amber Caparas. Meanwhile, J. Lo’s boy toy Johnny Keyser waited for J. Lo by the hot tub as his group casually rehearsed in the great outdoors. He wasn’t worried. He should have been worried. CUT!

Jessica Phillips (boyfriend had a stroke) (sorry it’s just the best way to ID her at this point) got all high and mighty and rancid after the judges turned her away following “Keep Me Hanging On.” “It doesn’t seem like they’re looking for real artists, if you’re asking me,” she ranted. Hmm, was anyone asking her? That was kind of a rude comment to make in front of her fellow sparkly pink ladies Courtney Williams and Britnee “Looks Like Britney” Kellogg, who had survived.

Courtney was a standout and I don’t think we’d heard much from her before. We may end up remembering Britnee better than Courtney though, as Britnee took the hardest hit from the unnecessarily brutal callbacks. “I don’t get it,” she choked out while sobbing. “This is my life. This is what I do. It’s crazy. I don’t want to go home.” But she did. It’s crazy. I expect her to return next year a little battier and with a slight tweak to the spelling of her name.

All this rejection was giving J. Lo a headache. Poor thing.

NEXT: Are you on Ritalin? Lauren Gray aged five years during her few minutes of quality time with Peggi Blu, during which the ringmaster told her to wake up and smell the coffee, asked her if she was on Ritalin, and screamed at her that THERE’S NO CRYING IN SINGING. No matter! Lauren gave J. Lo the goosies starting with her first line of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” I’m not sure if it was Lauren or the song, but it struck me that “Tonight you’re mine, completely,” when sung correctly and with a bit of attitude, is such a compelling and sexy way to start singing to someone. Anyway, I love this song and was glad the trio — Lauren, Wendy Taylor, and Mathenee Treco — each got to do significant chunks and really take their time with the melody. But Mathenee got cut! Whatever, weirdos. Couldn’t they rearrange some things and keep him in? Oh, well. We’ll always have Clueless.

All four singers advanced after “I Only Have Eyes For You” — Heejun Han, Phillip Phillips, Neco Starr, and Jairon Jackson. Neco Starr, a Bruno Mars-like cherub with commanding stage presence and a fabulous stage name, stole the show here for me. Our court jester Heejun dropped the jokes for a few minutes to sob quietly after the group’s success. “I’m so glad that I’m giving [my family] good news,” he blubbered. Neco was so cute here: “You know it, man! Turn that frown upside down!” (I think it was Neco.) These guys were all really sweet. Heejun even thanked Peggi!

Eventually Jairon got cut at the U.B.C.’s. Ugh, not only were the unnecessarily brutal callback-cuts horrifying to watch, but they are really messing up the flow of this recap! My writing is usually so linear and fluid, like a trail of tears from the stage to the door (carefully poured out of a paper cup by Nigel Lythgoe so the rejects would know which way to walk). Oh, well.

Creighton Fraker, Jen Hirsh, and Aaron Marcellus made it through after Lady and the Spectacles’ cover of “Sealed With a Kiss,” but Nick Boddington had to walk away. I hope he stole those prop nerd glasses. “Nick, end of the line for you, bro,” Randy tried to say but it came out sounding like brow, or maybe brau. I could use a brau right about now.

I’m still loving Jen Hirsh’s vocal power and ability to blend in with a group despite the power. She’s a class act, too — telling the cameras “Nobody has a voice like Nick in this competition” after her teammate was turned away. Sweet.

Brief glimpse of Hollie Cavanaugh! That elusive minx. She’s the kept woman of season 11.

Goodbye: Wayne Wilson, Ashley Robles, Stephanie Renae, Aubrey Deckmeyer, Janelle Arthur, Tina Torres, Cari Quoyeser, Gabi Carrubba, Angie Zeiderman, Molly Hunt, Candice Glover, Curtis Finch, Caleb Johnson, Jessica Phillips, Britnee Kellogg, Mathenee Treco, Jairon Jackson, Nick Boddington, Schyler Dixon, Angie Zeiderman, Johnny Keyser (“What can’t happen, happened today.”), Caleb Johnson, Amber Caparas, Curtis Finch, and some other people the voice of Ryan did not mention.

All in all it was a great episode with more quality singing than we’ve ever seen on season 11.

We’re down to 42! Which number did you like the best? See you next week for MORE DOOM.

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

Read more:

Deandre Brackensick, Jessica Sanchez early frontrunners for hairography, cuteness

Is Reed Grimm the new Casey Abrams?

Wednesday’s group round recap: Not for the Faint of Heart

‘American Idol’: Who sang the best Whitney Houston cover? — POLL

Did ‘American Idol’ want us to think Lauren Gray is the next Carrie Underwood?

Ask Annie anything about ‘Idol’ (or whatever) in the video player below. To see her answers to previous questions, click on the text links below the picture.

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