Final solos in Hollywood kicked off with a very emphatic "THIS...is American Idol" from Ryan Seacrest. At that moment I knew we were in for a treat. Edited like a movie from two-time Idol mentor Quentin Tarantino, we started with a late-night glimpse of Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler deliberating, and then worked our way backwards through the day's solos.
As contestants opened their eyes on the morning of final solos, a camera was right in their face. That must be creepy to wake up to. For this round, contestants have the option to sing with Michael Orland and the band, perform with an instrument, or sing a capella. Since all 100ish singers had to perform in one day, there was minimal feedback from the judges.
Milwaukee auditioner Haley Reinhart kicked off the day with "God Bless The Child." We got a flashback to her earlier performances: she initially showed confidence, but fumbled her lyrics on group night. She recovered nicely with this final solo and worked the stage. Randy and Jennifer loved when she got growly with the vocals. Steven closed his eyes and nodded along and piped in with his own vocals. Jennifer whispered to Randy that they almost sent her home yesterday.
The show introduced Ashthon Jones as "new," even though we saw her last night as part of the group The Hits. Either way, it was nice to see her solo. She went with a bold choice of "And I'm Telling You" which you shouldn't sing unless you can kill it like LaKisha Jones or Jennifer Hudson, otherwise it will kill you. Ashthon did a fine job with it and Jennifer remarked that it was beautiful.
Little Thia Megia took on a song that's close to my heart, "What A Wonderful World," and continued the strong streak of amazing girls. What a way to start the day.
Things didn't remain smooth. Adrian Michael had to start over and gave instructions to the judges. I remember the band and judges not liking it when Jermaine Sellers did that during final Hollywood solos last year. Adrian was not alone, though. Caleb Johnson questioned the key of his song mid-performance, and Frances Coontz struggled with her key until Steven encouraged her to work with Michael Orland and give it another try.
Clint Jun Gamboa had no trouble finding the right notes. He nailed "Georgia On My Mind" and sang with lots of personality. He's come along way since his initial audition. It's hard to believe that voice comes from that person!
Two singers we haven't heard much from--Kendra Chantelle and Sophia Shorai--each sang "Georgia On My Mind." Some of the contestants gave Sophia a standing ovation, and the judges seemed to love both performers.
When Season 8's Anoop Desai performed Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" I thought it was such an unusual, but a very fun, choice for a final solo song. Chris Medina and Carson Higgins each decided to take on that song this time, but they had very different approaches. Carson kicked over the mic stand and rocked out. Chris Medina took an Andrew Garcia approach and did his own unique acoustic version. In their post-performance interviews, Carson seemed more confident than Chris, but I liked both versions for different reasons.
We saw some strong performances from Julie Zorrilla with "Love Song," Caleb Hawley with a Stevie Wonder hit, Colton Dixon took on Idol's own Daughtry, Brett Loewenstern sang "The Story," and Robbie Rosen's take on Sara Bareilles' "Gravity" made Jennifer swoon into Steven.
When we first met Casey Abrams in Austin, he played the melodica. This time, Casey gave us another Idol first--he sang while playing the stand-up bass. He asked Ryan if that made him the Neal Armstrong of Idol, and Ryan replied, "In your own way." Casey jammed out and Steven scream-sang along. Randy loved the performance and Casey invited Randy to join him, but Randy postponed the offer.
The competition took its toll on Jacqueline Dunford's health and she had to withdraw and take a trip to the hospital. That sucks after making it this far, but as the judges told her, "Your health is most important." Chelsee Oaks really bonded with Jacqueline throughout Hollywood Week, and this news crushed Chelsee, and she was crying as she took the stage for her final solo. Pull it together, girl! She sang Kelly Clarkson's "Because Of You" which is tough because it's an emotional song and not easy to sing if you're already on the verge of tears...and it's Kelly Freakin' Clarkson, the first Idol! Chelsee's emotions affected her vocals, and this was not a convenient time for that. However, it's always easier to connect to a singer when they're emotionally invested in their song, so maybe that will work to Chelsee's advantage.
Lauren Alaina had a moment in Nashville when she got to sing her parents' favorite song, "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing," with the song's main man, Steven Tyler. She sang it again for the judges, and they couldn't believe this girl is just 15! It looks like opening up the competition to 15-year-olds this season only added to the pool of talent.
We first heard from Jacob Lusk during his group night performance, and for his final solo he put absolutely everything into "Georgia On My Mind," a popular song this round. By the time he was done singing, his fellow contestants were literally JUMPING up out of their seats and the judges gave him a standing ovation. Then, Jacob jumped and cried. As Jennifer mentioned, that's a hard act to follow! He left the theater and was bawling on the floor and into his loved ones' arms and then lifted his head to say "I'm not a crier." I bet he was feeling confident going into the judges' verdict that night.
The man who followed Jacob was John Wayne Schulz, whose style is completely different from Jacob's. He sat on a stool and sang "Landslide," and Jennifer sang along at her seat. She sounded really good!
Ashley Sullivan nearly walked away from the competition, but this day she sat and got inspiration from "Chicken Soup For The American Idol Soul." She said she was confident going into her final solo because she chose to sing "Everything" by Michael Buble, which is a song she sings often to her boyfriend. She took the stage and dedicated the song to her man, and sang it to the balcony where he cheered her on. She forgot her words and asked to start over but that didn't help. Taking the judges' advice she picked up at the chorus. Perhaps she should have read her lyrics instead of a book. Jennifer said that Ashley is normally in control up on stage. Clearly, she hasn't seen Ashley off the stage! Jennifer talked about the importance of controlling your emotions, and as soon as Ashley stepped off the stage she lost all control of her emotions. She hugged her boyfriend outside the theater and when he said she did a good job, she called him a liar.
It was early evening and we heard from three men we first met in their hometowns: Jovany Barreto, Jacee Badeaux, and Stefano Langone. Stefano took on Stevie and sounded really good. Jovany kept his shirt buttoned up as he sang a Marc Anthony song in front of the singer's wife. That's got to be intimidating. But it wasn't Jennifer who looked wooed, it was Steven! Jacee sang David Cook's "Time Of My Life." At that moment I realized Jacee even makes David Archuleta seem old, which is tough to do. I could see Jacee performing this song at his prom or graduation in a few years.
We saw a montage of Scotty McCreery's many, many performances of Josh Turner's "Your Man." Although I was unfamiliar with this song before the show, I now can't get "Baby lock the door and turn the lights down low" out of my head. Unfortunately for Scotty, the song wasn't on the approved list for final solos, so he picked another country tune, "I Hope You Dance." He had never heard the song before (!?!) and made up his own lyrics during the performance. I loved that the editors typed them on the screen. My favorites: "I said this zone zoo talk and nuts of wonder. Nang da wonder un your jeans." Who knew that song was so funny?! Tatynisa Wilson struggled with the same song. After begging to start over she became flustered and came up with completely different lyrics than Scotty, but they still weren't the right ones. The back up singers sort of figured out when to come in and sing in this revamped version. I have to say Tatynisa looked gorgeous regardless of the lyrics flub. Both Scotty and Tatynisa were mad and upset at themselves, and they have a long while to wait to find out their fate.
The 100 contestants were divided into four rooms instead of the usual three. Room one had a lot of solid singers, but it also has Ashley Sullivan who struggled with her lyrics and emotions. The judges entered room one first and gave them good news. Everyone celebrated including Robbie Rosen, Lauren Alaina, James Durbin, Casey Abrams and many other familiar faces.
Room 2 got visibly upset when they heard the first room celebrate; they knew the odds were more against them now. Before the judges entered the room, Brielle Von Hugel was crying and Corey Levoy was hiding under his jacket. The judges came in and Steven was short and sweet, "Listen up, people. I'm sorry to say you didn't make it." Corey cried and buried himself under his jacket, and Jennifer bent down next to him and consoled him. Meanwhile, Randy and Steven talked about how they have experienced rejection so many times and they know how it feels, but you have to keep going. Have I told you how much I love these judges? I love seeing Jennifer, Steven, and Randy as real people, and not just celebrities or TV personalities.
Room 3 contained Mark Gutierrez and Chelsee Oaks. The judges gave bad news to this room too, and Jennifer hugged them all and said that they're all special to her. She gave them advice that works for her when she has an unsuccessful audition: "I may not make this one, but I'll make you a fan." She then said they all made her a fan.
Room 4 seemed to be feeling confident. When the judges arrived, the contestants applauded. Carson Higgins, Julie Zorrila, Rachel Zevita, and Scotty McCreery were in this room. After telling them the great news, the contestants jumped and Julie got some serious air! The judges formed their own huddle and celebrated. LOVE them!
When Room 1 and Room 4 were released from their holding cells, they ran into the hallway to greet and celebrate with their friends. Do they find someone they want to hug or do they just hug whomever? It doesn't matter--they're all off to Vegas!
Next week, the Idols head to Sin City for an all-new challenge. The previews looked awesome--the contestants rise from the smoked filled stage and appear to sing as duos or trios on elaborate sets. I can't wait! See you then.