Idol Thoughts — 02.10.10

We learned two things last night on American Idol: 1) Group Day, where the contestants team up and sing together in small groups, is actually the easiest day of Hollywood Week to survive. More on this in a moment. And 2) Gwen Stefani‘s “The Sweet Escape” is apparently the quadruple axel of group vocals and should never again be attempted on this show!

The Group Day episode is usually filled with plenty of (often manufactured) drama and interpersonal conflict. It’s always chaotic and entertaining, even if the stakes are lower than producers would like you to believe. The night started with 96 contestants and ended with 71. That’s 25 people getting the ax. Or roughly 25 percent. For some perspective, the night before saw almost 50 percent of the Idol hopefuls packing their bags and heading home.

I’ve heard people ask why Group Day is necessary if American Idol is an individual competition. I guess the simplest justification is because later, when the show gets to the Top 12, Idol does those choreographed, group performances to kill time during the results show–not to mention several group numbers during the summer concert tour.

But there have been plenty of hopelessly flat-footed and awkward contestants in those group performances over the seasons. So for all its hoopla, Group Day is really about shining individually–and trying to lock down your place in the Top 24.

So who helped themselves last night? Well, generally talented singers who surrounded themselves with other talented singers. I know, it’s another one of Group Day’s contradictions. Even though contestants want to shine individually, performing next to lesser talents doesn’t make them look better. It actually makes them seem less bona fide and able.

Team Awesome, with Michael Lynche (“Big Mike’), Michael Castro, Tim Urban and Seth Rollins, is a perfect example of this. Big Mike’s been getting a lot of screen time, with his wife literally in the hospital giving birth to a daughter as her husband prepared with his group. Big Mike turned in a strong version of John Mayer‘s “Waiting On The World To Change” Tuesday night. But Team Awesome was merely Team Adequate on last night’s Motown classic, “Get Ready.” Big Mike and Tim Urban made it though. But Big Mike seemed less impressive.

Ashley Rodriguez, Michelle Delamor and Charity Vance performed early in the show as the group, Faith. Despite some heavy talent, I thought their version of Beyoncé‘s “Irreplaceable” was just pretty good, not fantastic. Theirs was a case of the parts being greater than the sum together. Great individual vocals that didn’t mesh as well as I would’ve thought. So much for team work. Anyway, they’re all through to the next round.

Much was made last night about the “showdown” between Neapolitan and Destiny’s Wild, who both chose to sing Lady GaGa‘s “Bad Romance.” Neapolitan featured Paige Miles, Thaddeus Johnson, Jessica Cunningham and Liz Rooney. Despite all of them being advanced to the next round, I didn’t hear a single Top 24 performer in there. They all seem like Hollywood Week fodder. Destiny’s Wild, with Siobhan Magnus, Jareb Liewer, Theri and Todrick Hall, represented the song better. It certainly was the most creative, with backflips and some sense of costume. But it was hardly the vocal standout of the night. Todrick Hall sang well. Everyone in Destiny’s Wild was also advanced to the next round.

Group Day rule: A really solid group effort can advance lesser singers (see paragraph above), while a really, really bad group performance can eliminate a good singer (see next paragraph).

I don’t know what these groups were thinking. “The Sweet Escape” by Gwen Stefani? It’s a hard song to master quickly, with its rapid-fire delivery and tongue-twisting lyrics. The job of pulling all this together and looking good on Group Day is hard enough without adding an extra level of difficulty. But apparently several groups chose the song, and from the montage we saw last night, and failed massively–including Big Dreams, which featured Matt Lawrence, who sounded great at the Orlando auditions (“Trouble” by Ray Lamontagne). Uncomfortable in the choreography, and singing a song that was all kinds of wrong for him, Matt, and everyone in his group, were dismissed. Matt’s not-so Sweet Escape maybe being the biggest surprise of the night.

For future reference, groups should also not attempt Barenaked Ladies “One Week” and R.E.M.‘s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.” Just puttin’ that out there.

The Mighty Rangers, Phoenix and the Dreamers all got plenty of airtime last night–mostly thanks to juicy internal conflicts that made for interesting television. Their actual group performances were largely forgettable. Not sure what we learned from these three. Except that rocker Mary Powers (Dreamers) is pushy and probably not as good as she thinks she is.

The best groups of the night got the least airtime. I guess getting along and working well together to achieve something good isn’t as interesting as the histrionics of group dysfunction. Middle C, with Janell Wheeler, Jermaine Purifory and Casey James did a great version of Ne-Yo‘s “Closer.” And early standouts Andrew Garcia and Katie Stevens led the group Three Men and a Baby through a tasty version of Alicia Key‘s “No One.” Proving this point: surround yourself with other talented people. Best move you can make on Group Day.

Those are my thoughts this morning. What are yours?

Greg Valentine
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