Welcome. Please bask in the warm glow that is American Idol‘s Hollywood Week. The grueling boot camp in which the judges whittle down our crop of hopefuls in record speed. The week where dreams are both instantly made and unceremoniously crushed. There is singing! There is crying! There is carnage! Isn’t it great?
The first round of Hollywood Week is the swift and wonderful Lines of Ten. In groups of ten, each contestant gets to sing a quick solo before the judges get rid of anyone from that group who just doesn’t cut it. It a portion of the evening that could also be called “Trim the Fat,” or “We Made Some Mistakes in the Audition Round.”
In our first Line of Ten are two early frontrunners. Laci Kaye Booth, the folk-country singer with the coolest tone of any of the country girls we’ve seen thus far, is first up and she sings an acoustic version of “Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin with a ’70s folk vibe. Like, the girl can wear bell bottoms and it doesn’t look like a costume. Also in Laci’s line is Alejandro Aranda. Remember him? The musical genius? He sings a version of Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” and my brain melts when he starts playing the guitar. Papa Lionel says he could watch Alejandro play all day. There’s no doubt both of these two make it through the first round.
In the next group of ten is Courtney Penry. Um, I am very confused as to what she’s doing here since she walks onto the stage and has a complete breakdown. Then she takes on a Kelly Clarkson song and is all over the place while also forgetting the lyrics. This is like “bad audition” bad. Courtney is out and Ryan Seacrest, the object of her affection, isn’t even there to soften the blow.
You know who marches onto the stage and blows Courtney out of the water with her own Kelly Clarkson number? Madison Vandenburg. It makes sense since during her New York audition the judges compared the teenager to our Idol Queen. Madison is still great. In her Line of Ten there are several other audition standouts: Margie Mays, whom you may remember for burping when she’s nervous and just generally being kooky, but the girl brings some serious singing chops to Hollywood. There’s also Tyler Mitchell, a laid back country dude (I know, I know, there are a lot of those) and Logan Johnson, who on that very day is celebrating 10 months sober. All four of them make the cut.
Because it happens every single season, we have to hear about all of the contestants getting sick. Have they never heard of Emergen-C? You are fighting for your lives, people. Hollywood Week is basically The Hunger Games but with more crying. Eddie Island is one singer feeling less than great. He’s barfing, guys. I’m not a singer, but I’m pretty sure barfing isn’t a great thing for your voice. Nevertheless, Eddie pulls through. I was a little lukewarm on Eddie after the auditions, but his version of Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” is changing that. We’re making moves, people!
The next Line of Ten includes Shawn Robinson (ray of sunshine), Dalton Elliott (another country guy), Katie Belle (the hottie who made Luke Bryan blush), and Colby Swift. Colby is a true to life cowboy who dealt with a huge loss after his mother left him when he was just 10. He was definitely rough around the edges in his audition, but the judges loved his personality and saw real potential. In Hollywood Week, he sings Freddy Fender’s “Before the Last Teardrop Falls” in both English and Spanish. It starts out rough, but Luke has him stop playing guitar and just sing—it’s a marked improvement. Everyone in that line makes it through, but even more heartwarming: Luke notices that Colby’s boots are so worn they have holes in the bottom—so Luke hands Colby his own boots. You guys! I knew we’d have some emotional singing to make me feel not dead inside, but I didn’t know we’d have Luke Freaking Bryan giving a kid the shoes off his own feet. WHAT A DAY.
To the next Line! Now, you knew they were going to create some drama between returning contestant Laine Hardy and the friend he auditioned with, Ashton Gill. She’s fine, but if you’re a country singer in this thing, you need a wow factor. You know, like Laine and the insane gravel in his voice. He’s better than before. He’s back to win this thing. Laine and Ashton are in the same Line of Ten, but the judges ask Laine to step back along with a few other singers while Ashton remains in the front line. So, one of them is going home. It’s definitely not Laine.
Next up, we have Jade Flores, who probably drinks sunshine every morning and nails a country version of “Unchained Melody.” I’m rooting for this girl. She’s joined by Myra Tran who comes to us from Vietnam and tackles Sia’s “Chandelier.” Her secret weapon was the surprise of having such a powerful voice come out of such a tiny person and some of that is definitely lost here. But the real Line standout is our precious janitor, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon. I’m still thinking about the original song he performed in the auditions. I guess that will now be replaced by his rendition of Carole King’s “Beautiful” because it is perfect. I know we’re still early on with this whole shebang, but, um, maybe Jeremiah should be our next American Idol?
Another redhead who might offer Jeremiah some competition is Walker Burroughs. It seems like we saw him audition 10 years ago, but I’m here to assure you, it was not! He was the very first to give this Idol thing a shot this season and he sounds even better now, as he sits at the keyboard and croons a little Stevie Wonder “Whereabouts,” which, like is a big, bold swing. Anyway, I’m hot on Walker. He gets a pass through with Nate Walker (Gabby Barrett’s friend), and Nick Townsend, who had one of the saddest stories in Idol’s Let’s Make Everyone Cry All Time Tour this season (his brothers both died by suicide). We do, however, have to say goodbye to Lauren Engle, who recently lost her husband. Her voice just doesn’t hold up a capella. And singing a Carrie Underwood song certainly doesn’t help either.
Other singers you may remember who don’t make it past round one: Peach Martine, Jorgie, and Landon Knowlton. The Lines of Ten were kinder to people like Wade Cota, who I was patiently waiting to hear again all this time (he doesn’t disappoint) and easily gets through to Groups. And Dimitrius Graham, who Facetimes with his sick mother before surgery so that she can watch him sing “Wind Beneath My Wings” and also make Katy Perry snot-cry, gets a resounding “yes,” as well. Some familiar faces who join them include Juan Pablo, Evelyn Cormier, Clay Page, Shayy, and Ashley Hess.
But just because you made the Top 98, does not mean you’re American Idol material. The toughest round of this entire thing still awaits our singers: The Group Round. Abandon hope all ye who enter here, etcetera, etcetera.
You guys! The Group Rounds are kind of devastating at first, huh? They even break Jade Flores, human sunshine. Jade, you guys! She’s in a group with Myra Tran, Juan Pablo, and Moriah Formica (if she looks familiar, she was on season 13 of The Voice, you’re welcome), that has some drama (naturally), mostly caused by Juan Pablo, but Jade is the only casualty. She’s joined by familiar auditioners like Zebulon Spencer, Chloe Channell, and in a truly heartbreaking moment, Luke Bryan has to send home his friend from Make-A-Wish, Ethan Payne. I told you, Hollywood Week takes no prisoners.
Without fail, people will forget lyrics, as if they’ve never seen this show before. If you’re going to Hollywood Week and you make it to Group Rounds, please, for the love of Katy Perry’s dog Nugget, learn your lyrics. Yes! Nerves can mess with your head but just try. Try! Laine Hardy, WHO HAS BEEN HERE BEFORE, can’t even remember that his group, The Diamond Dixies, are singing “Grenade” by Bruno Mars. Thankfully, he remembers the lyrics once he gets going, and he, Laci Kaye Booth, and Katie Belle (better than I remember!) all make it through. Their team member and Luke Bryan shoe owner Colby Swift whiffs on the lyrics and gets sent home. LYRICS ARE IMPORTANT.
Although, maybe not that important if your voice is as good as Wade Cota’s. He writes the lyrics to “California Dreamin’” on his arm and yet still, forgets. Perhaps Luke is sympathetic since he once wrote lyrics to the national anthem on his hand and it was caught on camera. Or maybe they just know Wade has a voice you don’t cut over one mishap.
There is one bright spot in tonight’s Group Rounds, and it arrives with Unexpected Vibes, a group made up of Dimitrius Graham, Shayy, Assata Renay, and William Oliver, Jr. You may recall that Shayy is legally blind. She struggles to learn the lyrics of their song at first since she can’t read the lyric sheet they’re given. Thankfully, the group has selected “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys, which as far as lyrics go, are pretty easy to tackle. When in doubt, just keep screaming “Tell me why.”
With some help from her mom, Shayy gets the words down and you guys, this group is a goddamn delight. I want this version of this song IMMEDIATELY. Dimitrius was good in his Line of Ten, but overshadowed by Katy’s crying—here, he shows us why he made it this far.
During their performance, something wonderful happens. Shayy has brought all of her team members goggles that mimic how much she can see—they put them on so that they can finish the song as a true team. Papa Lionel doesn’t stand a chance of staying dry-eyed through this one.
The episode actually ends with Nate Walker getting sick and being sent to the hospital, leaving his group in a lurch in a sort of cliffhanger, but I am here for the singing, not the drama so I will pretend the evening winds down with Unexpected Vibes. For some reason, the judges cut William Oliver, Jr., which like, really guys? Give us a nice moment to go out on, would ya?