For the second straight year, "American Idol" rolled in to Las Vegas for a few days of sun, fun and... oh yeah, cuts. Lots and lots of cuts.
Perhaps it's the way the producers have set up some of this season's clips, but the eleventh season of "Idol" may truly be its most dramatic season yet. In a season where very few contestants stand out mightily above the rest, almost every cut feels unexpected. Singers featured en masse throughout the first few Hollywood episodes are now being given their walking papers, and previous standouts no longer seem like sure bets for the Top 24.
After beginning the evening with 70 remaining contestants, "Idol" had the budding singers find groups yet again. Yes, as with the previous two episodes, group performances were the chiefly-featured format. This isn't necessarily a problem, as more singers are featured on TV this way -- in theory, of course. But the move also causes for far more group-related drama. If anything, it's helped us to care about the contestants and get to know them more than in previous seasons. So, while at first I wasn't sure about the reliance on groups, I'm beginning to see it paying dividends for the show.
The overarching theme of Thursday's performances? Oldies, plain and simple. Coming from Cirque du Soleil's Viva ELVIS stage at the ARIA casino, it certainly felt fitting. We heard classic songs from Elvis Presley, The Flamingos and more -- a refreshing departure from the modern hits the performers had chosen in previous weeks.
All told, the episode featured two separate group performances, eventually whittling down the playing field to a mere 42. We'll get to who made it through and who was cut in a moment, but first, let's talk about a few of the top performances from Thursday night, from the good to the... well, you get the idea by now.
Creighton Fraker, Jen Hirsh, Aaron Marcellus, Nick Boddington
Rarely does "Idol" feature a group that not only stays with each other throughout the bulk of the group performances, but also steals the show each time. The foursome, originally called Groove Sauce during Wednesday night's show, was down Reed Grimm this time around, calling themselves Lady and the Spectacles. This is what happens when four seasoned singers who really understand the art get together. The harmonies on "Sealed with a Kiss" were to die for -- really, could we just keep them together forever? Sadly, that wouldn't be possible, as 26-year-old Nick was cut following the performance.
Jairon Jackson, Neco Starr, Heejun Han, Phillip Phillips
Jairon, Heejun and Phillip stuck together for the next round of groups, discarding former teammate Richie "Cowboy" Law and picking up the R&B-styled Neco Starr. It was a good move -- instead of bad vibes emanating from the group, the four-piece was able to sing sans drama. Their take on The Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes for You" was sweet-sounding, their four very different voices blending splendidly. The performance was "Vocal Coach from Hell" Peggi Blu-approved, which is always a plus. All were through initially, with Heejun taking the news particularly emotionally.
Richie Law and Jermaine Jones
Richie may have been let go from his previous group, but don't feel bad for him yet. The country-leaning, deep-voiced kid (let's call him Scotty-lite, shall we?) found fellow outcast Jermaine Jones, whose similarly deep vocal didn't mesh with other groups. Though they were basically forced to perform together, the duo's version of "Make it Easy on Yourself" worked surprisingly well; it sounded close to what might happen if a country artist and R&B crooner -- both with deep voices, of course -- joined forces to record a single. Jermaine seemed as surprised as anyone else that it worked, and both moved on.
Lauren Gray, Wendy Taylor, Mathenee Treco
Though vocal coach Peggi Blu seemed significantly toned down compared to season 10, these three -- particularly Lauren Gray -- couldn't escape her wrath. "There's no crying in singing!" shouted Peggi once Lauren, who was having vocal problems, began to do so. It's not like her outburst wasn't warranted; all three were nothing special on "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." Mathenee was the only one sent home after the song, though I can see Lauren and Wendy going the same route shortly.
Jessica Phillips, Britnee Kellogg, Courtney Williams
The trio's rendition of The Supremes' classic/"Idol" staple "You Keep Me Hanging On" was super OK -- and that's not something you want to be at this stage in the competition. Britnee and Courtney escaped the judges' cuts for the time being, but Jessica was called out for a less-than-stellar performance and was sent packing. Afterward, the singer vented her frustrations, asserting that the show was "not looking for real artists" and that many of the singers going through were "not real artists and they're not gonna sell any records." Ouch! Not to continue with the bad vibes, but Jessica never seemed that special to me. Anyone disagree?
After two group performances, Randy, Jennifer and Steven narrowed down the field to a mere 42 contestants. Many of the early favorites stayed, though quite a few Hollywood standouts were sent home in a round of occasionally surprising cuts.
The casualties from Thursday night, among others, include: Jairon Jackson, Britnee Kellogg, Angie Zeiderman (gonna miss her!), Johnny Keyser, Candice Glover, Ashley Robles, Janelle Arthur, Aubree Dieckmeyer and Gabi Carrubba. Moment of silence for some fairly talented singers, y'all.
Next week marks "Idol"'s final week of cuts before the Top 24 is revealed. Group performances are gone, replaced by a final solo song as the singers attempt to make it to the live show. If this week's cuts are any indication, some of these final cuts are gonna hurt.
Who were the most surprising cuts of "Idol" this week? Did anyone move on that you're just not feeling? Were Jessica Phillips' comments accurate? Is Deandre Brackensick's hair the best thing you've ever seen? Let us know in the comments, and check back next week, when we recap the final round of Vegas cuts.