American Idol: Hollywood Week – Group Day

Group Day. The fatigue and the frustration. The mania and the mascara. The chiding and the childbirth. Yes, American Idol, after sending 85 golden-ticket-holders on a quick turnaround back home, 96 contestants competed in groups for a second round of cuts. Previews and lead-ins for this show hyped all kinds of drama with fights and meltdowns and general emotional devastation, looking like clips from The Blair Witch Project. Assuming folks at home aren’t tuning in for a singing competition, the producers last night focused over half the episode on rehearsal tears and tantrums.

There’s almost nothing more tedious than a bunch of teenagers trying to work out vocal harmonies, so the show attempted to ferment as much commotion as possible by forcing singers to quickly and chaotically find their own groups, limiting rehearsal space (they had to either seek cramped spaces or rehearse next to other groups’ competitive caterwauling), giving them tricky, word-tripping song choices, and limiting prep time so that late-night hours would lead to frayed nerves and short tempers.

The other big storyline centered on Big Mike Lynche, whose wife was delivering their baby as he was about to take the stage for his group audition. All evening, we got updates on the big event (“She’s at eight centimeters!”), and Mike eventually talked his wife through the delivery (“Push that baby out!”) via cellphone, a moment he was willing to share with millions of strangers watching on television. He nailed his verse of The Temps’ “Get Ready”, by the way, thereby setting up his upcoming ejection episode. Online speculationm, however, is that Lynche is still on the show after all, so keep your fingers crossed for Big Mike and that new baby girl.

The other offstage drama came from reports that the frontrunner to replace Simon Cowell after this season is…Howard Stern?? Initial reactions weren’t cheerful from longtime Idol fans, although some commentary gave way to an it’s-so-crazy-it-just-might-work philosophy. After all, Stern might be one of the only guys out there who can be as consistently entertaining, maddening, and brutally honest as Simon is. On the other hand, is American Idol seriously ready to shed its sparkling-clean, Baptist-father-approved image in favor of Fartman? Keep in mind that the average Idol viewer right now is your mom, who is not the typical Stern listener, and she may give up on the show (and restrict her kids from watching) if she thinks Ryan Seacrest is likely to be replaced with a drunken dwarf (and I don’t mean bringing back Paula — kidding!). In any case, Kara Dioguardi was quick to go public to insist that bringing Stern in was bad news just as Stern hinted publicly that he’d already been offered the job. Stay tuned.

But back to last night’s hullabaloo. The Mighty Rangers vs. The Dreamers! Neapolitan vs. Destiny’s Wild! Moorea Masa, a Group Day veteran from last season, is bossing everyone around in a janitor’s closet even though she can’t remember a single verse when it’s go time. The Dreamers all hate each other, and unlikable know-it-all Mary Powers keeps saying things like, “That’s not how I was taught to rehearse”. Neapolitan has stolen Denstiny’s Wild’s a cappela arrangement of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”, the equivalent of showing up in the same prom dress, apparently.

None of this ended up mattering a whole lot, since the dreaded Group Day cuts only slashed about a quarter of the remaining contestants, now down to 71, as group after group were all sent on to the next round. A few high-profile kids went down, including Kimberly Kebrow (now, we’ll never know if that was a wig or not), Matt Lawrence (trying to shoehorn him into that Gwen Stefani song was a dirty trick), and Amanda Schectman (keeping her drama queen image intact, she had so much mascara running down her face she looked like she was auditioning for The Jazz Singer). Also axed: Dave Pittman (The One with Tourette’s), Carmen Turner (The One With the Tammy Faye Makeup), and Mark Labriola (The Jack Black One), who bawled like a baby and pleaded for another chance. Simon: “Mark, don’t beg. It’s not cool”—gonna miss that guy.

But, hey, next week, we’ll boil it down again, and we’ll see lots of our faves in a blood battle to the death. Ashley Rodriguez! Todrick Hall! Theri, already one-name-only fabulous! John Park’s beautiful bottom end! Haeley Vaughn! Andrew Garcia! Caitlyn Epperly! And the return of shag-rocker Tyler Garcia! See you there.