‘American Idol’ Recap: Hollywood Week Thins The Herd, Hurts The Ears

Thursday night (February 10) kicked off Hollywood Week on “American Idol,” where water bottles are liberally used as microphones, pajamas are considered appropriate TV attire and the judges can cut all the sad sacks with sob stories who they felt guilted into advancing the first time.

In other words, this is my now.

Seacrest knows what’s up. In the intro, he wistfully intoned, “Countless dreams will be tested as we start this epic journey.” I salivated with anticipation. (I also shuddered when I tried to imagine my dreams being tested. Please don’t test that one dream where I’m a house cat and I get to sleep and snuggle 23 hours a day, Seacrest. It’s my favorite ever! Purrrr.)

Unfortunately, the first hour of Hollywood Week did not live up to the hype that Seacrest enjoys perpetuating.

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Before we get to the juicy drama-producing group numbers, we have to endure an obvious sudden death round. Everyone performs a cappella. There are no comments from the judges, other than a final “You, you, you, step forward. You stay. Everyone else, sashay away.”

But instead of introducing new characters or revealing new traits about singers we already met, we just got recaps of back-stories and small snippets of performances from people we’ve already heard sing. Are we having fun yet?

The most egregious waste of time was the segment devoted to people who studied the Kristy Lee Cook and Kimberley Locke playbooks by singing the same damn audition song over and over again. Baritone cowboy Scotty McCreery, old man aficionado Jackie Wilson and hat addict Jerome Bell didn’t bother learning a new tune for Hollywood Week, yet all of them made it to the next round. And this was important to share with viewers because?

Meanwhile, an early favorite like Sarah Sellers was booted to the curb without any explanation whatsoever. Couldn’t producers have given us at least three seconds of her botching a note so we can sleep at night? It’s bad storytelling! No wonder “Idol” super-fans are often kvetching about conspiracy theories and producer pimping.

While I’m on the subject, did anyone else notice the red, circular stickers on the judges’ notes? If a contestant’s picture had a red sticker, it meant “Idol” was planning to feature them in their audition episodes. Subtext: Make sure you think twice about cutting them. Ooooof.

This year, the judges had a Sisyphean task of whittling down the talent pool, since they had given Golden Tickets to every Tom, Dick, Harry or Jane willing to cry about their family secrets on television. (Seacrest told us they had let through twice as many as usual. That’s a lot of tragedy.)

So how did our favorite survivors do? Chris “Starbucks Pays Me But My Fiancée In A Wheelchair Is My Meal Ticket” Medina’s Jason Mraz was as shaky as his first audition. The mom of a special-needs daughter, Paris Tassin strained her voice during Celine’s “Titanic” ballad, cracking on the lyric, “There’s nothing I fear.” (I guess she should fear high notes.) And James “I Have Tourette’s and Asperger’s So Bloggers Aren’t Allowed To Make Fun Of My Mohawk Or My Decision To Drape Leopard Print Fabric Out The Back Of My Jeans” Durbin shrieked “Oh! Darling” in such an unpleasant way, my neighbors stopped by to make sure I wasn’t murdering small woodland creatures in my apartment.

Naturally, all three made it to the next round. (The only featured sob story singer to go home was — irony alert! — homeless teen Travis Orland. His story just wasn’t sad enough. His anemic “This Love” just didn’t cut it.)

Meanwhile, teenagers continued to get oodles of screen time. Remember 17-year-old Hollie Cavanagh, who melted into a puddle of nervous tears and dry heaves in front of the judges in Austin? Well, she’s back with a Prozac prescription and a fierce little makeover. Girl confidently belted out a Miley Cyrus song the way God intended. I like her.

Then, Jacee Badeaux (aka Stoic Cherub) opened his adorable tiny little baby mouth to let moonbeams and unicorns fly around the auditorium. He sang a Rascal Flatts song about how he’s been looking for true love for years, which means he’s been a lothario since he was, what, seven years old? This little stud. I’ve got my eye on you, Stoic Cherub. In 18 months, you’ll be inescapable and we’ll be lining up to see your 3-D biopic, “Never Say Never To Having A Personality.”

It’s hard to believe that Robbie Rosen is only 16 years old. First of all, he looks like he has been starring in a dinner theater production of “Jersey Boys” for years. But more importantly, his powerful voice attacked “Moody’s Mood For Love” and left it for dead on the side of the road. No note half-assed, no octave off limits.

One of my faves, Brett Loewenstern, lived up to his first audition with a passionate (yet endearingly neurotic) “Let It Be.” Fingers crossed he ditches the “I was bullied” angle as well as his habit of adding an extra “ugh” to the end of every line. The song isn’t called “Let It Be-Ugh,” friend!

Interestingly enough, producers’ fave Lauren “Kelly Clarkson Watch Your Back” Alaina came across less polished in Hollywood, with an unhinged “Unchained Melody” that would have had Simon Cowell storming off the set. And I’m still baffled by the appeal of ladychild Thia Megia. Her rainbow zip-up hoodie made from recycled dishrags didn’t warm me up to her over-the-top “Summertime,” either. The fish may be jumpin’ but only to get far, far away from Thia’s affected performance style.

Even the tension Hollywood week usually cultivates so well fell flat. I could see producers setting up Victoria Huggins’ exit a mile away. Between the sunny Southern belle’s overconfident bites (“I’m gonna stay for a while, because I am the next ‘American Idol’ so duh!”), and her segment was edited for maximum irritation. I imagine Nigel Lythgoe was hoping viewers would cheer when the chipper teen got a reality check. (Apparently “Idol” is not looking for head-to-toe pink outfits — cowboy boots included — and sassy interpretations of songs by Seacrest’s alleged girlfriend Julianne Hough.) I’m proud of the way Victoria handled herself when faced with the bad news. There were tears, but Higgins still kept her composure while she and her vest-sporting momager quietly left the premises with their 11 bags. Her mature reaction was the best kind of middle finger to producers who were definitely hoping for a major freak out from this girl. Good for you, Victoria. Fight the power!

Later, “Idol” separated “couple” Nick Fink and Jacqueline Dunford. On our way to a commercial break, Seacrest promised “a shocking departure” when we returned, leaving us to ponder the couple’s completely obvious fate. Nick’s rendition of “New Shoes” was even more painful than his shiny silver sports jacket, so he was told to pack his knives and go. Maybe the words “shocking departure” mean something different in England? You know, the way the British call elevators “lifts” and Oasis “good music.”

And don’t even begin to tell me that his pathetic begging for a second shot was “shocking.” The way these two played up their relationship for the cameras should have telegraphed that they would not give up their 15 minutes of fame quickly or quietly.

Exes Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks (who you remember from CMT’s “Can You Duet”) both survived this round. But Rob, it’s time you moved on from Chelsee. Did you see her hotel room? She’s a messy unpacker. Deal-breaker!

The one moment of spontaneity and excitement came in the form of Bronx spitfire Tiffany Rios, who boldly announced in front of everyone, “I’m tired of seeing people try to do what I know I can.” She was right, too. Nobody put tinsel in her weave, squatted and shouted quite like Tiffany. Now that’s good television.

What did you think of our first season 10 Hollywood Week episode? Do you think shouty Casey Abrams’ free hugs to the eliminated contestants came off as side-eye inducing in person as they did on TV? (I never trust a winner who is that over-eager to console losers.) Did you respect the eliminated Stormi Henley for admitting she only got a Golden Ticket because Randy and Steven wanted to do filthy things to her? And do you think accountant Steve Beghun was cut simply because his profession was deemed even more boring than “paint salesman”? Leave a comment below, and as the “Idol” season picks up, you definitely want to follow me on Twitter @jambajim to keep up with all the latest.