'American Idol' Recap: Forgotten Lyrics, Clashing Groups at Hollywood Week

FOX
Drama and desperation escalate behind the scenes as the pressure mounts during the intense “Hollywood Rounds” which kick off with the guys, competing on Wednesday, Feb. 6 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) and Thursday, Feb. 7 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT). The girls get their chance to win over the judges beginning Wednesday, Feb. 13 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) ©2013 Fox Broadcasting Co. CR: Michael Becker / FOX.

"American Idol" group rounds.

Long a source of surefire drama during Hollywood week, the round promises that big voices will shine above the rest, and that someone's going to forget their words.

I've never much liked the part of the competition, but this season has left me pining for the days of yore, when big personalities collided and certain people were left scrambling to find any group at all.

Early on Wednesday night, "Idol" producers announced to the male-only crowd (!!! More on that in a sec) that rather than choosing their own groups, the singing groups for the next day's performances had been predetermined.

It wouldn't be co-ed predeterminations, either. Rather than putting the boys and girls all in one room, this year it was decided that the males would perform this week, while the females take next. Take that as you will.

No more vocal combinations so weird that you can barely wrap your head around it (though the pairing of mild-mannered Charlie Askew and the big-voiced Curtis Finch Jr. came close). Much less frantic group moments. No more co-ed performances. Just, "Hey, you're singing with these guys" and off you go.

Was the move an "Idol" attempt to put together a group that could last past the namesake round? Perhaps the show could see groups actually sticking together, a la "The X Factor," in the future, if there is one?

Hard to tell -- but damn, the amount of singers forgetting their words this year!

Remember when "Idol" group round was very much about NOT forgetting the words? That your inclusion in the later stages of the show was just as much about getting through a performance cleanly as it was showing off one's singing talent? That if you did forget your words, Simon Cowell would threaten to set you ablaze with his heat vision eyes (or at least send you home)?

Probably over half the contestants shown Wednesday night forgot the lyrics. And of those, many still went through by either past acclaim or potential alone. Count Johnny Keyser,  Gurpreet Singh Sarin and Lazaro Arbos among them. Keyser and group Normal Hills were particularly terrible, and Sarin's "Payphone" showed he clearly hadn't paid much attention to the Maroon 5 hit, even though he sang one of the band's earlier songs, "Sunday Morning," in his audition. Arbos gets a pass for having not lived in America all of his life and therefore probably not knowing too many Beach Boys tunes, but I can see patience wearing thin on him if he struggles like this each week.

Frankie Ford wasn't as lucky. The New York subway busker had the biggest fall from grace in the competition, simply unable to remember any (if the "Idol" edit is to be believed) of the verse lyrics of "American Boy." The problem with Ford was that, rather than make an impassioned attempt to learn his lyrics, the cameras always caught him nervous and unable to focus his attention on doing so -- a worrywart, basically. His elimination was arguably the night's biggest, his reaction even more so.

"I swear to God I'm coming back next year," he says tearfully outside the venue. "They will not deny me." It's a moment that does make one hope he can come back in 2014, but he had better come with a better way of recalling lyrics.

Not everyone was lost in terms of group performances. The group of Finch, Askew and an unnamed performer took on Bruno Mars's "The Lazy Song" and turned it into -- if you can believe it -- a gospel number. Seriously. Finch was the star of the show, belting some of the lines with vigor, said unnamed performer shouting the lines back at him as though the word of God was in those lyrics. Almost made one completely forget that Finch didn't make too good an impression when he was completely fine with leaving Askew, who was feeling ill for a time, behind.

Nick Boddington, whose performance with Groovesauce (Creighton Fraker, Reed Grimm, Jen Hirsh, Aaron Marcellus) last season topped group round, came back strong with Gabe Brown, Matheus Fernandes and Mathenee Treco, the latter of whom put in a devastating solo performance in the brief Hollywood round before groups. With Treco's soulful swagger, Brown's rock shouting and Boddington's and Fernandes's falsettos, they were a lock to move on.

But it always came back to forgetting vocals and total group disharmony. Country Queen, a strange collab between Trevor Blakney, Lee Pritchard, JDA and Joel Wayman, were one of those combinations you know probably would never be a thing in past group rounds and just seemed set up to have at least one side fail. Turns out Jda and Wayman were the two to move on, with Blakney taking his inability to do "More Than Words" justice hard -- "I've never failed at anything in my life," he said tearfully.

Finally, David "Mr. Steal Your Girl" Leathers and audition favorite Kayden Stephenson were paired in a combination of some of the show's youngest contestants. Rather than 2012, when Leathers was cut at the expense of Eben Franckewitz, this season the roles were reversed (for now), with Leathers getting through over the inspiring Stephenson, who vowed to return.

By the Way...

  • Can I say how excited I am to see David Leathers Jr. back? I hope he gets to the live show this time; he seems to have improved.
  • There were short solo performances before the group round, but very little was shown from them. Mathenee Treco and Micah Johnson were among the round's best.
  • Karl Skinner was hopped up on Coke before his performance. Yes, the capitalization matters.
  • "This is the rule: you never say you're tired."
  • Gurpreet's look of shock when his entire group went through after their horrible rendition of "Payphone" was the same one I had when I heard the news.
  • Devin Velez was a strong new voice in the show I think we'll be seeing more often.
  • Seriously. David Leathers. They had better not cut him at the last possible second again.

We'll know the Top 20 boys after tonight's one-hour episode! Stay tuned.