'American Idol' Group Round: Not for the Faint of Heart
'American Idol' Group Round: Not for the Faint of Heart

Finally, some singing!

Following the most disease-stricken episode "Idol" has ever seen, the show returned Wednesday (Feb. 15) with that all-important element that sets this competition apart from, say, a straight-up reality show: talent.

The evening was spread out over two hours, meaning contestants had plenty of chances to shine onscreen. The first hour began with the drama-filled group performances, after which the crop of singers was whittled down to 98.

Continuing where the previous episode left off, a number of contestants fell victim to a bug thought to have been introduced to Hollywood by Amy Brumfield. But by the time her performance rolled around, it was not Patient Zero herself, but rather teammate Jacquie Cera who fell victim to illness. The same rang true for Imani Handy, who passed out onstage after trying to soldier through. The judges' decisions? Both Jacquie and Imani would pack their bags. Harsh -- but, let's be honest, fair.

The group performances were also plagued by a whole other problem: forgetting the lyrics. It happens each year, but season 11 took short-term memory to a new level. Some contestants stopped singing, while others tried to fill the dead space with "oohs" and the like. More creative singers made up their own lyrics about how they'd forgotten the song lyrics. Something must be said for nerves, but it nonetheless strikes me as odd every time a contestant forgets the lyrics to a song. After an entire night spent on rehearsing, one might think they'd have better luck remembering the words. Ah, well. Better TV for us!

But among the lows associated with sickness and general memory issues -- wow, were there some high points.

Special mention must be given to Groovesauce, a quintet consisting of early favorites Creighton Fraker, Jen Hirsh, Reed Grimm, Aaron Marcellus and Nick Boddington. Their rendition of "Hold On, I'm Coming" was spectacular, a showcase of five seasoned singers who understand that there is more to music than simply singing a pretty melody. After devastatingly good harmonizing, the entire room -- including Randy, Jennifer and Steven -- was brought to its feet, and all five singers were put through, while I was left craving more.

The Hollywood Five group also impressed, though one look at the involved contestants would've told you that beforehand. Eben Franckewitz and David Leathers Jr. continued to solidify their standing as potential teen heartthrobs, while Gabi Carrubba and Jeremy Rosado sailed through as usual, Rosado providing a sweet little falsetto at the end of their song, Duffy's "Mercy." The four, along with fifth member Ariel Sprague, all went through.

But what about MIT, better known as the site of the epic quarrel between cowboy Richie Law and always-good-for-a-quote Heejun Han? Richie and Heejun were in usual form Wednesday -- big surprise. "He talks, but he doesn't listen," said Heejun, while Richie went into the confession room by himself to air his own grievances. Though MIT, which also consisted of Jairon Jackson and Phillip Phillips, struggled through their performance, the judges -- who stressed that they would be judging based on past performances as well as the present -- put all four singers through based on previous impressions.

Following the results, Richie and Heejun appeared to put the matter to bed, with the latter apologizing for anything Richie and his family would later see on TV.

Alas, it was the end of the road for a few contestants. The aforementioned Amy Brumfield was sent packing, as was cop Alisha Bernhardt, who offered her services as personal security before she departed. Symone Black -- potential head injury and all -- and Reis Kloeckener were also cut, and Kyle "Best Male Voice We've Heard" Crews found himself to be the only member of his five-person group not going on.

The next day, with 98 contestants remaining, "Idol" launched again into solo performances. To complement their audition, singers could also play an instrument if they so desired, which led to mostly conventional choices -- the guitar and the piano -- but with an added surprise we'll touch upon in a bit.

The five top performances from the solo round, in no particular order:

Creighton Fraker

The 28-year-old "starving artist" is really beginning to hit his stride in Hollywood. After singing as part of top Group Round competitors Groovesauce, Creighton took to the stage to perform the classic "What a Wonderful World" -- and nailed it. The New Yorker seems to have toned down the weirdness of his first audition ever-so-slightly, and it's certainly no stretch to imagine him in the Top 10 eventually. This is why YouTube needs a replay button.

Joshua Ledet

Joshua who, you might be asking? The Louisiana native seems to be going the way of season 10's Jacob Lusk -- we didn't even see him prior to Group Round! And like Jacob, Joshua has a big gospel-suited voice, which is admittedly strange on the subdued "Jar of Hearts" by Christina Perri, but his performance had enough to please the judges. I have a feeling that we'll be seeing a lot more of Joshua in the coming episodes to make up for his initial absences.

Reed Grimm

While not totally similar, Reed and last season's Casey Abrams certainly aren't dissimilar either. Both have rough, edgy voices, obvious jazz chops, and can play instruments usually unseen on the "Idol" stage. For his take on "Georgia on My Mind," Reed stepped behind the drumkit. His choice worried associate music director Michael Orland, but the 26-year-old was impressive enough to move on to the next round.

Jen Hirsh

Jen's performance of "Georgia on My Mind" was the definition of uneven, but the positives ended up outweighing the negatives, even after a shaky start. Jen's higher register still causes concern from time to time, but her rendition of the song, far more understated than Joshua Ledet's, was well-suited to her sweet-sounding vocal. Overall, Jen's got a great feel about her -- a singer who can turn it down really low and then blow the doors off the thing with relative ease.

Skylar Laine

"Idol" country fans: here's your contestant for 2012. After spending a few hours in the hospital from -- what else? -- the stomach bug plaguing many singers, 16-year-old Skylar showed little-to-no signs of sickness with her performance of The Band Perry's "You Lie." J-Lo compared her to Reba McEntire, which is shaping up to be a particularly sound judgment. The country accent seems fabricated at times, but we'll give it to her for now. Skylar's one of the many breaths of fresh air currently in this competition.

After the solo performances, it was time to cut the field down even further. And after much deliberation, Randy, Jennifer and Steven came to a decision. Contestants were split into four rooms based on whether or not they would move on. Three out of four of the rooms moved on, rooms containing the bulk of the often-praised singers -- seriously, you can probably guess at this point who's gone on just judging by who the show continues to feature heavily.

On the other hand, we said goodbye to Rachelle Lamb, Brittany Kerr and Jayrah Gibson. Sad, but it gave "Idol" producers a reason to play Gary Jules' "Mad World," so let's take the good with the bad.

The show ended with an announcement: the remaining contestants were off to Las Vegas, where a new group round would take place. Tune in tonight at 8 p.m. for the two-hour show to see who'll be getting lucky in Sin City.